Category Archives: Essays/Readings

This category designates a piece of my own writing on a topic on a variety of topics. So, if you are interested in listening to me bloviate, click on this category! Essays/Readings also includes extended quotes from books, particularly on pedagogy, literacy, terms of art, and philosophy.

Cultural Literacy: Jazz

Here is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Jazz. This is a full-page worksheet, so it is suitable for independent practice.

Jazz is principal genre of music played at Mark’s Text Terminal; in fact, as I type this, Kenny Dorham is playing “Blue Friday” from his fine 1959 recording Quiet Kenny. It’s a quartet set with Mr. Dorham backed by a rhythm section including pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Art Taylor

When I listened to jazz for the first time in high school (let the record reflect it was the original Impulse long-play vinyl record of John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard, side two, the almost 17-minute-long version of “Chasin’ the Trane”) , and I mean really listened, rather than simply heard, I knew I would be an aficionado of the music for the rest of my life. 

Over the years, the word Jazz (especially spelled out with a lower-case j) began to trouble me. Aside from its slangy sound and therefore connotation, it seemed like a miserly word to describe such original, variegated, and stately music. So, a few years back, when I heard an interview the great trumpeter (see him live if you can!) Nicholas Payton in which he said he takes issue with the word Jazz, I was relieved to hear him say it. He prefers the term “Black American Music,” which sounds good to me. If you’re interested in learning more of Mr. Payton’s thoughts about Jazz, you might want to take a look at this 2011 post from his blog.

Clint Eastwood has often said that Jazz and Blues are the perhaps “the only original art forms that we have” in the United States. It’s hard to disagree with that, and it’s hard not to at least consider the fact that Jazz especially has been ignored in the United States for two simple reasons: racism and a lack of good taste, tendencies that far too many Americans express proudly. Jazz is our classical music, and maybe for that reason alone it is time to find a new name for this complex, vibrant, uniquely American music.

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.

The Weekly Text, February 5, 2020, Black History Month 2021 Week I: A Reading and Comprehension Worksheet on Huey P. Newton

Here, for the first Weekly Text in observance of Black History Month 2021, is a reading on Huey P. Newton along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

In the mid-1970s, among my crowd in high school, Huey P. Newton was a bona fide hero. He co-founded, with Bobby Seale (another of our heroes), the Black Panther Party, (a heroic organization), which among many other things, fed breakfast to impoverished children and challenged the kind of police brutality that brings us events like the patently racist and sadistic murder of George Floyd in 2020.

It’s quite possible that your students may know Huey’s name. A panoply of rappers, including Tupac Shakur, Dead Prez, The Flobots, Public Enemy, Ab-Soul, Buddy and A$AP Ferg, and the great Kendrick Lamar have alluded to Huey in their rhymes. Pop artists like St. Vincent, Ramshackle Glory, Bhi Bhiman, and the Boo Radleys have also mentioned Huey in their songs. The character of Huey Freeman in Aaron McGruder’s brilliant comic strip and television show The Boondocks, a favorite of many students I’ve served over the years, is named for Huey P. Newton.

My own personal favorite pop-culture reference to Huey occurs in the 1979 film Richard Pryor: Live in Concertwhich Eddie Murphy regards as the greatest stand-up comedy performance ever captured on film. At the 1:06:54 mark (thanks to Wikipedia for that) of Mr. Pryor’s performance, he calls out to raise the house lights and introduces the audience to Huey P. Newton–who, alas, does not appear on camera.

Finally, I found Spike Lee’s production of Roger Guenveur Smith’s celebrated solo performance in A Huey P. Newton Story to be utterly riveting. Mr. Smith uncannily captures Huey’s deep intellect and abiding compassion, but also his essential shyness and even diffidence. I highly recommend this film.

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.

The Pentagram—Solomon’s Seal

The five-pointed star, the Pentagram, was a symbol of absolute authority to the Sumerian civilization of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), as early as the third millennium BC. It represented an additional axis or the royal authority reaching out to the four corners of the earth. Later, in classical Greece, it was used as a mystic symbol by Pythagoreans and in early Jewish lore it was associated with Solomon’s Seal, a magical signet ring of King Solomon which gave him the power to command demons and speak to animals. (Confusingly, Solomon’s Seal can also be depicted as a hexagon.)

This Seal of Solomon was revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Indeed an interlinked ribbon version—known as the Seal of Solomon—is used on the Moroccan national flag. Medieval astrologers interpreted the pentagram as a symbol of the five wounds of Christ. However, the symbol dropped out of Christian use, having been co-opted by medieval necromancers and modern witchcraft.

Renaissance occultists made a distinction in the star’s orientation. When pointed upwards the star was good, symbolizing spirit presiding over the four elements of matter. Pointing down it was evil—the sign of the goat of black magic (whose face could be drawn in the star or its beard and horn suggested by the points). Wiccans have adopted the symbol (in its good form) as their emblem, and it is widely used by neo-Pagans, often as a pentacle, within an enclosed circle.”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

La Marseillaise

“La Marseillaise: The hymn of the French Revolution and the national anthem of France. The words and music were written on the night of 24 April 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1835), an artillery officer in the garrison at Strasbourg, in response to a request by the mayor of Strasbourg for a military marching song following the outbreak of war with Austria on 20 April. Its original title was ‘Chant de guerre pour l’armee du Rhin’ (‘war song of the Rhine army’), but it became known as ‘La Marseillaise’ after it was sung in Paris in July 1792 by troops from Marseilles. It has had a checkered career as the French national anthem, being dropped in non-republican phases. It was first adopted in 1795 but banned by Napoleon when he became emperor. The ban continued after the 1815 restoration, but was lifted after the 1830 revolution. It was banned again on the establishment in 1852 of the Second Empire of Napoleon III, and was not readopted until 1879, some years after the establishment of the Third Republic.

Allons, enfants de la patrie,

Le jour de gloire est arrive.

(‘Come, children of the country, the day of glory has arrived.’)”

Claude Joseph Rouget De Lisle: ‘Le Marseillaise’ (1792), opening lines

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Term of Art: Antonym

“Antonym: One of two words or other expressions that have opposite meanings: fast and slow, hot and cold. Some words are antonymous in some contexts but not others: straight is the opposite of bent/curved, but is the antonym of gay in the context of homosexuality. Linguists identify three different types of antonymy: (1) Gradable antonyms, which operate on a continuum: (very) big, (very) small. Such pairs often occur in binomial phrases with and: (blow) hot and cold, (search) high and low. (2) Complementary antonyms, which express an either/or relationship: dead or alive, male or female. (3) Converse or relational antonyms, expressing reciprocity: borrow or lend, buy or sell, wife or husband.”

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

Historical Term: Bretton Woods

Bretton Woods: Town in New Hampshire, USA, where representatives of 28 nations attended a financial conference called by Pres. Roosevelt in July 1944 to organize a system of international monetary cooperation in order to prevent financial crashes like those in the interwar period which triggered the 1930s depression. It was agreed that participants would establish a World Bank to provide credit for countries that required finance for major projects. An International Monetary Fund (IMF was also set up for the purpose of operating cash reserves available to members facing balance of payments deficits).”

Excerpted from: Cook, Chris. Dictionary of Historical Terms. New York: Gramercy, 1998.

Perseverate (vi)

OK, this context clues worksheet on the verb perseverate, exists because the word popped up on Merriam-Webster’s Twitter feed and I perseverated about it until I sat down to write this document. In the sentences on this worksheet, the context clues are written to help students arrive a this definition: “to exhibit perseveration : to show especially by speech or some other form of overt behavior the continual involuntary repetition of a mental act.”

It’s the “continual involuntary repetition of a mental act” that I wanted to expose for students. I don’t know if you’ve worked with troubled or traumatized kids, but if you have or do presently, you know that anxiety is a challenge for these kids. Perseveration comes with the territory when you are an anxious person. I know this is a big word, but I have found in every case that when kids learn words to explain their feelings and thoughts to themselves, they profit both emotionally and intellectually. Moreover, they are then have the tools (words) to describe the thoughts and feelings they experience. This can supply a variety of clinical benefits to other people working with the same kids–and again, to the kids themselves.

If you have kids who perseverate, and you teach them this word, don’t be surprised if they ask you something like “You mean there is a word to describe this feeling?” They may want to learn others.

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.

Emissary (n)

It has been some time since Merriam-Webster has posted of the Word of the Day that I though high school students must know. For example, today’s word is repine, an intransitive verb meaning “to feel or express dejection or discontent.” My guess, unless you plan to have your students reading or writing on Victorian literature, or unless you seek to have them assume literary pretentiousness in common discourse, they won’t need to know this verb.

Yesterday produced, after several dry days, this context clues worksheet on the noun emissary. This is, I think, a word in common enough use that students will need to know it in high school, particularly in social studies courses.

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.

Term of Art: Indirect Speech

indirect speech: The reporting of something said, thought, etc. with deictic and other units adapted to the viewpoint of the reporter. E.g. He said he would bring them might report a promise, originally expressed by the utterance ‘I will bring them in.’ But the person who made the promise is someone other than the reporter; hence, in the reporting, original I is changed to he. Also the promise was earlier than the report; hence, in addition, will is changed to would. With these adaptations, he would bring them is an example of, and is said to be ‘in,’ indirect speech.”

Excerpted from: Matthews, P.H., ed. The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Linguistics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Term of Art: Atmosphere

“Atmosphere: The mood and feeling, the intangible quality which appeals to extra-sensory as well as sensory perception, evoked by a work of art. For instance, the opening scene in Hamlet where the watch is tense and apprehensive, even “jumpy.” By contrast, the beginning of Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist indicates clearly that the play is going to be comic to the point of knockabout. An excellent example in the novel is Hardy’s depiction of Egdon Heath in The Return of the Native.”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.