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Flying carpet, my fanny.

Okay. Stay with me. I’ll explain how this is connected.


So, yesterday, we continued our talks about mythology. The specific story was about Hermes (Mercury), the mischievous, precocious little scamp who outsmarted his big, golden-boy brother Apollo by having a round-up of his cattle.

Some of my students questioned, “How could a baby do that?”

(These are students who tend to be very concrete thinkers. That’s okay. But a fixed mind set isn’t always the best approach to mythology. You usually end up with wet cement – nothing really holds together.)

It’s mythology. It’s fiction. It’s not REAL.


“But…how could he talk?”


This led us into a conversation, a reminder, a reinforcement of some concepts:

*Mythology is based largely on origin myths/stories; humankind trying to make sense of the world, human characteristics, and phenomenon.

*Stories become mythology when the majority of the group or groups no longer hold faith in the “religion,” in other words, practicing religion requires faith. They are reminded that the Ancient Greeks believed in their gods/goddesses just as much as some of them believe in their current spiritual practices. But, they are stories. The degree at which one “believes” or is a “skeptic” depends on personal beliefs, culture, and faith.

They were surprised when I told them people had gone to battle over these concepts. Really?

Yes, and that’s not fiction.

Okay – fast forward to driving home, listening to NPR: There was a story about two people of Arab descent who are trying hard to dispel many of the stereotypes about being Arabic. The segment was called, “Ask An Arab,” and their attempt to break-down cultural misunderstandings is admirable, but it kind of upset me a little bit, too. Are we still so ignorant that we don’t know that everywhere, people are complex? That even within a nation, there are different political, religious, and philosophical differences?

Do we still think this:

Flying Carpet










Well, quite possibly, especially when we consider more recent images of Arabic characters:










But, in reality, people are more like this:

Ask an Arab




















To see/hear this radio program, go to:

What stereotypes and misconceptions do you live under? What should people really know about you, your family, your background, your country? If you could think of 3 essential things that might clear up any misconceptions, racism, or misunderstandings, what would it be? We are all far more complex than we appear; paradoxically, we are all more simple, too — we just want to be understood.

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Even Mrs. Love needs help understanding what she reads. 

See? My anxiety caused me to write about myself in third person. “Tony says Mrs. Love isn’t here anymore…” I have a set of instructions that, well, quite frankly, have confused me. I think I’m too close to the project, and need to step back. I think I’m having “test anxiety.” Because what I’m reading is so important, I may be panicking a little bit.

Help is on the way.

And I must remind you that when you don’t understand something, there are many things you can do; however, giving up isn’t one of them.

You can:

1. Remind yourself of your purpose for reading

2. Write levels of questions:

Level 1: Knowledge: Is that a strawberry?

Level 2: Inference/Compare/Contrast: I wonder how a strawberry compares to a banana?

Level 3: “Off the Page” – evaluative,  judging, synthesizing: What might happen if I blend strawberries, bananas, and vanilla ice cream together?

3. If you’re lost, or the movie in your mind snaps off – recognize that, and pick up the thread again.

4. Make a connection to another book, a movie, or yourself!

5. Draw a diagram or picture of what you’ve read.

6. Choose one phrase that captures the essence of what you’ve read.

7. Talk to a friend or teacher about what you’ve read.

I have a lot more helpful hints, but for now, I’ll follow my own advice and get through it!


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In Memoriam: The Death of Mid-Winter Break.

Maui George

No big secret: my school district had a strike this past fall. Because of these events, and the law requiring 180 days of school, we shifted our schedule around, cutting three days off of our traditional mid-winter break and three days off of spring break. I tried to prepare myself: I really love mid-winter break for many reasons, and was planning on using this year’s spring break to do something different and exciting. Mid-winter break is wonderful: it doesn’t have the anxiety and financial pressures of the winter holiday, which in my household involves not only Christmas festivities, but two Capricorn birthdays, and New Year’s.

This year mid-winter break was going to be devoted to finishing up my National Board’s work, and then next year, who knows? Maybe I would go on a trip with my husband, celebrating my birthday, too? All kinds of possibilities awaited.

I know my students need the break, too. Short breaks are restful and mentally productive. Studies have shown that the extended summer breaks diminish educational gains; in other words, we lose some ‘smarts’ over the summer. It is a common misconception, too, that teachers have the summers off. What we have is an unpaid break, watching from the sidelines as our students’ gains vanish like firefly sparks in the summer air.

But teaching is hard work, and deserves hard and fast breaks. Now, for those of you who still scoff at whiny teachers, consider: 800 hours/year is spent in the corporate world checking your e-mails. How many of you have played a game of Solitaire, or checked your text messages during a meeting? If you’re not being productive, it’s okay. I’m not accusing you of anything. But just understand that teaching, good teaching, is a performance, literally a performance, based job. I personally have six “shows” to perform each day, with a four minute break in between, for 47 minutes each show. I plan my performances to the minute, and then reflect on why the ‘audience’ wasn’t responsive, or if I got heckled, or where to polish my material.

I’m back on stage tomorrow.

Right before this break, one of my students pointed a finger at me, gnashing his teeth, and angrily asking, “Was it worth it? The strike?! Oh, man, now we only got a few days!” And no matter how I felt about the strike, or the bigger issues at stake, I was honest with him and said, “For many, yes, things were bad,” and he sympathetically responded, “Oh, I didn’t know, well, then okay.” What that tells me, again, our students support us, and look out for us, just as we do for them.

And if that relationship and trust is ever broken, then it’s all over.

Although I don’t share the collective will and opinion of about 50% of my colleagues who voted on next year’s schedule to abolish mid-winter break again (I think spring break may have been a better choice, since it’s right before THE BIG TEST), I will not shirk my responsibilities and plan for less, or give less, than I always do. I may mentally go to Maui in my mind a bit more, but I’ll come back.

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What’s in a name?


From the Writer’s Almanac, February 15, 2010:

It’s the birthday of the Father of Modern Science, Galileo Galilei, (born in Pisa, Italy (1564). It was Copernicus who suggested that it was the sun, and not the Earth, that was at the center of the universe. But Galileo became a famous public defender of that theory, called heliocentrism. The pope and Galileo were on friendly terms, and the pope encouraged Galileo to write a book outlining the controversy. But of course the pope instructed Galileo that he must not promote heliocentrism, and asked that his own beliefs be represented. So Galileo wrote Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, which purported to be a debate between two philosophers; but one of the two, Simplicio, sounded stupid, and it was this figure that acted as a mouthpiece of the pope. No one knows whether Galileo deliberately attacked the Pope — it’s probable that he just couldn’t write as convincing of an argument from a philosophy that undermined his own scientific beliefs. In any case, the pope was definitely not a fan of the book, and Galileo was put on trial for heresy. He publicly renounced his views, but he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and his books were banned.

Wow.  Talk about your author’s bias and purpose. Remember the other day when we talked about characters, and how writers purposefully and intentionally name their characters? Simplicio? Simple? As in simple-minded? Consider that when we begin fictional narratives in the next few weeks. The characters in your writing all matter, whether they have a major or minor role. And they are your creation–name them accordingly.

One more note: heliocentrism. Remind you of anything? Helios? Hmmmm?