Category Archives: Essays

Essays on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning.

The Weekly Text, March 23, 2018

Well, it’s Friday again, so it’s time for another Weekly Text, which continues to to observe Women’s History Month. So, here is a reading on Queen Isabella of Spain with a comprehension worksheet to accompany it. As long as we’re on the subject of royalty in modern history, here is an Everyday Edit on the women in King Henry VIII’s life to complement the longer exercises on Queen Isabella. Incidentally, if you want more of these Everyday Edit exercises, the good people at Education World have posted a year’s supply of them free for the taking.

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.

Twenty-One Reasons People Hate, Hate, HATE Betsy DeVos

[This is a quick digression from the business of Women’s History Month on Mark’s Text Terminal to heap richly deserved scorn on Betsy DeVos, the callow heiress who still mistakenly believes she has the qualifications to serve as the United States Secretary of Education.]



Lesley Stahl: Why have you become, people say, the most hated Cabinet secretary?

Betsy DeVos: I’m not sure exactly how that happened…

I’m more misunderstood than anything.

The above exchange from last night’s 60 Minutes interview highlights an important point about our Education Secretary.

She is deeply unpopular, but not because she’s misunderstood. If anything, she’s understood too well.

We know what she stands for and we don’t like it.

If she was really so misunderstood, why didn’t her answers in the interview veer away from the same usual canned responses she’s given time-and-time-again to the same type of questions?

What’s wrong with schools? NOT ENOUGH CHOICE.


How do we prevent school shootings? LET SCHOOLS ARM TEACHERS.

You didn’t really even need DeVos to show up to the interview to be able to guess with a high degree of accuracy what her answers would be.

In fact, many of…

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Women’s Suffrage

The right of women to take part in political life and to vote in an election. Women’s suffrage was advocated by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), and throughout the 19th century, in Britain and the United States, calls were made for voting rights for women. These were first attained at the national level in New Zealand (1893). The state of Wyoming in the United States introduced women’s suffrage in 1869 and by 1920 all women over 21 were given the vote in the United States. The first European nation to grant female suffrage was Finland in 1906, with Norway following in 1913, and Germany in 1919. In Britain, as a result of agitation by the Women’s Political and Social Union, led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, the vote was granted in 1918 to those over 30 and in 1928 to women over 21. In the years following World War I, women were granted the vote in many countries, including Germany, Poland, Austria, and Sweden (1919), and the United States (1920). The Roman Catholic Church was reluctant to support women’s suffrage and in many Catholic countries it was not gained until after World War II; in France it was granted in in 1944, in Belgium in 1948, while in Switzerland not until 1971. In Russia women gained the right to vote with the Revolution (1917), and women’s suffrage was extended to the Soviet Union from 1922. In developing countries, women’s suffrage was usually obtained with independence, and in most Muslim countries women now have the vote. Women still do not have the vote in certain absolute monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia.”

Excerpted from: Wright, Edmund, Ed. The Oxford Desk Encyclopedia of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.


Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

A novel by Zora Neale Hurston, acclaimed as her finest. Now considered a classic in feminist literature, it relates the story of one woman’s odyssey ‘to the horizon and back’ in search of fulfillment and freedom. Hurston, an anthropologist and a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, uses black oral tradition and folklore, and centers the work in all-black settings. She focuses on love relationships and the strengths of African-American cultural practices, rather than racial protest. Ultimately, the story of Janie Starks’s quest is a universal one. Its lessons are about love, the efficacy of black folkways, and holding fast to one’s personal vision and value.”

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

Anna Akhmatova (1888-1966)

“Pen name of Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, Russian poet. In her youth Akhmatova was strongly influenced by both the French and Russian symbolists. In 1903, she met the poet Gumilev, who included one of her poems in the journal Sirius, which he published in Paris. Akhmatova and Gumilev were married in 1910, and were divorced in 1913. In 1911, Akhmatova became secretary of the Guild of Poets, organized by Gumilev and Gorodetsky.

Akhmatova’s first book, Vecher (Evening, 1912), is notable for its detail and clarity; her unmistakable feminine voice and her beautiful love lyrics won her attention from Russian readers. Also in 1912, the Acmeist literary group formed, and Akhmatova became one of its most prominent members. Her second book of poem, Chetki (Rosary, 1914), made her one of the most popular poetesses of her time. Beginning with her third book of verse, Belaya staya (The White Flock, 1917), Akhmatova’s poetic image changed from that of a contemporary poet who tells of an unhappy love to that of a poet who issues from the tradition of Russian classical verse. In the early 1920s, two more collections of Akhmatova’s poetry appeared—Porodozhnik (Plantain, 1921) and Anno Domini (1922). After that, it became difficult for Akhmatova to publish her poetry. The Soviet government disapproved of her apolitical themes, highly personal love lyrics, and religious motifs, consider her a poet alien to the new order. During this period, she wrote a number of scholarly articles and pieces about Pushkin. In connection with the mass repressions and those of her son and second husband, Akhmatova wrote the long poem Requiem,‘ which was never published in full in Soviet Russia. From 1940 to 1965, Akhmatova worked on her long poem ‘Poema bez geroya’ (translated Poem Without a Hero, 1973), which is dedicated to the second decade of 20th-century Russian culture, the Petersburg Silver Age. In 1946, there began a new round of round of repressions and Akhmatova, along with [Mikhail] Zoshchenko, was the subject of harsh attacks by the Soviet cultural authorities.

With the onset of the thaw under Khrushchev, Akhmatova was again able to publish. During this period she was at the center of a group of young poets, including [Joseph] Brodsky, and was recognized for her contributions to Russian literary culture. Of particular interest are [Lidia] Chukovskaya’s multivolume reminiscences about Akhmatova, Zapiski ob Anna Akhmatova (1967; translated The Akhmatova Journals, 1994). Many translations of Akhmatova’s poetry exist, including The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova (1992), translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward.”

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

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975)

“German political philosopher naturalized U.S. citizen 1950. Arendt received her doctorate at the age of twenty-two from the University of Heidelberg, where she studied with Karl Jaspers. She fled Hitler’s Germany in 1933 and eventually settled in the U.S. (1941), where she held numerous teaching posts and became the first woman to be appointed full professor at Princeton University. She ended her career at the New School for Social Research in New York. Her reputation as a profound and independent philosophical analyst was launched with the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), in which she documented the belief that Nazism and Communism had their roots in the anti-Semitism and imperialism of the 15th century. She continued to offer challenging and unconventional theories about the decline in values in modern society, in such books as The Human Condition (1961), and Crises of the Republic (1972). A storm of controversy surrounded the publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963), in which she suggested that even the Jews could be held partly responsible for Germany’s barbarisms in World War II. Her other works include On Revolution (1963) and On Violence (1970), in which she suggested that violence is a response to powerlessness. Her philosophically most ambitious work, The Life of the Mind (1978), a three-volume study of the fundamental mental activities thinking, willing, and judging, though unfinished (only the volumes Thinking and Willing were completed), it is a penetrating analysis of the processes of the mind and of their corresponding effects on action.”

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

Women’s History Month Begins Today

Today begins Women’s History Month 2018. Like last month for Black History Month, every post on Mark’s Text Terminal during March will be related to the history of women and their myriad contributions to and achievements in our global civilization. So, you’ll see two posts a day, five days a week here until Saturday, March 31st. We are at a moment in women’s history in which peril and opportunity best describe women’s position in the United States. Peril because the President of the United States is evidently a militant misogynist, and the vice president is a theocrat right out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale; opportunity because these politicians have provoked a backlash that, happily, may well be be their undoing.

Clearly, the Me Too Movement is an encouraging development. So too are the courageous women Time magazine has called the “Silence Breakers.” That all of this began because women somehow got the crazy idea that they should be able to attend a business meeting without looking at the exposed genitals of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and his ilk seems ordinary enough to me, but it has been hailed as something of a miracle. Whatever: I thank them for their witness and testimony

That said, these are grim days. Voters in the United States have elected a man who is vain, prideful, ignorant, misogynistic, willing not only to boast to a dimwitted talk-show host (who himself is a a scion of the family that produced two of our least distinguished presidents) about sexually assaulting women on the strength of his “celebrity” status, but has also paid off a porn star to conceal the evidence of philandering from his third wife, who presents problems of her own, not the least of which is her–and her parents–dubious arrival in this country,  which goes some length to expose the president’s hypocrisy on immigration.

(Aside: it seems to me, that Protestant Evangelicals who have overlooked Trump’s three marriages, and his payment to Stormy Daniels, and possibly a payment to a Playboy magazine model named Karen McDougal, have a lot of hypocrisy and moral blindness of their own to answer for.)

The overall misogyny of the Republican Party, coupled with its tacit encouragement of the craziest loose cannons in its ranks, has led to attacks on Planned Parenthood both in word and in deed. I’m a longtime supporter of Planned Parenthood (and I think you should be too). By any measure to which I am prepared to stipulate, attacks on Planned Parenthood, a provider of healthcare for some of the most impoverished and vulnerable women in our nation, are, in my absolutely humility-free estimation, an attack on women everywhere.

For many years, I have naively considered a number of issues in human affairs essentially settled. For example, after the Enlightenment, I take as a given that the scientific method–you know, the controversial act of backing arguments with evidence to prove them–was the sine qua non of inquiry. Yet now on an almost daily basis, demagogues (and yes, they are mostly if not entirely Republicans) seek to undermine the legitimacy of science and the means by which it establishes facts. Similarly, after the the feminisms of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, I assumed that a woman’s right to control her destiny, particularly in terms of her own reproductive system, was settled.

Yet here we are, in 2018, still listening to garbage like this, uttered by people delightfully unencumbered by decency or shame. I could supply a lot more quotes from low-watt Republicans that diminish and disrespect women, but I’d be here all morning copying and pasting links–not to mention exposing my tender consciousness to some of the most aggressively stupid and vicious rhetoric currently on offer in the American marketplace of “ideas.” So I’ll take a hard pass on that.

So, let’s begin Women’s History Month 2018 with this Cultural Literacy worksheet on Zora Neale Hurston, who serves as a perfect conjunction between Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Tomorrow I’ll post a more substantial Weekly Text, as I will on each Friday this month.

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.