Tag Archives: readings

The Weekly Text, February 9, 2018

Have you seen director Raoul Peck’s documentary about James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro yet? If not, I cannot recommend this film highly enough. I have always been a film buff, so I have greatly appreciated the arrival, in the last ten or fifteen years, of a bumper crop of engaged, talented documentarians. Indeed, most evenings I watch a documentary of some sort, so I like to think I know something about the form. If “I Am Not Your Negro” doesn’t represent formal perfection, then I don’t know what does.

Also, obviously, it showcases one of the most important public intellectuals and writers of my lifetime. I’ll simply say that The Fire Next Time was one of those books that radically altered the way I perceive the world, and I am grateful to it for that.

This week’s Text is a reading on James Baldwin with a comprehension sheet to accompany it. You might also find useful (and you can get lots more of these from the generous people at Education World) this Everyday Edit on the U.S.-Africa Capital Connection.

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.

Ishmael Reed (1938-)

American novelist and poet. Reed’s writing reflects his belief that the black American writer should function as a kind of conjurer of what Reed calls ‘neo-hoodoo,’ an attempt to pry the distinct qualities of Afro-American culture loose from Euro-American culture. In a language composed of black dialects, standard English, and hip jargon, he writes angry satires on an American society corrupted by racism and uncontrolled technology. Among his novels are The Free-Lance Pallbearers (1967), Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Flight to Canada (1976), The Terrible Twos (1982), and Japanese by Spring (1993). His verse collections include Conjure (1972) and Secretary to the Spirits (1975). Other works include Shrovetide in Old New Orleans (1978), occasional writings; Hell Hath No Fury (1980), a play; The Terrible Threes (1990), a collection of short stories; and Airing Dirty Laundry (1993), containing memoirs.

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

[Addendum: Ishmael Reed entered my cultural cosmology when I heard the the percussionist and producer Kip Hanrahan’s projects to set Mr. Reed’s poetry to music,  the first of which, Conjure (named for one of Mr. Reed’s books of verse) appeared in 1983. I continue to listen to that record regularly, now 35 years later. Two more records from Conjure have appeared, Cab Calloway Stands in for the Moon (1988) and a two-disc set, Bad Mouth, released in 2006.]

The Weekly Text, January 12, 2018

Springfield, Massachusetts, is the home of The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. I lived in Northern New England on and off for years, and I went to college in Amherst, Massachusetts, so I passed through Springfield many times in my travels. Each time, I noticed the Basketball Hall of Fame and wondered how it ended up in Springfield–of all places–and not in one of the bigger cities on the East Coast.

As it happens, the game was invented in Springfield by a man named James Naismith. Most of the young men I teach are interested in basketball, so your students may be as well. In any case, this week’s Text is a reading on James Naismith along with this comprehension worksheet to complement it. You might also find useful this Everday Edit worksheet on Basketball’s Beginnings (courtesy of the good people at Education World). Finally, and to risk making this whole post ephemeral by its tangents, here is a Culture Literacy exercise on the noun expletive, because it is used in the third Additional Fact in the reading.

Incidentally (and as the reading will explain to you and your students), the game of basketball in its original form prescribed 13 rules. A couple of years ago, I noticed that Sotheby’s had auctioned off James Naismith’s holograph manuscript of those original 13 rules for $4.3 million.

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.

Concept Formation

Process of developing abstract rules of mental concepts based on sensory experience. Concept formation figures prominently in cognitive development and was a subject of great importance to Jean Piaget, who argued that learning entails an understanding of a phenomenon’s characteristics and how they are logically linked. Noam Chomsky has argued that certain cognitive structures (such as basic grammatical rules) are innate in human beings. Both men held that, as a concept emerges, it becomes subject to testing: a child’s concept of “bird,” for example, will be tested against specific instances of birds. The human capacity for play contributes importantly to this process by allowing for consideration of a wide range of possibilities.”

Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.

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.

Wikipedia and Media Literacy

(As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I have long considered the American Federation of Teachers quarterly magazine, American Educator to be a credible and edifying periodical that includes useful research for teachers. Recently, it ran this excellent article on the problem of fake news in the United States. My school’s mindless ban on Wikipedia, I think, represents little more than an unwillingness to recognize the opportunities Wikipedia offers for students to learn how to evaluate evidence judiciously. In this short quote, the authors of the aforementioned article make the case for using Wikipedia for just that purpose.)

“You heard right: Wikipedia. Fact checkers’ first stop was often a site many educators tell students to avoid. What we should be doing instead is teaching students what fact checkers know about Wikipedia and helping them take advantage of the resources of the fifth-most trafficked site on the web.

Students should learn about Wikipedia’s standards of verifiability and how to harvest entries for links to reliable sources. They should investigate Wikipedia’s ‘Talk’ pages (the tab hiding in plain sight next to the ‘Article’ tab), which, on contentious issues like gun control, the status of Kashmir, waterboarding, or climate change are gold mines where students can see knowledge-making in action. And they should practice using Wikipedia as a resource for lateral reading. Fact checkers, short on time, often skipped the main article and headed straight to the references, clicking on a link to a more established venue. Why spend 15 minutes having students, armed with a checklist, evaluate a website on a tree octopus (www.zapatopi.net/treeoctopus) when a few seconds on Wikipedia shows it to be ‘an internet hoax created in 1998.’”

McGrew, Sarah, et al. “The Challenge That’s Bigger Than Fake News: Civic Reasoning in a Social Media Environment.” American Educator Fall 2017 (4-10). Print.


The Weekly Text, October 27, 2017

Although he has gone by many names, Prince Vlad III of Wallachia and his legend have come down to us in a number of forms, including rural folk tales, he is best known from Irish author Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula. Since Halloween is right around the corner, here is an Intellectual Devotional reading on Vlad the Impaler along with a reading comprehension worksheet to accompany it.

To complement this exercise, finally, you might want to use this short Cultural Literacy exercise on the Grim Reaper.

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.