Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gene Forrester returns to visit the campus of Devon School, an all-boys preparatory school in rural New Hampshire, which he attended fifteen years prior. Two locations bear a mysterious significance to him, the first being a marble staircase inside a classroom building. The second is beneath a tree growing near Devon River. After standing outside, time moves back fifteen years to when Gene had still been a schoolboy standing near that same tree. His friend Phineas urges him to climb its branches and jump off to simulate abandoning a torpedoed ship--World War II is waging on in the outside world. Gene jumps out of its branches into the river with Finny, despite his fear.

During an accelerated class session in the summer of 1942, Gene becomes increasingly paranoid of Finny who is also his roommate. He is the best at every sort of sport while Gene excels in academics and is not very athletic at all. Finally he decides that Finny is just as jealous of him as he is of Finny. As this conflict unfolds within Devon's campus, the war wages on in the outside with a greater fury. Gene's obsession with Phineas becomes so overwhelming that, while jumping out of the tree again later in the summer he shakes the branch to intentionally knock Finny out of the tree. Finny's leg is broken and he is unable to play sports again. The Summer Session ends and the boys return to their homes.

Forrester feels guilty about what he has done and tries to confess to Finny but he refuses to believe that Gene, his best friend, would ever hurt him. Devon School becomes more regimented and orderly as the Winter Session begins and, with Finny's absence due to his injury, Gene decides that he will leave Devon early in order to enlist in the military and fight in the war. But he wants to fight not for patriotism but rather for the sake of committing violence. Finny returns to school unexpectedly, on crutches, and discourages him from doing this. Their friendship becomes stronger as the two open up to one another. They share one another's skills, for Gene tutors Finny in academics and Finny teaches him about sports. They both make great progress and forget about the war for a little while.

As the spring begins, militaristic Brinker Hadley suspects Gene of causing Finny's fall from the tree during that previous summer and holds a mock trial for the two. Finny realizes that his best friend really had knocked him off the branch purposely and is so upset that he falls down the same marble staircase that Forrester visits fifteen years later. His recovering leg is broken again. Gene speaks to him in the school's infirmary and apologizes for what he has done. Finny forgives him and regrets that he himself can't enlist to fight in the war because of his leg. Gene assures him that he'd be a terrible soldier anyway since he's so good-natured and innocent. Comforted, Finny then dies after marrow leaks from the broken leg, causing his heart to stop. Gene is shocked but remembers all that he has learned from Phineas and begins to treat the world with the same playfulness that his friend always had. He enlists in the Navy because of the draft but never makes it to actually fight in the war in Europe. He is happy for this and no longer wants to commit violence. Phineas has saved Gene from aggression and conceit, changing his understanding of the world forever.

What could Phineas' fall from the tree possibly symbolize? For Gene it brings about an end of carefree innocence and ushers in a period of shame and guilt. Think biblically.

Do you think the ending is a happy one even though Phineas died?

Don’t Die, Dragonfly by Linda Joy Singleton

Don't Die, Dragonfly is a story about a high school girl named Sabine who finds herself in situations that she does not know how to handle. "Sure," you may think, "but there are a million books about that." WRONG. Sabine is what one may call a seer, or someone who can view the future. Although many would consider this a blessing, Sabine sees it as a curse. Because of her ability to predict the future, Sabine is thought to be involved with the death of a classmate, because Sabine knew so much about the event before it had happened. Sabine is expelled from her school and must leave her home town to live with her grandmother, who is also psychic. Sabine tries to start fresh in this new town, and does her best to keep her psychic abilities a secret. To calm her nerves and make new friends, Sabine decides to join the school newspaper staff as an advice columnist. At first, she sees the column as a subtle and harmless way of using her powers to help others. But when Sabine begins having visions of another student dying at her new school, she tries her best not to get involved. As her guilt becomes more and more unbearable, Sabine must decide whether to risk her newly-regained innocence in order to save the student's life, or to blow her cover again and have yet another town blaming her for the death. The only problem is that Sabine does not know who the victim is, how she is going to die, or how to stop her death from happening. The only information that Sabine can rely on is that the girl has a dragonfly tattoo. With the help from her grandmother, friends, and another psychic (the local "goth" girl, Thorn), Sabine dives into another mystery, hoping to clear her name and save the girl with the dragonfly tattoo.

1. Sabine is classified as a "seer" in psychic terms, which means that she can see the future. Thorn, however, is a "finder", which means that she can sense where something came from or where it is now. If you had to choose between the two, which psychic ability would you Prefer to have? Why?

2. If you were in Sabine's position, would you keep your gift a secret? Why or why not?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Redwall Series: Lord Brocktree

Lord Brocktree, son of Lord Stonepaw, starts out as a prince badger and a haremaid named Dotti going back to Salamandastron, which is a huge mountain where the badger lords reign. The wildcat, Ungatt Trunn, captured it from Lord Stonepaw. A peaceful civilization, Salamandastron had hardly any fighters, and the ones who could fight were either old but experienced warriors, or young wet-behind-the-ears young ones. When Brocktree learns of his fathers downfall, he quickly races to the mountain to assess the damages. Along with Dotti, an otter accompanies him named Ruffgar. Trunn is ruler of the highlands in the north and his followers are all but righteous vermin. They are dirty creatures who lie and cheat their way up to power. Backstabbing occurs a few times and if anyone would speak up for the fowl play, they would be executed. Trunn calls his followers the Blue Horde, for the blue face paint that they wear before battle. Stonepaw unfortunately dies defending his people, but also takes many of the Blue Horde with him. Young and unexperienced, Brocktree heads off to what was once his father's mountain. One of Brocktree's allies, Jukka the Sling, a squirrel chieftain, dies alongside Brocktree in his battles. Jukka was a peaceful chieftain, but she fought with Brocktree when it did not affect her people whatsoever.

1. War is a terrible thing. It starts when leaders get greedy and want more than they already have, or just out of pure hate for one another and their differences. If you were the leader of a group of people, and another leader asked you to help aid in the war in which he was wronged, would you accept? Even though the war would not affect your people, what would you take into consideration?

2. The United States have fought in World War 1 and 2. Not being in Europe, the war did not directly affect the United States, but they participated in it anyways. Having come from the UK, the United States put away the past and fought for what they believed was right. Being from different "countries" (animal species) , Jukka still fought for what she thought was right. Could the past ever be erased, or would it be better if it was learned from and "apologized" for? With Germany in WW2, could the German people ever be forgiven?

3. People may join causes because of their fears. Do you think any world powers or people joined the Axis in WW2 out of fear of their lives?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lies My Teacher Told Me

Since the time we have began school, teachers have lied to us. Not all teachers, however. The teachers who have lied are the ones that drone on about dates and attempt to cement into students minds everything from the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Second World War in a clear, no questions asked manner. These teachers are history teachers and this way of teaching is wrong. History is not fact; it is not a list of accepted concepts and actions to be memorized. It is, in fact, an argument, with as many answers as there are opinions.
History is "a furious debate informed by evidence and reason"(16), as James W. Loewen, the author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, openly states. From the time we enter school we start to memorize dates and events in history. This material is presented by textbooks that "employ a god-like tone"(16) and by teachers in the same manner to present history as only one story, one group's opinions.
Our textbooks focus so much on attempting to shed a positive light on America's history that they, in essence, are no longer so much about history as they are about glorifying a nation despite its history.
For example, our textbooks present Columbus as a herald to America's beginning. Most text books fail, however, to mention that the material they use to shape Columbus' arrival at the New World is "an outrageous concoction of lies, half-truths, truths, and omissions". Text books also fail to mention Columbus's shear abuse and exploitation of the natives that he encountered during his journeys. The sheer atrocities of what our "discoverer" did have never graced any American textbook in any significant way. This is just one minor example of history texts' abuse of historical information to suit their purpose.

That being said,

1) Have your history classes presented the subject as a list of facts without argument? If yes, do you think learning more of the argument would make the class more enjoyable?

2) Do you think that history teachers should present history as an argument? Is there time enough for this to be plausible or do we need to take more history classes?

3) Does the responsibility to present history as an argument fall more on the history teachers or the history texts?

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm begins with the drunken owner of The Manor Farm, Mr. Jones, mistreating all of his animals and underfeeding them to the point where they begin a plan to rebel. The animals, led by two pigs, decide that they will kick Jones and his family out of the farm and take over and run it themselves. Once Jones is expelled from the farm, they lock the doors and start business. Their main goal is to reach total equality, so they give every animal double servings of food, and make everyone work the same amount of hours. Basically at the beginning everything is equally shared, everyone is happy, and things are running smoothly. One of the first things they do is come up with the seven commandments that must always be followed, some of which include:
  • No animal shall sleep in a bed
  • No animal shall stand on its hind legs
  • Whatever goes on four legs is a friend
  • No animal shall kill another
  • No animal shall drink alcohol
  • All animals are equal
  • No animal shall wear clothes

and so one of the pigs who has learned to write paints the commandments on the side of the barn. However, there is some immediate conflict between two of the pigs, Snowball the leader, and Napolean. Napolean wants to sit around doing nothing and just be in charge of everything while Snowball wants to teach the animals to build a windmill. Napolean uses nine feroceous and enourmous dogs that he raised on his own to scare all the animals and remove Snowball from the farm, making himself the 'dictator.' So Snowball is out of the picture, leaving a very convenient scapegoat for everything that goes wrong on the farm. Shortly after Snowball is gone, Napolean creates longer work days, bans their favorite freedom songs, and gives smaller food rations. He goes on a killing rampage, killing tens of animals who he believes are in league with snowball, moves himself and all the pigs into the house to sleep in beds, gets drunk every night, and at the very end, teaches all the pigs to walk on their hind legs and wear human clothing. He gets away with this by making the animals doubt their memories and by having one of his pigs change the laws written on the walls as he starts breaking them. All that the animals remember at the end is that 'things are better than they were when Jones was here, because now there is an animal leading us.' Because of the slow change, the animals didn't realize that things were even worse than they had been with Jones.

What does this story say about our own time? (Country, government, or world)

Do you think it is worse to suffer in ignorance or to know how all around awful your situation actually is?

Many people know that this story was written to directly satirize the Russian government under Stalin--explain how does he does that?

If you haven't already, this is a really great book to read!! It's only 141 pages, a very quick read, but really teaches a lot. It will probably raise your I.Q. by a couple of points just reading it.

A Place To Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca

A Place To Stand is a memoir written by Jimmy Santiago Baca, on the subject of his troubled childhood, his maturation into an adult life of crime, and his discovery of poetry as an outlet. Baca is one of many children to mexican immigrants, as a child he lives in an illiterate and impoverished area in California. His mother leaves him and his sibling for an American man sending his father into a drunken depression. Baca's life quickly spirals down a road of drug dealing and homelessness. In an unfortunate circumstance, he finds himself in the middle of a police raid that turns into a shoot out and he is sent to prison for the attempted murder of an federal agent. It is obvious that it was not Baca who pulled the trigger, in fact he had no gun, but because of his life of poverty and crime and his Latino nationality, he is sentenced to years in a maximum security prison without parole. While serving his time in prison he is threatened, attacked, beaten, and is ultimately forced to kill to survive. He begins to doubt God and to doubt the goodness in life when his long time girlfriend leaves him, his best friend joins the KKK, and his mother alienates him as her child because he looks Mexican. When his life is falling apart, a church going man becomes penpals with him in jail and teaches him to read and write. At the age of 21, Jimmy Santiago Baca learns to read in jail and this small feat changes his life. Through his penpal he meets a woman who will later become his wife, and she sends him poetry from famous American writers. Baca discovers his hunger for poetry and begins to write his own poetry and this allows him to survive prison and move on with his life to become the do-good authour he is today. Today, Baca runs charities and travels around the nation speaking to impoverished youth about the goodness in life and the healing powers of simple hobbies like reading and writing.

Here is a poem from the novel (this happens to be my all time favourite poem).


is a question of strength,
of unshed tears,
of being trampled under,
and always, always remembering you are human

Look deep to find the grains of hope and strength,
and sing, my brothers and sisters

and sing. The sun will share
your birthdays with you behind bars,
the new spring grass

like fiery spears will count your years,
as you start into the next year;
endure my brothers, endure my sisters.

Topic Questions:

1. Baca bases his whole novel on his hard life and his overcoming of obstacles to become a better person. Many people say that it is possible to change one's entire personality, other people say it is completely impossible. After reading this summary of the novel and seeing how he has changes his perspective, do you think that it is completely possible that this could happen, or do you believe that his criminal instincts are still lurking underneath his do-good character?

2. Baca grows up completely illiterate. In one instance, he signs a contract on the subject of his jail sentence and he has no idea what it says. Once he learns to read it's as though his whole life has turned around and he begins to see the good in life. He soon discovers poetry and this becomes his sole outlet in life. As stressed as we teenagers are, what is/are your outlets to life that keep you sane?

She Walks In Beauty by Siri Mitchell

She Walks in Beauty is a novel set in the late 1800's high society New York. Clara is making her debut into society with the hopes of marrying an heir. With her mother dead she has been raised by a governess who taught her to think more about science than society. Clara's debut is just around the corner so her aunt gets rid of the governess to train her to catch a man. Joining her in the debutante season is her long time best friend Lizzie. The two girls quickly realize they are trying to catch the same man and promise not to let it get between them. As the novel progresses Clara must frequently choose between her aunt's wishes and her friend. As the season wears on things begin to fall into place with Clara and the heir, but she falls in love with his younger brother. This establishes the theme of choosing between desire and duty. The more she learns about society the more she realizes how corrupt it is. Everyone has secrets and her family seems to be buried in them. She is constantly told that marrying the heir, Franklin, will save their family from destitution and that his family owes them something but the whole story is never told to her. The only clues she gets are from an anonymous gossip columnist who seems to have it out for her family and compares her actions at balls and banquets to the actions of her father before her. Even though so much is unknown about her family she still loves them and feels responsible for their fate. Will she choose to marry Franklin and save her family? Or marry the man she loves and risk the consequences?

Discussion Questions:
1. Society will try to tell you who you are and what you should be. What has society been telling you? Do you listen?
2. If you were in Clara's position would you choose love or family?
3. Clara goes through rigorous training to fit the role of wife and proper society host. What would be the modern role of a woman? Would the modern woman benefit from such training?