Scrooge’s continuing Christmas gift: Appropriate words for seeing 2020 out

December 11, 2020

I wish it were not so. These words of Dickens’s through Scrooge, remain salient, damning and depressing, every day Donald Trump holds the Oval Office. Now Trump’s been impeached, but left in place, and defeated by American voters, but he still sits on his throne, messing up America in every way he can think to do it.

And so our annual post on the lessons we take from “A Christmas Carol.”

Roberto Innocenti, Scrooge on a dark staircase

Ebenezer Scrooge, up a dark staircase; “Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” Illustration by Roberto Innocenti, via Pinterest.

It’s a Quote of the Moment (an encore post for the season, with a bit of context thrown in later), Trump’s platform, and life, edited down to just three words, in green:

Darkness is cheap,
and Scrooge liked it.

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1

Isn’t that the entire GOP platform in three words? “Darkness is cheap.” Substitute “Trump” for “Scrooge,” you’ve got the picture. Three more words than the actual Republican National Platform of 2020, but more accurate.

I think of that line of Dickens’s often when  I read of the celebrations of calumny that pass as discourse in Republican politics these days. Although, with the 2008 renewing of Limbaugh’s contract, with the 2020 coming of COVID-19, it may no longer be true that his particular brand of darkness is cheap. With the advent of Donald Trump’s insult politics, offending America’s allies and all American ethnic groups possible, with un-ironic calls to drop nuclear weapons, GOP politics is even darker than ever.

Cheap or not, darkness remains dark.

John Leach, Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want

Scrooge meets Ignorance and Want, the products of his stinginess (drawing by John Leech, 1809-1870)

Here is the sentence Dickens put before the quote, to add a little context; Scrooge was climbing a very large, very dark staircase.

Half-a-dozen gas-lamps out of the street wouldn’t have lighted the entry too well, so you may suppose that it was pretty dark with Scrooge’s dip.

Up Scrooge went, not caring a button for that. Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.

Speaking of darkness, a longer excerpt from a bit later in Dickens’s story, when the Ghost of Christmas Present ushers Scrooge to glimpse what is in the present, but what will be the future if Scrooge does not repent:

‘Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,’ said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, ‘but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?’

‘It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,’ was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. ‘Look here.’

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

‘Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

‘Spirit! are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!’

‘Have they no refuge or resource?’ cried Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons?’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses?’ The bell struck twelve.

Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.

A Christmas Carol, Stave 3

Think of 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, children abused in Central America and in the Middle East, fleeing as best they can, only to die, off the shores of Greece, on the southern deserts of the U.S., or be cast into incarceration after having achieved a nation whose very name promised them refuge, the United States. “Two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable,” Dickens described. Whose children? “Man’s.” Yours, and mine.

Christmas is a festival to celebrate light, what many Christians call “the light of the world?” If so, let us work to stamp out the darkness which the unrepentant Scrooge so dearly loved.

Darkness may be cheap, but it is not good.  Light a candle, and run into the darkness, spreading light. We need more light.

Hope you have a merry Christmas in the making for 2020. Let us remember, as Tom and the late Ray Magliozzi always reminded us, the cheapskate pays more in the end, and usually along the way. Is Darkness cheap? Let us then eschew it as too costly for a moral nation, too costly for a moral people.

Is Donald Trump as smart as Ebenezer Scrooge? Is his heart as good as Scrooge’s heart?

If Trump died, who would attend his funeral?

When we die, who will mourn our passing? Which spirit moves us to action?

God bless us, every one. Or gods, or family and friends bless us, as the case may be.

More:

Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Fighting ignorance is taking a lot longer than anyone thought.

Yes, this is an encore post, mostly. Fighting ignorance is taking a lot longer than anyone thought.

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Veterans Day 2020 – Fly your flag

November 11, 2020

We fly our flags today, November 11, to honor all veterans, an extension and morphing of Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I. The Armistice took effect on November 11, 1918.

Veterans Day parade in Aurora, Illinois, unknown year. Photo from EnjoyAurora.com.

Veterans Day parade features a nice jumble of flags in Aurora, Illinois, unknown year. Photo from EnjoyAurora.com.

Another very nice Veterans Day poster from the Veterans Administration, for 2020:

2020's Veterans Day from the Veterans Administration, a representation of veterans in many roles in American life, always helping others.

2020’s Veterans Day from the Veterans Administration, a representation of veterans in many roles in American life, always helping others.

In world history or U.S. history, I usually stop for the day to talk about the origins of Veterans Day in Armistice Day, the day the guns stopped blazing to effectively end fighting in World War I.

For several reasons including mnemonic, the treaty called for an end to hostilities on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918. Your state’s history standards probably list that phrase somewhere, but the history behind it is what students really find interesting.

Original documents and good history can be found at the Library of Congress online collections.

The Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France, at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing the war later known as World War I to a close.

President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day the following year on November 11, 1919, with the these words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” Originally, the celebration included parades and public meetings following a two-minute suspension of business at 11:00 a.m.

Co. E, 102nd U.S.A. Curtiss Studio, photographers, c1917. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Between the world wars, November 11 was commemorated as Armistice Day in the United States, Great Britain, and France. After World War II, the holiday was recognized as a day of tribute to veterans of both wars. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars. British Commonwealth countries now call the holiday Remembrance Day.

Online holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provide rich sources of information on America’s military, and on veteran’s day. NARA leans to original documents a bit more than the Library of Congress. For Veterans Day 2016, NARA featured an historic photo form 1961:

 President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 - 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 - 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

NARA caption: President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 – 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 – 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

For teachers, that page also features this:

For Veterans Day, explore the many resources in the National Archives about veterans and military service.

(Well, actually it’s for everyone. But teachers love those kinds of links, especially AP history teachers who need documents for “Document-Based Questions” (DBQs).

On one page, the Veterans Administration makes it easy for teachers to plan activities; of course, you need to start some of these weeks before the actual day:

For Teachers & Students

Hope your Veterans Day 2020 goes well, and remember to fly your flag at home.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


If we’re sheltered from the virus, is April still National Poetry Month?

March 31, 2020

Yes.

National poetry Month may be even more important when we’re avoiding other social interactions, poetry being a very intimate interaction that spans distances and time.

Plans for National Poetry Month 2020 were made months ago; the only difference will be cancellations of actual physical gatherings.

But, literature and history teachers, is there a topic better adapted for virtual learning than poetry?

Poster of National Poetry Month 2020, from the Academy of American Poets. It was designed by “tenth grader Samantha Aikman from Mount Mansfield Union High School in Richmond, Vermont, winner of the 2020 National Poetry Month Poster Contest for Students. Aikman’s artwork was selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and award-winning cartoonist Alison Bechdel from among ten outstanding finalists and 180 student submissions.”

The Academy of American Poets described it:

National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.

Join the celebration this April by listing your virtual readings and events, signing up for and displaying the official National Poetry Month poster, participating in Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 30, 2020 recommending the Dear Poet project to a young person, signing up to read a Poem-a-Day, and checking out 30 more ways to celebrate.

We hope National Poetry Month’s events and activities will inspire you to keep celebrating poetry all year long!

April’s a good month for poetry. I like using Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” on April 18th or 19th in 10th and 11th grade history classes — sadly, most Texas students appear unfamiliar with the poem, which can help them on several key questions on the state test. It can be followed up with Emerson’s “Concord Hymn,” which contains a phrase they are required to know — but again, in a poem they are not taught otherwise.

And there are, or would be in a normal year, pending ceremonies of various types that demand poetry. Graduations, farewells, awards ceremonies, and more that cry out for just a few verses of poetry to put frosting on the cake, or gravy on the potatoes depending on which metaphor floats your particular watercraft.

Happy to see so much material out there for National Poetry Month. Where will you start?


Maybe the kids are alright

February 26, 2020

Lotta hope found in this photo of two young women, out to make the world a better place.

Maybe the kids are alright, after all.

@GretaThunberg and @Malala
@GretaThunberg and @Malala met, probably in London. February 2020.

Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai. Young activists for ending carbon pollution (Greta) and educating women (Malala).

Another photo of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai.
Another photo of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai.

More:


Disasters in U.S. schools: March 18, 1937, New London, Texas, gas explosion

March 18, 2019

Most high school history students don’t know about it.  Most high school history students in Texas don’t know about it.

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

New London School, New London, Texas, before the 1937 disaster. Photo from the New London Museum

I wonder, sometimes, how many Texans remember at all.

I wonder, too, if there are lessons to be learned from the New London tragedy, while the nation debates what to do to prevent recurrences of school shootings.

No one in New London, Texas, bore ill-will towards children, or schools, or other New Londoners. Some good came of the disaster, but as we’ve seen, with animosity towards schools and school safety in Texas today, and a lackadaisical approach to dangerous substance control and accident prevention in West, Texas, and other places, lessons learned were not learned well.

The deadliest disaster ever to hit a public school in the U.S. struck on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas explosion destroyed the new school building at New London, Texas, killing about 300 people — 79 years ago today.

The remains of the London School after the exp...

The remains of the London School after the explosion of March 18, 1937. Mother Frances Hospital archives

Noise from the blast alerted the town, and many people in the oilfields for many miles.  Telephone and telegraph communication got word out.  Oil companies dismissed their employees, with their tools, to assist rescue and recovery efforts.  Notably, 20-year-old Walter Cronkite came to town to report the news for a wire service.

Investigation determined that a leak in a newly-installed tap into the waste gas pipe coming from nearby oil fields probably allowed natural gas to accumulate under the building.  A spark from a sander started a fire in gas-filled air, and that in turn exploded the cavern under the school.  School officials approved the tap to the waste gas line to save money.  (Hello, Flint, Michigan!) Natural gas is odorless.  One result of the disaster was a Texas law requiring all utility natural gas to be odorized with ethyl mercaptan.

Though the Great Depression still gripped the nation, wealth flowed in New London from oil extraction from nearby oil fields.  The  school district completed construction on a new building in 1939, just two years later — with a pink granite memorial cenotaph in front.

Today, disasters produce a wealth of litigation, tort suits trying to get money to make the injured whole, and to sting those at fault to change to prevent later disasters.  In 1937 official work cut off such lawsuits.

Three days after the explosion, inquiries were held to determine the cause of the disaster. The state of Texas and the Bureau of Mines sent experts to the scene. Hearings were conducted. From these investigations, researchers learned that until January 18, 1937, the school had received its gas from the United Gas Company. To save gas expenses of $300 a month, plumbers, with the knowledge and approval of the school board and superintendent, had tapped a residue gas line of Parade Gasoline Company. School officials saw nothing wrong because the use of “green” or “wet” gas was a frequent money-saving practice for homes, schools, and churches in the oilfield. The researchers concluded that gas had escaped from a faulty connection and accumulated beneath the building. Green gas has no smell; no one knew it was accumulating beneath the building, although on other days there had been evidence of leaking gas. No school officials were found liable.

These findings brought a hostile reaction from many parents. More than seventy lawsuits were filed for damages. Few cases came to trial, however, and those that did were dismissed by district judge Robert T. Brown for lack of evidence. Public pressure forced the resignation of the superintendent, who had lost a son in the explosion. The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education. A cenotaph of Texas pink granite, designed by Donald S. Nelson, architect, and Herring Coe, sculptor, was erected in front of the new school in 1939.  (Texas Handbook of History, Online, from the Texas State Historical Association)

Of about 500 students, more than 50% of them died.  Once the new school and memorial were built, and the law passed requiring utilities to odorize natural gas so leaks could be detected earlier, survivors and rescuers rather shut down telling the history.  A 1977 reunion of survivors was the first in 40 years.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

New London School shortly after the March 18, 1937, explosion. Photo from the New London Museum.

Because of that scarring silence, the story slipped from the pages of most history books.

Trinity Mother Frances Hospital treated the victims; a 2012 film from the hospital offers one of the best short histories of the events available today.

New London, and the New London Museum, work to remember the dead and honor them.  Work continues on a film about the disaster, perhaps for release in 2013:

Now, more than 75 years later, the London Museum, across the highway from where the original school was destroyed, keeps alive the memory of much of a generation who died on that terrible day.

This video was produced by Michael Brown Productions of Arlington, TX as a prelude to a feature documentary on the explosion and its aftermath which is planned for
the spring of 2013.  . . .

www.newlondonschool.org/museum

What are the lessons of the New London Disaster?  We learned to remember safety, when dealing with natural gas.  A solution was found to alert people to the presence of otherwise-odorless, explosive gases, a solution now required by law throughout the U.S.  Natural gas explosions decreased in number, and in damages and deaths.  Wealthy schools districts, cutting corners, can create unintended, even disastrous and deadly consequences.  Quick rebuilding covers the wounds, but does not heal them.

Remembering history takes work; history not remembered through the work of witnesses, victims and survivors, is quickly forgotten — to the detriment of history, and to the pain of the witnesses, victims and survivors.

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion

New, New London School and granite cenotaph memorial to the victims of the 1937 explosion. Photo from Texas Bob Travels.

More:

Houston’s KHOU-TV produced a short feature on the explosion in 2007:

This is an encore post.
Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

Veterans Day 2018 – Fly your flag

November 11, 2018

We fly our flags today, November 11, to honor all veterans, an extension and morphing of Armistice Day, which marked the end of World War I. The Armistice took effect on the November 11, 1918.

(In 2018, many commemorations have been moved to Monday, November 12; feel free to fly the flag both days.)

Veterans Day parade in Aurora, Illinois, unknown year. Photo from EnjoyAurora.com.

Veterans Day parade features a nice jumble of flags in Aurora, Illinois, unknown year. Photo from EnjoyAurora.com.

Another very nice Veterans Day poster from the Veterans Administration, for 2018:

2018's Veterans Day from the Veterans Administration features the poppy symbolic of World War I, contrasted with barbed wire from the battlefields.

2018’s Veterans Day from the Veterans Administration features the poppy symbolic of World War I, contrasted with barbed wire from the battlefields.

In world history or U.S. history, I usually stop for the day to talk about the origins of Veterans Day in Armistice Day, the day the guns stopped blazing to effectively end fighting in World War I.

For several reasons including mnemonic, the treaty called for an end to hostilities on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918. Your state’s history standards probably list that phrase somewhere, but the history behind it is what students really find interesting.

Original documents and good history can be found at the Library of Congress online collections.

The Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France, at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing the war later known as World War I to a close.

President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day the following year on November 11, 1919, with the these words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” Originally, the celebration included parades and public meetings following a two-minute suspension of business at 11:00 a.m.

Co. E, 102nd U.S.A. Curtiss Studio, photographers, c1917. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

 

Between the world wars, November 11 was commemorated as Armistice Day in the United States, Great Britain, and France. After World War II, the holiday was recognized as a day of tribute to veterans of both wars. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars. British Commonwealth countries now call the holiday Remembrance Day.

Online holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provide rich sources of information on America’s military, and on veteran’s day. NARA leans to original documents a bit more than the Library of Congress. For Veterans Day 2016, NARA featured an historic photo form 1961:

 President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 - 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 - 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

NARA caption: President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 – 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 – 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

For teachers, that page also features this:

For Veterans Day, explore the many resources in the National Archives about veterans and military service.

(Well, actually it’s for everyone. But teachers love those kinds of links, especially AP history teachers who need documents for “Document-Based Questions” (DBQs).

On one page, the Veterans Administration makes it easy for teachers to plan activities; of course, you need to start some of these weeks before the actual day:

For Teachers & Students

Hope your Veterans Day 2017 goes well, and remember to fly your flag at home.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


Hey, teachers: American Education Week 2018 is November 12-16

November 7, 2018

Not sure anyone but professional teacher unions pays attention to these things anymore, and I’d be surprised to find any school or school district with actual plans to celebrate, but November 12-16 is American Education Week.

In past years, it’s been a big deal for government officials to proclaim their support of education. Does anyone actually do anything?

American Education Week 2018 is November 12-16; what do you and your teacher colleagues have planned?

American Education Week 2018 artwork from the National Education Association (NEA)

American Education Week 2018 artwork from the National Education Association (NEA)

More:


Veterans Day 2017

November 11, 2017

 

Another very nice Veterans Day poster from the Veterans Administration, for 2017:

Veterans Day poster for 2017, from the U.S. Veterans Administration.

Veterans Day poster for 2017, from the U.S. Veterans Administration.

In world history or U.S. history, I usually stop for the day to talk about the origins of Veterans Day in Armistice Day, the day the guns stopped blazing to effectively end fighting in World War I. For several reasons including mnemonic, the treaty called for an end to hostilities on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918. Your state’s history standards probably list that phrase somewhere, but the history behind it is what students really find interesting.

Original documents and good history can be found at the Library of Congress online collections.

The Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France, at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing the war later known as World War I to a close.

President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day the following year on November 11, 1919, with the these words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” Originally, the celebration included parades and public meetings following a two-minute suspension of business at 11:00 a.m.

Co. E, 102nd U.S.A. Curtiss Studio, photographers, c1917. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Between the world wars, November 11 was commemorated as Armistice Day in the United States, Great Britain, and France. After World War II, the holiday was recognized as a day of tribute to veterans of both wars. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars. British Commonwealth countries now call the holiday Remembrance Day.

Online holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provide rich sources of information on America’s military, and on veteran’s day. NARA leans to original documents a bit more than the Library of Congress. For Veterans Day 2016, NARA featured an historic photo form 1961:

 President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 - 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 - 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

NARA caption: President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 – 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 – 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

For teachers, that page also features this:

For Veterans Day, explore the many resources in the National Archives about veterans and military service.

(Well, actually it’s for everyone. But teachers love those kinds of links, especially AP history teachers who need documents for “Document-Based Questions” (DBQs).

On one page, the Veterans Administration makes it easy for teachers to plan activities; of course, you need to start some of these weeks before the actual day:

For Teachers & Students

Hope your Veterans Day 2017 goes well, and remember to fly your flag at home.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

 

 

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Science lessons applied for safety, in your car. Do you drink water?

August 17, 2017

Still image from Idaho Power's short video on water bottles causing fires in cars.

Still image from Idaho Power’s short video on water bottles causing fires in cars.

Idaho Power sends along this video, teaching how to avoid starting your car on fire on a sunny day.

Can you use this video in your classroom?

It demonstrates science, how lenses work, how light works. Science classes should be able to use it.

The video offers safety instruction, stuff elementary kids should know to improve the safety of their daily lives. Their parents should know about it, too. Instruction for the kids, and a safety flyer for kids to take home.  A short piece Boy Scouts can use for Safety merit badge instruction. Surely Girl Scouts can use the safety instruction for a badge.

What other uses can you find?

Basic science provides critical basis for living, for parenting, and for teaching and learning. Anyone opposed to science instruction should rethink the harms that ever result from ignorance, or even forgetfulness.

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300 Spartans, led by Leonidas died August 11, 480 B.C.

August 11, 2017

It’s a different Leonidas, but Michael Phelps last year tied a record for winning 12 solo events in Olympics previously held by a man called Leonidas of Rhodes. The record had stood, as best historians can tell, for 2,168 years.

That was August 10, 2016. On August 11, we remember Leonidas of Sparta, for events in war, not peace.

300 popped up on some movie channel back in 2008 as I was preparing to teach world history again.  I did not major in history, and my high school history instruction featured no AP courses (Pleasant Grove High, in Utah, didn’t offer such things then; I assume they do now, but I don’t know).

What I knew about Sparta and the stand of the 300 at Thermopylae came from my reading encyclopedias as a child, and culture.  Never had an occasion to write a speech about the events, though had I known the history better, I might have found some opportunity.  Sen. Orrin Hatch would have loved a compare and contrast speech between the stand of the Spartans and his work against the labor law reform bill in 1977 and 1978; more likely, we could have used the simple historical facts that the stand of the 300 at the same place today would be impossible due to poor soil conservation practices of the local farmers, which has created a plain broad enough for a Persian Army to march through with impunity, never fearing drowning in the sea that no longer exists there.  Thermopylae is a grand historical metaphor for a good orator.  The simple facts of history are important, too — Churchill knew Herodotus’s stories well, and considered them when planning military actions in the area in two world wars.

The movie came up from students in the previous year; it offered, perhaps, a hook for an introduction to world history, explaining why we bother to study it at all.

I got a time delay recording to watch it, which I did, mostly.  Interesting stylization.  Cartoonish characterizations, which one should expect from a movie intended as homage to the graphic novel that directly spawned it, more than an instruction about history.  We might doubt that the Persians had trained and armored rhinoceroses in their armament.  Dialogue — well, this is Hollywood.  It would have been in some dialect of Greek, and no Hollywood scriptwriter would have been able to reproduce it.

What about the battle itself.  World history courses in U.S. high schools should pay attention to this battle, I think.

A monument to Leonidas I - Inscription, Molon Lave, which roughly translates to Come and get it!

A monument to Leonidas I – Inscription, “Molon Lave,” which roughly translates to “Come and get it!”

Several sources dated the climax of the battle as August 11, 480 B.C. — 2,497 years ago. (The battle is said to have occurred during the Olympics that year, too.)

World history classes dig through that period of history in the first semester.  Teachers, it’s time to think about how we’re going to facilitate this history this year.  As always, some bright student will wave a hand in the air and ask, “Mr. Darrell!  How do they know what happened if no one survived, and nobody had their Sony videocorder?”

At least one other student in the course of the day will be surprised to discover the movie wasn’t a filmed-on-the-spot documentary.  But apart from that, how do we know the events well enough to pin it down to one day?  And, since the Greeks surely didn’t use the Gregorian calendar, since it wasn’t invented until the 18th century — how do we know the date?

The short answer is “Herodotus.”  The longer answer may resonate better:  This is one dramatic battle in a year-long fight for the history of the world.  The Greeks were understandably and justifiably proud that they had turned back Xerxes’s armies and navy (The Battle of Salamis, a bit after Thermopylae).  So, these events were preserved in poetry, in the chronicles, in song, in sculpture, and in every other medium available to the Greeks.  Your AP English students will probably tell you the movie reminds them of The IliadThere’s an entré for discussion.

Turning points in history:  Had Xerxes succeeded in avenging his father’s, Darius’s, defeats, and subjugated the Greeks, history would be much different.  The culture the Romans built on, the trading patterns from east to west and around the Mediterranean, the technologies, the myths, and the stories of the battles, would be different. (Remember, one of Darius’s defeats was at the Battle of Marathon, from which we get the modern marathon racing event, the traditional close of the modern Olympics.)

How do we know?  How do we know?

How do you handle that question?  (Tell us in comments, please.)

I like this battle for the way it ties together many of the loose threads that vex high school sophomores.  Is history exciting?  It can be, as the Frank Miller graphic novel and and the Zack Snyder movie demonstrate.  How important is accuracy in making the story exciting?  (Do the rhinoceroses improve the story of the courage of the Spartans, or merely offer a good graphical metaphor for the overwhelming forces of the Persians?)  What happens when one nation invades another — who has the advantage?  Is knowledge of geography important — in battle, for example?  The philosopher Santayana notes that those who do not remember history are “condemned” to repeat it.  Xerxes tried to apply the lessons of the history of his father’s failed invasion; was he successful?  Remember this point:  Napoleon failed in his invasion of Russia in 1812; Adolf Hitler assigned his generals to study Napoleon’s failure, for Germany’s invasion of Russia in 1941; so convinced were the Germans that they knew the lessons, they invade Russia on the anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion.  Did it go any better?  George Washington consciously patterned his life on the great Roman warrior and leader, Cincinnatus — especially in turning over rule once the task was done, as Washington did twice.  What if Washington had, instead, patterned his life after Leonidas?  How might the American Revolution have turned out, and how might the United States have developed, had Washington sacrificed himself as Leonidas did?

The story of the Battle of Thermopylea, the bravery and cunning tactics of Leonidas and the 300, the wars between Persia and the Greek City States, form a good foundation for a study of history at any point after.  It is the stuff of great history, and the stuff of great rhetoric.  It could be the stuff of great AP essays and good writing exercises in general.   Damn the Common Core State Standards*, and damn the misguided Texas critics of CSCOPE, this is a topic I wish more world history teachers would spend some good, profitable time on

Resources and commentary on Thermopylae, Leonidas, and the 300:

More:

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought

Livius.org map of the area where the Battle of Thermopylae was fought. Note that, in purple, the map shows where a plain now exists, which was an ocean the Spartans could use to squeeze the Persian Army, about 25 centuries ago. What a difference 25 centuries can make.

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*  Common Core State Standards in social studies actually would support what I’m asking here, if only they weren’t filtered through state school boards who do not value scholarship, but instead wish history to be a checklist of faux-patriotic bullet points to regurgitate.  Here in Texas, we are not affected by Common Core — but we are affected by meddling in history standards by people whose agenda does not include making history exciting and good.  Common Core standards — technically — do not mention Thermopylae.  However, this is the sort of material, including the original texts of Herodotus, whose study the Common Core standards encourage, especially for analysis of the sort I think Thermopylae invites.  Texas TEKS allow mention of the battle, though the Battle of Thermopylae has been purged from the actual standards; Texas lesson plans frequently suggest “watching a film on the Battle of Thermopylae,” and “Answer questions on the battle; trade and grade.”  Teachers infuse those dull words with life — we hope.  Teachers’ actual practice in the classroom is the saving grace for this important history, in Texas; Texas world history teachers face their own Xerxes.  The Texas Lege recently removed the requirement that students study world history, instead giving them a choice of either world history or world geography.  And so the dumbing down of history by (probably well-meaning, but not well-thinking) legislators continues.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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Was Richard Feynman really an “unlikely leader?”

June 2, 2017

Richard Feynman, working with the Rogers Commission on the Challenger Shuttle Disaster, demonstrating effects of cold on the vital O-rings, with a glass of ice-water, a C-clamp and an O-ring. Open University film screen capture

Richard Feynman, working with the Rogers Commission on the Challenger Shuttle Disaster, demonstrating effects of cold on the vital O-rings, with a glass of ice-water, a C-clamp and an O-ring. Open University film screen capture

Interesting series of films from The Open University, on “unlikely leaders.” The film on Richard Feynman is a good introduction to his work in a few minutes.

Who the hell is “The Open University?” Their website offers a lot of free courses, but no clue about who finances the bunch, or even where it’s physically headquartered. I gather it’s a British group, but find little substantial information beyond that. Website copyright 2014; it’s got a modest track record.

Nice piece on Feynman. But is it a stealth piece to sucker people in? Feynman would be cautious about jumping on the Open University bandwagon. Or is Open University straight up? Enjoy Feynman.

More: 

 

 

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Distant, difficult and broken classrooms: South Sudan, 2016

March 30, 2017

Millions of students across the world miss educations they should be getting, due to war, famine, weather or poverty.

ICRC caption: In the town of Kodok, South Sudan, a boy stands in a shuttered school, where classes have been closed for months after fighting intensified in the area. Photo: Jason Straziuso/ICRC

ICRC caption: In the town of Kodok, South Sudan, a boy stands in a shuttered school, where classes have been closed for months after fighting intensified in the area. Photo: Jason Straziuso/ICRC

What are the odds this boy will, within a few years, take up a gun to fight in a war, instead of finishing his education?

What can we do about it?


Distant and difficult classrooms: Yemen 2017

March 30, 2017

From the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross):

Red Cross caption: No books, no chairs, no safe place to learn: This is a classroom in #Yemen where 2 million children are out of school according to @UNICEF.

Red Cross caption: No books, no chairs, no safe place to learn: This is a classroom in #Yemen where 2 million children are out of school according to @UNICEF.

Two things essential for a classroom: Student, and teacher.

Ponder that next time your local school board denies raises to teachers. And remember this classroom in Yemen, where students want to learn, and a teacher goes into hell to let them do that.

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On November 14, 1960, Ruby Bridges went to school

November 14, 2016

American Experience reminds us:

On November 14, 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges walked into William J. Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

This is an encore post I put up then, happy to have an excuse to repeat historic photos, great art from a great American painter, Norman Rockwell, and remind students of history.

This came on Twitter, back in 2014:

You don’t recognize her there?

How about in Norman Rockwell’s illustration?

The Problem We All Live With,” Norman Rockwell, 1964; oil on canvas, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Ruby Bridges with President Barack Obama, in 2011:

President Obama and Ruby Bridges viewing Normal Rockwall's painting, "The Problem We All Live With," at the White House in 2011. Photo by Pete Souza, public domain.

President Obama and Ruby Bridges viewing Normal Rockwall’s painting, “The Problem We All Live With,” at the White House in 2011. Photo by Pete Souza, public domain.

Ms. Bridges tells some of her story:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


Celebrating Veterans Day 2016

November 11, 2016

A teacher asked on Twitter yesterday for sources of information to set up a curriculum for Veterans Day, and I sent a few suggestions (and got thanked!).

Teachers watching through the day probably saw several sources pop up on the internet that they wished they’d had last week, to plan for this week.

For one, I didn’t post the Veterans Administration’s annual Veterans Day poster, and it’s a very nice one this year:

Veterans Day poster for 2016. Look carefully, you'll see the names of past military engagements in which veterans may have fought, in the background behind the very sharp photo of the head of a bald eagle, our national symbol.

Veterans Day poster for 2016. Look carefully, you’ll see the names of past military engagements in which veterans may have fought, in the background behind the very sharp photo of the head of a bald eagle, our national symbol.

In world history or U.S. history, I usually stop for the day to talk about the origins of Veterans Day in Armistice Day, the day the guns stopped blazing to effectively end fighting in World War I. For several reasons, including mnemonic, the treaty called for an end to hostilities on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918. Your state’s history standards probably has that phrase somewhere, but the history behind it is what students really find interesting.

Original documents and good history can be found at the Library of Congress online collections.

The Allied powers signed a ceasefire agreement with Germany at Rethondes, France, at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, bringing the war later known as World War I to a close.

President Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day the following year on November 11, 1919, with the these words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” Originally, the celebration included parades and public meetings following a two-minute suspension of business at 11:00 a.m.

Co. E, 102nd U.S.A. Curtiss Studio, photographers, c1917. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

Between the world wars, November 11 was commemorated as Armistice Day in the United States, Great Britain, and France. After World War II, the holiday was recognized as a day of tribute to veterans of both wars. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars. British Commonwealth countries now call the holiday Remembrance Day.

Online holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provide rich sources of information on America’s military, and on veteran’s day. NARA leans to original documents a bit more than the Library of Congress. For Veterans Day 2016, NARA featured an historic photo form 1961:

 President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 - 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 - 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

NARA caption: President John F. Kennedy Lays a Wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of Veterans Day Remembrances, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, 11/11/1961 Series: Robert Knudsen White House Photographs, 1/20/1961 – 12/19/1963. Collection: White House Photographs, 12/19/1960 – 3/11/1964 (Holdings of the @jfklibrary)

For teachers, that page also features this:

For Veterans Day, explore the many resources in the National Archives about veterans and military service.

(Well, actually it’s for everyone. But teachers love those kinds of links, especially AP history teachers who need documents for “Document-Based Questions” (DBQs).

On one page, the Veterans Administration makes it easy for teachers to plan activities; of course, you need to start some of these weeks before the actual day:

For Teachers & Students

Hope your Veterans Day 2016 went well (remember to bring in your flag at home!).

Get ready for Veterans Day 2017 — the 11th day of the 11th month.

 

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