Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Funnies: "When Life Reeked With Joy" Part Three

From "When Life Reeked With Joy"

After the refirmation were wars both foreign and infernal. If the
Spanish could gain the Netherlands they would have a stronghold
throughout northern Europe which would include their posetions in Italy,
Burgangy, central Europe and India thus serrounding France. The German
Emporer's lower passage was blocked by the French for years and years.
Louise XIV became King of the Sun. He gave the people food and
artillery. If he didn't like someone, he sent them to the gallows to
row for the rest of their lives. Vauban was the royal minister of flir-
tation. In Russia the 17th century was known as the time of the bound-
ing of the serfs. Russian nobles wore clothes only to humour Peter the
Great. Peter filled his government with accidental people and built a
new capital near the European boarder. Orthodox priests became govern-
ment antennae.
The enlightenment was a reasonable time. Voltare wrote a book
called "Candy" that got him into trouble with Frederick the Great. Phi-
losophers were unknown as yet, and the fundamental stake was one of
religious toleration slightly confused with defeatism. France was in a
very serious state. Taxation was a great drain on the state budget.
The French revolution was accomplished before it happened. The revolu-
tion evolved through republican and tolarian phases until it catapulted
into Napoleon. Napoleon was ill with bladder problems and was very
tense and unrestrained.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Effective Comparison--Homer and Xenophon

This excerpt of the last portion of student Wade C.'s essay comparing Xenophon's Persian Expedition and Homer's Odyssey shows nicely how comparative sentences and good transitions can unify and strengthen the common comparison essay. This form can often be very flat and uninteresting, but this one is lively and rich. Notice how the second paragraph here begins with a sentence that clearly shows us "the other hand" of the comparison. The concluding paragraph is more standard, showing us the topic ideas that were covered in the essay, but the zinger at the end echoes the title, "Men Without a Leader and a Leader Without Men."

Finally, the obstacles the armies face were vastly different. Odysseus’s army faced an array of foes with supernatural powers that must be overcome by cunning and trickery- strengths of Odysseus. An example of this is their adventure on Circe’s island. The men were only too happy to feast with the beautiful enchantress, and rushed head on into Circe’s trap, despite Odysseus’s warnings. When the men were turned into pigs, Odysseus came to rescue them, and defeated Circe by his cunning.

The obstacles that Xenophon’s forces faced were more realistic, yet often equally insurmountable by force. The large Greek army could defeat any cities in its path, but even these victories would cost them men. If they attempted to fight all in their path, their force would gradually dwindle to nothing. Whenever possible, they had to negotiate treaties with the people they encountered. If this failed, military action was the only course. At these times, the men worked together to execute a plan to defeat the enemy with minimal loss.

Comparing the two expeditions helps show more clearly why they ended so differently. Motivation, teamwork, and the nature of the obstacles they faced determined why Xenophon and his men returned home safely, yet without their leaders, while Odysseus returned home a leader without men.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Funnies: "When Life Reeked With Joy" Part Two

From "When Life Reeked With Joy"

In the 1400 hundreds most Englishmen were perpendicular. A class of yeowls arose. Finally, Europe caught the Black Death. The bubonic plague is a social disease in the sense that it can be transmitted by [edited double entendre] and other etceteras. It was spread from port to port by infected rats. Victims of the Black Death grew [edited double entendre] on their necks. The plague also helped the emergance of the English language as the national language of England, France and Italy.

The Middle Ages slimpared to a halt. The renasence bolted in from
the blue. Life reeked with joy. Italy became robust, and more individuals felt the value of their human being. Italy, of course, was much closer to the rest of the world thanks to Northern Europe. Man was determined to civilise himself and his brothers, even if heads had to roll! It became sheik to be educated. Art was on a more associated level. Europe was full of incredable churches with great art bulging out their doors. Renaissance merchants were beautiful and almost life-like.

The Reformnation happened when German nobles resented the idea that
tithes were going to Papal France or the Pope, thus enriching Catholic coiffures. Traditions had become oppressive so they too were crushed in the wake of man's quest for ressurection above the not-just-social beast he had become. An angry Martin Luther nailed 95 theocrats to a church door. Theologically, Luthar was into reorientation mutation. Calvinism was the most convenient religion since the days of the ancients. Anabaptist services tended to be migratory. The Popes, of course, were usually Catholic. Monks went right on seeing themselves as worms. The last Jesuit priest died in the 19th century.

(To be continued....)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Developing a Thesis Idea

Today I have been helping a client whose two daughters need to write a major essay that combines research and opinion. The mom said the two girls had been having trouble narrowing down to a thesis idea, though both were interested in slavery in the U.S. and wanted to discuss the moral problems involved.

I asked them to fill in at least six of these sentences with at least thirty words or so for each one, and that is how we started. I wrote quite a bit in response, teasing out their thoughts, and then they were to submit a further refinement of their ideas. One of them has already gotten to the second stage and I’ve responded with encouragement, ideas for further thought, and warnings about how her topic could go astray.

See if these questions help your students narrow down broad subject areas to useful topics, and let me know how it goes! If you have some additional fill-in sentences to add, I’d appreciate your contributions.

By the way, I find myself calling these "questions," but I realize questions are more threatening--these fill-ins, at least some of them, lend themselves to natural thesis statement formation.

  • I think I want to do my paper on the subject area of ______
  • I thought it was interesting when I read/heard about how _______
  • I always thought _____ but now I realize _____
  • Most people think _____ but they should know _____
  • I don't want to end up writing about _____
  • The part of _____ that is most interesting to me is _____
  • I want to know more about _______
  • Somebody who disagreed with me would say ______ about _______

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Clear Thinking From the Start

One of the best ways to write a good essay is to get a good start. One student's topic proposal shows some sloppiness that is going to make things tough for her from the beginning. In Great Books Writing Workshop: Christendom students are writing basic thesis papers and using illustrations from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress to support the thesis. I invited students to submit several topic ideas with brief notes on a character or scene from the book that would work with that topic. She submitted this:

  • Here's my topic options and characters. I'm thinking about going Persevering or judging a person's character for my topic.

Yes, it should read, "Here are my topic options and characters. I'm thinking about 'persevering' or 'judging a person's character.'" There are at least four errors in just these nineteen words, but the basic meaning is pretty clear. If this student had written these two sentences more correctly, she would have established a more academic "stance" from the beginning, taking herself more seriously and helping me to take her intentions more seriously, even though this is an informal submission, just to get my feedback on her ideas. She goes on to the first topic idea:

  • Topic: Being a Christian in only word, but the roots of your beliefs are only skin deep.

Again, the meaning is fairly clear, but it is just plain sloppy to say "in only word" rather than "only in word," and a simple "but not in deed" would help a lot. And why the "but" here? The second part of the "sentence" is an expansion on the first idea, not a contrast to it. Notice the mixed metaphor of roots and "skin deep." Either of these would work, but we have a collection of half-metaphors. As this student tries to move on to DO something with this topic, she's going to have "words," "roots," and "skin deep" kind of floating around in her mind, failing to coalesce into a clear concept. Now if she is thinking of all the possibilities of metaphor, she could expand a bit on each one to have it before her for future consideration.

A Christian in word but not in deed is a hypocrite, right? But someone who has shallow beliefs may be sincere in those and thus just ignorant or weak, but with potential for growth. The hypocrite needs repentance. So which is this student thinking of? She goes on with the brief note I'd asked for:

  • Illustrative Character: Talkative, a character, who is all talk and no action, a Christian in words, not deeds. He knows how to weave a religious tale but cannot follow his own advice, a lot like the Pardoner from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales except for Talkative's intentions are good.

NOW we have the "deeds" to contrast with the words, and that's good. And the parallel phrase that says the same thing is helpful, so the student is getting somewhere now. Note that she explains HOW he has words but no deeds, talk but no action--he can tell a tale but not follow his own advice. There is a little disjoint here--should we assume the tale includes advice, or are they separate?

I am pleased to see the note about the Pardoner--this shows that the student is expanding her thinking to an earlier reading in the course, and that's what we teachers all long for, isn't it? :-) The brief note here is okay, a jog to her memory for the future.

And then there is an assertion for possible challenge--ARE Talkative's intentions good? Were the Pardoner's intentions completely bad? This topic has great potential for comparison of these two, whether they wind up being much alike or very different.

Even a small blurb in a topic exploration needs precision and clarity.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Friday Funnies: "When Life Reeked With Joy" Part One

I first read "When Life Reeked With Joy" in grad school in 1982 or so, when it was passed among the teaching assistants in the Florida State University freshman writing program. I knew the handy Internet would have a copy!

I like the tradition I've seen in blogs for posting something funny on Friday, so here's my first entry, a small serving of this little confection, lest you be gagged by the whole thing at once. And if anyone needs an editing exercise, you will find working with this kind of like popping a balloon--full of smiles, but then kind of disappointing in the end. :-)

Forthwith, Part One:
When Life Reeked With Joy
                         By Anders Henrickson

One of the most hilarious forms of comedy, a favorite with most of
us, is the blooper. And some of the best come from the pens of college
freshmen. Following are some inspired examples:
During the Middle Ages, every body was middle aged. Church and
state were cooperatic. Middle Evil society was made up of monks, lords,
and surfs. It is unfortunate that we do not have a medivel European
laid out on a table before us, ready for dissection. After a revival of
infantile commerce slowly creeped into Europe, merchants appeared. Some
were sitters and some were drifters. They roamed from town to town
exposing themselves and organizing big fairies in the countryside.
Mideval people were violent. Murder during this Period was nothing.
Everybody killed someone. England fought numerously for land in France
and ended up wining and losing. The Crusades were a series of military
expaditions made by Christians seeking to free the holy land (the "Home
Town" of Christ) from the Islams.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Great Argument Topic on Law

Our family has enjoyed National Review Magazine for decades, since before we could afford it. A recent favorite columnist is Mark Steyn, and his article "The West's Metal, And Mettle," provides a hearty paragraph for an essay topic:

Britain's metal crime is a telling image of social disintegration: The very infrastructure of society--the manhole covers, the pipes, the cables on the transportation system, the fittings of the courthouse--is being cannibalized and melted down. When there's no longer a sufficiently strong moral consensus and when the state actively disapproves of a self-reliant citizenry, what's left is the law. And law detached from any other social pillars is not enough,
and never can be.

("Happy Warrior," National Review, November 19, 2007, p. 68)

Is Tragedy Possible?

Recently on Classed there was a little discussion of whether Christian tragedy can exist. The original concept for discussion, from a member's reading in Ryken via the Tapestry of Grace curriculum, suggested that no, it cannot, since the full Christian message precludes a "bad ending." I disagreed with this idea, perhaps to my peril, since I had not spent a long time considering the original source's argument. In any case, I responded thus:

I think the point that tragedy cannot express the whole Christian worldview assumes that "Christian art" SHOULD express that whole worldview. Actually, isn't that what we hate about "Christian fiction" sold in Christian bookstores? Everything gets happily tied up in "heavenly ever after." While our groaning in this world is not pleasant, it is more interesting than our imaginations of heaven, born of ignorance. And a happy ending that does not include a conversion would not be "Christian" enough, would it, to qualify?

I am intrigued by the concept that there cannot be a Christian tragedy, meaning one that tells the Gospel fully. Perhaps there cannot be one with the tragic hero a Christian, but I'm not sure about that, either. Cannot one escape the flames of hell but still suffer greatly as a result of his own sin, causing others to suffer, too? (David) Is it not properly cathartic by Aristotle's standards if we know he "makes it" to heaven in the end? Hmmm....

It just so happens that I am now reading an old anthology, Great Reading from Life, and it includes an article I found here: "American Drama in a Tragic Age." This two-part editorial, part from 1946 and part from 1959, provides another perspective--the editors suggest that the American idea of progress, of egalitarianism (thus no hero), etc., is what keeps Americans from producing great tragedy:

To gain a sense of tragedy, Americans must therefore virtually reverse two of their dearest values: on the one hand, we must recover our awareness of evil, uncertainty and fear; on the other, we must gain a sense of man's occasional greatness (which is quite a different thing from 'the dignity of the common man'). For tragedy, in essence, is the spectacle of a great man confronting his own finiteness and being punished for letting his reach exceed his grasp. The Greeks had two words for this--hybris, pride, and moira, fate--which told them that subtle dangers lurk in all human achievements and that the bigger they are the harder they fall. But if Americans believe that there ar no insoluble questions, they can't ask tragic questions. And if they believe that punishment is only for ignorance or inadequate effort, they can't give tragic answers. They can't have the tragic sense.

That sense is to feel a due humility before the forces that are able to humble us, without wishing to avoid the contest where the humbling may take place. We will be a more civilized people when we get it.
(pp. 275-276)

This is fascinating stuff! :-)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Christina Rossetti Comparison

In an essay on Christina Rossetti's two poems "A Birthday" and "A Better Resurrection," my student Abigail M. (not to be confused with my daughter Abigail M. who also writes nicely) does some beautiful things. This is her penultimate paragraph, and a great example of a comparison that makes a point. The last phrase really hangs there in our contemplation...

Together these poems present a picture. The heart of a woman leaps up at the return of her lover. But the crowning experience is that of a soul rising from its ashes – a soul saved. However, while Rossetti places her faith in Jesus, in his death and resurrection, she also looks forward to his return. "A Birthday" could easily follow "A Better Resurrection" and become analogous to the return of Christ to his bride, the church – an event calling for all the splendor and celebration Rossetti can imagine. Or perhaps "A Birthday" does come before "A Better Resurrection". Perhaps Rossetti expresses, through this ordering, her ultimate faith and security in Jesus. Men may fail. Many a lover does not return. But Jesus died, rose, lives, and will return. He has, in life, already suffered, and as Rossetti suffers in life, as she feels loneliness, numbness, sickness of soul, she looks to the man who suffered in her place, and she choose[s] to suffer for him, clinging to his name.