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Books You Should Read:



Chapter 20: Dying Languages

Speaking, writing, and signing are the three ways in which a language lives and breathes. They are the three mediums through which a language is passed on from one generation to the next. If a language is a healthy language, this is happening all the time. Parents pass their language on to their children, who pass it on to their children … and the language lives on.

Languages like English, Spanish, and Chinese are healthy languages. They exist in spoken, written, and signed forms, and they’re used by hundreds of millions of people all over the world. But most of the 6,000 or so of the world’s languages aren’t in such a healthy state. They’re used by very few people. The children aren’t learning them from their parents. And as a result the languages are in real danger of dying out.

When does a language die?

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Summer romance.

barbecueMy sister wrote that “summer” and “sun” have a fickle romance, and have recently broken up. If those two had a Facebook page, their statuses would be changed to “It’s complicated.”

I love her personified images of sun and summer; here in the Northwest, those two just can’t seem to get along. It’s almost the official start of summer, the summer solstice, (aka longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere) on June 21, but ol’ Mr. Downpour has washed a lot of this away.

Living in the Northwest has its drawbacks for some people. And on a gloomy, rainy day, right before summer break, I realize it’s difficult to get excited about summer plans. BUT…if you can talk your parent(s) into planning something fun, sometimes that scrubs the mold out, so to speak:

And, my all-time favorite:

And, remember all those ways to be more creative we talked about this year? How about starting your own composition book journal – make it a memoir of this summer between your 8th grade and 9th grade years. I guarantee you, when you read it in a few years, you will be astounded.

List 100 things you can do this summer. On the list, includes things that:

1. Are free

2. Don’t consume anything but air/water

3. Require a real conversation

4. Use technology that’s over 20 years old

5. Doesn’t kill a bug, tree, or cephalopod.

Now, Summer, Sun: kiss and make up!

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What do you remember?

What do you forget?

Do you find that you sometimes remember the most silly things, facts and memories that have no meaning or effect on your life in the present tense? Why do you remember these random thoughts, yet, trying to remember how to spell “conscious” or “commitment” (does it have one t or two?) or what you just read in science class eludes you? (Turns out, with spell check, commitment is indeed, one ‘t’.)

My guess was, that memories get tagged with some sort of emotion or association. I’m not a psychologist, but I still like to think about brains. One book I’ve been reading off and on over the past few months is Daniel Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. I say off and on because I’ve been reading many other books in my spare reading time – The Lacunaby Barbara Kingsolver, just finished Paper Towns by John Green, and Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. (And no, I don’t get any money from if you buy these books. Don’t buy them. Borrow them from me, with parent’s permission. Some of them are PG-13.)

So far, I really like Lacuna…but I can’t figure out how Kingsolver is going to end it…I’m two-thirds finished, and it already feels finished. What else can she do to that poor protagonist, Harrison Shepherd? And Paper Towns – I never warmed up to Margo Roth Spiegelman, though I immediately remembered her name, because Green uses it in almost mythological terms – her full, three-word name. She is an unlikeable character, in my opinion, but worshipped by the protagonist, whose name, um, escapes me now. And Night in Twisted River – darn it, Irving! Rehash, dude! But I remember everything, because it’s basically the same plot you’ve used for over twenty years. It’s engraved in my literary heart.

 (Get to the point, Love.) Books are like chance acquaintances. I don’t expect or desire that you produce that time-honored tradition of a book report. You can copy and paste those off of the Internet. But I do want you to be able to have some sort of memory, some sort of connection to what you read. So, when you read, take a moment and do your quick reflection. What did you like about it? What choices did the author make that you question? Do you like a character? Do you dislike a character? (Not a big fan of Margo Roth Spiegelman, obviously.)

Many of you ask me if I’ve read every book in my classroom library, and the answer is no. I’ve read most of them, though; I read them as soon as I get them,or over summer break. I want to be able to talk about these books, because when you’re looking to me to be your ‘book match-maker’ I want to find a good fit.

In Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, the author does a very good job of explaining brain, learning, and memory in layman’s terms. (That means I can understand it.) Memories and learning that sticks with us usually has some sort of emotional trigger associated with it. That makes sense – we remember with our whole minds, our whole selves. If I spelled ‘commitment’ correctly at the local spelling bee and won $75 in prize money, I bet I’d never misspell it again.

I’m not suggesting that you use emotions to remember everything, or even that remembering everything is even important. There are people who can do that, and it drives them crazy. Literally. But, try to remember a few things. Remember the levels of knowledge, and be cognizant of your thinking.

And, you may be asking why I’m using Albrecht Durer’s image in this post. He was a 16th century artist/engraver/printmaker, and it was he who inspired me to pursue printmaking in college. He produced intricate engravings, and when he reached a certain master status, had his journeymen do the engraving in the copper plates. Beauty out of metal. He looks to be somewhat vain and egotistical, but hey, when you’re a rock star artist, you can look that way, too. I read everything I could about him, and wrote a graduate-level paper that received an A. I still have that paper, and I’m still proud of it. I remember that.


Remember your successes, too.

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No, this isn’t a post about drinking too many Red Bulls or Monsters.

This is about how we’re wired. What makes us go. What makes us stop. What makes us unsure.

motherboardNow, if we were all automatons, robots, gizmos, or devices, we would be wired to turn on when a human decided we should, programmed us to, or determined when we would be turned off. We would boot up at their discretion. They would push our buttons. The tragedy and bliss would be that if we were those robots, those motherboards, we wouldn’t care. We work for them. If I was an i-Pod and someone loaded me full of Lawrence Welk accordion music or Slim Whitman (look them up, kids) I wouldn’t have any say about it. I would play the music, and not have the opportunity to weigh in with my likes and dislikes.

Not so with people.

We LOVE to let everyone know what we think, how we feel, how others make us feel, all the time. That’s all we do. We are in our own little mortal coil packages, wired uniquely from all others. No one else knows what it’s like to be us, and we cannot ever completely imagine what it’s like to be them.

The tragedy and bliss comes from when we attempt to understand others, when we’re sympathetic, empathic, or antithetic. There’s the rub. When others think they are allowed just as much freedom as we are to weigh in with opinions, positions, ideas, and viewpoints, we think they’re geniuses when they agree with us, knuckleheads when they don’t.

That’s the very essence of tolerance. We do not have to agree with each other, but if we want to hang onto our humanity, we have to at least provide the free speech, free press, and basic human rights to each other. Otherwise, we might just be powered down.

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