Statement of problem
From the time that the idea of public education took hold in the mid-19th century, it has faced challenges to its credibility. Some of these challenges have been rightly aimed at inequality. This remains an issue today (Kober 2020). Others have been aimed at student academic achievement and falling test scores in spite of evidence that, among all racial and minority groups, reading and math scores have improved over the span of decades (NCES 2013). The Covid pandemic in recent years has, however, led to renewed scrutiny, and according to a 2022 Gallup poll, when asked about satisfaction with the public school system, 54% of people say they are dissatisfied and 22% are completely dissatisfied. Unfortunately, much of the criticism has been aimed at teachers who are often overworked and underpaid. Increasingly too, curriculums are under attack because of misinformation spread on social media and political opportunists targeting what they perceive as a system of liberal indoctrination (Graham 2021). As teachers adapt to demands over what is taught and how it’s taught, while at the same time remaining committed to best practices developed in the Universities, one question that can be asked is, what can individual educators do to restore trust and improve public perception?
The prior question is one I have had to ask myself during my own teaching experience. I taught at Heart Butte, a small school on the Blackfeet reservation. Prior to my two-year employment, the school had multiple administrations over the course of several years and a 50% teacher turnover rate each year, largely because of the challenges that the location and student body posed, to no fault of the students’ own. It is a climatically harsh and isolated environment, afflicted by poverty and lack of opportunity. There are high levels of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as a lack of trust in the federal or state government with the school often being a target of frustration. As a result, my employment coincided with a federally funded initiative to provide aid to the school through the Schools of Promise Grant.
The grant provided 1.5 million dollars in aid to support “students’ mental health needs, boost student engagement and provide training for local school boards and educators” (Great Falls Tribune 2016). In accordance with these goals, the grant provided the means for me to start a school literary magazine, which soon became the center of the curriculum. The accompanying freedom and support that I had to implement this curriculum is something not always afforded to new teachers, and that being the case, I felt driven by the opportunity. I informed the students of the class mission, and we went to work. In two years, we produced three editions of Wind Songs–as the magazine was named—and distributed over 300 hundred copies to parents and the community.
It should be noted that in addition to student writing on topics from Shakesperian inspired letters to parodies of popular children’s tales, Wind Songs also featured photographic images of other exciting things teachers were working on throughout the school. What I witnessed was a renewed confidence in the students' own abilities to convey themselves through writing, and also, an appreciation from parents who held tightly to the words preserved in print. While there were certainly challenges and setbacks that, in the end, limited the number of publications I would have liked to share, I would, nonetheless, consider the mission a success. Moreover, it reaffirmed my faith that positively reinforcing the values of public education is well within an individual's teacher’s means, and not necessarily through a literary journal alone. I contend that any unit committed to the principles of project based learning can have the same effect.
In my statement of problem, I mentioned best practice. Here I will define project based learning as best practice and show it as a viable means of community engagement in addition to examining the means that teachers currently communicate with the public.
What is Project Based Learning?
Project based learning (PBL) is student centered learning and focuses on engaging students through authentic experiences that focus on real world problems and encourages sharing of knowledge to solidify understanding. (Kokotsaki, D. et al. 2016) Its conceptual roots go as far back as John Dewey and the constructivists who argued that “deep understanding occurs when a learner actively constructs meaning based on his or her experiences and interaction with the world” (Krajcik 2009) The publication of literary magazines qualifies as project based learning when students work collaboratively and are permitted to voice issues related to their immediate experiences or as reactions to current media topics.
Due to the immediacy of students' engagement with problematic issues, teachers may struggle with what and when to censor. For literary magazines, Mossman (2007), has found that one of the safest guidelines to follow are those established by the FCC. Additionally, he would reject student work if it glorified harmful behavior and concludes: “literary magazines, as reflections of their school communities, should have a higher calling. They reflect, yet they also can and should ennoble the community's values.” Arguably, any project-based unit should also reflect and ennoble the community values if they are to meaningfully connect with the people within those communities.
Though values may vary to some degree from place to place, they are often universally held and could be referenced in any school’s value statement. Once identified they can be a safe departure point for meaningfully moving a project forward. Values in action may be observed in a variety of projects across any subject. Examples include: examining justice through mock trials in social studies (PBL works); promoting sustainability through modeling fishery practices and their long term impacts in science (Edutopia); designing cost-effective homes for the homeless in math (Modelsofexcellence). There are many resources freely available for teachers on the internet and most have the potential for cross-curricular collaboration where their impacts might be multiplied.
Importantly, though, project based units require students “to apply the knowledge and skills they learn as the focus of the curriculum rather than as a supplement at the end of traditional instruction,” (Bradley-Levine 2014). Thus, for any teacher seriously interested in a project-based unit, it is important to block a substantial part, if not the entire course, toward implementation. Again when considering literary magazines, that means not only structuring the classroom for collaboration on its production, but also assigning writing assignments that can double as content. The benefit, here, is that students already have an audience in mind beyond what would otherwise be graded by the teacher and likely discarded later.
Expanding Use of Social Media and digital platforms
In considering the audience–i.e. the general public– no broader horizon of engagement could be opened than the digital space in the last two decades. Social media and a host of other online platforms, I’d argue, are one of the most powerful tools humanity has yet created, and its potentials are still yet to be fully realized. Rather than fight the trend, as I had been prone to do in my own teaching experience by immediately questioning any student who pulled out their phone or switched from their browser to a social media site, it would perhaps be better for teachers to make peace with it. Indeed, research has found that “by encouraging engagement with social media, students develop connections with peers, establish a virtual community of learners and ultimately increase their overall learning” (Tarantino, et al. 2013) Moreover, digital content can be used as a means to connect with the community and promote online engagement. In context of my central question– “what can individual educators do to restore trust and improve public perception?”--connecting with the community is perhaps the most important thing to consider, especially for its utility in offsetting negative narratives that continue to circulate.
Current studies on the means of communication in academic literature
While the benefits of project based learning and communication through social media are understood, there is little quantifiable research that investigates what teachers are actively doing to reach out to parents and the community. Instead, what we do have are the following: DiMartino, C., & Jessen, S. B. (2016) found that schools in their case study used pamphlets, principals met with parents at fairs, and that in a competitive schooling system, which is being opened up to new choices, public schools in certain areas are employing private marketing strategies to retain and attract students. Graham-Clay S. (2005) found that written communication, phone calls, voice messages, pre-recorded videos, and schools websites are all found to be effective under the right circumstances, and cultural considerations help enhance the quality of parents' responses. Kilgore, A. J. (2010) found that teachers who used emails more frequently had more positive interactions with parents with two issues being misinterpretation of content and lack of parental access to computers.
Study method and design
Given the lack of data on teacher communication with the public and use of project based learning to influence the public’s perception my study will thus examine how teachers currently communicate, as well as measure the effectiveness and reach of project based units impacts on local communities, so as to suggest whether or not teachers might implement them more effectively on a wider scale.
The method I plan to use to gather my data will be through a survey that quantifies the types of interactions that teachers have with parents and the public, as well as inquires as to whether they use project-based learning as a part of their curriculum.
I have completed a draft of the survey which I would pilot with a small group of educators. Pending the effectiveness of the survey, I would then request school administrators in several local schools whether they’d share the survey through the schools email servers. The data will be gathered via a survey website and compiled into two graphs: one a bar chart that measures frequency of interaction on one axis and means of interaction on the other; and the other, a box plot that measures frequency of positive interacts on axis and whether project based learning has been implemented on the other.
In conclusion, this survey should provide quantifiable data as to how teachers are communicating with students, how often they are doing so, and whether teachers who use project based learning have more positive and frequent interactions. This data could attest to the effectiveness of project based learning for public messaging. My presumed findings are that teachers who use project based learning as a substantial part of their curriculum will have both more positive and frequent interactions with parents and community.
Bradley-Levine, J., & Mosier, G. (2014). Literature review on project-based learning. University of Indianapolis Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning.
Furger, R. (2007, October 2). Taking it to the class: Green Projects for the classroom. Edutopia. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.edutopia.org/environmentally-conscious-lesson-ideas
Gallup. (2022, February 18). Education. Gallup.com. Retrieved April 7, 2022, from https://news.gallup.com/poll/1612/education.aspx
Graham, E. (n.d.). Who is behind the attacks on educators and public schools? NEA. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/who-behind-attacks-educators-and-public-schools
Great Falls Tribune. (2016, July 29). 'school of promise' program gets $1.5m grant.. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.greatfallstribune.com/story/news/local/2016/07/29/school-promise-program-gets-grant/87760754/
Hamel, P., & Hamel, P. (2020, April 27). Mock trial project engages high school seniors in remote learning. PBLWorks. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.pblworks.org/blog/mock-trial-project-engages-high-school-seniors-remote-learning
Krajcik, J. S., & Blumenfeld, P. C. (2006). Project-based learning (pp. 317-34). na.
Kokotsaki, D., Menzies, V., & Wiggins, A. (2016). Project-based learning: A review of the literature. Improving Schools, 19(3), 267–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/1365480216659733
Models of excellence. Tiny Homes for the Homeless | Models of Excellence. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://modelsofexcellence.eleducation.org/projects/tiny-homes-homeless
Nancy Kober, Diane Stark Retner (2020), History and evolution of public education in the US - eric. (n.d.). Retrieved May 14, 2022, from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED606970.pdf
NCES. (2013). The nation's report card: Trends in academic progress 2012. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a part of the U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2012/2013456.aspx
Tarantino K. McDonough J., Hua M. (2013) Effects of student engagement with social media. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.studentaffairs.com/Customer-Content/www/CMS/files/Journal/Effects-Of-Student-Engagement-With-Social-Media.pdf
We had drinks at the Rhino and arrived at the Wilma late. The line of hundreds stretching down Higgins and turning the corner onto Front Street had cleared, and a silhouetted mass pulsed to the music of the opening band inside the doors.
Upstairs a man stood against the parapet on the balcony in front of the bar, and next to him another man rocked wildly. I did not have the impression they knew each other.
“Hey” the first man said, “If you keep bumping into me, I’m going to have to kick your ass.”
The second man turned and looked him straight in the eye.
They burst out laughing in unison.
“Can you imagine us, two old geezers getting into a fight right here?” The first man continued.
It would have been hard to imagine.
Electric guitars and drums crescendoed and ended suddenly. Into the void, the female singer belted a note that seemed to come from someone at least double her size. She was young and wore a white jacket with custom lettering on the back. It read, “I’m not Yours.” The lights on stage cut out, and her band, The Haunt from Ft. Lauderdale Florida, left the stage to cheers and applause.
People streamed past me to get beer. We had separated from my friend on the Lolo Hotshot crew. He was somewhere in the crowd–he and his partner and his two friends, who I’d only just met at the Rhino before the show. One of the men he served with in a Marine scout sniper platoon. The other one told me he was Serbian and had been living in Greece. Both were large and looked serious until you cracked a joke.
I had one other friend who was supposed to be in attendance with us, and if not for him, I probably wouldn’t have been there. I had heard the Hu’s music several years back but was oblivious to the show, as I had been oblivious to most shows in Missoula since having a child, and I thought of this friend, who had helped convince me to go and who’d bought himself a ticket but was not there because he had been called to a wildfire in New Mexico. If I remained on the Lolo Hotshots, I would have been called to that fire too, but I had taken another Forest Service job on the Missoula trails crew. My season would start in two weeks once school ended.
I wore my new Nick’s forestry boots, blue Levi jeans , and a black, yellow, and orange tie dye shirt emblazoned with “Record Heaven,” the name of my favorite record store. The shirt and the boots were both a source of pride and envy but no more so than the woman I had for a date. Courtney stood in front of me in a little black dress and a long scarf, or as my buddy who was at the concert had called it–a shemagh. This was an Arab term that had been adopted by U.S. military personnel who served overseas, but by whatever name, it looked beautiful on her.
Two drum sets appeared on stage. After the drum sets, several amplifiers and microphones appeared, and after the amplifiers and microphones, the men themselves appeared–eight of them, all with long hair black hair and dark clothing.
The Hu hail from Mongolia– Ghengis Khan stock. They wouldn’t pronounce a single word in English throughout the entire set. The only decipherable communication between them and the crowd was the repetitive chants of “Hu,” and the devil- horned hand gesture. Their vocals are guttural and throaty, rooted in the musical tradition of their country, and it’s backed by tribalistic beating of drums, electrified horsehead fiddles, mongolian guitars, and jaw harps. Taken all together–sound, style, presence–they are formidable.
As they played, I wondered if they had kids or if they had groupies. Did they get shuttled off to a bus after the show and closed off from the spirit they’d incited among the crowd? This was conquerors music after all, and to consider that possibility seemed a little disappointing. In a less civilized setting, they might have inspired hordes to burn down the town.
The two older men rocked. They were captivated–the whole crowd was captivated, and I allowed myself to become captive too.
The Dilemma of Owen Warland: a Reading of Nathanial Hawthorne’s Short Story, “The Artist of the Beautiful,” alongside Research on the Psychosocial Development of Intellectually Gifted Individuals
Nathanial Hawthorne’s short story, “The Artist of the Beautiful” (Hawthorn 1844), depicts a brilliant but eccentric man whose idealization of nature causes him to neglect his profession as a watchmaker, as well as his relationship with a potential love, to pursue the creation of a mechanical butterfly that rivals in beauty and realism any butterfly that could be found outside his workshop. That man is Owen Warland, and although his pursuit does cost him everything, he achieves his goal. At the end of the story, the butterfly that he creates flits about the home of the woman he’s lost to a brawny and practical blacksmith, until it lands upon the finger of their child who, in its innocence, crushes it. Owen had the life he created; they have theirs–a life that is all the more enduring and true. The story is a wonderful example of early American romantic literature with its emphasis on scientific skepticism, natural wonder, and individual struggle. It also anticipates modern psychosocial theories of development, specifically as related to intellectually gifted individuals.
In schools, the gifted designation is typically reserved for students who score above 130 – the top 3% – on an IQ test or who, based on other standardized tests, grades, and teacher observations, are noticeably ahead of their peers. Of course, while Owen in “The Artist of the Beautiful” would likely have been selected for a watchmaker apprenticeship based on an observable preciousness in his youth, a reader of literature would not expect to find such a designation as gifted assigned to him by the author, nor would he have received one in any formal school environment during Hawthorne's time. Recognition of giftedness through testing would not begin until the early 1900’s with the first version of the modern IQ test (Binet & Simon 1904), and not until the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik would Americans take seriously the need to challenge its most competent students with advanced courses in order to compete in the space race and beyond it (VanTassel-Baska, 2018). What Hawthorne describes and what readers may look for in Owen, then, are characteristics that have been elaborated on in gifted research since.
One of those characteristics is Owen’s intense dedication to his craft, which might otherwise be described in terms of an intellectual and imaginative overexcitability. Overexcitabilities were first described by Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dąbrowski (1972) and have come to mean, “being very alive, perceptive, persistent, energetic, and intense—or quiet but feeling deeply and having vivid mental or aural pictures” (Piechowski, 2006, p. 16). Readers first get a sense of Owen’s intensity when, instead of working on watches, his old apprentice observes him tediously laboring over a project, which Owen has been absorbed in for months but that no one can understand. In fact, this activity causes a general disapproval among the village folk. A short while later, and after Owen accidentally undoes a half year's worth of work on the aforementioned project causing him to resume his normal occupation, he is roused from a depressive state by walks into nature where he observes the object that readers learn he has been trying to replicate–the butterflies. Owen is reinvigorated and returns to the project with persistence and dedication.
For what reason is all this about? Hawthorne tells us: “Like a child, he [Owen] found amusement in chasing butterflies or watching the motion of water insects. There was something truly mysterious in the intentness with which he contemplated these living playthings as they sported on the breeze or examined the structure of an imperial insect whom he had imprisoned,” (166). The butterflies, moreover, become for Owen a symbol of poetic thought, “a flitting mystery beyond the verge of his ethereal domain” and subject to destruction by those of ill-refined manners who fail to appreciate their beauty. Because of this idealization, he feels isolated yet unable to unmoor himself from his goal in a way not uncommonly experienced by gifted individuals according to Szymanski and Wrenn (2019 ): “Gifted students’ ability to respond to stimuli that may not be perceived by nongifted children may cause them to have qualitatively different life experiences. These differences may result in stress and anxiety that lead to explosive behavior or depression further distancing them from others.” Furthermore, a study by Cross et. al. (1993) found that more than half of 1,464 gifted adolescents, ages 14-18, reported they did not feel like they could be themselves at school. For Owen, his intellectual giftedness thus creates an internal struggle in which he is caught between remaining isolated and being generative or seeking intimacy and feeling stagnate.
To conclude, Hawthorne is an insightful and nuanced writer – a veritable genius in the literary canon that Americans can be proud to celebrate, but it’s worth considering whether he might have been prone to the influence of stereotypes during his time. On those stereotypes Rinn (2021) has this to say: “For hundreds of years, the general belief among most people was that highly intelligent individuals were doomed to lives of social isolation, emotional instability, and psychopathology.” Indeed, one can look at many examples of successful and well-adjusted highly intelligent individuals today and determine that social-isolation is not always the case. This is also confirmed, in part, by Stalnacke and Smedler (2011) who examined the psychosocial experiences of 302 adults in a Swedish Mensa group and found that most did not feel like they needed to downplay their giftedness in order to feel accepted. Perhaps a different story could round out what Hawthorne’s readers take away from his view on gifted or “genius” individuals. However, I find that readers could still believe the fictional truth that “The Artist of the Beautiful” presents. If only Owen had such a group as Mensa or other like minded associates in his village, perhaps his tale would seem less a tragedy than it does.
Cross, T., Coleman, L., & Stewart, R. (1993). The social cognition of gifted adolescents: An
exploration of the stigma of giftedness paradigm. Roeper Review, 16(1), 37-40.
Dabrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. Gryf.
Hawthorne, N., & McIntosh, J. (2013). Nathaniel Hawthorne's tales: authoritative texts,
backgrounds, criticism. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Piechowski, M. M. (2006). “Mellow out” they say. If I only could. Madison, WI: Yunasa Books.
Rinn, A. N. (2021). Social, emotional, and psychosocial development of gifted and talented
Stålnacke, J., & Smedler, A. (2011). Psychosocial Experiences and Adjustment Among Adult Swedes With Superior General Mental Ability. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 34(6),
Szymanski, A., & Wrenn, M. (2019). Growing Up With Intensity: Reflections on the Lived
Experiences of Intense, Gifted Adults. Roeper Review, 41(4), 243-257.
VanTassel-Baska, J. (2018). American Policy in Gifted Education. Gifted Child Today, 41(2),
I recently bought a couple of used poetry books by Gary Snyder from Thriftbooks.com to add to the collection I already have of his. Gary was one of my first literary role models, although I did not know him as a Gary or as much of a poet. I knew him as Japhy, a pseudonym that Jack Kerouac gave to him in his book The Dharma Bums, which I first read in high school and have read several times thereafter. In the book, Japhy lives an alternative Zen Buddhist lifestyle, working in the woods and climbing the mountains of California. This was in the 1950's, and at the time, nobody was just out there climbing mountains for kicks, so he was considered an eccentric, but Kerouac-- a mad poet and eccentric himself--took up with Japhy and adopted some of his ways and started climbing mountains and working in the woods himself. As an 18 year old in the midst of rebellion against middle-class suburban culture, I thought this was exactly what I wanted to do too.
So I have Gary Snyder to thank, in part, for the direction my life has taken, and since reading Dharma Bums, I started reading Gary's work and learning a little more about his background and the ideas that influenced him. According to Wikipedia, he was born in 1930 in San Francisco, but he moved at a young age with his mother and sister to Oregon where he worked as a camp counselor, started climbing mountains, and took to the sea as a sailor. Presumably, the sea life gave him confidence to travel, because after graduating from Reed College with a degree in anthropology and literature, he sailed to Japan and lived there for a period studying Japanese language and Eastern philosophy. This philosophy he'd infuse with much of what he learned at school and from visiting the Native American tribes in his area, and that leads me back to his poetry collection.
The collection is called Axe Handles, and I think the best way to get a sense of the poem is to first consider the collection's cover...
The image on the cover is interesting. There is woman playing what looks like a flute on a sailboat. It looks Eastern influenced which makes sense given Gary's background. I don't know any more about the picture so I flip to the copyright page. What will that tell me?
The copyright page tells me that the cover painting is "Treasure Ship, Goddess of Snow," by Mayumi Oda, who a google search reveals to be a contemporary Japanese artist with a website I will link here: mayumioda.net/. Very cool.
The copyright page also tells me that this was printed in Berkely, California by North Point Press in 1983, and according to a news article in the LA times dated 1990, North Point has stopped publishing books because of financial troubles. So, people weren't reading or supporting poetry and local literature enough. Very uncool.
But okay...I am not those people. I read and support poetry dangit! So on to the poem...
The poem takes its name from the collection's title (or vice versa). It is also called Axe Handles, and just a foreword--this is not a poem I would typically share from Gary Snyder. I am more drawn to some of his other, more working-class writing that describes the natural environment. But I was drawn to this poem, because it describes a scene between Gary, who is the first person speaker, and his son, Kai. Plainly, it is about a father, child relationship and the transference of knowledge, and I had to think about the poem for a while before it really clicked.
I hope other people read and think about this poem too. Poetry will strike people in different ways, and often it's very personal. Researching the background of poem and its author can help, but there is not one way to read it, nor is there often a very good way to articulate how one feels about it. A person just feels it. Like a song.
What caused this poem to finally click for me? ...Well, I was sitting with my daughter and I've been trying to teach her to be more independent, which includes putting on her own shoes. Being the three year old that she is, she sometimes puts the shoes on the wrong feet. Yesterday I sat down with her and handed her the shoe. I wanted to explain to her how to put the shoe on the correct foot, but understanding right foot and left foot is a little advanced. How do I teach her this? I thought. And it struck me. We'll match the form of her foot to the pattern that's already close at hand. "Look," I told Maryanne, "See the curve of your foot. It matches the curve of this shoe. That is the shoe that goes on this foot." She understood.
Just like the axe handle in Gary Snyder's poem, the pattern for what I was trying to replicate was already close at hand.
I will leave you with one more inscription from the page preceding the poem; something that also helped influence the poem; another thing to think about. It is a Japanese folk song from the 5th century before Christ...
If you read and enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or a like. Thank you!
Roald Dahl’s 1988 children’s classic, Matilda, is the story of the title’s namesake, a precocious young girl who is born to a family whose other members are characterized as vile and wholly unappreciative of Matilda’s gifts. The dad is a crook of a used car salesman, the mom is a compulsive bingo player, the older brother is unremarkable in any way, and all except Matilda, who loves to read, are only interested in watching television every night. When considering Matilda in context of her family, one of the first questions that arises is, how could someone so bright be born from a family so dull? Is it even possible as Dahl would have us believe? Contemporary research in the fields of psychology and gifted education indicate that “ability and talents have, to some degree, a nature and a nurture component,” (Rinn p.17). The general agreement on these grounds have, however, produced two different hypotheses to provide a more in depth explanation of exactly how high intelligence emerges between them. I will consider these to answer our questions.
The first, the discontinuity hypothesis, “posits different genetic and environmental aetiologies for high intelligence as opposed to the rest of the intelligence distribution,” (Petrill et al.). That is to say, although intelligence along a normal distribution is generally inherited, high intelligence can be acquired through high quality practice. This position, however, would seem unsupported by the book. Matilda’s mind, Dahl writes, “was so nimble and she was so quick to learn that her ability should have been obvious even to the most half-witted parents,” (Dahl p. 10). She speaks perfectly and has the vocabulary of an adult at the age of one and a half. She teaches herself to read by the age of three, and before she enters school, she can figure large sums almost immediately. Clearly Matilda’s intelligence is a product of something other than practice, no matter how high quality, unless she was born with the innate know-how to acquire such skills as speaking, reading, and arithmetic so quickly, which is not plausible. Before disregarding the discontinuity hypothesis in the case of Matilda, however, there is the other side of it that deserves consideration. Rather than the nurture side, perhaps it is the nature side that fits her circumstances better.
The nature side of the discontinuity hypothesis suggests that Matilda’s intelligence from the mean that she was likely to inherit is not a product of intense practice– as we’ve seen it clearly isn’t– but it is the product of genes from somewhere deeper in her ancestry that have formed a unique combination. This is the case that David Lykenn would likely make. In his words, the problem of genius is “its mysterious irrepressibility and its ability to arise from the most unpromising of lineages and to flourish even in the meanest of circumstances.” Essentially, Matilda, in this view, is the way she is, because it is the way she is. She is a genius and nothing in her environment could change that fact. Literary celebrations of this view often appear in works of romanticism featuring artists or poets possessed by a muse that guide their life's work. It is a hard position to rebuke and one that Dahl may have had in mind for her character, that is unless the second hypothesis, the continuity hypothesis, offers anything better.
The continuity hypothesis “posits that high intelligence is just the “quantitative extreme” of the same genetic and environmental factors associated with the rest of the intelligence distribution,” (Shakeshaft et al.). The environmental or nurture side of this hypothesis can again be dismissed quickly, because the only difference from the discontinuity’s take is that it’s not necessarily the quality of practice that counts, but the number of hours a person spends devoted to that practice. Malcolm Gladwell’s popular non-fiction book, The Outliers, supports this position, wherein he argues that the key to mastering anything is devoting 10,000 hours of intense practice to it. Again though, for Matilda, at her age, acquiring skills this way is even less likely. That leaves one final side to consider.
From the continuity hypothesis’s nature perspective, it would not be one “genius” gene that has endowed Matilda with her gift, rather it would be several combinations of genes that have shaped a variety of non-cognitive factors. Examples of these include: a high emotional intelligence, such as her ability to perceive right and wrong in the way her parents conduct business and treat her; drive, as when she deliberately leaves home during the day to seek out new books at the library; and high intrapersonal and intrapersonal intelligence, indicated by her ability to connect with peers and teachers at school. It is an enticing position to consider for the book, and one that teachers or parents should consider emphasizing, because, like practice, it will feel more within a child's control, even if it falls short of explaining Matilda’s “superpowers.”
In conclusion, literature often contains information that can influence readers without their knowledge unless due time is taken to investigate its implied positions. Matilda is a wonderful little book for youth, and especially youth who may exhibit gifted characteristics, but it may be best supplemented with material that reinforces that values of drive and motivation, as well as a discussion on current research that promotes disciplined practice for the acquisition of academic skills.
Dahl, R. (1988). Matilda. Penguin.
Lykken D.T. The genetics of genius. In: Steptoe A., editor. Genius and the mind: Studies of creativity and temperament in the historical record. Oxford University Press; New York: 1998. pp. 15–37.
Petrill, S. A., Plomin, R., McClearn, G. E., Smith, D. L., Vignetti, S., Chorney, M. J., ... & McGuffin, P. (1997). No association between general cognitive ability and the A1 allele of the D2 dopamine receptor gene. Behavior Genetics, 27(1), 29-31.
Shakeshaft, N. G., Trzaskowski, M., McMillan, A., Krapohl, E., Simpson, M. A., Reichenberg, A., Cederlöf, M., Larsson, H., Lichtenstein, P., & Plomin, R. (2015). Thinking positively: The genetics of high intelligence. Intelligence, 48, 123–132. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2014.11.005
Rinn, A. N. (2021). Social, emotional, and psychosocial development of gifted and talented individuals. Routledge.
Occasionally, the desire to write a longer, more-developed prose piece or essay will strike me, but lately, that desire is soon supplanted by a larger awareness of all things in my life that currently merit more attention--foremost, my daughter, staying in shape for firefighting, and starting small side hustles that I hope will come to greater fruition down the road. The random thoughts I have left, then, are usually prompted in response to the mixtures of media, interactions, and occasions of our weird, increasingly democratic, or one might even say, chaotic, times. And that leads me to….Dumbo.
I have Maryanne overnights on Tuesday--a full day, a full evening. There are many activities and ways to divide it, and it's time I typically like to end with something classic, something grounding for both me and her. It could be a book, or as in last night, it could be the 1941 Disney movie. Upon its release and to this day, Dumbo has been very well received. And for good reason: the animation is simple and vibrant. The music and mood are enticing. The characters are memorable. I do think it’s important to critically examine older cultural products for signals that could subtly perpetuate stereotypes, etc, especially when it’s presented to children. But on the surface I felt like it’s a work that can be genuinely enjoyed.
However, the following morning, soon after M woke up, I thought, “Why not see what other short films or shows from around the same era she might find entertaining? Why not try spunky, singing dancing little Shirley Temple?” I am trying to get her to enjoy dancing more for fun and exercise, so it sounded good, and I was off, looking up episodes on Youtube, which lead me, first, to a short documentary, and.... holy sh*t! The things that the Hollywood studios put those little kids through is incredible, and I mean that in the most negative way. I will post the video below, but to sum it up, they were treated like little circus acts, separated from parents on set, inhumanly punished for perfectly normal toddler behavior, and most appalling, exploited for their sexuality (often very overtly.)
Cripes! Needless to say, we did not watch Shirley Temple. M watched Elmo while I did some household chores and prepared for our bike ride downtown and generally had the time to connect the dots--”They were treated like little circus acts.” Dumbo is about a circus act. Dumbo is separated from her mother, dressed up like a clown and abused. What is Dumbo trying to tell me? Or more poignantly, what was Dumbo trying to tell the cabal of hollywood pedo-monsters during the time it ran?
Basically, upon a deeper reading, I think Dumbo was a shot at MGM, and the other studios, saying, hey look you sick f*ckers, we’re onto you and we’re going to make an entertaining film that elevates the public consciousness about the crap you’re producing. Films for kids should not be made by exploiting kids, they are made with colorful animations that appeal strongly to their senses. And in this case, the primary sense they appealed to is pathos, the pity viewers are made to feel for things unjustly put on display, which if the film is seen literally, just as well extends to animals. This is not to say Disney is some squeaky clean company without its own problems then or now. It’s a conglomeration of a bunch of imperfect people, as we all are, and even more imperfect stakeholders. But it is to say, I think the film itself is essentially moral, it is good, and I’ll always appreciate the time I spent watching it with my daughter.
Feel free to comment or disagree.
Rambo: I am concerned about socializing my daughter in this time of distancing. She's at the stage of development where I think it's important for her to be around peers. Who would like to arrange play dates in small group setting? Preferably outside, the weather will be nice. (zero likes)
Nancy: Your child is going to get the socialization that she needs if she stays healthy. Stay home and practice social distancing. This is not going to go on long enough to impact your child's social development. It will be okay. (5 likes)
Rambo: I'm sorry. I was under the impression groups of ten were still good, and there's no community spread, and the social distancing measures are going to last a lot longer than we can expect right now. I am young and healthy, and there are no reports of kids being seriously effected. (zero likes)
Jill: We started community spread as of 2 days ago. We now have 11 positives in Montana, including a new Missoulian in her 20s. It's here.
Bob: I feel for you with your situation with your daughter, but I also think that she is going to be totally fine socially after this social distancing period is through. Think about it this way: It only works for everyone if everyone participates, including you and your daughter. If you ignore the social distancing, then you are putting everyone else at risk. If your daughter touches 9 other kids, and someone has it, then they go and touch their parents and grandparents, whom are highly susceptible to this virus, then I hope you can see how everyone needs to be a responsible community member and minimize interactions with others. The point is: The better we all do it together, the quicker this will subside. (10 likes)
Rambo: People who are at risk or around others who are at risk can't decide to quarantine on their own? Have individual liberties been suspended? I guess my concern, almost as much as the virus, is the mass authoritarianism and public shaming that has started to emerge because of it. (0 likes)
Jill: Let's leave Rambo alone to make decisions. Rambo, I believe you'll have a difficult time finding others to have play dates but the choice is certainly yours. ( Rambo likes)
Susan: I don't understand why he and his wife can't play with the baby.
Rambo: We do play with the baby--she gets lots of mom and dad time, but seeks attention from her peer group. Do you have a child? What do you think the acceptable amount of time to quarantine a child is?
Susan: Let me ask you this...what is your little bundle of joy's name? If you continue your reckless, anti-social behavior, she'll no doubt have a new nickname soon. Like Typhoid Mary but for Covid 19. (noone likes Susan)
Bob: Classy, Susan. Do you think such comments are helpful or in any way persuasive? Nothing wrong with disagreeing, but when you act like a know it all and attack someone people stop listening. (people like Bob)
Rick: Rambo, if your child has a play date please don’t send her to Susan’s parents house. (haha faces)
Justin: Links to news articles about Italy.
Rambo: I've read the news from Italy and other countries. I think what concerns me is that when social distancing is lifted, there's going to be a second wave of the virus, and then a third, and you get my idea. It's not going away anytime soon, only the economy is going to get continually worse, and we still won't have the medical resources to deal with it, because what does that take? Taxes. And how do people afford to pay taxes? Young healthy ones who have a low risk of a severe side effects or transmitting to others with that risk continue to go to work. And what provides them the opportunity to go to work? They socialize their children with others under the supervision of other adults. I don't see another way around it.
Margaret: If this helps, I and my peers went through several 3 months isolations in the 1940s and 1950s due to the then Polio epidemic. We were stuck in our home and yard. My little brother was 2 when the first one was instituted and since my other siblings and I were 10 years or more older, we didn’t play with him much. (Ignoring my parents rules). My brother grew up totally normal, outgoing, popular athlete in school and ended up a physicist. We also played “long range “ games with the other kids across the street, if that is something possible where you live, but at your daughter’s age, you will have to participate too. I am 76, prone to pneumonia, and trust me, this social isolation is difficult for us too, especially since we already knew that the end of the tunnel is closer for us anyway. Hang in there. We will get through this. (Lots of likes)
Rambo: Thank you, Margaret. That does help.
Jill: Maybe just change focus for a few weeks until we get a better grasp on how this is going to affect Montana? (Rambo Likes)
No one likes Rambo.
Just mentioning the title, Moby-Dick, can stir up as many ideas about it as there are people, which I suppose is appropriate so far as the novel is concerned with interpretations. But to root out one of the more negative ones, I think it important to address the idea that to read it is somehow an exclusionary or chauvinistic exercise-- an undertaking predominantly for the male elitist. Of this opinion, I’ve always had a sort of snarling, knee-jerk reaction, as I was unable to put into words what I intuitively felt. Though happily I’ve found there are other people who are more apt in expression and to whom one can search out and defer if your base sentiment is known. This is the case here, as critic Jane Mushabac so eloquently states of the relevance to women,
“[it] springs from Melville’s humor, his gift in portraying marginalized people… how they have lived at the bottom, dreamed of the top, survived by their wits, bucked their "betters, fought subservience, and lyricized a closeness to the feel of life free of the pretensions and distortions in the upper regions of power. It turns out one may find more of the traditional underdog female experience in Ishmael, more of survival humor, than in many a female character”
Indeed, she states, “all great art is androgynous.” And in pointing out the novel’s portrayal of marginalized people, Mushabac also helps breaks down the perception that readers must necessarily be apart of some highly-literate specialized class or pretentiously aspiring to it as though such a class exists. (It doesn’t.) As indicated, the novel’s content is thoroughly democratic, thoroughly accessible with a little work, and what’s more, it’s still thoroughly relevant. Need I say anything more than that the captain of the ship in pursuit of Moby-Dick sinks the whole enterprise with his monomaniacal ravings?
Then again, I suspect more than the content, popular apprehension is founded on the novel’s size. But, as few read the bible front to back in one sitting, so the case may be made for America’s secular bible, which-- supposing Moby-Dick to be-- is best read little at a time. Then, after a few times, if one’s experience is anything like mine, a curious thing happens… You feel subsumed, as though the space debris that is your everyday experience is continually being pulled into the orbit of the giant celestial body that is the novel’s symbolism. It really is powerful stuff. So, when I get to an artistic rendering of a scene like that below I become fascinated for days.
What can one say about the picture? In most college English departments, students are taught the value of interpreting a work through a specific lense. So if were to look at this picture through a formalist lens, I’d say the composition is such that the whale dominates the frame with a look of malice reflecting the volatility of the sea. Or, if I were to look at it through a Freudian lense, I could say the scene represents a repressed element of the psyche welling up from the vast depths of the subconscious to sink the fragile ego. Or if I was to interpret the painting through a feminist lense, I could ask my self-avowed feminist girlfriend for help, which I did and received a patently feminist reply: “I don’t have time for that right now. I’m doing my own work.”
The point is, when considered as a whole there’s no objective truth to be gained. We are cast adrift in sea of relativity-- a realization that the novel represents not only in metaphor but in motif. Melville attempts to scientifically classify the whale, but that falls apart. The sailors aboard the ship try to collectively pin down the meaning of a gold doubloon that the Captain nails to a main beam, but that too falls apart. And when Ishmael tries to interpret a painting (which stands for the novel itself) we are left with about the most stable approach to truth there is, which is to arrive at an individual conclusion, only after struggling with the alternatives. It’s possible, therefore, that Melville-- romantic as he’s been described-- recognizes the spark of divinity in each of us. But only a spark.
This brings me, then, to my own interpretation of the painting. In it, I see the men’s attempt to gather the whale’s spermaceti to fuel the lamps of 19th century America as a relatively fragile human enterprise compared to the terrific might of nature poised to obliterate the entire thing. And from that, I consider the lights that now fill each continent from coast to coast and the alternative source of fuel we’ve found--oil. And I wonder, if because of this we’ve not exacerbated our precarious position in relation to nature, especially considering climate change. And upon reaching this conclusion, I feel the sort of sublime awe and terror that I think Melville, through his art, would have been happy to inspire.
…But anyway, Moby-Dick is a wonderful book.
One thing I credit Trump and his administration for is their transparency. I know this seems an antithetical statement to make given certain allegations. But, due to Trump’s complete lack of political subtly, their inner workings seem clear enough to me: he knows he can’t lure back the industries he promised his voters, because the market, as he champions it, won’t permit it. So, in order to continue stimulating the economy, he must exploit resources on American soil in protected areas and perpetuate the great trickle-down myth that tax breaks for the rich will incentivize them not to reinvest overseas or purchase luxury goods or buy up large tracts of real-estate, but to create American jobs and buy homemade craft items and leave the people their land... This, of course, is laughable.
There is no recourse for the economically disenfranchised voters who compromise the Republican base but to either maintain their hopeful illusions or focus their anger on a culture war, which Trump has strategically inflamed and the left have been happy to engage in to their own undoing. It’s very hard to side, after all, with a party increasingly associated with YouTube propagated instances of college campus tantrums and the self-righteous suppression of free speech. And this is unfortunate too, because it not only subverts the party but the Universities and an important role in which they could play, that is, to promote dialogue-- without fear of reprisal from either side—that addresses the underlying tensions in a system that continues and will continue to build, unless Truth about an alternative system can be detached from the emotion its often abhorrent history creates and meaningful policy measures acknowledging that Truth are voted into place.
Where am I going with this?
And here, this brilliant professor, Dr. Richard Wolf, who can so clearly elucidate Marx’s theories as they apply today. The video outline is posted below.
So, that’s Marxism simply put.
Another thing I really like about this Dr. Wolff is he’s willing to engage in a debate and not with just anyone either but in a hostile environment with hosts looking for soundbites and a penchant for otherwise inviting on buffoons to make a caricature of leftist thought for their audience. If you ask me, Fox news may have slipped up this time. Decide for yourself.
“I’m not in favor of taking [wealth] from the rich to give to the poor. I’m in favor of not distributing it unequally in the first place.”
Concerns over land rights are central to the political attitudes of many citizens across the west. Although for anyone not here, you may not know it except for the occasional Bundy flare ups—their stand at the Malheur Wildlife Reserve being the most recent. While these incidents may provide newsworthy spectacles for people to color, or rather off-color, with knee jerk commentary, there are more insidious movements always beneath the surface. From whom do these movements issue? What bowels dare profane America’s liberties? Who else, after all, but America’s enemy from time immemorial….the communists! That is, from communists embodied in their most recent form, outdoorsmen and wilderness lovers at large, who’d slap from the market its inviolable hand and advocate for federally protected public land. But no fear, America! Though the Bundys may have fallen, the Texans have arrived, and they’re going to prove how laissez faire land grabbing is fun for everyone, mostly.
First enter the billionaires. Recently it has been reported that two Texas brothers have bought up hundreds of thousands of acres in Montana and Idaho. Of course, the liberal media bemoans this as a cautionary tale with its claim that: “Many of these acres were historically used by hunters, anglers, snowmobilers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.” You can read for yourself here…
But what one must keep in mind is now that the lowly despoilers and locals have been fenced out, the truly successful among us have been granted greater access. And should that not encourage us all to cut throat our way to top as national prosperity would have by design? Regional character, community, and goodwill be damned! We could all benefit more from such callousness.
Enter Ted Cruz… This revered patriot and senator is the second instrumental Texan, for where the billionaires were able to buy state land up for purchase, there were limits to their reach. And limits Uncle Ted does not abide. He would have it so all federal land is turned over to the state for their better management or sale, but mostly, we can assume for their sale, because that’s exactly what state track records show them doing. Hurray!
Now the fun can begin.
What we will have done is made permissible large game reserves, not unlike in Africa, where rather than an elephant tail, you, worthy citizen, could collect the antlers from the last big game animals on our continent, completely guided and without any effort of your own. Or hell, with that amount of land, maybe elephant tails, too, could be arranged. See what they’ve done here…
But I know, I know… There may be a few of you who’ve all but abandoned such ambitions as landing in that moneyed class, and you might be wondering, well, where does this leave me? The answer, I’m happy to report, is the couch. Yes, in its comfort and security, for you see, there will be TV shows where you can watch the guided hunt’s excitement and interludes that unfold the drama and laughter behind the scenes. And if that’s not enough, we’ll all feel superior together too, for on the next channel you might find another show portraying bulked up bearded guys with high-speed rifles patrolling the fence’s perimeter, snuffing out the few insolent and immoral outdoorsman and wilderness lovers who remain and dare trespass on the private domain. As I said, fun for everyone, mostly.