Monthly Archives: August 2020

Term of Art: Subjunctive

“Subjunctive: A grammatical category that contrasts with indicative in the mood systems of verbs in various languages, and expresses uncertainty or non-factuality. Some languages have a range of subjunctive tenses: Latin (Caveat emptor: Let the buyer beware); French (Je veux que tu travailles, literally ‘I want that you should work,’ I would like you to work’). There was no such a system in Old English (Ne he ealu ne drince opp w in: Nor shall he drink ale or wine), but in Modern English there are few distinctive subjunctive forms and the use of the the term is controversial. Grammarians have traditionally described English as if it had a subjunctive system comparable to Latin and French, with present and past subjunctive tenses. This approach poses problems, because the ‘present’ subjunctive is used in subordinate clauses referring to both present and past time: They are demanding that we pay now and They demanded that we pay there and then. In form, this subjunctive is identical with the base of the verb (the bare infinitive), which means that, when the reference is to present time, it only differs from the indicative (except with the verb be) in the third-person singular: We suggest that he leave soon as against They say he leaves at dawn tomorrow. With past reference, the difference between the indicative is noticeable for all persons, as in We suggested he leave.

The subjunctive has three uses: (1) Mandative. Mainly in subordinate clauses, following a verb, adjective, or noun expressing a past or present command, suggestion, or other theoretical possibility: I insist that she disband the team; It is essential that it be disbanded; She ignored his request that she disband the team. When a negative is used with this subjunctive, it precedes the verb: He requested that she not embarrass him, except with be when not be and be not are both possible: He was anxious that his name be not/not be brought into disrepute. The mandative subjunctive is commoner in American English than British English, but appears to be on the increase in British English. In both, but especially in British English, it can be replace by a should– construction or an indicative: He requested that she should not embarrass him; He was anxious tat his name was not brought into disrepute. (2) Conditional and concessive. Sometimes formally in subordinate clauses of condition or concession: If music be the food of love, play on…; Whether that be the case or not…; Though he ask a thousand times, the answer is still NO. The alternatives are an indicative or a should-phrase: If music is…; Though he should ask…. This usage does not extend to past time. (3) Formulaic. In independent clauses mainly in set expressions. Some follow normal subject-verb word order (God save the Queen! Heaven forbid!), while others have inversion of the main verb and subject (Long live the Queen!); Far be it from me to interfere). Come plus a subject introduces a subordinate clause: Come the end of the month, (and) there’ll be more bills to pay.

The ‘past’ subjunctive is now often called the were-subjunctive, because this is the only form in which there is a distinction from the indicative, and then only in the first- and third-person singular: If I were you…as opposed to If I was you. It is used with present and future (not past) reference in various hypothetical clauses, including condition: If only I were young again; If he were asked, he might help; This feels as if it were wool; I wish she were here now; Suppose this were discovered; I’d rather it were concealed. In popular and non-formal speech and writing, the were-subjunctive is often replaced by the indicative was, which brings this verb into line with other verbs, where the past tense is similarly used for hypotheses about the present and future: If only I knew how; I’d rather you said nothing. Were is, however, widely preferred in If I were you…. In the fixed phrase as it were (He’s captain of the ship, as it were), were cannot be replaced by was. The use of were instead of was to refer to a real past possibility is generally considered an over-correction: If I were present on that occasion, I remember nothing of it. This contrasts with the purely hypothetical past, If I had been present…, which strongly implies but I was not.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Empire State Building

It’s pouring rain and I want to drive over to the other side of this state to visit friends. So, I’ll write one more post before taking my chances with the mountain roads between here and there. So, here, especially for my erstwhile colleagues in New York, is a reading on the Empire State Building and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

One thing to consider when teaching students about this building is that it went up in record time at the very beginning of the Great Depression. I think there is something interesting about that, but translating it into conceptual terms has so far evaded me.

What say you?

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.

Nominative Pronoun

“Nominative Pronoun: A pronoun that functions as a subject or subject complement: I we, you, he, she, it, they, who.”

Excerpted from: Strunk, William Jr., and E.B. White. The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition. New York: Longman, 2000.

The Weekly Text, August 28, 2020

This week’s Text is a simple one, to wit a pair of context clues worksheets. The first is a  worksheet on the noun antagonist and the second is another on the verb antagonize, which is used only transitively. These are a couple of words students need to know and use across the curriculum.

I bid godspeed to those of you who have returned or will soon be returning to school, be it in a physical or virtual classroom. Stay safe, and teach your students well.

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.


[N.B. that I find even this entry from a relatively recent book contains more than a tinge of racism, e.g. “…due to the culture’s lack of beautiful models.”]

“Afrocentrism: A general theory placing the origins of humans on the African continent. Due to its recent dissemination, its effect on art history has been limited so far. Winckelmann’s History of Ancient Art(1764) is generally recognized as founding the discipline of art history. It emphasizes that the imperfection of ancient Egyptian art was inevitable, due to that culture’s lack of beautiful models, a situation contrary to that in which Greek art developed. However, recent evidence that Egyptian deities and ultimately Greek philosophy were partially derived from sub-Saharan cultures will further affect our understanding about the origins of Western art.”

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

Blog Post No. 4,001: A Tentative Start to a Unit on the History of Hip-Hop

OK! I published my 4,000th post on this blog two days ago, which is something I’ve been pushing toward since the COVID19 pandemic began in March. Now that I’ve reached this point, I’ll be taking a break to look for a job, and to begin to review works in progress with an eye toward finishing some of them. And reading and resting, with an emphasis on resting often. I’ll continue to publish, just not at the frenetic pace I’ve set in the past five months. And, again, I hope I’ll have some new materials for your consideration, review, and use.

Before that, though, as has been my custom each time I’ve passed another thousand posts, I’ll publish some unfinished materials to store them for future use, and to offer users and readers of this blog some preliminary documents to develop from the ground up should they be so inclined.

Throughout my career as a teacher, and in every school in which I’ve served, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, my students have been deeply interested in Hip-Hop music. Since I’ve been present for the entire history of Hip-Hop–I remember vividly discovering the first album by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and its electrifying single, “The Message”–but I’d heard Kurtis Blow and The Sugarhill Gang before that, I knew at the beginning of the genre’s life I was hearing something new, original, and, man, oh so danceable. I started playing Hip-Hop records in 1981 when I began to DJ the occasional party. I still have Hip-Hop songs in my playlists (have you heard the song and album “Back on the Block” by Quincy Jones? You should).

So, when I showed up to teach at a school on Jackson Avenue in the South Bronx in the fall of 2003, I quickly started to think up ways to reach the students in my classroom. One thing that always stuck with me, as I watched Hip-Hop develop as a genre, was the remark Chuck D made that Rap music was the CNN of young, urban Black people (and I thank Quote Investigator for clarifying that paraphrase).

Chuck D’s aphorism became the guiding principle for the development of my unit on Hip-Hop. Broadly, I saw this unit as an exploration of the oral traditions that are common to cultures worldwide. Moreover, I wanted to situate Hip-Hop in the context of global oral traditions so that students would be able to move between the general (oral tradition) and the specific (Hip-Hop music). In any case, I knew that I could use Hip-Hop to engage my students.

When I first conceived of this unit, as I say, I was a new teacher in New York. Instead of outlining a unit plan, which at that time I still didn’t fully know how to do, let alone understand the purpose of, I just improvised. I can tell you in that improvisation, the first lesson involved a choral reading of the first twenty-five lines of Homer’s Odyssey, which I presented as the world’s first Hip-Hop song. My students were very self-conscious about choral reading, so I subsequently shortened that exercise to eight lines. I proceeded to the medieval troubadours as messengers, hewing to the greatest extent possible to the idea that musicians could be deliverers of the news in that (or any) world. From there I moved on to the Griot tradition in West Africa, then on to a review of  popular music in the United States, particularly blues songs from the world of Chess Records. Then, while continuing to focus on the oral tradition, I included material about and by The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron as the progenitors of Hip-Hop. Finally, I moved on to the earliest Hip-Hop recordings, as above, by The Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Later, as I began to deepen my research into the history that informs this unit, I also would include material (as below) on the Black Power Movement and DJ Kool Herc.

After running through this a couple of times in an improvisational mode, I began outlining a unit and preparing reading and writing work for its lessons. It was at that time that the New York City Department of Education, alas, abruptly changed the approach we were using with special needs students and struggling learners. Teaching to the Regents Examination became de rigueur, and this unit fell by the wayside.

As I look over the documents I accumulated in the run-up to writing out this unit, I can see that I envisioned an interdisciplinary reading and writing unit that analyzed the sociology of language, knowledge, and culture, and how all this was held together by music to synthesize Hip-Hop. I definitely wanted to focus on DJ Kool Herc’s ability to bring communities together in celebration with music–i.e. his famous block parties. To sum up, and move on to the documents, let me say this: the history of Hip-Hop offers a trove of possibilities for conceptual instruction that deals with continuity and change, poetry and poetics, tradition and innovation, mythology and earthbound humanity, modes of communication within and across cultures, the sociology of culture, registers of language from vernacular and dialects to the rule-bound and stylistically formal, the business of the music industry, what constitutes “news,” and the politics of, bumantity, equity, and liberation. As the music changed over the years, and I discussed these changes with a colleague (thanks for your insight, David) in New York, I saw that there was room in this unit for a discussion lesson on the corporatization and commodification of Hip-Hop driven by a question about how we got from the socially conscious lyrics of “The Message” (or, earlier, but lesser known among younger people, Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” or the beautiful “Lady Day and John Coltrane“) to songs glorifying murder, mayhem, and misogyny.

Anyway, let’s get on to the documents. First, the planning materials: here is the preliminary unit plan, which shows its age by my citation of New York State Standards. Those standards mean I started writing this before the Common Core Standards arrived and were adopted in New York State (if you need something shiny to show to an administrator, here are the Common Core English Language Arts Standards for grades 9-12 in Microsoft Word, so you can copy and paste from this document); this is the lesson plan template and this is the worksheet template. And here, as a do-now exercise, is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on the troubadours.

Now the texts I accumulated, haphazardly, for this unit: here are three pages of mixed text, including a definition of “Oral Tradition” from The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theorythe first eight lines of The Odyssey from the Fagles translation of that work by Homer, and the lyrics from three classic songs–one from Willie Dixon and two from Elias McDaniel (aka Bo Diddley)–from the Chess Records catalogue that anticipate the good-natured, playful, boasting of early Hip-Hop songs. This reading on The Last Poets, that I all but certainly took from the pages of either The Source or XXL magazines–and which I did a very bad job of scanning and citing–outlines the history of these proto-Hip-Hop writers and performers. Here’s a reading on DJ Kool Herc along with its vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. From elsewhere on this blog, here is a reading and comprehension worksheet on Public Enemy, the seminal Hip-Hop group. Finally, here is a reading on the Black Power movement and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

As always, I seek your peer review on this material. In this case there isn’t much to review. But if you do use this material or its ideas to build a unit of your own, I would be interested in hearing about that. If you need or want anything in the way of ancillary materials to develop this unit, for example a context clues or Cultural Literacy worksheet, please advise; if they’re not already available on this site, I’ll write something for you and attach it as an addendum on this post. As far as typos and the rest, if you think it’s important, please advise. When or if I use this material, I’m sure I’ll revise it extensively.

Get well soon, Jacob Blake. I deeply regret and am ashamed of the assault on your dignity and your life.

Now: on the Blog Post 5,001.

Write It Right: Appropriated for Took

“Appropriated for Took. ‘He appropriated his neighbor’s horse for his own use.’ To appropriate is to set apart, as a sum of money, for a special purpose.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

English Usage: Spoke (v) Said (v)

OK, esteemed colleagues, last but not least today, here is a worksheet on differentiating the use of spoke and said. In writing this document, I used  the text–from Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage (Sherwood, OR: William James & Co., 2013)–quite broadly. Students will deal with both of the past tense forms of the verbs that title the worksheet, but also their present tense and the present tense of several other verbs listed in the reading.

There is, in other words, a lot of room to expand this worksheet–easily done because it is in Microsoft Word for your convenience in revising for your classroom’s needs.

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.

Media Art

“Media Art: When ‘media’ refers to the mass media rather than to a particular art medium, this term refers to a trend in art production that involves the representation of representations, i.e., the depiction or deconstruction of mainstream images of those societal groups traditionally marginalized and depicted as stereotypes (e.g., African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, gays and Lesbians). It has also come to include works appearing in mass media spaces, such as those usually reserved for advertising. Jenny Holzer’s fake television commercials on MTV are directed to an audience that might never enter a museum.”

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

Yankee Stadium

Alright baseball fans, this hasn’t been an exciting season, has it. With chagrin I admit that I have barely paid attention.

It’s not much, but here is a reading on Yankee Stadium and its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet that have tended to be of high interest to the students I’ve taught over the years.

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.