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Helping Children Read

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Once or twice a week I spend an hour reading with second graders.  I got into this through the example of Bob Kaufman, who was a volunteer with third graders for a dozen years. (I’m only in my fourth year at this.) P1000707

After Bob died last summer, his wife and I gathered funds from his friends and relatives to give books in his memory to Conlee School where he volunteered.  We were able to purchase 37 books for the school library.  booksThe last class “Mr. Bob” worked with will be moving on to Middle School this summer.  Children who read the books in the future won’t know who Bob Kaufman is.  But perhaps some of them will notice the labels and realize that someone cared that their library has these books for them to read. P1000713

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Happy “Exelauno” Day

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Exelauno is a good Greek word that one learns in first year Greek, reading Xenophon’s Anabasis, which chronicles the march into Asia and back of Greek armies under Cyrus in 401 B.C.E.  The text is richly redundant as the troops march on and on, day after day.  On March fourth, I celebrate my first year Greek class of many years ago:

March Fo(u)rth

Chill morning, mud season in
Massachusetts, not winter, not
spring. Freshman Greek class
starts precisely at 8 a.m. We
trudge with Xenophon’s army,
up from the coast, a day’s march
forty stadia or two pages,
as many as forty new words.

This morning, Peggy trudges
down from the dorm, up into
Sever Hall, salutes her classmates
with “Happy ‘exelauno’ day!”
savors the “Huh? oh!” as they
catch on, pick up her banner,
a signal marking our progress
across Asia, toward spring break.

March fourth as ‘march forth’ day:
Peggy’s pun assures us we will
conquer Xenophon’s long march,
survive our own, gives us
laughter and one Greek word
we’ll always remember.

I noticed as I typed this in that it is in proper Pindaric form: two equal sections as strophe and antistrophe and a shorter conclusion (epode).  Pindar wrote odes in honor of Greek athletes.  This poem is an encomium (poem of praise) for Peggy DeBeers Brown.

And the Greeks . . .

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I was introduced to Thomas Lynch through an interview in <i>Writers Chronicle</i>.  He writes essays and fiction but says, “I wouldn’t write sentences or paragraphs that were worthy if I weren’t also writing poetry.”  That led me to find his book, <i>Walking Papers</i>, and I was hooked by the opening lines of the opening poem:

What sort of morning was Euclid having
when he first considered parallel lines?
(“Euclid”)

I have always been partial to Greeks because of my studies in Greek and Archaeology, but I have been fond of Euclid since I was in the equivalent of seventh grade in an English School.  There geometry was taught as a series of theorems and their proofs.  One of the first was “When two straight lines cross, the opposite angles are equal.”

It was rote learning, but I loved it.  I believed this was the way Euclid himself had presented his ideas.  I remember the small paperback book clearly, while I’ve forgotten entirely the geometry text I used when I came to the subject again as a sophomore in high school.

Lynch says little more about Greeks, but in this first poem, Euclid takes a place along with Lynch’s contemporaries, each working out their understanding of the world, and they go together well.

 

Can Freethinking Be Taught?

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I don’t know whether anyone is trying to teach freethinking these days.  Both of my examples are from the past.  I suspect, however, that the authority factor between student and teacher makes it difficult.

My first example is from an era when freethought was not encouraged at all.  In the education of John Emerson Roberts, in the 1870s, the focus was on orthodoxy.  There was no acknowledgement of Darwin.  And the method?  Here is what one textbook author said about how to study:

            Let the lesson which was recited on one day be invariably reviewed on the day succeeding. . . . .As soon as any considerable progress has been made in the work, let review from the beginning be commenced. This should comprehend for one exercise as much as had been previously recited in two or three days; . . . As soon as the whole portion thus far recited has been reviewed, let a new review be commenced, and continued in the same manner; and thus successively until the work is completed. . . .(Francis Wayland, Elements of Moral Science)

What a dreadful way of learning to think!  Yet, my own education was not much better.  I made it through the Ph. D. in Classical Archaeology without learning to think for myself.  Later I learned about alternative theories about goddesses and lost history.  But this was little more than replacing a new “orthodoxy” for the old.

Dr. Roberts changed his ideas as he continued to read new material after he left school.  When did I become a freethinker?  I’m still trying to pinpoint that change – it was a slow process.

More on Dr. Roberts’s new ideas to come.  And for more on the man himself, see Books page.