What does the British Bard have to do with our history?

Shakespeare is quintessentially British. And though I adore many other stories — Anaya’s story of the young boy, Antonio, who grows up in the American southwest, Toni Morrison’s novels full of complex black characters, and Tan’s Joy Luck Club who rank in my top ten favorite stories, I met the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen and Shakespeare — not to mention British comedy– long before I knew about those authors. And while my heart is Latino, it has pumped its share of love for British Lit and its master playwright.

Each summer season, my family has joined many others who enjoy Shakespeare in the Park performances. And why not? It’s free. It’s fun. It’s educational. Since American schools deliver a regular dose of the bard each year, parents consider learning Shakespeare an essential component of a quality education. And while we can debate its prominence in education (as are many teachers in 2020), it is well documented that from our nation’s beginnings, Americans have enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays. Many would even claim the brilliant Bard as American.

In fact, the Beloved British Bard fits into American history. But do we know how the various beloved plays reflect American history and the roots of what we consider its current divisiveness? This is the very question James Shapiro explores in Shakespeare in a Divided America.

Once I felt called to include Shakespeare in my fall 2020 line up, I read everything Shakespeare that came my way. Shapiro’s book is one that tops that list. While I cannot possibly capture the history as Shapiro does, the highlights might inspire you to read his book or do you own research. From the moment I read what John Quincy Adams wrote about Othello, I was hooked.

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Fall semester class updates

(see more information on the Good News! New Classes! page of this blog)

My husband loves to quote a comic strip that says, “Change is good– you go first!” My own motto is more akin to “Change leads to Growth.”

But first the good news: I’ve submitted all of my required paperwork to renew my vendor status as Miller Mentoring, so hopefully all of my families will not run into any snags when ordering purchase orders for any of the IEM schools.

Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

Despite the overwhelming change and loss we’ve experienced, I still hesitate to place my feet anywhere, knowing little is certain. Yet, change is the one certainty. Here are a few changes to my schedule:

Merry Masterpieces (formerly Thursday morning) has moved to Monday afternoon!

Marvelous Middles for Shakespeare (Tuesday 11:30) enrollment nearly has a minimum enrollment. We’re going to cross our fingers more come to enjoy the bard’s timeless wordplay.

Bodacious Blogs (formerly Thursday 11:30) will be moving to 1:00.

Sadly, both high school writing and Shakespeare are under enrolled. I’m not sure if it’s the day or time. It’s also possible that people think that the class is for the year which I can provide, but I prefer a bit more variety.

Finally, I’m creating a class that meets ELA standards for 11-12th graders with a focus on Leadership. Leave a comment if this class piques your interest.

Alas, this is the time to speak up if you want a class, gather three or six more students and holler!

Are you ready, Shakespeare?

Offered on Tuesdays, Starting Sept 1!

Continuing my exploration of the tech world and all it offers, I had fun creating this rough syllabus for middle and high school youth in Piktochart.com. I love the choices of colors, the large numbers that stand out and guide the reader, and the opportunity to make a syllabus less about perfection-punishments-points and much more about learning and creativity!

Are you ready to have some fun with Shakespeare and build a love of the playwright’s capacity to express humanity’s most challenging experiences?

Register for classes at https://forms.gle/YWYcd1GAeCcEnRCC6 If you’re an Ocean Grove (or other IEM school) student, when my latest paperwork is approved, (I’ve been working as a vendor for them for many years), you may use IEM funds to pay for the class. Payment will be due at the end of the first class on September 1st/3rd.

Together we will explore the timeless stories of Shakespeare and employ quick strategies to deconstruct language. We will capture the beauty of the language in its soliloquies and most memorable lines, and we’ll embrace the subtleties of literature’s most esteemed playwright.

Studying the play is only the first step. Afterwards, we’ll do come creating of our own to make what we learn stick.

Always a good day to learn!

Learning something new every day sounds cliché. Yet how can we grow if we don’t learn? Scholarship brings joy. Of course, learning new things can become fraught with mistakes. As a humble scholar, I learn something new everyday, so my days include a blend of mistakes and joy. Plenty of mistakes! Each summer I take on new recipes to cook/bake, a classic novel and a tech challenge– all with varying degrees of success. With the possibility of extending virtual learning, I set myself the goal to implement the tech apps that sound fun for students forced to learn on-line.

The above image is my first attempt at a bitmoji classroom. Not only does it have links to pages about the main two classes I’m preparing to teach this fall, it also has links to interesting information. For example, if you look closely, there’s a photo of the Globe Theater which links to an easy read on the history and quirks about the Globe.

My favorite part is the setting of my “classroom.” Hoping to convey the feel of a garden patio because I fancy offering classes outside and hope to give students a welcoming place where discussions are invited, I added a lively flower bed for color, and since I have been preparing engaging lessons for Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream among other plays, I added some sprites. I like to think the fairies offer a bit of magic and an invitation to sit peacefully and listen. The photos on the wall offer some order and color, as well as places to insert hyperlinks to stay organized.

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Spotlight: teachers to admire

When Phoenix’s Curiosity Cabinet’s facebook page declares that their interdisciplinary classes help students explore the world and spark a love of learning, they’re not kidding.  Phoenix’s enthusiasm is contagious, their interests are quirky, and their view is wondrous.

Several years ago, our paths crossed when both of us taught at an educational program for independent learners.  Not much time passed before we were collaborating on classes, including steampunk literature and makers, graphic novel readers and makers and others.  I had hope, and still do, to offer zombie news media writing to accompany their zombie maker class, but alas not enough students have expressed interest in the writing.  Their classes nearly always fill.  This year, they’re offering some of their favorites for students from ages 7 to 18, including Nature Study, Art of Math, Science of Light Projects, Makers Vs Zombies, Life Science, Botany, Biology and Medieval and Renaissance Makers.  In the last of these classes, students enjoyed catapult building, natural dye-making from plants and spinning.  To say their classes link science to history, are active and engaging would be a sorry understatement; Phoenix’s teaching shatters the proverbial education box.  

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Forward March!

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone — any person or any force — dampen, dim or diminish your light … Hold only love, only peace in your heart. . .”  John Lewis

I’ve been watching people march over the last few years — for women, for science, and for Pride.  It has been refreshing to see people care enough to stand in a crowd. Even this past spring when the pandemic struck, people donned masks and hit the streets and joined crowds across the world protesting the murder of George Floyd and police brutality.  The call for justice brought out all sorts of people, many of them young.  And the marching has continued. 

Though I’ve grown worried about the protests in Portland (even more since militarized federal agents showed up and threatened American constitutional rights), silence feels contrary to my values and certainly contrary to what John Lewis, who was buried today, believed. He called people to “speak up and then move your feet, make some noise.”  It will be time to be quiet when we follow Lewis to our own resting place.

It feels perfectly natural to answer the call to make some noise about such an admirable man.  Undoubtedly, John Lewis was the kind of person we can admire because his actions were guided by strong values.

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Blooming Belladona Lilies

The last week of July stretches out in front of me. July announces the ending of the summer is near. As long as the sun shines. I can still review my summer list and cross off a few summer bucket items.

Birthday Belladonas in our garden

Belladonna Lilies are my spouse’s favorite. Our yard is full of them, waiting to break new ground, stretch their naked stems toward the sky and present a captivating pink or red blossom, white and then yellow in the center of a perfectly formed cup of petals. We mark his birthday around the blossoms. Seeing them around homes and alongside country roads makes him feel special, as if they seek to greet him for his birthday.

I’m fortunate to harvest basil and strawberries, eggplant and zucchini and jalapenos. He’s fortunate to have somewhere to enjoy such a past time. An able gardener, he knows gardening can not happen without work, love and more work and attention.

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Lighting steps in the Dark

The sky is black and the ground is gray. The face of the solitary figure in the photo is masked by a mirrored image. He appears to stand alone, humanity insignificant in an unfeeling universe. And though one might expect a grimace of fear, history tells us that if we could look upon his face, it would reflect pride and a knowing smile.

July 20th marks the anniversary of an incredible leap of faith with the first human step on the moon. Behind Buzz Aldrin and the other brave astronauts were a team of engineers and visionaries that reached out beyond the skies to prove a dream could become a reality. Will we be forever be in awe of those who accomplish great things? Is courage and vision required of those who support the heroes?

When I think of space, I think of courage to take the first step of a journey and the inspiration that fuels the dreams to see beyond the now. Antoine de Saint-Exupery once wrote, “Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love.” I love the idea of “giving a shared taste” as the essential step of bringing people together in community and accomplishing great things. It’s all about inspiration!

Buzz Aldrin on the moon, taken by Neil Armstrong from the NASA Gallery

Perhaps because I am currently teaching Homer, my mind wanders to thoughts of Odysseus setting out on his journey home.

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Why Shakespeare?

During this time of marches, protests and call for action, many are moved to read books by authors of color whose powerful stories demand attention. I’m no exception, having added titles to my personal and professional reading stock this summer. Key word: Added. I’ve been reading authors of color long before it became trendy. Two years ago I taught a class focusing on literature written about contemporary problems (assault, mental illness, teen difficulties, etc.) largely built to address the concerns chosen by my students. Just as I was moved to offer Women’s Literature (a course that filled to a dozen young women within a week), I was proud of the Contemporary Literature class and the students who held brave conversations. The thought of teaching such a class again makes me bubble with excitement. I’m proud of the classes I’ve created with the input of parents and students, especially given my mission to ensure American Literature embraces the diversity represented in the United States (more in another post on this topic).

Is Shakespeare relevant to today’s youth?

So why am I offering Shakespeare fall semester?

Significant side note: if parents and students were to ask me to teach a particular course of study (and recruit four students), I’d leap into action. The only exception would be an entire year of WWI and II war novels (that many traditional programs demand) that underscore human folly and spiral me into a funky depressive state.

But why Shakespeare? Isn’t Shakespeare full of tragedy?

Lest you think Shakespeare is only about sad and depressing topics, I love sharing the comedies. They are full of puns, silliness reigns and everything (well, most everything) is put to rights. And I love coming up with ways to help others understand Shakespeare! My current challenge is MAKER SHAKESPEARE. But let us return to the why. . . .

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So much depends…

So much dependsScreen Shot 2020-07-08 at 1.54.36 PM

a red wheel 
glazed with rain
beside  the white

-William Carlos Williams

At nature studies (a long ago class co-led with Marisa Bean), we sit under the boughs of an oak, and I read William Carlos William’s poem aloud.  I ask the youngest of my students to consider why so much might depend on a red wheelbarrow.  Hands slowly rise and timid answers come forth.   One student finally blurts out, “I don’t get it.  Why does so much depend on a wheel barrow? Nothing depends on it. It’s not very important to me.” I ask them all to look around and find one thing worthy of their attention and sit near it.  ‘Observe it with all of your senses’, I tell them.  Look closer. Listen. We rise, our spirits calling us in different directions.

The silence that reigns for a few delicious moments, broken only by a hawk high above, ends as they come scampering back filled with tales from the nearby creek and trees, even the skeptic, eager to tell me what spoke to them.  We listen intently to each other before I return to the poem and sprinkle in a little about the imagists.  How did they see the world?

abstract art artistic autumn

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I love “The Red Wheelbarrow” poem.  It’s simple but deep.   It fits into a soundbyte world.  At times, the world requires more than we can give right now.  As we dip our toes into William’s poem– a small, compact 16 words– he invites us to pay attention to a small detail that ‘so much depends upon.’  Asking us to look at the color, the glaze, rainwater, white chickens, we focus on those simple things so often missed.

One point of focus. “Pay attention,” William says Continue reading