Diigo Links (weekly)

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Anonymous

Anonymous PosterIn the interest of full disclosure, I should begin by saying I have not seen Anonymous. I don’t need to; its arguments are familiar to me. This blog post is not a review of the movie or even an attack. It’s more of a treatise on why we should view its historicity and arguments with a skeptical eye and why, in my opinion, English teachers should not be encouraged to introduce it into debate about Shakespeare scholarship in their class discussions, as Young Minds Inspired has created teaching materials for high school and college that the film’s producers hope English teachers will use.

First, many Shakespeare conspiracy theorists, whether they support Oxford (current contemporary favorite) or Bacon or Marlowe or any of the other candidates that have been proposed as the “real” Shakespeare, often paint those who believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare as defensive and inflexible regarding opening up the authorship question for debate. If Stratfordians, as proponents of the argument that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare are called, are defensive and inflexible it is because the bulk of rational and historical evidence heavily supports their view, yet conspiracy theorists are unswayed by this rational, historical evidence. Many Stratfordians refuse to engage in the debate because the Oxfordians typically present evidence that is taken out of context, distorted, or just incorrect. People are invested in their pet conspiracy theories, and they often won’t listen to the arguments proposed against them. On the other hand, I have seen some Stratfordians engage seriously in answering the arguments Oxfordians list as evidence for the correctness of their point of view, explaining why and how the arguments fail, only to be met with ad hominem attacks on their open-mindedness and a refusal to debate the matter further (take a look at the comments in the linked post). However, that is not to say that the people who believe that Shakespeare did not write Shakespeare are in any way foolish, unintelligent, uninformed, or even not perfectly serious. It must be said that they are not, however, professional Shakespeare scholars, who by and large do not question Shakespeare’s authorship.

Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro was one of the first to examine the authorship question and its history in his wonderful book, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?. I can’t recommend the book highly enough if you have even a passing interest in Shakespeare and especially if you teach Shakespeare. He mentions early in the book that other Shakespeare scholars tried to convince him not to take on the authorship question mainly because they felt giving the argument serious air would have the side effect of giving it legitimacy. They have a point. This movie is sure to bring up the debate in our schools as our students are often avid moviegoers. Shapiro, however, felt that the time was right for a Shakespeare scholar to explain why Shakespeare scholars believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

The chief argument that anti-Stratfordians make is that Shakespeare was born from humble means and did not have the right education in order to have been able to write the plays he wrote. However, Shakepeare’s “inferior” education at the grammar school in Stratford, which many anti-Stratfordians seem to think was akin to an average modern elementary education, included classical studies in Ovid, Cicero, Plautus, Terence, Virgil, and Erasmus—in Latin—all of which Shakespeare would have studied by the age of 13. One cannot argue he did not receive an education that could inspire the works he wrote. By the way, Ben Jonson’s father was a bricklayer, and Jonson also didn’t go to university, but no one questions the authorship of his plays or poems. Interestingly enough, Shakespeare makes some errors in his plays that one would not expect a Cambridge-educated man like Oxford to make: anachronistic references to clocks (Julius Caesar) and a description of Bohemia as a landlocked desert by the sea (A Winter’s Tale).

Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), is the current favorite candidate of Shakespeare conspiracy theorists. He was a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, and his candidacy as an alternative author dates to 1920, when J. Thomas Looney published Shakespeare Identified. Looney sought to explain how he felt certain events in Shakespeare’s plays were analogies for events in Oxford’s life and that Oxford had the right education and courtly connections to have written Shakespeare’s plays. Before Oxford, other candidates such as Francis Bacon and Christopher Marlowe became popular alternative Shakespeares. As I’ve mentioned, Shapiro wrote an entire book examining other claims for Shakespeare, and the website Shakespeare Authorship has a comprehensive section examining the major arguments that Oxfordians make:

In addition, an essay on the site,  How We Know That Shakespeare Wrote Shakespeare: The Historical Facts,  by Tom Reedy and David Kathman, “summarize[s] the extensive web of evidence that identifies William Shakespeare of Stratford as the man who wrote the works of William Shakespeare.”

Another argument I see many Oxfordians make is that such intelligent luminaries as Mark Twain, Derek Jacobi, John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, Sigmund Freud, and many others of equal talent all believed that someone other than Shakespeare—probably Oxford, but certainly not Shakespeare—wrote the plays attributed to him. This is a poor argument. Lots of people believe lots of things and the relative fame, talent, or intelligence of those who believe those things should not make them more or less true unless they are backed up also by evidence. Presenting this list as evidence itself is not evidence. It’s just a way of pointing out that one’s company isn’t completely made up of strange people in tinfoil hats.

What concerns me is not that people debate the issue. They can debate it if they like (although I believe it to be rather pointless in light of the evidence). My worry is that there is this notion that teachers who do not engage in this sort of debate in their English classes are perpetuating a lie or at least aren’t encouraging students to think critically and form their own opinions. From the materials produced by Young Minds Inspired:

Objectives:

  • To encourage critical thinking by challenging students to examine the theories about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works and to formulate their own opinions.
  • To strengthen students’ communication skills through classroom discussion and debate.
  • To engage students in creative writing exercises.

A look at the language (emphasis mine) used in some of the activities is alarming:

PART A: WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are Shakespeare’s plays the work of a highly educated writer with firsthand experience of aristocracy? Or could they be the work of an author with exceptional creative talent and observational skills who borrowed from learned books to enhance his own writing? Divide your class into two teams, the Upstart Crows and the Reasonable Doubters, to weigh the question: Was William Shakespeare really an improbable genius, or just a front man for someone with real ability?

Here is an essay assignment in the materials:

PART B: WORDS, WORDS, WORDS
Use the information on this sheet to research the theory that William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was not the author of the “Shakespeare” plays. Then write a persuasive essay supporting your position.

And later:

PART A: WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Based on this short sketch of Edward de Vere and your knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays, what are the arguments pro and con that de Vere was the true author of the plays? Compare ideas, weigh the evidence, and come to a consensus. Then imagine that de Vere really was the true author. Should he have remained anonymous? Should Shakespeare have taken credit for his plays?

These activities are not about encouraging debate about the issue. They’re about encouraging students to believe Oxford wrote Shakespeare. Ron Rosenbaum lists some of the errors the Anonymous filmmakers make about Shakespeare and the times. As James Shapiro says in his New York Times op-ed in response to Anonymous, “promoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. Meanwhile, not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems.” He concludes that “the most troubling thing” about Anonymous  is that “the film turns great plays into propaganda,” which Shapiro argues is reductive, and I would agree. In the film, the character Oxford says that “all art is political … otherwise it is just decoration.” That is really the only reason we create art? To make a political statement? When Simon Schama weighed in on the movie, he concluded the biggest problem with it was its “fatal lack of imagination on the subject of the imagination.”

Shakespeare was a gifted genius. What these activities are really going to teach kids is that people like Shakespeare are only possible if they are born into privilege and receive an education at a prestigious institution like Oxford or Cambridge (or Harvard or Yale… you get the picture). And what is also lost in these assignments is an appreciation for Shakespeare’s writing—the words, the phrases, the stories—which is traded off for a sexier debate about whether Shakespeare really wrote Shakespeare. What a crime.

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Instructional Technology Degree Programs

I'm working.(1)

I have a question for those of you who are instructional technologists or are thinking about it. What degree programs are you aware of that can help teachers who want to work with other teachers on integrating technology in their classrooms? I’m thinking of programs in preparation for being an educational technologist, instructional technologist, or technology integration specialist (or similar).

I am not interested in going back to school right now, but I’m curious as to what is out there for anyone preparing to move into this area. I chose Virginia Tech’s online instructional technology master’s program, and I’ve had reasons to regret the choice, but I’m not sure what else is out there for others who are interested in becoming instructional technologists. Mainly I think the program is in need of some updating for new technologies and tools as well as research. I also think students need more room to pursue their interests in the field and more flexibility to do assignments in different ways. I have been asked a few times for advice, and I feel less qualified to respond without knowing more information. Please do share what you know about other programs in the comments.

Creative Commons License photo credit: purprin

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Diigo Links (weekly)

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Why I Write

Moleskineh

Today is the National Day on Writing, and bloggers are encouraged to share why they write. I began writing not too long after I began reading, mainly because no one ever told me I couldn’t. In fact, I was encouraged by teachers and family, and I can’t remember not writing. I have always made my own little books with stories in them. As I learned and grew and was exposed to more models, I think my writing improved.

I enjoy participating in NaNoWriMo when I can because I love the camaraderie of writing along with other writers. I was a little worried about participating this year because I didn’t have any ideas for a NaNo novel, but I actually had one today that is really exciting, and now I can’t wait to start.

I think writing is necessary for me. I don’t know what else I would do if I didn’t write. I have dreamed of being able to write full time. Sometimes I think my perfect life would be somehow being a successful enough writer that I could move to England and live in one of those grand old houses and just write, write, write.

Writers have always been my heroes, from Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume when I was younger to J.K. Rowling, Jasper Fforde, Stephen King, Sharyn McCrumb, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, and so many other writers living and dead. I draw inspiration from them. I want to be like them (not in all ways, of course, but in their writing lives).

I write because I have to.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Amir Kuckovic

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NCTE Annual Convention

My Kinda Town

Just a quick update: I will be presenting at NCTE this year in Chicago. My name does not appear in the searchable program online because NCTE has not received payment for my registration. I am not sure if it will appear in the print program. I will be presenting with Glenda Funk and Ami Szerencse. Our session is G.41: Teaching the Hero’s Journey: Understanding our Past, Creating our Future. My part of the presentation will cover creating a course based on the Hero’s Journey, in which I will describe how I designed an elective course, including backward design, book selection ideas, and handouts I’ve used. It is in Chicago Hilton/Continental Ballroom, Salon B, Lobby Level on Saturday from 9:30 A.M. to 10:45 A.M.

Looking forward to seeing you there. Who’s going to Gino’s to get some pizza with me? I have been told that is the place to go. Oh, and now I hear Garrett’s Popcorn is a must, too.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Stuck in Customs

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Diigo Links (weekly)

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Teaching Conventions of Print

Jago Tweet

Carol Jago’s tweet this morning prompted Jen Roberts to reply:

Jen Roberts Tweet

Here is a good rundown of conventions of print. Knowing and being able to use these conventions are important for literacy. What do students need to know in the 21st century? How does reading digital writing differ from print writing?

Hyperlinks, for a start. Hyperlinks open up new pages or websites that connect in some way to the text linked. It’s also important that students understand web conventions differ from print conventions, and students should learn web conventions, too. For instance, writing is usually single-spaced with an extra line between paragraphs rather than double-spaced (or single-spaced) with a first-line indent.

As we see more print from places all over the world, it’s important for students to know that even speakers of the same language have different spelling, usage, punctuation, and style preferences, and those preferences are as correct as the preferences their native country has agreed upon (this is so important for English). Students should also know which way to orient pages in a word processor to effectively communicate their message.

It’s probably more important that today’s students learn to keyboard rather than write cursive, but I hate to see them not learn to at least read cursive at all.

What do you think should be added?

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Doesn’t Play with Lion

Mac OS X LionI was recently asked which private schools in the Atlanta area had 1:1 laptop programs, and I honestly had no idea, so I contacted two colleagues, and I discovered that of the schools who have 1:1 programs, most use Macs. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m a Mac fan. I wanted to upgrade to Lion as soon as it was released, but I discovered that several programs I run regularly don’t play well with Lion. This is probably no surprise, especially due to the fact that in Lion, Rosetta is discontinued. I advised my Mac-loving colleagues at work to hold off on an upgrade until I could find out when these programs would work with Lion. The main programs I’m concerned about are the following:

  • GradeQuick Web Plugin (not really a plugin, but a program). In my opinion, GradeQuick doesn’t work well even in Snow Leopard. It functions, but the UI is terrible, and it opens a different window for each class.
  • SMART Notebook 10.8. I only know of one teacher who regularly connects her SMARTBoard to her MacBook, but I am sure others use Notebook on their Macs to create files to use with their SMARTBoards.
  • Konica Bizhub copier drivers. We can print to our copiers using our Macs, but the Konica website doesn’t have a driver for 10.7 yet, and they have published no ETA for releasing one on their website.

I am going to an Edline/GradeQuick conference next week, and I hope to be able to find out more about when GradeQuick will work on Lion at that time. This email from Edline support to the LRSD Technology Center is the only information I’ve been able to find. The tone of the letter disturbs me because it sounds as if Edline is blaming Apple for the incompatibility. Apple switched to Intel-based processors some time ago, and Rosetta (at least to my understanding) was meant to be a way to transition from PowerPC-based to Intel-based processors. The announcement that Apple was making this change was made in 2005. Snow Leopard, which was introduced in 2009, was released as Intel-only and you had to download Rosetta in order to run PowerPC programs. To my way of thinking, software developers knew two years ago which way the wind was blowing, but because Apple was still supporting Rosetta, they effectively decided not to make any changes to their software until Apple forced them to. Education software is not always known to be the most proactive bunch, but given how many schools seem to be moving to 1:1 laptops and how many of those programs are using Apple, it just doesn’t make business sense to decide not to upgrade until you’re forced to. There are alternatives out there, and if you want to keep a school’s business, it seems logical to make sure your software runs on their hardware.

SMART is making the same mistake. A cursory glance at the SMARTBoard Revolution Ning reveals users are having a whole host of problems with Notebook 10.8 on Lion—actually, seems to be unstable with Macs in general. Take a look at this thread. The answer that the original poster was given when he asked when SMART would be resolving known issues with Macs and SMART Notebook? Not until next year when the next update is pushed out. So users need to downgrade to 10.7 if they wish to use Notebook on their Macs? When so many schools use Macs?

I tweeted Konica about the drivers for the bizhub copiers, and they replied that the new driver should be released next month, but that the driver for 10.6 would still work on Lion. That is good news for those of us who print from our Macs. Still no firm date, and “should work” doesn’t mean “will work,” but since I can’t upgrade due to issues with GradeQuick and SMART Notebook, I can’t test it.

I have decided that I want to install VMWare Fusion to run the programs in Windows on my Mac. I admit I feel frustrated. Would the software companies drag their feet like this on Windows software? Given the large number of Mac OS users in education, how can they justify dragging their feet on Mac software?

Do you know of any other programs educators might use that will not work in Lion? Please share in the comments. Also, feel free to share any other issues you’ve had with using Macs in school.

Image via TUAW.

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Re-Examined

Ferris Bueller's Day OffI went to see Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the theater the summer before I started ninth grade. We had just moved to Maryland Heights, MO, and I would be attending school at Parkway North High School in Crève Coeur in a few weeks. I didn’t know anyone. I remember feeling scared and stressed. How would I be expected to dress? How would I make friends? Why hadn’t my mother signed me up for band?

Obviously the larger message of the film was one calculated to appeal to people in my age group: the sort of carpe diem theme I would later visit in the poetry of Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell (and they were writing in the seventeenth century—there truly is nothing new under the sun). But there was also this notion of defying authority, represented in the movie by the dean of students, Mr. Rooney. Authority wants Ferris in school instead of out and about in Chicago, where he will actually learn important stuff about life. Perhaps no scene embodies the uselessness of school as well as Ben Stein’s famous economics lecture:

YouTube Preview Image

Despite the fact that this film turned 25 years old (yes! I checked Wikipedia!) this past summer, it still resonates. My students were talking about it, in fact, just this week. There is no doubt that it has become a pop culture icon, and it’s interesting to look at its critical reception. Richard Roeper is a big fan. His license plate even says “SVFRRIS.” He says the film is

[O]ne of my favorite movies of all time. It has one of the highest ‘repeatability’ factors of any film I’ve ever seen… I can watch it again and again. There’s also this, and I say it in all sincerity: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is something of a suicide prevention film, or at the very least a story about a young man trying to help his friend gain some measure of self-worth… Ferris has made it his mission to show Cameron that the whole world in front of him is passing him by, and that life can be pretty sweet if you wake up and embrace it. That’s the lasting message of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (Wikipedia)

Steve Almond says, it is “the most sophisticated teen movie [he has] ever seen” and added that it is “one film [he] would consider true art, [the] only one that reaches toward the ecstatic power of teendom and, at the same time, exposes the true, piercing woe of that age” (Wikipedia). National Review writer Mike Hemmingway says, “If there’s a better celluloid expression of ordinary American freedom than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I have yet to see it. If you could take one day and do absolutely anything, piling into a convertible with your best girl and your best friend and taking in a baseball game, an art museum, and a fine meal seems about as good as it gets” (Wikipedia). One of the film’s stars, Ben Stein, describes it as “the most life-affirming movie possibly of the entire post-war period” (Wikipedia). I found it interesting that such a diverse group as Wolf Blitzer, Dan Quayle, Michael Bublé, Simon Cowell, and Justin Timberlake call it their favorite film.

I remember the film resonating quite strongly with me and other members of my generation. It remains a cultural touchstone. We have all felt like taking a day off without permission, playing hookey, and getting away with it. But I was thinking quite a lot about the film’s message about school, particularly in light of Steve Jobs’s recent death. In his commencement address to Stanford in 2005, Jobs admits to dropping out of college after a semester and auditing classes he found interesting: famously, he credits one class he took in calligraphy for awakening an awareness of and interest in typefaces that would inform development of fonts on Apple computers. Neither Jobs or his sometime friend and rival Bill Gates graduated from college. I have heard them cited in arguments that college is unnecessary, and the message that school isn’t really necessary and actually can impede your real learning is a big part of Ferris Bueller. I’ve not necessarily heard either Jobs or Gates make that argument, but the fact is that both of them learned by taking a risk and jumping in, failing, then trying again. I’m not sure school could have taught them what they needed to know to do that, beyond the basic skills. Frankly, I have never heard anyone advance the argument that Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane would have spent their day better in school.

I don’t think it hurts us to examine whether what we’re teaching students—and the way we’re teaching them—is relevant to their lives, both in the present and the future. Sometimes I think we do a poor job of communicating the relevance of what we teach to our students. I overheard a disagreement about this issue the other day between a colleague and student, and the colleague walked away, while the student remained unconvinced. Listen, I am not sure I would have won that argument either, but I cringed a little when the “I’m the adult with the experience” card was played. Students will use math, science, art, literature, social studies, and all of the other subjects we teach. They might not know it, but they will. We can take this lesson from Ferris Bueller: we have a long way to go help students see school as compelling, and it starts with relevance. A student can’t give me a higher compliment than to tell me something I taught them was “relevant.”

Perhaps if Ferris’s teachers had thought about that issue, he and his friends wouldn’t have had to take the day off to learn.

Another lesson we can draw from Jobs is to remember our “time is limited” and we shouldn’t “waste it living someone else’s life.” One can hear echoes of Ferris Bueller’s statement that “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I think it’s important that our students don’t feel time spent learning from us is time wasted. I hope instead that they feel it is preparing them for what they want to do and awakening their curiosity.

And we should feel it’s important and relevant work to spend our days teaching them.

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