Monday, January 20, 2014

Classic Literature and Education issues

Hemingway-LiveLikePosterI’ve had or seen a few discussions lately about what should and shouldn’t be taught in high schools. Now, I’m not a teacher, but I have done quite a fair bit of research into educational issues and I’ve had a fair bit of education beyond high school, strongly in the literature, art, and psychology fields. Education is of major importance. We all know this as a fact. What we can’t seem to agree on is what it should consist of and how it should come about.

One conversation was with a young friend who felt that art and music should be taught in schools but should not be graded. One of her points was that it brought her grade point down because she’s not good at it. I understand that reasoning. It’s not something she plans to do in her life, anyway, so why grade such things? Heck, I felt that way about science. Math, I understood why it was necessary. We all use at least the basics and theories. Biology? Chemistry? Botany? No, I still see no use in my life for having to have been graded on any of that. Yes, it’s everywhere. Yes, it affects us all. But learning what little I learned of it has not helped my work.

Or did it? The thing is: the seemingly simple event of learning something new makes more difference than most of us understand. Our brains are like any other muscle; the more we use them, the stronger they get, and the more varied things we learn, the more supple they become.

So, this brings me back to the article I read on a book site that really got me fuming, not only because of the vulgarity and condescending tone in it, but because her whole thesis was that since she hated and didn’t understand Hemingway, or other classics, all classic lit should be thrown out of high school lit classes. Most high school sophomores, she said, have “no frame of reference to tap into the heady though subtle emotions that course through Hemingway’s novels.”

Wait. No frame of reference? But isn’t that what fiction is supposed to give us? A wider frame of reference? As far as I know, teens don’t have a frame of reference to tap into the emotions of vampires who live forever if they suck blood or magicians with powers that make them the most important person in the wizard world, either. Does that mean since, as a young teen I lived in the middle of cornfields in an average working class family far away from war, had never had an illicit affair, and had never experienced impotency or traveled to Spain, I couldn’t begin to understand Hemingway’s characters’ emotions? I did, though. I understood them fine through my limited frame of reference.

Since the article’s author loves In Cold Blood and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas better than Hemingway, yes, we should throw out all of the classics and have sophomores read about druggies destroying their lives but being oh, so cute about it or the intricate details of a savage murder. Nightmares, anyone? I would have.

Yes, high school students should be made to read certain books for the same reason they should have to learn science basics. It’s a learning experience. It opens horizons.

That said, I don’t think any student should be forced to read novels about rape, incest, murder, or war if they feel strongly against it. Do parents realize what their kids are being made to read? You should if you don’t. Read reviews about the books you see coming home from school, or try reading it yourself. I was appalled at one of the books my son brought home and said he tried to read but just couldn’t. It was “in” at the moment. I guess the teacher thought she was being trendy. No, I wouldn’t read that graphic intensely violent thing, either, and I told him not to bother (probably the first and only time I ever told him NOT to do his homework).

Wouldn’t it be easier to have a selection of different genres so they can choose which classics to read and which modern fiction to read? Give them choices to an extent, but don’t throw out classic fiction that gives them frames of reference they will not achieve in any other way. If it’s a struggle for them to read, that’s a good thing. It is. Making things too easy on kids is doing them no favors.

And yes, if they have to be graded on science and math, they should also be graded on art and music. For some of us, those art and music grades pulled up our GPAs after struggling through those other classes. Would it really be fair to take that from us? (By the way, learning art and music basics help you learn everything else better. Scientific fact.) Good teachers will recognize a true attempt to learn and be somewhat lenient on the grading scale for artsy people struggling with math and for math people struggling with arts. I had a science teacher who did it for me and I’m forever grateful, because really, I did try, and that was the important thing for this non-scientist.

I loved “having” to read classics in school and it was as important for this writer-in-training to do so as it is for budding scientists to learn chemistry. We all have different things we struggle with and through. The struggle is as important as the things that come easy.

So, how about I trade you my Tolstoy for your… well, I’ll read most any genre that won’t give me nightmares, at least on occasion. And I won’t try to get Twilight pulled out of kids’ hands if you don’t try to get Hemingway away from them. Capote and Thompson I might take issue with. They can wait on that till they’re choosing completely on their own. Or at least give them different options within the same genre.

Half the point of teaching literature is learning the literature itself, to include the techniques, the metaphors and similes, flow, plot, conflict and conflict resolution, and how the author slants words and phrases to express her personal opinion, all of which will overflow into their lives if it’s taught well. The other half, and maybe the much bigger “half,” is to teach them to love to read, to realize how much they can learn from books, and how much bigger their horizons can be. We can’t do that by making them read only books they don’t enjoy.

Include the classics, but give them other genres, and choices, as well. They should be learning how to teach themselves what they want to know, not how to get by the easy way, and not that we should throw out and dismiss what doesn’t interest us. Make them quest for more knowledge and you’ve done the biggest part of giving them the tools for success.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Word for the Year

UnderblogCollectiveI found Project Underblog by chance yesterday and I’m a fan of a group of writers or bloggers all posting about the same theme at the same time and linking together. I also agree with Ms. Yother about resolutions for the new year. So, along with always wanting a good topic for my blog, I found this inspirational and had to jump in.

I haven’t done resolutions for some time. I’ve been doing goals, more or less, but have wavered on setting new goals specifically for the year because the schedule for my goals doesn’t go by the calendar. Not exactly. At least not January to December. The idea of choosing one word as your theme for the year instead of a resolution was very appealing. As I thought about it, a few possible words came to mind, but the one that stuck the hardest:


Focus is a much bigger word to me than it appears. It’s not one of my strong points. I have a plethora of interests and even within each field of interest, I have a plethora of things I want to do. I start new things often. I mean OFTEN. I start far too much to possibly keep up with it all.

That doesn’t work well when you have a mountainous goal/task that needs a LOT of attention and time.

So this year, my theme is FOCUS. Specifically, I have to cut out some miscellaneous time wasters, those things I’ve come up with that might be a good idea… Yeah, yeah. Good ideas are a dime a dozen (just like cute guys, so the song says). Implementation, and I mean full implementation, is more rare. And far more important.

My focus this year has to be on those things most important this year. I’m talking about writing specifically. I’ve produced well. I believe each book surpasses the last in quality. What I’ve truly lacked is focus on the things I truly Want to do with my work, other than the work itself.

My marketing stinks. I know it does. Maybe because I’m too scattered and have too many ideas. I’ve considered which supposed marketing tools (you know, those sites authors just HAVE to join) are not productive enough for the time they take, and mainly, they’re ones I don’t enjoy a lot. Those need to drop in status to hit or miss as I can get to them. I don’t have to be everywhere; really I don’t.

My important and most enjoyable tools are

1) My blogs. I like to blog. I have lots of thoughts that can’t be well confined to 160 characters. I have several blogs. All of them have been sorely neglected. Much of my focus this year will be improving and increasing blog activity.

2) Elucidations. I believe in my indie arts project and need to spend more time on that.

3) A project I barely started to develop last year called Write The Light In. With my psychology degree and my natural instinct to want to help others and to bring out the good side of things, this thought of combining that with my love of words is dear to my heart. It deserves full attention.

So this year I focus on the above, along with my actual writing, of course. Some social network places will close. Others will be “as I can get to it.”

FOCUS: My theme word for 2014.

Anyone else in? Click HERE to join in, but link submissions close in 3 days, so jump fast!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Recipe stuff and my own creations. Seriously.

Okay, if my family reads this, they will laugh. Why? I’ve spent a lot of wasted breath talking about how I hate to cook and I get sick of cooking… and on and on. Really, I don’t. In general.

However, I have been on a health kick over the past few years and since too many recipes call for stuff I’m trying to avoid, such as the very evil refined white sugar, I’ve been adapting recipes to fit my own needs. To me, they taste better than the original, but then I have adjusted my sugar intake way down from where it was. I’m a recovering sugar addict, by the way. Don’t you just hate how recovering addicts KNOW so much about what they’re recovering from? Ah well.

So of course that means writing them on … gasp … recipe cards. For this new grandma who recently had to get stronger reading glasses (like how I threw the grandma thing in there?), little bitty, read “regular sized” recipe cards are just annoying to no end, especially when you have to squeeze in the ingredients so it’s hardly legible.

Being the creative soul I am, I got creative in finding a better way to store and read my cards. Easy enough. First and foremost, I bought 5 x 8 recipe cards. See how much more space they provide?


Have to love that space! Of course they don’t fit in my regular (mostly unused) card box. I’ve been storing them on the fridge with a little suction clip where I can put them over my counter as I use them so they don’t get dirty. Yes well, then they’re hard to read. So I grabbed a 6 x 9 binder with clear pockets, pulled up Publisher to create a snazzy printout to slip in the front and side and voila!


Of course you can also just grab colored pencils or crayons or markers or whatever you have on hand. The only tricky part was changing my paper punch to 6 x 9 size to punch the holes to fit.


Easy! I still need to get alphabetized dividers for it, but now I just set it on the counter beside me, flipped to the recipe I want, and cook away (willingly or not). It even fits nicely with hubby’s cook books. (Only one of these is mine, other than my binder.)


I’ll start sharing some of my own remade healthier recipes soon. Yeah, don’t laugh. Cooking is less horrible when you’re being creative. Winking smile

Friday, January 03, 2014

From sea to shining sea…or something like that


My husband and I spent most of December out in sunny Arizona. It was my first trip to the much-warmer-than-PA state and we reveled in being able to sit out on the patio in short sleeves and sunglasses and get some vitamin D back into our sun-starved systems.

Okay, a bit of an exaggeration. PA does have sunshine in the winter. Most of the winter, it’s too cold to be out in it very long, but we do have it and it streams through my windows where I’m running my space heater to simulate summer and keep my toes from fussing. Right now we have a good 8 inches of snow or there about.

We didn’t go southwest for the weather. We went to welcome our first grandbaby into the world.

There’s something about being a grandparent that nothing else can touch. I can’t say it’s better than being a mom. It isn’t. I don’t have the 2 am feedings and such, so there is that, and I do like my uninterrupted sleep. But we had to leave baby back in AZ with his parents. That was hard. I did it to my mom, too. There’s something about those soldiers that will make you leave your beloved family and move across the country, or out of the country. Back when I did it, we didn’t have texting and cell phone pictures and social media and internet live video. Back when I had my first baby overseas, phone calls were horribly expensive and therefore very limited.

We live in easier times. At least in some ways.

Anyway, it’s been a very long time since I stopped writing for nearly a whole month. To be honest, it’s been at least ten years. Did I need the break? Maybe. Not sure about that. I did need the family time, though, the new baby time. And I stole plenty of it. Baby grandson slept in my arm or on my shoulder fairly often. Nothing better than that, or even equal to that, other than your own doing the same. Yes, we believe in holding babies a lot. A LOT. It makes them feel secure. At that age, if they can’t see or hear you, they don’t know you still exist. What a very scary concept to be so little and so helpless and to think you might be all on your own!

And when that baby comes to visit Grandma and Grandpa several months down the road, he will remember us and the complete and total infatuated love we gave him from his first days.

So on the writing note: I’m working on Rehearsal 5 while #4 waits for comments from my beta readers and editors. I still plan to put the second Ella M. Kaye book out in February, although I gave up a month of work on it and will have to hustle. I have paintings done for a hardcover version of Stanley, and thoughts for a second children’s book. I’m fully back to work. And maybe I didn’t need the break, but it didn’t hurt anything, either.

If you’re interested in my Arizona photos (scenery – won’t publicly post my grandbaby although he’s just as cute as heck!), I have the best of them on Pinterest HERE.

And if you want to see what the next Ella M. Kaye book will be about, you can visit its story board HERE.

2953I will be getting a newsletter out and updating my site. Soon, I think. Right now, I’m intensely checking back in with my characters. Guess I did miss them.