New job! or, T.S. Eliot Rides Again

I am delighted to announce that beginning in the fall of 2015 I will be teaching in the new high school program of the Abiqua School in Salem, Oregon.

I began my teaching career in 1980 at South Salem High School, but the opportunity to return to Salem 35 years later has come as a complete surprise. Pushing the age-limit for work visas in China, I needed to find a country and a school that was senior-citizen friendly. I was worried that I would be left with few choices, so I posted an open letter to my former students, asking them to write some ‘references’ for me. The responses were both slightly embarrassing and enormously gratifying. I am not sure whether they made any difference in my job search, but I do know that such comments from former students mean infinitely more to me than any supervisor’s evaluation ever has.

When my Class of ’83 yearbook editor, Merideth Webber, heard that I was job-hunting, she mentioned it to another of my former students, Steve Thorsett. Steve returned to Salem recently to become the President of Willamette University. One of his associate deans, Norm Williams, who teaches in the WU College of Law, is the chair of Abiqua’s board of trustees, and he had mentioned to Steve that Abiqua would soon be opening a high school program and would be looking for teachers. Steve mentioned me to Norm, Norm gave my name to Jo Ann Yockey, Abiqua’s Head of School, and through this remarkable sequence of events I was offered a position this week, and happily accepted.

In “Little Gidding”, T.S. Eliot famously writes,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Ain’t it the truth.

Research: what are ‘credible sources’?

Students doing research for an Extended Essay, or in preparation for an IB English Interactive Oral, or for any other research project, need to use credible sources.

But what exactly is a credible source?

Basically you are looking for information written by someone who has some special training or expertise in the subject you are researching: a university professor, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or a carpenter, for example, all have expertise in certain areas. Note, however, that a physics professor writing about physics has a certain credibility, while a physics professor writing about politics has no more expertise, necessarily, than anyone else.

On the internet, avoid citing personal blogs by unidentified authors, or sites where anyone can post a comment. Such information may be right, or may be wrong; but as a source in an academic research paper it has no credibility. You may find more reliable information on sites with URLs that end in .gov (government sites), .org (non-profit organizations), or .edu (academic institutions like universities). Even here, however, beware: governments lie, or publish propaganda; non-profit organizations may still be biased; and since we know that university professors often disagree violently with each other, it would be unwise to accept without question what any single professor might say.

Wikipedia is inherently unreliable, because its pages can be edited by anyone. However, at the bottom of most Wikipedia pages is a list of sources used in writing the article, and these sources might be good places to look for credible information.

“Real” encyclopedias like the Encyclopedia Britannica might, you would think, offer more credibility—but think again. Can their editors be trusted more than Wikipedia’s editors? Maybe, or maybe not. Besides, encyclopedias of all kinds are little more than starting points for your research. Use them to gather some initial ideas and get an overview of the subject, but then dig in to their sources of information and go further.

Similarly, do not give automatic credibility to publications like the New York Times: such mainstream, “respectable” newspapers and magazines have been found guilty of printing misinformation on many occasions.

Going Further (2013)

For more (and sometimes different) advice on finding credible sources for your research, have a look at these links:

Mrs. Fitzgerald recommends these sites:

http://21cif.com/tools/evaluate/ – a script which helps students discuss and evaluate websites which was created by a joint project of the Illinois Math & Science Academy and the US Dept of Ed.  I use their tools often with classes.  (Go back to main page and choose Tutorials to see other useful resources).

http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html – a help guide for UC Berkeley students

http://www.vtstutorials.ac.uk/detective/index.html – EXCELLENT tutorial created by Intute Virtual Training and the LearnHigher project in the UK to help university students

http://www.ithaca.edu/library/training/think.html – a guide create by librarians at Ithaca College to help their students

http://www.classzone.com/books/research_guide/page_build.cfm?content=web_eval_criteria&state=none – brief list of website criteria created by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

And Mr. O’Reilly has sent me these recommendations:

General
http://www.brad.ac.uk/developme/developingskills/literature_reviews/index13.php
http://www.library.cornell.edu/olinuris/ref/research/skill26.htm
http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/markport/best/evaluate.htm

Internet credibility
http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/web-eval-sites.htm
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/553/01/

Open letter to former students

UPDATE, October 30th: great news! Thank you, thank you, thank you.


 

I will be leaving China this coming summer and moving on to a new job beginning in August 2015. Under Chinese law, I cannot be issued a work visa if I would turn 65 during the upcoming year. Since I will celebrate my 63rd birthday in June, I need to find a country and a school that will hire me now and keep me on past my 65th birthday, as I have no intention of retiring.

In the past when I have searched for a new job, I have not asked students or former students for endorsements or letters of reference. This time, however, my age will make my search perhaps more difficult, as many countries and schools have age limits when it comes to hiring and issuing work visas. So if you have been a student of mine and you feel so inclined, please leave a comment here about my teaching, or what you remember of it. Please mention when and where you were my student.

Gratefully,

Mr. MacKnight

Never Give Up: An Inspiring Story

In the summer of 2011 came an email message from one of the first students I taught, way back in 1983 in a suburban public high school. Kathy had found me through a classmate’s Facebook page, and wanted to let me know what she had been doing for the past quarter-century.

Honestly, I remembered very [...]

NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing

From the National Council of Teachers of English, November 2004.

Everyone has the capacity to write, writing can be taught, and teachers can help students become better writers. People learn to write by writing. Writing is a process. Writing is a tool for thinking. Writing grows out of many different purposes Conventions of finished and [...]

The hazards of sitting

Evidence is mounting that sitting for long stretches of time — in a car, at a desk, or on the couch — is bad for our health. A sedentary way of life and spending hours sitting down seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. . . . Research by Dr. [...]

Dear Google: an opportunity I hope you can’t refuse

I have a little project for you—a chance to do some real good in the world.

I teach high-school English. I know that my students need to read as much as possible, but I also know that reading alone will not give them the high-end vocabulary they will need for maximum success in school—for that, [...]

Writing advice from great writers

1. Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice to Writers

2. George Orwell’s Five Rules for Effective Writing

3. William Strunk’s Elements of Style (Chapter III is the most important)

That’s a good start.

Music washes away my worries: composing and editing

Composing and editing are two distinct processes. Students staring at blank screens or blank sheets of paper are usually trying to compose and edit at the same time. It doesn’t work.

Composing is the messy, chaotic process of figuring out what you want to say. It’s like being sent to the attic to find something. [...]

My Suzhou

 

Originally published in International Schools magazine and aimed at teachers considering a move to China.

The classical gardens, first. Master of the Nets is my favourite: small, but it has all the elements. Not gardens in the Western sense, but homes for the well-to-do, built around a central pond. In a classical garden, art [...]

Remembering Anne Osman

Ten years ago I heard of the passing of Anne Osman, my friend and colleague from Casablanca American School, where I worked from 1986-89. Today I came across this piece that I wrote about Anne. It was published on an earlier version of this web site but was somehow lost in the move. This seems [...]

Dear Maury

A letter to Maury Wills. For those who don’t know, Maury Wills played shortstop on the great Dodgers baseball teams that featured Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the 1960s. In 1962 Wills stole 104 bases, breaking Ty Cobb’s 1915 record for steals in a single season.

Dear Maury,

I was following reports about [...]

The Intentional Fallacy: it doesn’t matter what the author intended

First: we can never know what the author intended. Even if we ask the author in person, we cannot know whether the answer we hear is sincere, or truthful. It gets worse: the author himself cannot know with certainty what impelled him to write this or that. Why did I eat oatmeal for breakfast? [...]

Toni Morrison on teaching literature

I’ve always thought the public schools needed to study the best literature. I always taught Oedipus Rex to all kinds of what they used to call remedial or development classes. The reason those kids are in those classes is that they’re bored to death; so you can’t give them boring things. You have to give [...]

Aristotle on happiness

Bacterial Hosts

Q: What portion of the human body consists of human cells? A: About the amount from the knee of one leg down to the foot. The rest is bacteria.

This reminds me of commercial television. We commonly regard TV as a medium of art and communication financed by advertising. Actually, however, it is an advertising [...]

‘Hamlet: The Happy Ending’

Some of my students were devastated to discover that Hamlet dies at the end of the play, so I have obliged their tender sensibilities with this additional scene. —etm

—————————————————————————

Scene: Wittenberg. A room in an inn.

HORATIO But how is this possible?!

HAMLET ‘Season your admiration’, good friend. In short, by a hair’s breadth [...]

Ugly word of the day: “societal”

From DailyWritingTips.com:

What’s the difference between social and societal? Not much, but enough that you may become the victim of social stigma if you ignore subtle societal signals.

Societal is the pedantic alternative to social. . . .

I couldn’t agree more, having read hundreds of teeth-grating essays filled with “societal” this and “societal” [...]

People are animals, too

In 1968 millions of people were outraged when anti-war activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya announced that a dog would be burned alive on the UC Berkeley campus to protest the use of napalm (jellied gasoline, for you youngsters out there) in Vietnam. No dog was harmed: Kuromiya’s point was that Americans were less concerned about the Vietnamese [...]

Shakespeare changes your brain

“How Shakespeare Changes Us”, at lit-hum.org. The first comment is worth a look, too.

Good Advice About Bad Writing

“Good Advice About Bad Writing”, from DailyWritingTips.com.

Brief, clear, and to the point.

A Slow-Books Manifesto: Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.

From The Atlantic, a piece worth reading by Maura Kelly. Here’s a taste:

Why the emphasis on literature? By playing with language, plot structure, and images, it challenges us cognitively even as it entertains. It invites us to see the world in a different way, demands that we interpret unusual descriptions, and pushes our memories [...]

Ray Bradbury in the ‘Paris Review’

Anyone interested in writing, anyone interested in science fiction, anyone interested in Ray Bradbury who just died at the age of 91, anyone interested in much of anything will find lots to think about in this wonderful interview with Bradbury from the late 1970s, rediscovered and printed in the Paris Review in 2010. Among other [...]

Rebirth

Everything is—not perfect, but cosy When suddenly there’s a big lurch That you can’t explain Or control.

At first you think, no worries, We’ll be back on course in a moment. But we aren’t.

Then more lurches, some big Some small And long stretches in between.

Waiting.

Thinking, can’t we just go back To where [...]

“3 iOS items for writers”

A very useful article on the Mac Observer points aspiring writers to an iTunes U lecture series, a podcast, and an app.

The problem with e-books for students

UPDATE, September 2014

Some e-books do now show page numbers, and when you copy a quotation from iBooks a limited bibliographical citation is included automatically. Tim Parks, writing in the New York Review of Books, adds usefully to the conversation.

 

How to take notes—that’s the problem.

With a Kindle book, forget it. The best [...]

Edward Albee: escapist art is a waste of time

All serious art is being destroyed by commerce. Most people don’t want art to be disturbing. They want it to be escapist. I don’t think art should be escapist. That’s a waste of time.

—Edward Albee, American playwright http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Albee#section_4

Cringely on teaching, inspiration, and technology

This thought-provoking piece by the eclectic Robert X. Cringely caught my eye today. Here, Cringely quotes a friend who was an engineer but changed careers and became a high school math teacher:

“The problem is that I’ve found that all these things that are purported to improve student learning ignore the number one factor in [...]

Christmas Poem 2011

Years ago I began sending out poems at Christmas time, in lieu of cards. Here’s one of the first I sent.

The View from an Attic Window

BY HOWARD NEMEROV from New Poems (1960) for Francis and Barbara

1 Among the high-branching, leafless boughs Above the roof-peaks of the town, Snowflakes unnumberably come down.

I [...]

Turn your school into Paris

The great literary critic George Steiner writes, somewhere, that just walking through the streets of Paris during his childhood was an education and an inspiration. Nearly every street and square in the city is named after someone who made a difference: scientists, poets, politicians, generals, intellectuals, labour leaders, architects, and on and on. Every intersection [...]

Andy Ihnatko: There Is No Such Thing As Writer’s Block!

A great piece that ought to be printed out and put on the wall next to every writer’s desk. That includes you, students.

http://ihnatko.com/2011/10/07/there-is-no-writers-block/

Lu Ping

On Sunday I went to meet Lu Ping, a wonderful Suzhou artist who works in Beijing but who has just built a country vacation home for himself and his wife in the nearby ‘water town’ of Luzhizhen.

You can see some of his work from the 1990s here:

http://www.chineseartnet.com/LuPing/lp10.htm

I bought several of his woodcut [...]

Fake Apple Store, Fake IKEA, Fake Dairy Queen. What’s next? — Fake France!

The news about entire retail shops being copied by clever Chinese entrepreneurs leads to the obvious question: where do we go from here? Clearly, fake stores are an intermediary step in the development toward a much more ambitious project: fake countries.

Think about it: millions of Chinese people would love to visit France, for example, [...]

Amy Winehouse and the Norway killings

The death of singer Amy Winehouse at the age of 27 connects, I think, with the terrible events in Norway. Both stories concern mental illness of a certain sort, and in both cases the social and cultural context plays a role.

For Amy Winehouse: She was clearly ill, and yet in our culture she could [...]

Steve Thorsett, President of Willamette University

Congratulations to Steve Thorsett, Willamette University’s newly-appointed President, who was a student in my ‘World Literature & Philosophy’ class at South Salem High School in 1982-83. Steve has had an impressive academic career already, including a stint teaching physics and astronomy at UC Santa Cruz, where I studied as an undergraduate.

Administration of anything—much less [...]

Questions, not answers

‎The clumsy formulations I grew up with—what is the moral of the story? what is the hero’s or heroine’s tragic flaw?—still influence and flatten the questions people often ask about literary works, as if there were one answer, and a right answer, at that. The genius of literary study comes in asking questions, not in [...]

Poem: The empire was attacked

The empire

was attacked.

Babies cried, or lay lifeless

Mothers sprawled awkwardly

Young men, old men, old women, girls and boys

Body parts and fluids everywhere.

Only whimpers, or dazed silence as the sun shone indifferently.

 

It struck back.

Babies cried, or [...]

Success with Independent Reading: making me smile

I just received a note from one of my “cyber-colleagues” on the English Companion Ning, and part of it was about Independent Reading:

I also want to thank you for some advice you have given me last year regarding Independent Reading – I have taken some of your ideas, changed and implemented them in my [...]

Reading (Again): great advice for literature students

I just came across this blog post by Barbara Kerley. Although aimed at people learning to write fiction, it matches exactly the advice I give to students in my literature classes, especially at the IB Diploma level, where they need to analyze how the authors’ choices and techniques produce the effects we see in the [...]

Does reading great literature make us pessimistic?

Here’s what David Carl, a teacher at St. John’s College, answered in an email message to one of his students:

In general, our encounter with great works should tend to make us hopeful, and therefore optimistic. I have the words of several authors in mind when I assert this, such as Montaigne (“The profit [...]

Good Habits, Good Students

"It’s simply awesome and highly inspirational. Thank you so much for this book." —Student in Grade 9.

Click here for info. Available now from most online booksellers or by special order from your local bookshop.

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