Archive for August, 2015

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Every night before bed I read at least two books to my girls. I have been doing this since they were born.  As such, I have become a bit of connoisseur of children’s books.  Like every other area of literature, some books are good and some are 51Ny20bi-eLnot so good (I’m looking at you Rainbow Magic Series!). I have my favorites, and sometimes, but not always, these favorites are the same as my daughters.

As they have grown their tastes have changed and so have mine.  At this point of fatherhood, I think I can safely say the worst genre are the books intended for the smallest of babies. These books can be cute, but there are only so many times you can read ‘Goodnight Moon’ by Margaret Wise Brown, or ‘The Going to Bed Book’, by Sandra Boynton before you want to scream.  Luckily the toddler books are a bit better.  The ‘Olivia’ books by Ian Falconer, ‘Madeline’ by Ludwig Behelmans, and Jon Muth’s ‘Zen Shorts’ were some of our favorites.

Finally, in the last couple years we have started with chapter books.  We’ve completed some classics, such as Roald Dahl’s ‘James and the Giant Peach’, and E.B. White’s ‘Charlotte’s Web’. But most commonly these days we read more recently published series. Usually these series have female protagonists, such as ‘Judy Moody’ by Megan McDonald, ‘Nancy Clancy’ by Jane O’Connor and Annie Burrows’ ‘Ivy and Bean’. All three of these sets are pretty enjoyable, but I highly doubt the ‘Ivy and Bean’ or ‘Judy Moody’ books will have the same classic cache as the works of E.B. White. Most are just a bit too formulaic to live on beyond one generation of kids.

imagesStill, there is something incredible about children’s books nowadays. In one way at least, modern books have a leg up on the works of Dahl and White. Though perhaps not as strong in the area of story-telling, the newer books seem to be more pedagogical.  I have noticed that many books written during the last decade deliberately, though not obviously or annoyingly, attempt to assist children in growing a large vocabulary.

Let me give you just the latest example from our nightly readings:

During the last week, the girls and I have been reading a book called ‘Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible.’  Yes, it is not exactly Dickens or Hemingway, but it is a pretty fun read. Plowing through it, I have been awed by the number of college-level words sprinkled within an elementary school level book.  Here are just a couple of examples of words that forced my girls to ask, ‘what does that word mean’ as we were reading:

  • Ethereal.
  • Melancholy
  • Deportment
  • Praetor
  • Cower
  • Thwarted
  • Crone
  • Blighted
  • Snit
  • Haughtily
  • Dubiously

And this list is just from a quick glance through the book as I sit at my keyboard. I think it is realistic to say that there is a ‘vocab’ word each page or 618dqurp5PL._SX386_BO1,204,203,200_so.

So why the change from those old classics?  Well, I think authors of children’s books have an understanding of how important reading and hearing words are to developing the minds of children.  As I mentioned in a post a couple years ago, ‘it has been estimated that children who have parents that read books to them  will have heard 30 million more words in their lives by the time they start school than those that have non-reading parents.’  If this is the case, why not use as many words as possible?  Instead of ‘witch’, why not use ‘crone’; instead of ‘run-down’, why not use ‘blighted’; instead of ‘sad’, why not use ‘melancholy’?

At the very least, it keeps us parents on our word-definition toes.

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The Water’s Fine

Posted: August 19, 2015 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Northavebeach

North Avenue Beach, August 2015

I began swimming right around the time I started to walk. My first swimming pool was at the entry to nearby subdivision; here, I encountered my lifelong love water. I swim about once a week. Nine months a year, I have the extraordinary pleasure of biking to and from the public pool in my neighborhood. If you have not done that lately, I cannot recommend it enough. In the winter, I welcome the joy of shedding layers of clothes and releasing the cold-weather hunch from my shoulders.

The physical demands of swimming laps require focus: breathing and counting. Best of all, swimming makes sending an email or text, or checking in on social media quite impossible.

The laps I complete approach meditation. I swim, I think, I count, I turn, I extend with my arms and propel with my legs, I float. I cannot be concerned with much more than my movements and the way the water embraces me.

Throughout life, I have ventured into fresh and salt water bodies, all the while relishing a singular connection with the natural world.

I swam in Hinckley Reservoir as a child, the lake near Centerville Mills Summer Camp, and Lake Erie off my big brother’s boat, and this past summer I swam Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. Rivers have welcomed me, too, Mohican and Tippecanoe.

clearwater-beach-1

Clearwater Beach, Florida

I swam once a week in the Gulf of Mexico from Clearwater Beach the year I lived in Tampa, Florida.

I swam in the Atlantic Ocean during a Spring Break trip to The Florida Keys, a visit to my Uncle George’s apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a post-grad school trip Bermuda. While in Ireland, I dipped my feet in the north Atlantic, which according to legend, means I will return there someday.

I encountered the powerful water of the Pacific off the coast of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, realizing that the cautionary advice from my tour guides was well-founded.

Ease in water is a lifelong gift granting access to alien atmosphere like none other. More importantly, knowing how to swim can offer some protection from the hazards.

I recently had the pleasure of encouraging my friend and her daughter to swim in Lake Michigan. After some initial reluctance, we frolicked all afternoon, getting happily knocked down by wave after wave.1280px-Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2

Water possesses a truly awesome power, made evident when the waves grow from inviting to foreboding, or flood waters rise. A reverence for the astonishing power emerges in those intimately acquainted with water; a close relationship deepens the respect.

Entering water, walking or jumping, plunging or diving, means entering into a wholly other physical space, an utterly transformative sensation. Movement changes; speed and sound follow different rules.

Standing in front of the ocean has often been described as the utmost awareness of our personal insignificance, but I feel completely connected, entirely myself, one unique life amidst millions of other lives, whether particles of chlorine in a pool, or insects skimming the surface of a lake, or spirited fish flashing around me in the ocean.

People seek escape from ordinary life, longing for the mysterious; all while surrounded by miles over miles of unknown.

Next time your are standing on shore, jump in.

You Are Here

Posted: August 14, 2015 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Maps are endlessly fascinating: as beautiful as a work of art, as instructive as a book, as engaging as deep conversation.

map4Exquisitely illustrated and saturated with information: cardinal directions, space, distance, colors, shapes, patterns, the best maps are like the finest of all literature: clear, concise, and compelling. Last week, I was confidently led arBritannicaound the Lincoln Park Zoo by a 6-year-old wielding a map.

I encountered the first of many maps in the enormous World Atlas that accompanied the Encyclopedia Britannica that still resides in the family room at my mother’s house. A map inspires inquiry, and rewards it endlessly. Constantly encouraged to “look it up,” I remember pulling out the huge book, laying it open on the carpet, gazing at the countries with awe, wondering what the world might be like so far from home.

Maps are succinct, communicating multiple meanings with the artistic economy of poetry. Whoever decided to designate mountains ^^^ : genius.

I occasionally envy early cartographers, imagine encountering places unknown! How remarkable to attempt to plot the world, only to be continually amazed and astounded. The United States seemed navigable until the explorers ran into the Rocky Mountains. Ken Burns’ excellent documentary about The Lewis and Clark Exhibition provides a necessary reminder that romantic notions of earlier generations are misguided. Throughout the voyage, the air was thick with illness and mosquitoes.

Imaginary lands need maps, too. middle earthThe story of The Hobbit was made more real thanks to the map provided inside the front of the book. Online interactive maps explode with possibility, including this incredible Game of Thrones realm.

“You are here” on directional maps is a tremendous reminder of place, space, and self-centeredness.

Maps invite us to locate ourselves precisely where we are, and then decide—where to next? A destination clarifies things, creates direction, proposes a plan. Maps edify and empower.you are here

Locate yourself in space; locate yourself in life.

I am here, in the midst of life, surrounded by possibilities.

A map proposes we can all successfully navigate our world. We just have to know where we are and where we want to go.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The other day, I made a commitment. Since I will be teaching a Civil War history course in the Fall, I wanted to take a look at the over 4 hour, seriously mini-series-esqe 1939 Hollywood classic Gone With Wind. Yep. Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, gone_with_the_wind_smTara Plantation and all that jazz.  It may seem strange, but I had never seen the film.  Since Gone With Wind is probably the most famous, and most watched Civil War film ever made, I figured I better spend some time viewing it to see what all the fuss is about, and to see if the movie had any classroom usage.

I must admit, I came into this experience with some prejudices.  Though I had never seen it, I knew that Gone falls between the poles of beloved pop-culture icon, and disturbing Hollywood racism.  On the icon side, lines such as ‘Frankly My Dear, I don’t give a damn,’ and ‘As God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again’ are part of movie lore.  However, you can only romanticize so much. Gone is now famous, or perhaps infamous is a better term, for it’s racism. Racial caricatures are central to the film.

I knew this going in. Coming out the other side, I was even more disturbed than I thought I might be.

First, I want to say that I am no movie critic.  However, I thought the film was really

pretty atrocious.  I have watched films from ‘Hollywood’s Golden Age’ and I would have to say Gone is not one that really holds up well to the modern viewer. I will be honest, I got through about 3 hours, and I had had enough.

But, perhaps the early turn off had to do with the level of offensiveness in the film? Even though I realized the film was racially insensitive, I had no idea just how obscene it really was.

Obscenity may seem like a strange word to use when talking about Gone. The word itself is usually still regarded as a descriptive term of sex or smut, and Gone is lacking in those regards. However, as French historian Joan DeJean pointed out in 2002, the word ‘obscene’ has begun to take on a different connotation in our society.

Of late, obscene seems to be moving beyond the meaning it slowly acquired in early modern French — ‘immodest’, ‘indecent’ — and to be taking on two new meanings: first, any subject that we find hard to look at and therefore do not want to see represented….; second, as a semantic catchall for actions we consider morally indecent.’

And, just like all words, ‘swear words’ change over time.  As Melissa Mohr illustrated in her extremely interesting book, Holygone-with-the-wind-shouldnt-be-romanticized Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, the most taboo words in our society are no longer words to describe sexual acts, or bodily functions. Instead, over the last twenty years, racial epitaphs have become the unholy of unholies. Racialized attack language has the power to disgust, anger and enrage. It has the ability to destroy friendships, get people fired, or ruin political careers. The obscene of today is open outspoken racism.

By this definition, Gone With the Wind is incredibly obscene.  As mentioned, caricatures of African-Americans abound in the film. Black men and women are depicted as fools, cowards and buffoons. Related, and just as disturbing is the historical mythology the film furthers using such stereotypes. The bold-faced lie that African-Americans were happy-go-lucky simpletons who stayed with their masters gladly after emancipation, or gullible tools of aggressive white northerners has a long sordid history. Gone reinforced these harmful, hateful myths for American film goers in the 1930’s. Even more disturbingly, many historically illiterate Americans still undoubtedly accept the film’s depictions of race-relations as truth. With this in mind, you can understand why Chuck D would sing ‘Burn, Hollywood, Burn’.

And, if it’s obscene racism is not enough, the outright sexism in the film is nearly as disturbing.  The women in Gone are depicted as foolish children who need to be told what to do. They sit at home waiting for their men to come home from war, twiddling their thumbs and crying into their pillows. Once their men return, all life has meaning again. Of course, if they get too uppity, such as Scarlett, they need to be knocked down. Rhett will take care of that.

As I watched this horror-show, all I could think was, ‘my goodness, I don’t want to let my girls see this.’  My daughters are 8 and 6 respectively, and this is the type of obscenity I want them to avoid until they are older.  But, oh, the irony!  Gone With The Wind is a ‘classic’. It’s not late night TV for mature audiences only.  Heck, I am sure a great deal of Americans would think the film wholesome.

But, it is not. Not at all. It is marked with an obscenity that I don’t want my children to see.