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Archive for July 2012

Quiet

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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Susan Cain

Crown Publishers

This happened several years ago.

The committee of people who want the school to be a safe and happy place decided it would be a good idea for the school to have a set of common rules.  I understood the idea right away: rules so simple that they would apply everywhere, that all teachers could teach consistently, that kids could understand.  I was in full support of this idea.

It was discussed in a meeting of the whole staff  Some people had ideas.  I had ideas, too.  Someone got the idea of making the rules spell out the school’s initials, to make them more memorable.  People started calling out key words that started with the relevant letters.  A draft was quickly assembled on a whiteboard from the called-out phrases.

It was my opinion that the rules on the whiteboard didn’t do what we were trying to do.  They were awkwardly phrased.  They required extra explanation.  They didn’t encompass all the situations that might come up in a wide variety of different situations.  They were hard to remember.  In the effort to make the rules match specific letters, the focus had moved away from a set of simple and comprehensive rules.

I raised a hand, in that large gathering.  I didn’t say all of that, because I didn’t feel that ‘This whole thing is bad’ was the right thing to say.  Instead, I focused on one problem I perceived.  “I don’t think ‘honorably’ is a good word to use in the school rules,” I said.  “Very few of our students will have a clear idea of what that means – in fact, even adults don’t always agree on what ‘honor’ is.  Some people even see ‘honor’ as a reason for fighting and conflict.”

Several other people called out to explain that I was wrong.

“‘Honorably’ is perfectly clear, and just what we want our students to do!”

“These kids need to learn what ‘honor’ is.  Their parents don’t teach them!”

And from there, some fairly unhelpful discussion of ‘these kids today’ and what is wrong with them.

Only four or five people were participating, out of the fifty or sixty in the room.

I didn’t say anything more.  What would be the point?  I knew I could come up with a good set of rules if I could think about it quietly and write for a bit, but I couldn’t do it in this meeting, and I couldn’t do it by shouting back and forth with louder people with different ideas, and by the time the meeting was over, it would be irrelevant.

So the rules on the whiteboard were voted on, and passed.

They were printed on posters and hung all over the building.

The print had to be kind of small, to fit them on the posters, so they can’t be read unless you’re standing right next to them.

Very few teachers actually use the phrasing of the rules, or emphasize them as a guiding principle for the behaviors they expect in class.

The posters are ignored by pretty much everyone, teachers and students and administrators.

The rules were chosen by a staff vote, and they were created in a staff meeting.  But that doesn’t mean they came from the best ideas in the room.  They came from the loudest, most forceful voices in the room.

I’ve had many similar experiences.  It doesn’t always matter that I have good ideas sometimes, because they’re not usually heard.  When I think my ideas are really important, or that something has been missed that could cause real problems, I email someone.  Sometimes that is effective.  Not usually.

Over the years, I’ve given up, for the most part, on trying to participate in decision-making, and I just let the people with the forceful personalities do that work- after all, they will be the ones making the decisions whether I try to participate or not.  Instead, I focus on my own classroom practice, where I try hard to create an environment that is simple, ordered, and organized.

This book is about introversion.  It’s a strong criticism of a society which privileges extroversion over introversion- which often actually privileges extroversion over good ideas, real skills, or reasonable prudence.  It’s a defense of introverts, and an primer  on how to function as an introvert, and an explanation for extroverts on how to understand introverts, and an exploration of the societal pressures that cause Americans to choose extroversion where, for example, Japanese people would choose introversion as the more desirable temperament.

As an introvert myself, I found it interesting reading, and somewhat empowering.  I can’t help wishing my bosses would read it.

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Written by Contented Reader

July 31, 2012 at 7:31 am

Posted in Reviews

Things to read

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‘You’re going to read a cat?’ ask the smartasses.  ‘What kind of book is that?’

Yes, I’m going to read the cat.  He is a Norwegian noir crime novel.

Written by Contented Reader

July 30, 2012 at 7:35 am

The Liminal People

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The Liminal People

Ayize Jama-Everett

Small Beer Press

I’ve spend the last several days enjoying The Liminal People.  It isn’t a book that would ordinarily take several days to read, but I’ve had a busy few days, and also, I’ve been slowing down to enjoy the book.

As I read it, I couldn’t help thinking that someone had missed a good bet in not signing a film contract with the author, because this book would make a kick-ass SF-action movie.

Hey, Will Smith!  Are you googling yourself today?  Of course you are.  I’ll bet movie stars spend lots of time googling themselves.  I would.

Will, you should read this book.  Or have ‘your people’ read it, if that’s how it works.  You’ll play the lead, obviously.  Taggert.  He’s a morally ambiguous character, an apparently good man who does very bad things.  He has the power to look inside a person’s body- he can see that tiny brain tumor, and he can heal it, or make it grow larger, or just redirect your stomach acid into your eyeballs if that’s what his boss wants done.  His boss is a very bad man, an African crime lord.  Maybe, if he had it to do over again, he wouldn’t have sold his soul to his boss.  But done is done,  and now he has to do the best he can in a situation he’ll never be free of.

There’s also a part for Willow.  You like finding movies to showcase your kids, right?  I have to admit that I’ve had ‘I Whip My Hair Back and Forth’ stuck in my head more often than I’d like.  Willow gets to play Tamara.  She’s the daughter of Taggert’s first and only true love.  The woman is out of Taggert’s life now, married to someone else, but when Tamara disappears and she calls on Taggert for help, Taggert will do whatever it takes to find and help the missing teenager.

Seriously, this is going to make a great movie.  There are good action scenes.  There’s a really scary villain, who has some reasonably scary minions and henchmen.  There’s good characters in an engaging human story, and a couple of really hot sex scenes.  You are going to make a zillion dollars.

Written by Contented Reader

July 28, 2012 at 9:42 am

Posted in Reviews

Other stuff I’ve read this week

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Written by Contented Reader

July 27, 2012 at 7:57 am

Posted in What I'm reading

How To Watch the Olympics

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How to Watch the Olympics: The Essential Guide to the Rules, Statistics, Heroes, and Zeroes of Every Sport

David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton

Penguin

I am so ready for the Olympics to begin.

On Friday, my friend, my girlfriend, and I are going to drink Pimm’s and watch the opening ceremonies.

I have reprogrammed the ‘favorites’ buttons on my cable remote so that I can effortlessly cycle through the various NBC channels that will be showing Olympic events.

I have bookmarked both the official Olympic web site and the NBC television schedule web site, so I can have easy answers to questions like, ‘When is the pentathlon?’ and ‘Who won silver in the women’s weightlifting?’

I have plans to simply leave the television on for the next two weeks in a never-ending celebration of the human spirit, exhibited through the world’s best athletes.

Of course, I’m old enough to have lived through a reasonable number of Olympics before.  So I know that in practice, I’ll probably get bored fairly quickly, moving from ‘I cannot wait for the Olympics to start!’ to ‘So, they’re just going to keep running all day, then?’ with surprising rapidity.

Then again, maybe I won’t.

In any case, I enjoyed this book.  It contains short, friendly chapters on each of the events in the 2012 Olympics.  It’s user-friendly, assumes no prior knowledge, and includes the use of adorable stick figures to illustrate some of its points.  It includes a brief history of the event, the basics of its rules, stories from the past and people to watch in this Olympics, and some fun photos.  It was great reading to build my enthusiasm for the Games.

The book seems to be written specifically for the 2012 Games, but the authors could probably do some revision and have a new edition for 2016, too.  And I hope they will, because it’s a fun read as well as a useful guide.

Written by Contented Reader

July 26, 2012 at 6:25 am

Posted in Reviews

Free e-books

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Here’s a short list of some of the books that have been added or updated at Project Gutenberg this week.

  • The Intoxicated Ghost, and Other Stories.  By Arlo Bates.  The title story is about Irene, who sees dead people.
  • The Art of Amusing.  By Frank Bellew.  It’s the peak of summer vacation, and teachers and children on vacation need to be amused.  This book should provide hours and hours of ideas for amusing one’s family.
  • At the Earth’s Core, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Danger and adventure in the lands inside the Earth’s crust.  I’ll let you know when I’m tired of ERB.  Hint: When you are tired of Edgar Rice Burroughs, you are tired of life.
  • Poor Folk, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  His first novel, this tells the story of two impoverished cousins living on the same street in St. Petersburg.  Read this if you are feeling too optimistic about life.
  • The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard, by Anatole France.  Sylvestre Bonnard is an aging scholar, whose quest for a specific book leads in in unexpected directions.  Anatole France won the Nobel Prize for literature.
  • The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, by Washington Irving.  This was the first American book to be a hit in England.  It includes fiction and essays, including Irving’s most famous stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip van Winkle.”
  • The Story of My Life, by Helen Keller.  You’ve read this, haven’t you?  It’s the autobiography of a woman deaf and blind from early childhood, the story of her education.  This is her story of her early life, and leaves out her rather radical socialist politics.
  • Retrospect of Western Travel, volume I and volume IIby Harriet Martineau.  An Englishwoman describes her journey through America in 1834.

Written by Contented Reader

July 25, 2012 at 9:12 am

Posted in Project Gutenberg

Writing advice from Kurt Vonnegut

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Novels & Stories 1950 – 1962

Kurt Vonnegut

Library of America

I’ve been rereading these books since college, which I suppose makes me a typical American.  It’s good that the Library of America has brought out two nice-quality hardcover collections, both of which I own.  Both of which, incidentally, were gifts to me from people I care about.  This one came from my very close friend.  The other one, the one that includes Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, was a gift from my girlfriend.  Aren’t I a lucky woman?

Here’s a section from the appendix of this collection, Vonnegut’s advice to writers.

Now lend me your ears.  Here is Creative Writing 101:

1.  Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2.  Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3.  Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4.  Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.

5.  Start as close to the end as possible.

6.  Be a sadist.  No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7.  Write to please just one person.  If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8.  Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible.  To heck with suspense.  Readers should have such a complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Written by Contented Reader

July 24, 2012 at 7:16 am

Posted in Quotations