Monthly Archives: November 2017

Rotten Reviews: The American Way of Death

(For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I have always found The Mitford Family interesting, particularly Jessica and Nancy. Jessica’s famous [or infamous, if you subscribe to the ideas of the eminent American politician quoted below] book, which I’ve yet to read, The American Way of Deathis an expose of the funeral industry in the United States. It is of a type with Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One, an excoriating satire of the funeral industry in Los Angeles. Incidentally, The Loved One was also produced as a film in 1965 and is simply a masterpiece, e.g. the casting of Liberace as a coffin salesman was particularly inspired).

“While hiding behind the commercial aspects of the mortician and the cemeteries and mausoleums where our dear departed friends and relatives are commemorated, she is really striking another blow at the Christian religion. Her tirade against morticians is simply the vehicle to carry her anti-Christ attack… I would rather place my mortal remains, alive or dead, in the hands of any American mortician than to set foot on the soil of any Communist nation.”

Congressman James B. Utt, Congressional Record

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Word Root Exercise: Dendr/o, Dendri

Here is a short exercise on the Greek word roots dendr/o and dendri. They mean tree.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Henry Miller on Politicians

“One has to be lowbrow, a bit of a murderer, to be a politician, ready and willing to see people sacrificed, slaughtered, for the sake of an idea, whether a good one or a bad one.”

Henry Miller

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Portable Curmudgeon. New York: Plume, 1992.

Cultural Literacy: Ancien Regime

In the Sophomore Global Studies that I co-teach, we’ve spent a great deal of time this fall on the French Revolution and its consequences. Therefore, although I may be a day late and a dollar short with it, here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on the Ancien Regime.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Dialectical Thinking

“To every answer you can find a new question.”

Yiddish Proverb

Excerpted from: Howe, Randy, ed. The Quotable Teacher. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2003.

The Weekly Text, November 22, 2017

The minute I viewed, as a middle school student, Alain Resnais’s short but magisterial film on the Holocaust, Night and Fog (there is a lesson plan for this film elsewhere on this blog–a simple search from the home page will take you to it) I became interested, perhaps obsessed, with authoritarian political movements. As an undergraduate, I studied their manifestations in Russia; I ended up writing my honors thesis on the brewing miasma of authoritarian politicians in Russia.

Along the way, I became aware of the difficulty of any one definition of fascism. For my money, the late Professor George Mosse of the University of Wisconsin remains the best expositor and chronicler of fascism, if only because he insisted on talking about this abstract noun in the plural. There isn’t any one fascism, Mosse averred, but several. So I am circumspect about any reading claiming to be the last word on this political movement.

That said, I think this reading on fascism from the Intellectual Devotional’s Modern Culture volume is a perfect introduction to the basic elements of fascism, as well as a nice chronicle of its exponents. Here is a reading comprehension worksheet to accompany it.

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m posting this on the Wednesday before so that I may enjoy four computer-free days over the break.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Albert Einstein: Education for Independent Thought

“It is not enough to teach man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and the morally good. Otherwise he—with his specialized knowledge—more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community.

These precious things are conveyed to the younger generation through personal contact with those who teach, not—or at least not in the main—through textbooks. It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the “humanities” as important, not just dry specialized knowledge in the fields of history and philosophy.

Overemphasis on the competitive system and premature specialization on the ground of immediate usefulness kill the spirit on which all cultural life depends, specialized knowledge included.

It is also vital to a valuable education that independent critical thinking be developed in the young human being, a development that is greatly jeopardized by overburdening him with too much and with too varied subjects (point system). Overburdening necessarily leads to superficiality. Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.”

“Education for Independent Thought,” from The New York Times, October 5, 1952, excerpted from: Einstein, Albert. Ideas and Opinions. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1982.