Today’s Daily Prompt is a duplicate of one which WordPress offered less than two weeks ago. So, here’s something else. It’s about books. We’ll split the difference, okay?

Ulysses James Joyce

It starts in school when they give you lists of books to read.

I was always a reader. Most of the time, I’d read most of the books on any list. The remaining few were not a big deal. Reading any book, no matter how thick, was rarely a problem for me. After all, I love books.

But literature courses inevitably include books that I would never read voluntarily. Maybe books that no one would voluntarily read. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe that’s the entire point of literature courses — to force you to read books no one likes and maybe no one ever liked.

How about Silas Marner? When was the last time someone read that because it sounded like a fun read?

Despite current trendiness, Jane Austin was nobody’s favorite author in high school. I read it, but I didn’t have to like it. You may lob your stones this way.

Pride and Prejudice was the only book I ever threw in a lake. There, I’ve admitted it. I do not like Jane Austin. Not then, not now. Neither does my husband. We also don’t like the movies made from the books.

By the time I got to college, among the many books I did not read was James Joyce’s Ulysses. Not only didn’t I read it, I barely got through the Cliff Notes. But I got an A on the paper for my “unique understanding of the characters and motivation.” Good Cliff Notes, eh? I did read Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and thought it wasn’t half bad. At least I could discern a plot and everyone in it wasn’t a prig — as they were in Austen’s novels.

I slogged my way through all of Dostoyevsky’s books. It was voluntary, but I still couldn’t tell you why I did it. Maybe to prove I could? I think the angst of the characters appealed to my younger self. Teenagehood was very angst-ridden.

I read all 1800 pages of Romaine Rolland’s Jean Christophe because my mother loved the book. She also had me read Growth of the Soil, Knut Hamsun’s depressing tale of grinding poverty and despair in the Norwegian highlands. I barely made it through Madame Bovary. War and Peace was a non-starter.

Growth of the SoilI never made it through anything by Thomas Hardy. Or Lawrence Durrell. I loved Larry’s brother Gerald Durrell. He was hilarious and wrote about my favorite subjects, animals. I slogged my way through Lady Chatterley’s Lover only because everyone told me it was hot. I thought it was dull. My brother had some books stuffed under his bed that were a lot dirtier and more fun.

I never owned up to not reading those important, literary masterpieces. When the subject came up — which it did when we were students and even for a few years after that — I would try to look intelligent. I’d grunt at the appropriate moments, nod appreciatively.

So yesterday, I was looking at a review I wrote last January about Dahlgren and realized I was lying about literature again. I hated the book. I didn’t merely dislike it. I found it boring and pretentious. It had no plot, no action, and as far as I could tell, no point. I mealy-mouthed around my real feelings because it’s a classic. Everyone says so.

So my question is: who really read it? Who loved it? Did everyone pretend because they heard it was a great book? How many people lie about reading great books when in fact, they never make it past the preface?

I’m betting it ain’t just me.


I found this cartoon yesterday on Facebook. Yes, Facebook and let’s not hear anything more about it, please.

It sums up exactly how I feel the fools “up there” in the thrones of power are destroying education in this country. It’s only funny if you think it’s okay that we have a whole generation of kids coming through a system that does not allow them to learn.

our education system

They are passing tests. If they learn, it is in spite of the system, not because of it.

 Fool Me Once


Education in the U.S. is a disaster these days. Teachers aren’t permitted to teach. Worse, students don’t get the chance to really learn. The curriculum is all memorization and standardized tests leaving no opportunity to explore ideas and concepts, to even discover there is more to education than passing exams.

I was lucky. I had teachers who helped me learn to learn. To love reading, to make up stories. To write them. To create non-fiction which was complete, accurate, and unbiased and to know what that means. To find humor in physics. To love history, religion, archaeology, philosophy and the mysteries of our world.

They encouraged curiosity, imagination and creative thinking.

library tower 63

Mrs. Schiff, 4th grade teacher at P.S. 35, who suggested I write “diaries” of historical people and learn to put myself into their worlds. Thank you. You made me feel special and talented and those lessons have traveled far and wide.

Dr. Silver, who taught English Literature and Linguistics at Jamaica High school. He forced me to parse sentences and respect punctuation and grammar while making me laugh. His doctorate in Linguistics helped him make our language intriguing, like a giant mystery to unravel. I’m still unraveling it.

College was the most fun I ever had and the best work I ever did.


Mr. Wekerle, head of Hofstra University’s Philosophy department. He believed in me. He taught phenomenology, History of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, but more importantly, saw through my bullshit. The first — and only professor to give me a grade of D-/A+ … D- for content, A+ for style. He didn’t let me get away with anything. He made me fill in all those leaps of logic even though I whined vociferously that “everyone knows that stuff.” Wekerle said “No, they don’t. You know. Now tell them.”

And I did. From that grew a 40 year career.

Dr. Feiffer — my high school physics teacher — taught me even I, the least mathematically inclined student ever — could be fascinated by science. I never got it together with numbers, but I learned to love science. I still do. The logic of it, the truth of it, the importance of it have stayed with me an entire lifetime. I got what I needed from dedicated teachers who worked for crappy salaries to teach dunderheads and wise-asses like me to think, write, research and love learning.

The gifts they gave me were priceless.

Daily Prompt: WE CAN BE TAUGHT — Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?

Just a month ago, this one came around. The title is slightly altered,but it’s the same subject in almost the same words. Mind you, it’s a pleasant subject, but so recently written, I can’t see any reason to write it again. Hey, if you’re going to recycle the prompts as often as once per month, I’ll recycle my response. If it’s good for the goose, it must be perfectly okay for the gander, right? But wait … I’M the goose. Oops. Bad analogy. 

Heaven, Hell and ESL – The First Job pt.2

Marilyn Armstrong:

In Part I of his story, Beasley Green wrote about the Hell of ESL. This, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.

I have failed at jobs. Most of those jobs were short-lived and I knew from the get-go that I was the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. For me, for everyone. Sometimes it was a cultural mismatch: they wanted someone else. I was too “me” for them. Too loud, too talkative, too funny, too interactive, not interactive enough. Just all the way around wrong.

And sometimes, you show up. It is obvious they hired you without clarifying in their own minds what they expect from you. There’s no desk, no office. No job description. No title. They aren’t sure what department you work with or who you report to.

The sense of foreboding and doom this engenders is hard to describe. No horror movie heroine, going down into the basement with only a lighted candle, ever felt more likely to be eaten by a monster. And now, here’s Part 2: Heaven, Hell, and ESL.

Originally posted on Beasley Green:

In most of my working experiences I have been welcomed quite warmly by the boss. In the first couple of weeks of my job the boss would typically offer a reassuring smile and enquire as to how I was settling in. I believe this is standard practice in most civilised work places; it’s certainly something that I have always done with the new employees who have joined me. The Curriculum Manager at Manchester Adult Education Service (MAES) was a towering, upright, scruffy, Northern Irishman who for all the world looked like an old, bitter, greying version of Beaker from the Muppets. He was as welcoming as herpes. If being dour was an Olympic sport then this man would be the Usain Bolt of dourness; but it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be an attribute of anyone in a management position whose role should be to not only effectively organise, but also…

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Marilyn Armstrong:

Education seems to have become a major issue, especially among the bloggers with whom I am most frequently in contact. This one from Beasley Green, on the east shore of our shared pond.

It’s amazing (and a little appalling) how similar teaching experiences are … no matter where you are.

Since my experience in teaching is limited — and many years ago — I’m reblogging a series of articles by those who have rich experience and considerable wisdom in this area. Rather than trying to invent the wheel, I’ll publish the work of people who know about wheels. Building them, rolling them.

In the meantime, if you are interested in the state of education in this country, I suggest you also take a look at TEACHING A GENERATION (Martha Kennedy) and Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé by Lloyd Lofthouse.

Originally posted on Beasley Green:

Anybody who has opted for a career in teaching knows it can be quite difficult to get your first full-time job after graduating. Teaching is not a job for the faint hearted and statistics don’t make good reading for newbies staying the course in their first year, which I’m sure doesn’t go unnoticed by Human Resource departments in schools and colleges. Hiring a graduate teacher may cost less in terms of wages, but if they can’t perform then their employer has to go through the whole process of recruitment again. This is unsettling for the students and a time consuming and costly process for the school or college. The safe option would be to hire someone with experience in the first place. So when I got offered a full-time job just weeks after receiving my teaching diploma, I was a very happy man.

ESL Teacher

Less than two weeks into the job…

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Last night, watching Star Trek: Next Generation, Geordi La Forge (Levar Burton) disobeyed a direct order given by Captain Stewart, er, I mean, Jean-Luc Picard. Although he survived his misadventure — barely, I might add — Picard told Geordi that regretfully, he was going to have to “put this incident on your permanent record!”

Oh my god! His permanent record. Even in Star Fleet, you cannot escape your permanent record. It’s four hundred years in the future and they still have that record.

Back in our golden olden days, the thing that was held over our heads — the veritable Sword of Damocles — was that our bad behavior would go on our permanent record. From elementary school through our working years, we were warned our permanent record would follow us. Marks against us might even (gasp!) prevent us from getting into college at all, in which case we knew we might as well die on the spot. If you didn’t go to college, you would never have a decent job or find someone to love. I knew that right into the marrow of my bones. Didn’t you?

little colorado rocks

The Permanent Record is (was) (will be) like the Rock of Gibraltar. Huge, unchanging. No matter what we do with our lives, everyone will know about our misdeeds. All they have to do is check the record. They’ll know I sassed my eleventh grade social studies teacher (he deserved it and worse) in May 1962. That Garry ran over his allotted time while reporting a news event in Boston and was not even repentant when confronted with his foul deed! The evil that we do will be revealed.

You might want to see Lamont Cranston, because the Shadow Knows.

So, here’s the deal. Now and forever, every one of us has a permanent record in which all our misbehavior is cataloged. I know because I’ve been told. I’m not sure who has custody of these records, however. As far as I can tell, everyone on the planet has one, so there must be a gigantic storage unit somewhere, where everything is filed. That’s a lot of records to keep.

But they aren’t being stored around here. I’d have noticed a building that big.


I expect when we die, if there actually are Pearly Gates and a gatekeeper who decides if we can enter, he will be clutching a copy of our permanent record in one angelic hand. That’s right. You talked back to your teacher in fifth grade, cut school in high school. Told a professor the dog ate your final paper in college. Now, you won’t go to Heaven.

Sorry buddy. Your permanent record just caught up with you.


Share Your World – 2014 Week 48

What is your favorite toppings on pizza?

We eat a lot of pizza these days, which is funny because Garry didn’t used to like it much. Times have changed. Mostly, I prefer veggies. Mushrooms, onions, peppers. Extra tomatoes and a lot of cheese. I think Garry would prefer something more carnivorous, but he’s being nice to me (and our hearts!) these days :-)

I want to learn more about …

Everything! History, science, art, literature … I love learning and with rare exceptions, everything is interesting. Moreover, my motto remains:

Knowledge is never a waste of time. 

What are three places you have enjoyed visiting?

Loch Gill from Park Castle

Loch Gill from Park Castle

Jerusalem. Dublin. London. But to be fair, I’ve enjoyed pretty much every place I’ve ever visited, from the most obscure little towns in the middle of nowhere, to the biggest cities on Earth. Knowledge is never a waste of time … and travelling is always fun as long as you dwell on the adventure and not the hassles.

Do you prefer eating the frosting of the cake or the cupcake first?

I don’t like frosting. Too sweet. I usually scrape off frosting on pretty much everything. When I bake cakes, I put a little powdered sugar on them for decoration, but usually won’t ice them.