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Archive for October, 2008

NB: The following was written as a response paper for an English class I am currently taking.  I am posting it here, verbatim, because I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the matter.  So have at it!

[The page numbers refer to the exact edition linked to on Amazon]

In the beginning of The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley introduces us to his protagonist, Tom. In terms of an outlook on life, Tom “took [chimney-sweeping, and being hungry, and being beaten] for the way of the world, like the rain and snow and thunder, and stood manfully with his back to it till it was over… and then shook his ears and was as jolly as ever; and thought of the fine times coming, when he would be a man, and a master sweep, and sit in the public-house with a quart of beer…” (44). Essentially, Tom has accepted his lot in life and only dreams of being like his master someday. In this, names play an important role. We are clued in to this from the very first pages, where Kingsley draws attention to his protagonist’s name: “Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom. That is a short name, and you have heard it before, so you will not have much trouble in remembering it” (43). A few pages later, we learn that Mr. Grimes, Tom’s master, shares his name: Thomas (49). This fits with the description of Tom that Kingsley provides, that of a boy wanting to grow up and become “a man…. just as his master” (44). This highlights the cycle that Kingsley draws attention to, the cycle of abuse that comes from child labor: Tom (a boy’s nickname), is going to grow up into Thomas (a man’s name). That is, until a magical happenstance interrupts the cycle, turning Tom into a water baby, where he learns those moral lessons his life had previously been lacking.

At the end of the book, Kingsley comes full circle back to Mr. Grimes at the end of the world. As if the lessons of Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid and Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby weren’t enough, here Tom sees what his future could have been. Mr. Grimes is as literally stuck in “chimney No. 345” as Tom’s life metaphorically would have been, had he followed the path laid out for him in the beginning. Here, in addition to seeing the contrast of the life he has now and the life he could have had, he learns forgiveness and redemption, for, “as Grimes cried and blubbered on, his own tears did what his mother’s could not do, and Tom’s could not do, and nobody’s on earth could do for him; for they washed the soot off his face and off his clothes; and then they washed the mortar away from between the bricks; and the chimney crumbled down; and Grimes began to get out of it” (225). Thus, Grimes has freed himself from the prison of the chimney-sweep world through his acceptance of his past faults and errors, showing it is never too late to become redeemed; one does not have to be a child like Tom to learn the (Christian) lessons taught throughout the book.

Returning to the value of names discussed previously, as we never learn Tom’s last name, he and Thomas Grimes could easily be two manifestations of the same man, except showing the different paths a man can take. Connecting to the larger picture of a Christian allegory, this highlights the importance of discovering faith and morals. If you are like Thomas (remember doubting Thomas?), then you will continue down the path you are on, and blindly find only misery. If you are like Tom, however, and become baptized and learn the “Golden Rule” and redemption, then you can become “a great man of science, and can plan railroads, and steam-engines, and electric telegraphs, and rifled guns, and so forth; and [know] everything about everything” (229-230). These two vastly differing paths are equally possible in the figure of the boy Tom. We can easily see him turn into the adult Thomas, but in seeing the magical transformation to a water-baby and back to a man again, the other path seems just as natural (if you accept magic, of course). Again, considering the text as a Christian allegory, Christianity is just as magical to the ignorant mind (like Tom in the beginning) as a transformation to a water-baby. Thus, though it seems as if this shift in Tom is much more radical than anything that could happen “in real life”, when considered in this context, it becomes plausible that a boy chimney-sweep could become a learned man through Christianity.

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In Which I am Baffled

The education class that I am currently taking is the foundations class for all Education minors (there are no majors because they have to major in whatever they plan on teaching, even though the minor is more semester hours than some majors!). Thus, there is the assumption that at least the majority of those taking the class are planning on being teachers at some point. Some of the assignments reflect this, such as one in which we need to lead the class in a group activity based on a book we read (I’m fairly sure I’ll rant about this later, as we come closer to my turn).

Recently, however, I feel as if this goal has been forgotten completely by the teacher. While I don’t normally mind this (considering I am taking this course for my interdisciplinary major, and not as an education minor), in this case I feel that the professor is failing (and I really like and respect him otherwise, so it’s slightly depressing to feel this way).

For the last three weeks, each person in the class has been assigned to research an issue in public schools, such as school prayer or dress codes. We need to present the information we find, such as court cases, to the class in a 5-10 minute presentation. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Sounds like something everyone, whether they plan on becoming a teacher in the future or not, should be able to do, right?

Well, apparently not. On the first day, one of the first presenters asked if she could not present from the front of the room, but rather from her seat. For some reason, the professor agreed. Since then, only about 5 people in the entire class chose to give their presentation at the front of the classroom!

I feel that this is utterly ridiculous! I mean, even if the intention of the class wasn’t to teach future teachers, there should be no circumstance under which someone is allowed to present from his or her seat rather than in front of the class! At some point in everyone’s life, no matter how shy they are, they will need to give some sort of information to a group of people, who more likely than not will be less forgiving than a group of peers in a classroom setting.

I think what gets me the most irate about the whole situation is the fact that the professor agreed! This is a man who has worked in education his entire life in a variety of positions, from teacher to principal to superintendent, and done extremely well. So, to cede to a request like this is baffling to me.

What do you think? Am I being completely unreasonable here?

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What is NaBloPoMo, you ask? Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? If not, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, in which all participants attempt to complete a novel (or at least, the first draft of one) during the month of October. NaBloPoMo is for all of us who don’t feel quite up to the task, but still want to commit ourselves to writing daily. NaBloPoMo stands for National Blog Posting Month, and thus you commit to writing a post a day for an entire month.

I myself have struggled with writing for this blog consistently, instead only writing in fits and spurts (as you have probably noticed by now!). Thus, I feel like this is an excellent opportunity for me to jump start myself and begin writing on a regular basis! With any luck, once the month is done, I shall continue to write on here consistently.

Now, the month doesn’t officially start until the first of November, but I am going to try to start now, so I have a week to procrastinate and then I’ll be done. For a month. I promise. Stop snickering!

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It’s that time of year when we get to choose classes for next semester.  I love this time of year, because I love planning and looking at all the possibilities for next semester.  It’s so much fun!  I seriously spend hours making lists and potential schedules for next semester.  My advisor also love it because I am so prepared, which makes his job easier.

Anyway, if I get the schedule that works best right now in terms of fulfilling classes for both my major and gen-ed requirements, I will not have classes on Monday and Friday.  Which is crazy!  I have never not had classes on one day of the week, much less two.  This means a four day weekend every single weekend!  It’s crazy!

As a result of this new freedom that I will probably have next semester, I know that I will go completely bonkers if I do not have something to do on my weekends.  And so I want a car in order to start volunteering at like an animal shelter in the city, which I have wanted to do forever, but haven’t had the transportation.  And still don’t.  Which is why I need a car.

So, I mentioned this to a few of my friends, and one of them, one of my roommates from last year in fact (whom I am not rooming with this year) mentioned that she’ll have a car on campus next semester when she gets back from studying abroad.  I have yet to reply to this comment.  What I really want to say is WTF?  Last year, you would never let me borrow your car, which I completely understand and respect, since I wouldn’t want anyone driving my car in case something happened to it.  And yet here she is saying that her car will be on campus???  How does that help me?  I want a car so that I don’t have to rely on my friends to take me off campus.  I hate relying on people.  I am very independent.  And if you wouldn’t lend me your car last year, why would you lend it to me this year?  I mean, seriously.

This is one of many reasons why I am not rooming with her this year, by the way.  She irritates me so much with how she essentially lives in her own little world most of the time, not taking others into consideration.  It aggravates me so much.  Oh, the stories I could tell…

But to return to my main point: I need a car.  And I’m saving up for one.  And I really want it now.  But that’s not going to happen.  So now I’m working on convincing my parents to help me get one over Christmas break.  Except then I have to drive it almost 600 miles to get it from home to school.  Did I mention I don’t particularly like highway driving?

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In researching the issue of silent prayer and meditation in public schools, I had mixed feelings about the issue myself.  On the one hand, I can completely understand why some people would not want their child to pray in school if they feel that a different denomination is being projected on their son or daughter, or, if they are atheists, then if they feel that religion in general is being pushed on the students.  On the other hand (and I admit, this hand is winning out), I think that the level to which certain people have taken it is absolutely absurd.

I can understand and appreciate the issue of spoken prayer during school functions, as even the voluntary nature of it does not stop it from at the very least influencing those who are present and hear it.  But spoken prayer is quite different from silent prayer.  Silent prayer is not infringing on anyone’s rights, it is not in anyone’s face.  There is no way that someone nearby the person silently praying can discover whom (or what) the person is praying to, and so it encourages no one religion over another.  If parents fear that the simple act of seeing classmates bow their heads to pray silently will negatively affect their children, then they should consider that the students who are praying at this time would most likely be the ones praying whether they were told that the moment of silence was for silent prayer or meditation or reflecting.  The suggestion to silently pray is much more easily ignored by kids than spoken prayer, which encourages all to chime in.  The vast majority of students who are given a moment of silence may sit in silence, but they are probably doing something else, such as homework or playing tic-tac-toe with a friend.

Basically, even if the intention of the policy makers is to encourage children to pray more, I would say that this intention fails spectacularly in the vast majority of schools, and so those who protest it need to take a step back.  If they are really that concerned that their child will be negatively affected by their school and classmates, then perhaps they should homeschool them, where they can control the environment as closely as possible.  I was unable to find a single source that gave me a truly rational reason as to why silent prayer should not be allowed in schools on a voluntary basis, especially considering that none of the laws enacting it state that the time should only be used for silent prayer and nothing else.

This has turned into a bit of a rant, but I truly believe that such an issue is frivolous at best, and thus not at all beneficial for K-12 public education in the U.S., and the time and energy spent arguing against this could be much better spent on a real issue in education, such as gaps in achievement.

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NB: The following was written as a response paper for an English class I am currently taking.  I am posting it here, verbatim, because I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the matter.  So have at it!

[The page numbers refer to the exact edition linked to on Amazon]

John Ruskin’s fairy tale The King of the Golden River is closer to a Christian parable than a perhaps more traditional heathen or pagan myth.  The two most overt signs of this are the theme of greed or avarice – one of the traditional seven deadly sins – and the usage of holy water as a main feature of the brothers’ task.

The theme of greed is introduced simultaneously with the introduction of the two eldest brothers, Schwartz and Hans.  Indeed, Ruskin occupies approximately half a page describing these fellows’ dastardly deeds (4).  In the first chapter, the greed of the so-called “Black Brothers” leads them to be cursed by the South West Wind, Esquire (10), since they could not be troubled to give food and shelter to the old man on a stormy night.  Thus far, the story has followed the traditional line of a fairy tale, without any overt allusions to Christianity.  The Christian emphasis arises when the story shifts to the King of the Golden River.

Having been freed by the youngest, and thus kindest, brother, Gluck, the King of the Golden River awards him with a task: “Whoever shall climb to the top of that mountain from which you see the Golden River issue, and shall cast into the stream, at its source, three drops of holy water, for him, and for him only, the river shall turn to gold.  But no one failing in his first can succeed in a second attempt; and if any one shall cast unholy water into the river, it overwhelm him, and he will become a black stone” (15).  The eldest brothers fail both because of their greed in not sharing their water with those who need it more than them on their climbs up the mountain (18, 20), and because they cast unholy water into the river – an act which the King of the Golden River himself describes as “cruel!” (22).  Schwartz stole his holy water from the church after being denied it by the priest (16), while Hans, realizing that what his brother had done was wrong in the King’s eyes, got his ‘holy water’ by paying a “bad priest” (19).  Thus, as punishment for embodying one of the seven deadly sins as well as desecrating holy water, the two brothers were turned into black stones (19, 20).

The Christian theme is reflected not only in Schwartz and Hans’s punishment but also in Gluck’s reward.  Throughout the story, Gluck is kind and generous to everyone and everything he encounters, as is expected of the youngest son in a fairy tale.  This saved him first from the brunt of the wrath of the South West Wind, Esquire (10), then from having to resort to acquiring holy water through nefarious means (21), and finally from being turned into a black stone like his brothers (22-23).  When Gluck finally accomplishes the task of ascending the mountain and pouring three drops of holy water into the river, both he and the reader (knowing how fairy tales generally work), are expecting the river to actually turn to gold.  To Gluck’s initial disappointment, however, the river does not turn into gold, and indeed “seemed much diminished in quantity” (23).  As he makes his descent into the valley, however, Gluck and the reader both realize that the river was not turned into gold, but rather was itself a sort of gold in that it turned the valley green and fertile again, effectively reversing the terrible curse of the South West Wind, Esquire.  That “which had been lost by cruelty, was regained by love” (23).  This is one of the pillars of Christianity – the golden rule, if you will.  Gluck is the epitome of a Christian, for he was meek, he respected holy water, he helped his neighbor, and he accomplished his wealth not through instant gratification, but rather through good deeds and hard work.

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Dear readers,

I am currently enrolled in a class titled, “Foundations of Education.”  For said class, we must keep a journal of our thoughts about every single one of our readings.  As this is of much interest to me, and can foster much discussion, I figured that the best way to accomplish this task is to turn my blog into my education journal.  Thus, every few days, I will have a post that will have as the title the assignment on which I am writing.  I will also try to include links to previous posts if they happen to be in the same book or on the same topic.  Also, if the articles I will be discussing can be found online, I will provide links to them so you can read them for yourself if you so desire.

I am also attempting over the next two weeks to catch up on the backlog of journal entries that I should have been doing for the past month (bad me!), so you may see a plethora of new posts popping up, dated from the last month.  This is simply my attempt to keep some sort of order to my posts, since, as I said, I am trying to simply catch up with them.  I will also try to make sure that I don’t stop doing them for whatever reason and would therefore have to spend another mass of time trying to catch up yet again.

So, dear reader, feel free to ignore any or all of my posts that you will clearly be able to tell deviate from my normal postings.  Or, I welcome any discussion you feel they might warrent!  I welcome any and all opinions, especially since the topics I will be posting on tend to be quite controversial.

Cheers!

– Undine

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