Monthly Archives: August 2015

Clive James on Humanism

“Gradually, I realized that I had been looking in the wrong place. As a journalist and critic, a premature post-modernist, I was often criticized in my turn for talking about the construction of a poem and of a Grand Prix racing car in the same breath, or of treating gymnasts and high divers (in my dreams, I astonish the Olympic medalist Greg Louganis) as if they were practicing the art of sculpture. It was a sore point, and often the sore point reveals where the real point is. Humanism wasn’t in the separate activities: humanism was the connection between them. Humanism was a particularized but unconfined concern with all the high-quality products of the creative impulse, which could be distinguished from the destructive one by its propensity to increase the variety of the created world rather than reduce it. Builders of concentration camps might be creators of a kind—it is possible to imagine an architect happily working to perfect the design of the concrete stanchions supporting an electrified barbed-wire fence—but they were in business to subtract variety from the created world, not to add to it. In the connection between all the outlets of the creative impulse in mankind, humanism made itself manifest, and to be concerned with understanding and maintaining that intricate linkage necessarily entailed an opposition to any political order that worked to weaken it.”

From Cultural Amnesia (New York: Norton, 2008), “Introduction,” p. xix.

The Weekly Text: August 21, 2015

This week’s text is two short worksheets to help students deal with the commonly confused and misused homophones two, too and to. These are modified cloze exercises, and therefore mostly self explanatory and easy to use. In any case, here is the Homophone Worksheets Users’ Manual to clarify the use of these materials.

I hope you find them useful.

The Weekly Text: August 14, 2015

Here, at last, is what I hope I can focus on sufficiently to sustain as the gravamen of Mark’s Text Terminal, The Weekly Text. In each of these weekly installments I’ll post something I’ve developed to assist struggling students in building their literacy skills. I make no promises–the school year can get quite busy–but I will do what I can to publish something new every week.

This inaugural Weekly Text is a vocabulary building worksheet that derives from the Latinate word root bellBell means war and is at the root of several words in English (i.e. bellicose, belligerent, and, as below, antebellum). I imagine most educators would agree that learned people ought to understand and know how to use these words. Unsurprisingly, most of these words have cognates in the Romance languages, as antebellum does. If you’re teaching English language learners, the Latinate word root is a bridge between English and Spanish.

These words are mostly abstract, but carry a hint, as so many Latin nouns themselves do, of the concrete. There is room in the lesson or lessons one might write to attend this worksheet for an exploration of the differences between concrete and abstract nouns. Furthermore, there is room for a discussion on the concepts represented here, and some questions teachers might ask are: What is war? What does war look like? What is the difference between war and peace? What is bellicose speech and behavior? How can a society know, by the bellicose or belligerent behavior of some of its members, that it is at risk of going to war?  Finally, I generally make sure students understand the difference between belligerent as an adjective and a noun, because in the latter case, the word can turn up in a sentence like The Axis and the Allies were the belligerents in World War II. In this sentence, students need to understand that belligerents means combatants.

Finally, here’s the Word Root Worksheets Users’ Manual document for a fuller exegesis of this type of worksheet.

The Short Bus

Have you read Jonathan Mooney’s The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal (New York: Henry Holt, 2008)? If you serve struggling learners, this is probably a book you’ll want to read at some point. Mr. Mooney has, thankfully, become something of a presence in the world of special school populations. His book opens with this excellent epigraph from French philosopher and critic (whom I have, in general, found impenetrable) Michel Foucault that might be worth considering as we prepare for another school year:

“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the educator-judge, the social worker-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normal is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements.”