Sunday, October 09, 2016

Sounds, Words, Meaning, Poetry

How many positive words can you make that begin with the letter N?


How many negative words can you make that begin with the letter N?


It seems there are many more negative words beginning with the word N than positive ones. More, notice how your mouth and nose move to shape the words.

"Neighbor" makes your mouth spread out into a smile.

"Nice" opens your mouth.

"No" first opens, then closes your mouth.

Never, negative, nought, ne'er-do-well, nihilism -- all cause you to crinkle your nose in the same way you would crinkle your nose in disgust.

It's been fashionable for over 100 years to say with Saussure that language is arbitrary. However, linguists are discovering that our words are less arbitrary than they seem.

Great poets build poems from sounds, and from the sounds build ever-increasing complexity of meaning. Those who fail to do this have never been, cannot be, and never will be the great poets. The sounds are meaningful in a pre-linguistic way on which our language was built. 

Cronyism Creates Illiteracy in Our Schools

My wife just started reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer, a book which I was already interested in reading, but am even more so after my wife read some of the introduction to me.

For example, Miller points out that, "The only groups served by current trends to produce endless programs for teaching reading are the publishing and testing companies who make billions of dollars from their programs and tests." She further says she she believes
this corporate machinery of scripted programs, comprehension worksheets (reproducibles, handouts, printables, whatever you want to call them), computer-based incentive packages, and test-practice curricula facilitate a solid bottom line for the companies that sell them. these programs may deceive schools into believing that they are using every available resource to teach reading, but ultimately, they are doomed to fail because they overlook what is most important. (3)
Here she is, without doubt, completely correct. Except for one thing. The programs aren't deceiving anybody. The schools benefit from perpetuating student illiteracy every bit as much as do the corporations selling these useless products. Indeed, only if student illiteracy is perpetuated can these corporations sell more of their products. So their products prevent students from learning how to read so they can sell more of their products. The politicians who pass education legislation and administrators in the school districts who adopt these programs benefit from the cronyist relationship with the companies. Everyone is benefiting except the students.

And I see the results. I am teaching 4th and 5th grade social studies, and I have been told that many of my students cannot read. Most of the rest are nowhere near grade level. This past summer, when I handed out books for my students to read, I was told by my mentor to take them back up because if the students were engaged in independent reading, they weren't "engaged." The cult of "engagement," a weasel-word if I ever heard one, is perhaps the single main reason students don't learn anything at all. Student engagement means the students are doing busy work, but not really learning how to do much of anything, like read.

We should be appalled that there is a government-corporate cronyist relationship built on and feeding off of keeping students below reading level if not outright illiterate just so politicians, administrators, and corporations can make millions if not billions of dollars. We do not need anything the "education" businesses are selling. We just need books.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Ancient Natural Classicism in Theatre

If you are a playwright or in theater in any capacity at all, you really need to know your theatre history. This short history of ancient theatre is a great little start.

One of the main aspects of theatre we forget but which is still in some real sense a fundamental aspect of theatre is its origins in shamanism. Theatre is about appeasing the spirits and pleasing the gods -- and when it gets away from that, it loses its way. Theatre is "with the divine through elaborate rituals. The fact that shamanism foreshadows theatre is evident in the existence of theatrical elements that are present in a shamanistic ritual. These include song, dance, music, characterization, hypnotism, illusion, clowning, and ventriloquism." Certainly older forms including things like chanting, music, and dance. Oral storytelling was certainly included.

In many ways theatre has moved farther and farther away from every one of these elements. While there's not a lot of song and dance in Shakespeare, this poetic language in fact keeps it well in place (and the regular rhythms of iambic pentameter brings it close to chant). Clowning is certainly not uncommon in Shakespeare, and his works of illusion are truly hypnotic, as their continued popularity proves.

At the same time,  one has to wonder what would happen if these elements were more explicitly introduced. We're talking going beyond musical theatre to something older, more ancient, more fundamental to who we are as human beings.