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13 June 2009
And Another
Love this man.

Dogma is actually the only thing that cannot be separated from education. It IS education. A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching. There are no uneducated people; only most people are educated wrong. The true task of culture today is not a task of expansion, but of selection-and rejection. The educationist must find a creed and teach it.

-G. K. Chesterton
Jelly Pinched Wolf   11:04 PM
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Looking for Dragons
While on a hunt for something completely different, I happened upon this and rather liked it. So, apropos of nothing:

A new morality has burst upon us with some violence in connection with the problem of strong drink; and enthusiasts in the matter range from the man who is violently thrown out at 12.30, to the lady who smashes American bars with an axe. In these discussions it is almost always felt that one very wise and moderate position is to say that wine or such stuff should only be drunk as a medicine. With this I should venture to disagree with a peculiar ferocity. The one genuinely dangerous and immoral way of drinking wine is to drink it as a medicine. And for this reason: If a man drinks wine in order to obtain pleasure, he is trying to obtain something exceptional; something he does not expect every hour of the day; something which, unless he is a little insane, he will not try to get every hour of the day. But if a man drinks wine in order to obtain health, he is trying to get something natural; something, that is, that he ought not to be without; something that he may find it difficult to reconcile himself to being without. The man may not be seduced who has seen the ecstasy of being ecstatic; it is more dazzling to catch a glimpse of the ecstasy of being ordinary.

-G. K. Chesterton, from “Heretics”
Jelly Pinched Wolf   11:00 PM
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08 June 2009
Year in Review
So, now that I am back for the summer to blog to no one (well, my original design for this blog was as a way of keeping the thoughts and writing flowing for my own personal benefit, and not for random cyber-people to peruse anyway, so at least I’m living up to that), I thought it best to hold with tradition and recap the year of teaching.

‘Twas a strange and action-packed year, to be certain—excellent, yet tiring. But I must, as is necessary from my viewpoint as teacher, begin with the kids. For it is they who make the job what it is, without whom I’d feel rather foolish since I’d be talking to myself in a room (and it’s not like I wouldn’t, either). This class holds a special place in my heart, though (and I can only hope they don’t find their way to this, as I’d rather not actually give credence to their surety that they’re my favourites—then again, if their egos need the boost, who am I stop it?). They were the Freshman class the year I began teaching—my own freshman year, as it were. And so to see them graduating was pretty darned amazing. And many of them I have taught two or three years out of the four (one poor soul got stuck with me all four years, though the first was just in homeroom; I’m not sure how he’ll ever recover from that…), so I know them very well. Though my senior AP classes tried my patience at times—oh, indifference, thy sting is terrible!—(which is just a part of the job after all), they really were rather wonderful. Good thinkers, some amazing writers, and quite a few marvellous souls. These kids are poised to take the world by storm, and I can only hope and pray that they live up to that potential. If they shock and amaze their peers and professors next year, it will only make me ever the prouder of them. They done good, says I.

Which does not mean there isn’t more good on the horizon. The incoming AP seniors that I know (ones I had as sophomores and those I was able to witness during a class swap—more on that later—are some heavy guns in the thinking and wonderfulness department). It might be a bit of a battle, though, since many are unfortunately coming in with preconceived notions about the ideas of the course (how dare you suggest that a monarchy could be a legitimate and fruitful form of government when we have this illustrious system here where nothing ever foul or unjust occurs? how dare you suggest that dragons might really have existed?—there’s no physical evidence, and if we can’t see it, it must not exist!). If there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s this ridiculous tendency in people (though I reckon it’s more or less always been this way) that because a ideology is from the past, we, in our clear and apparent “enlightenment” should be thrilled with ourselves for having cast the ideology into the darkness and moved beyond it. If it is of the good, if there is truth within it, then it is always good, always true. Because we have found another way of doing it doesn’t necessarily make it better, just different. Perhaps more appropriate to the needs of the age (as we are changeable and ever-changing beings), but not necessarily better. And not necessarily worse, either. I am not nor have ever been one to discredit what we have built here; it is good and worthy. But neither does that mean I cannot admire the beauty and rightfulness of a properly conducted monarchy. Sigh. Apologies for the rant. As I said, a wonderful but tiring year.

On the other side of things, we had quite an interesting year administratively—every one of our major administrative positions will find a new body within it next year. A flurry of departures at the end of the year (for a variety of reasons) will leave us with a very different team of bosses next year. And I think it a good thing—or at least interesting. But though I like things to be orderly and tidy, I am also a bit in love with occasional chaos (so long as it’s tidy, you understand), and so these sorts of change make things more interesting. Happily, my department head is still with us and managing things well—she’s wonderful, and so supportive; best I could hope for, really. And of course, there were the sorts of things we “cannot discuss” that occurred this year. I tell you what—corporate office politics have nothing on those of a high school. But as I respect the confines of my contract, and do still love where I work (more than any job I have ever done, and likely ever will, unless that whole fulltime author thing ever bloody well takes off), I must be content to say that I am a rebel, and apparently far more dangerous than I’d have hitherto imagined. But then, as I have always taught from the perspective that free thinking (true free thinking, like Socrates—not that hippified nonsense that essentially means “think whatever you want, even if it’s meaningless and has no basis in reality—just so long as it makes you feel good about yourself!”) is dangerous, and will more often than not put us in opposition to the majority of society at large, then I suppose that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Silly me, teaching kids to think for themselves and to know how to question that which needs questioning.

And so, in the end, a good year. I robed 16 students at graduation (for those, like my wife, who’ve never heard of such a thing, my school has, at the beginning of the three-day graduation extravaganza, a segment of the awards ceremony devoted to the students getting to choose their most influential teacher or staff member to put their graduation gown on them as an entrance into above-noted extravaganza). Apparently, I robed the highest number for the year, which still amazes me. But it was a pretty terrific experience. And at the end of commencement, I got to give the benediction, for which I used the brilliant and illustrious words of John Henry Cardinal Newman (hooray for Anglo-Catholics!):

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being, so utterly, that our lives may be only a radiance of yours. Shine through us, and be so in us, that every soul we come in contact with may feel your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us but only Jesus! Stay with us, and then we shall begin to shine as you shine; so to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be ours; it will be you, shining on others through us.

Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around us. Let us preach you without preaching, not by words but by our example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you. Amen.

One of the challenges (for me, at least) to teaching in a Catholic high school is dealing with all the fruity, hand-holdy, missing-the-point nonsense of the modern American liturgical practices. It was nice to give them something a bit more solidly orthodox as they head off to begin their lives.

As mentioned above, I did have one exciting teacher-exchange sort of experience this year. Since I didn’t have Junior AP, and one of the teachers doing it was new, I asked him if I could have a day to teach his class while they were doing Light in August. Why, you ask? Well, dear friends, because any chance I can get to talk about Faulkner is a good thing. I’d bloody well teach a Faulkner course if I could get away with it. Oh, if only…. Anyway, it was all kinds of good. This teacher isn’t much for the lit discussion-oriented approach, and so his students were ravenous to voice their ideas and delve into the rich depth of this novel. We may only have scratched the surface in that one class period (two separate classes in the day, though), but by God and St. George they did an awful lot of scratching. Rather a large number begged me to come back and do it again (which is always one of those terribly embarrassing, yet wonderfully ego-building moments). Oh, but it felt good to talk about Faulkner again! I mean, sure, I had The Sound and the Fury with my own juniors, but that’s always a struggle (yes, I know I’m a sadistic man giving one of Faulkner’s most difficult works to regular-level juniors, but I see it as a great reading tool, and a surprising number get more out of it than one might expect; invariably, they choose to use it on their final exams more than most of the other works from the semester. I see no reason not to set the bar high for them just because they’re “regular”). But chatting with those who are so desirous to understand more of what they’re reading like that—well, it’s just all good. And this gave me an introduction to many of the students I’ll have next year, so it’s really nice to see ahead of time the kinds of minds that’ll be tackling what I offer them as seniors.

And that’s pretty much it for the year, at least as far as school is concerned. I mean, I could go into specifics, but that would be boring for anyone but me, and I know them already. Next year should be more relaxed, actually, as I finally (barring sudden changes over the summer—) get to keep the same schedule two years in a row. Hey, I might actually be able to improve on things! Crazy! Our curriculum for the juniors is changing, but I’m excited about that. Only two major works for the year—The Crucible and The Great Gatsby. I am sad to see The Scarlet Letter go, because it’s just so darned beautiful and amazing, and I think they should encounter it even if they don’t get that much out of it, but then again, it is such a struggle to teach at this level, I shan’t be too upset. I will be adding A Canticle for Leibowitz to my own syllabus for the end of the year, since it’s just so wonderful, and I’ve already had success with it on the junior level (albeit in AP, but I don’t think it’ll matter—it’s not a terribly difficult read). But the rest of the year will be focused on short stuff (which is what Americans do best anyway), so we’ll get to play around with lots of short stories and essays and speeches. Huzzah for constantly-changing topics! Should be exciting—we’ll see how it works on the keeping-kids-engaged level.

On the personal side of things, I managed to complete one story during the year, which is to begin a series based around the same character, is vaguely steampunk, and which I hope to continue this summer. I have begun the newest round of agent-queries with a flashy new query letter, courtesy of kashi and friend Michelle, and am happy to report that I have my first bite. One agent requested further materials, and now I am waiting to hear back from her. Hopefully a request for the full manuscript will be forthcoming and then, who knows…. In the meantime, I’m sending more queries out and praying like mad. The rest of summer will consist of some Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories playing and a heckuva lot of reading. Summer reading list is as follows:

Small Favor - Jim Butcher
The Terror - Dan Simmons
To Say Nothing of the Dog - Connie Willis
Either Absalom, Absalom or Sanctuary (can't decide, but I'm committed to reading at least one Faulkner a year) - William Faulkner
The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova
One Melville novel (not sure which yet)
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Vol. 1 - Diana Wynne Jones
Sailing to Sarantium - Guy Gavriel Kay
Bag of Bones - Stephen King
Hell House - Richard Matheson
The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler (forgot to add this earlier)

The following are required for school:
1984 (re-reading) - George Orwell
Catcher in the Rye (re-reading; or rather skimming, because I hate this book) - J.D. Salinger

I’ve finished Small Favour and am currently working on The Terror. Though if Simmons doesn’t pick up soon, I may have to set it aside for later or it’ll be the only other thing I read this summer. It’s not bad; he’s just taking his time with getting going.

And I reckon that’s all. Don’t know how much I’ll blog this summer, as I really don’t have a whole lot to say. Might ought throw some movie reviews up (Star Trek and Terminator in particular, and Up once we get around to seeing it), but otherwise, we’ll just have to see where the summer takes us.
Jelly Pinched Wolf   1:52 PM
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02 June 2009
The Height of Hilarity
Probably one of the funniest passages in Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!) by Jerome K. Jerome:

How good one feels when one is full - how satisfied with ourselves and with the world! People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained. One feels so forgiving and generous after a substantial and well-digested meal - so noble-minded, so kindly-hearted.

It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs. We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so. It dictates to us our emotions, our passions. After eggs and bacon, it says, "Work!" After beefsteak and porter, it says, "Sleep!" After a cup of tea (two spoonsful for each cup, and don't let it stand more than three minutes), it says to the brain, "Now, rise, and show your strength. Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature and into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!"

After hot muffins, it says, "Be dull and soulless, like a beast of the field - a brainless animal, with listless eye, unlit by any ray of fancy, or of hope, or fear, or love, or life." And after brandy, taken in sufficient quantity, it says, "Now, come, fool, grin and tumble, that your fellow-men may laugh - drivel in folly, and splutter in senseless sounds, and show what a helpless ninny is poor man whose wit and will are drowned, like kittens, side by side, in half an inch of alcohol."

We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach. Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach, and diet it with care and judgment. Then virtue and contentment will come and reign within your heart, unsought by any effort of your own; and you will be a good citizen, a loving husband, and a tender father - a noble, pious man.
Jelly Pinched Wolf   12:59 PM
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