Category Archives: Essays/Readings

This category describes readings of any kind for either teachers or students.

Term of Art: Antonomasia

“Antonomasia: [Stress: ‘an-to-no-May-zy-a’]. 1. In rhetoric, the use of an epithet to acknowledge a quality in one person or place by using the name of another person or place already known for that quality: Henry is the local Casanova; Cambridge is England’s Silicon Valley. 2. The use of an epithet instead of the name of a person or thing: the Swan of Avon William Shakespeare.”

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

Historical Term: Billeting

[Given the post immediately below this on, it’s worth mentioning that the Third Amendment to the United States Constitution–i.e. the third of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, guaranteed this freedom: “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”]

“Billeting The custom of requiring householders to provide accommodation for members of the armed forces. The system was widely abused in the 17th century under Charles I and protests against it were included in the Petition of Right (1628). Despite the forbidding of forced billeting in 1679, it continued under Charles II and James II, ending only when parliament agreed to the building of permanent barracks in 1792.”

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

Term of Art: Multiple Intelligences

“Multiple intelligences: An interpretation of intelligence put forward by the US psychologist Howard (Earl) Gardner (born 1943) in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983-1993), taking account of abilities of gifted people and virtuosos or experts in various domains, abilities valued in different cultures, and abilities of individuals who have suffered brain damage. In addition to the linguistic, logical-mathematical, and spatial abilities incorporated in conventional interpretations of intelligence, Gardner’s taxonomy includes musical intelligence (used in musical appreciation, composition, and performance), bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (used in sport, dancing, and everyday activities requiring dexterity), interpersonal intelligence (used in relating to others, interpreting social signals, and predicting social outcomes), intrapersonal intelligence (used in understanding and predicting one’s own behavior). In 1997 Gardner added naturalist intelligence (used in discriminating among plants, animals, and other features of the natural world, and in classifying objects in general) as an eighth intelligence and spiritual intelligence and existential intelligence as ‘candidate’ intelligences. Critics have argued that some of these abilities are better interpreted as special talents than as aspects of intelligence.”

Excerpted from: Colman, Andrew M., ed. Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Review Essay: Online Learning, with a Cultural Literacy Worksheet and Some Questions on the Last Mile

Online learning was touted as the next big thing in education when I became a teacher in 2003. As it happened, I entered the profession, after abandoning a doctoral candidacy at the University of Wisconsin, via the New York City Teaching Fellows, an alternative certification route contrived to bring new teachers into New York, which is chronically short of teachers.

Fellows in the Program were required to complete a Master’s Degree at an institution to which the Program assigned them. I ended up in what I basically regard as a diploma mill; part of my experience as a graduate student in this institution involved classes conducted partially online. Having spent, by that time, a great deal of time in graduate seminars, I saw the online component as a poor substitute for an actual face-to-face seminar, where one is required to think and communicate extemporaneously–a hallmark of an educated person by any standard I’m prepared to recognize.

So, thinking that online learning was at best laughable, I waited for it to die its richly deserved natural death. It turns out I underestimated the power of commerce over art, of marketing over facts, and of credulity over careful analytical thought. 

Online learning did indeed take off, and brought us, among other things, as one careful blogger has observed, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow Scandal (and if you need more documentation of this large-scale ripoff, you can find it here). One of the reasons I was compelled to leave my teaching job in New York City was this post on the “flipped classroom” I wrote and sent to an assistant principal and his coterie of friends pushing this bad idea at our school; I wrote it at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, and when I returned the following year to a campaign of harassment, I just walked away. I was, I am pleased to say, later vindicated in my assessment of the “flipped classroom.”

The coronavirus pandemic brought online learning back, and I’m sure I don’t need to belabor the fact–to parents or students–that little has improved (if there was indeed anything to improve) in this method of delivering instruction. In fact, I think few people remain who need to be convinced that online learning has been, is, and will remain, a disaster. The news reporting on this fact has been nothing short of a deluge: an Internet search using a phrase like “problems with online learning” will return pretty much all the information you’ll need about the failure of online learning.

Which brings me to this Cultural Literacy worksheet on the Last Mile. This is a fairly broadly used term now, but for the purposes of this worksheet, and the thrust of this essay, it refers to the last mile of wire required to bring information at high speeds to households, particularly those in rural areas. The last mile is the most expensive distance to cover where the economics of telecommunications technology and labor is concerned. Because of resistance in wires that carry electrical signals, it is also the hardest to deliver because the signal slows and weakens as it travels along the length–resistance increases along that distance–of the wire conducting it.

So, there are two areas of critical inquiry related to the Last Mile problem. I haven’t written them into the questions on the worksheet above, but since this is a Microsoft Word document, you can alter it as you wish. The first critical issue is the economics and politics of the Internet. As the world becomes more dependent on the Internet, the question arises about its ownership: should the Internet be a public utility, or a public good? Much has been written about data as the new oil–but should it be? This question is urgent as the coronavirus pandemic continues and online learning becomes de rigueur in many places around the world. The Latinism cui bono? (“to whom is it a benefit?”) applies here. Who benefits from the Internet, and who should? I know that my own monthly charge for high-speed internet just went up twenty bucks a month, so I have some sense of who benefits: Comcast. As companies and government agencies transfer their customer service functions to the Internet–and therefore to their customers–and public education moves increasingly online, this question takes on new urgency.

The second critical issue is a science-related question. If you follow science news, you probably know that superconductivity is a perennial area of research and discovery in physics. The question for a student interested in this is simple: what materials will increase conductivity across the Last Mile and make delivery of high speed Internet possible to the most remote locations? Can this be done through the air, as in a 5G cellular data connection, or is wire necessary? The student might also ask, or be asked: What is resistance? What is conductivity? How does one reduce resistance and increase conductivity? Even more: What is an electrical circuit? How does electricity “travel”?

Internet access has been a big problem for some families here in rural Vermont. There is very little competition (if any in some markets) among internet service providers, so in general there is very little motivation to make high speed internet access available in remote locations. This has, of course, impeded students’ educational progress. So the big question here, to my mind, is this: How far do we let corporations control something like the Internet that has become an essential part–especially during this pandemic–of our lives?

Enough said. I’m not sure how this simple blog post turned into this prolix slog. 

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.

Modernismo

“Modernismo: A literary movement that arose in Spanish America in the late 19th century and was subsequently transmitted to Spain, In their quest for pure poetry, the modernists displayed a dazzling technical virtuosity and technical perfection that revolutionized Spanish literature.

According to some critics, the publication of Jose Marti’s Ismaelillo (1882) marks the beginning of the movement. Others assert that, while Marti exerted enormous influence on Spanish-American writing and thought, his poetry is so individual that he cannot be considered even a precursor of modernism. There is no disagreement, however, as to the dominant role of Ruben Dario, whose work defined and stimulated modernism in America and in Spain. The publication of his Azul (1888) is sometimes said to signify the birth of modernism, and Prosas profanas (1896) is held to show modernism at its zenith. Other early modernist poets (often considered precursors of this movement) were Manuel Gutierrez Najera, Jose Ascuncion Silva, and Julian del Casal, the Cuban. Modernists of the later, post-1896 phase include Leopoldo Lugones, Jose Enrique Rodo, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Jose Santo Chocano, Amado Nervo, and Rufino Blanco Fombona.

In rebellion against romanticism, from which, however, they were not always able to free themselves, the modernists drew their initial inspiration and technique from European, particularly French, sources. From French Parnassians and symbolists, such as Gautier, Coppee, and Verlaine, came their pessimism and melancholy, their belief in art for art’s sake, their zeal for technical excellence and musicality, their love of exotic imagery and a vocabulary in which swans (one of Dario’s favorite symbols), peacocks, gems, and palaces abound. Another distinctive characteristic of the modernists was their unceasing experimentation with old and new verse forms, In their desire to escape from the sordidness of reality, the early modernists usually shunned political and native themes. Their successors, however, inspired no doubt by impassioned verses that Dario hurled at Theodore Roosevelt in his ode to Argentina, turned increasingly to American subjects, as exemplified by Chocano’s Alma America (1906). In prose writing, particularly the essay, modernismo fostered a new simplicity and elegance, the finest examples of which are to be found in the works of Rodo.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Mozarabe Style

“Mozarabe Style: Describes a tradition of art developed by the Christians (mozarabes) who lived in those parts of Spain under Muslim rule from the 8th to the 15th centuries. The Mozarabe style was primarily associated with church architecture and was often characterized by the horseshoe arch, a holdover from Visigothic times.”

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

Term of Art: Aristocracy of Labor

“Aristocracy of Labor The skilled section of the 19th– and early 20th-century British working class in the staple industries, economically and consciously culturally distinct from the mass of workers, which provided the core and leadership of the trade union movement. A Marxist view that its influence held the Labor movement back from revolutionary politics is widely disputed.”

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

Arawak

Arawak: At the time of Columbus, Arawak speakers inhabited the Greater Antilles and parts of mainland South America. Since languages of the Arawakan family are not found in North or Mesoamerica, it is likely that these people reached the islands from the south. In support of this view, pottery of the Saladoid type is found in a great arc from western Venezuela to the West Indies, and in the northern islands there seems to be a ceramic continuity from Saladoid ware to insular Arawak. Spanish sources describe the island Arawaks as settled farmers with an elaborate religion based on a Zemi cult.”

Excerpted from: Bray, Warwick, and David Trump. The Penguin Dictionary of Archaeology. New York: Penguin, 1984.

Term of Art: Acting Out

“Acting out: 1. In psychoanalysis, the enactment rather than the recollection of past events, especially enactments relating to the transference during therapy. It is often impulsive and aggressive, and it is usually uncharacteristic of the patient’s normal behavior. The concept was introduced by Sigmund Freud (1856-1839) in An Outline of Psychoanalysis (1938/40): the patient ‘acts it [the past event] before us, as it were, rather than reporting it to us’ (Standard Edition, XXIII, pp. 144-207, at p. 176). 2. A defense mechanism in which unconscious emotional conflicts or impulses are dealt with by actions, including parapraxes, rather than thought or contemplation. act out vb.”

Excerpted from: Colman, Andrew M., ed. Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

7 Notes

“Do * Re * Mi * Fa * So * La * Ti

As early as the seventeenth century, European musicians believed that this mnemonic for teaching musical pitch was derived from a Muslim source, though we now think this may itself lead back to a Sanskrit Bronze Age hymn. There is an equally strong tradition that it came from the first letters of each phrase of an eighth-century hymn to Saint John which goes: ‘So that these your servants can, with all their voice, sing your wonderful feats, clean the blemish of our spotted lips, O Saint John’—or, rather, in Latin, ‘Ut queant laxis resonare fibris, Mira gestorum famuli tuorum, Solve pollute labii reatum, Sancte Ioannes.’

However, for most of us the whole seven-not mnemonic is intrinsically bound up in Julie Andrews’ teaching the Von Trapp children to sing in the film The Sound of Music. This is one of the most beloved propaganda films of all time, creating an emotional case for excluding the inhabitants of the beautiful mountain scenery from any complicity with the war crimes of Nazi Germany. ‘Doe a deer, a female deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun, etc.’”

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.