On a positive note, there is a new TV show ( creator: Craig Pearce) about William Shakespeare. The star,Laurie Davidson, is a casting choice who will make women swoon.

On the other hand, there will be purist English professors who will be cringing over a number of anachronisms they believe will need correcting.

Maybe why the series is simply titled Will...because there will be English teachers who will insist on separating facts from fiction.

I suggest, however, that students will remember more if they do the background research.

For example:

  • they will need to understand why Alice Burbage (for real) would have every reason to say Yes, I am that most useless of creatures: an educated woman!”.but would never have spoken this aloud;
  • they will need to discover that Elizabethan audiences, while quite raucous, did not sport brightly dyed mohawks, and there is little evidence of iambic pentameter rap battles in taverns;
  • they will need to appreciate Kit Marlowe’s place in literature;
  • they will need to consider why a character Shakespeare  might hide his Roman Catholic background in Elizabethan England.

What the series seems to get right is the tension created during religious purges throughout Elizabeth I’s reign. Students could do some quick research into those hostilities that were initiated by her father, Henry VIII in challenging the Roman Catholic Church. The TV series features gruesome scenes of torturing Catholics by (historically accurate) Richard Topcliffe that are hard to watch. His sadistic turn, even on the small screen, gives support to a description that he was one “whose inhuman cruelty is so great, as he will not spare to extend any torture whatsoever.”

Another right set of moments (Episode 3) center on our accepted understanding that most plot lines of Shakespeare’s plays are “borrowed” from other sources. For example, it is known that Romeo and Juliet is lifted in large part from a poem by Arthur Brooke (1562) titled The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet. The conceit that Will collects lines on his strolls through London’s streets for later use in plays is similar to how Tom Stoppard presented Shakespeare’s style of playwriting in the Oscar winning Shakespeare in Love. But Will’s producers who try to involve Alice as a collaborator may be taking their playwriting enterprise a (London) bridge too far.

Other accurate moments from the series opener are devoted to watching a tense dynamic between playwright and actor. In one scene, famed actor Richard Burbage, played by Mattias Inwoodhams it up during lines from an early production of Edward III;  he overplays lines about the futility of war as pickup lines for an attractive theatre-goer. In another scene, an out-of-control actor on stage escalates manically lewd behavior and moons the audience for laughs. Such exploitation by actors at the cost of a play’s meaning gives more support to why the real Shakespeare penned these lines for Hamlet:

“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines.”(3.2.1-4)

If teachers can see their way past the anachronisms, they may agree that  Will can help students visualize a dangerous London, its alleyways teaming with treachery.

Treachery is a Shakespeare trademark, according to Harvard scholar  in his essay in The New Yorker Magazine (July 10/17, 2017 issue) Shakespeare’s Cure for Xenophobia. In the essay, Greenblatt compares his own life experiences with the fear of the “other” or outsider that is present in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

Dangerous topics like xenophobia or plotting against the king, Greenblatt notes, are how Shakespeare “awakens” audiences to better understanding. Sounding much like the producers of Will, Greenblatt provides an allusion to King Lear,

“At a time when alehouses and inns were full of spies trolling for subversive comments,this is a playwright who could depict on the public stage a twisted sociopath lying his way to supreme authority.”

Greenblatt continues to note Shakespeare’s temerity, again referencing plot points from King Lear:

“This is a playwright who could have a character stand up and declare to the spectators that ‘a dog’s obeyed in office’.”

and then

“This is a playwright who could approvingly depict a servant mortally wounding the realm’s ruler in order to stop him from torturing a prisoner in the name of national security.”

Shakespeare, Greenblatt argues, had the audacity to produce such acts of treachery onstage in order to place us in a different point of view, a view that “offers the possibility of an escape from the mental ghettos most of us inhabit.”

In contrast, the producers of Will, keep the treachery off the stage and onto the streets.

Whether Will lasts as a TV series or ends before the season’s summer sun sets will be determined by ratings; Will currently has the distinction of being the lowest-rated TNT drama series premiere.

Will Will continue to be or not to be? That is a question.

Today marks the 200th birthday of American writer (poet, essayist, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist) Henry David Thoreau. I remember my first encounters with Thoreau were traditional, his essays read in my high school English class. Soon after, my choice of for a quote under my yearbook photo (a serious decision made after much deliberation) was his:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 

“That’s a rather depressing sentiment,” my Aunt Rita had commented.
“It’s what I believe,” I had replied.

Therefore, I was surprised to discover that although I have taught his essays and discussed his literary impact on American Literature,  I have not yet written on this blog about Henry David Thoreau.  This post will correct my oversight.

In 2013, I created a Livebinder for my seniors who were reading the Bill Bryson book A Walk in the Woods. A Livebinder is a digital file cabinet where anyone can upload or link materials for others to use. The about page explains their purpose:

“We created LiveBinders so that you could do with digital information what you do with the piles of papers on your desk – organize them into nice presentable containers – like 3-ring binders on your shelf. With our online binders you can combine all of your cloud documents, website links and upload your desktop documents – to then easily access, share, and update your binders from anywhere.”

The materials on Livebinders can be accessed on all digital platforms, so that students could access it on their own devices. My Walk in the Woods Livebinder allowed me to place the link Thoreau’s essay “On Walking” explained in its republication in The Atlantic magazine

“In May 1862, the magazine published ‘Walking,’ one of his [Thoreau] most famous essays, which extolled the virtues of immersing oneself in nature and lamented the inevitable encroachment of private ownership upon the wilderness.”

I still remember the opening phrase from the essay, “I wish to speak a word for Nature…”.
A student had grumbled, “There’s a lot more than one word here…”
His was an understatement. This particular Thoreau essay runs about 20 pages; a total of 12,188 words.

I did not require my students to read the entire essay, although I encouraged them to try. Instead I had them peruse the text until they found a passage that seemed interesting. They had to choose a quote, much like I had for my yearbook photo, that they found particularly profound and then write an explanation on why this quote was interesting or meaningful. . I still remember some of their choices, and their reflections on why they chose a particular passage such as:

  • Which is the best man to deal with—he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all?
  • In short, all good things are wild and free. 
  • When we should still be growing children, we are already little men

I learned that Thoreau’s sentiments spoke to their frustrations of growing up, or being talked at by know-it-all adults. Many of my students were vocational agriculture students who wholeheartedly agreed with Thoreau’s attitude towards ditching the classroom and getting outside:

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.of having to spend time indoors.”

Using Thoreau’s essay “On Walking” was my attempt to complement Bill Bryson’s memoir of his hiking on the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods. Bryson’s writing was more accessible to the students than Thoreau’s 19th Century prose which is stuffed with allusions of all types. Unlike Thoreau, Bryson makes background instruction unnecessary.

Another accessible text for students was the picture book I placed on the Livebinder, the charming  Henry Hikes to Fitchburg by D.B.Johnson.

Thoreau reimagined as a bear, enjoying Nature!

In this tribute to Transcendentalist philosophy, Johnson cast the naturalist Thoreau as a bear who hikes his way on a route (actually taken by the author), stopping to engage with several of his famous American neighbors (Alcott, Hawthorne, Emerson) also as bears. Henry’s bear companion chooses to work in order to take the train, setting up a story that implies money cannot buy the experience of nature. Students found the message profound, and unanimously agreed that a bear was the perfect choice for Thoreau.

I also placed links to a number of other essays by famous (British) writers on walking:

…and some (American) song lyrics on walking:

I asked students to find their own walking songs to share in class.

There was also an audio essay from the series “Engines of Our Ingenuity” based on an invention (using clay) that Thoreau used to make better pencil out of inferior graphite. Who could have been more inspired to make a better pencil than a writer who used pencils in his writing?

I had hoped that students would be equally inspired to see the connections that Henry David Thoreau had to their lives, to see how he had inspired Bill Bryson and others to take walks in nature. How he promoted Nature as a way for students to gain knowledge about themselves and the world around them…. To encourage others to spend time in the kind of thought that “transcends” or goes beyond what they may see, hear, taste, touch or feel.

My hope was that my students could have Thoreau explain the importance of self-knowledge, “… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 

40 years after choosing that yearbook quote, I have not shifted in that belief.

This summer, I am shopping the CT summer library book sales with a specific genre and grade level in mind: historical fiction in grade 4.

If you are not already familiar with reading curriculum that incorporates the Reading Workshop model called Units of Study, then let me explain that the plan is to have our grade 4 students read historical fiction in book clubs this coming spring. That means all the classroom libraries in six elementary schools will need an increase in texts to allow students to choose books to read with each other.

Fortunately, the Cyrenius H. Booth Library book sale in Newtown, CT, with one of the most active library associations (read about the library’s history here)  had plenty to offer.

 

As this will be our first year implementing the Reading Units of Study in grade 4, I was not sure which historical fiction titles would be the most popular for student choice. Instead, I let my selections be guided by Connecticut’s Social Studies Framework which states as one of its 6 principles:

Social studies education has direct and explicit connections to the Common Core State Standards for English/language arts and literacy in history/social studies

The 4th grade social studies curriculum is dedicated to the study of the United States, the geography, history, and culture of our nation.

As I quickly eyed the piles of books, neatly lined, spines up, anything from the “Dear America” series seemed to fit that criteria. I located a number of titles of this series available, and I scooped up an entire box that included multiple copies (3-5 each) of:

Hope students will enjoy this historical fiction selection as much as I did!

I also secured a number of copies of the Laura Ingalls Wilder classic  Little House on the Prairie, a personal favorite of mine. There were copies of  Farmer Boy and Little House in the Big Wood for any student want to read more about the Westward Expansion. In addition, there were Michael Dorris titles that feature Native Americans: Sees Behind Trees and Morning Girl.  On top of my almost full cart, I added a layer of American Girl books: Meet Kaya! Meet Josephina! Meet Felicity! I did leave some of the American Girls for others to meet.

Noticing the heavy dose of serious historical events, I did add several individual copies of Jon Scieszka’s Time Warp Trio books….comedic time travel in history is still historical, as in See You Later, Gladiator!... right?

Once again, I must take time to compliment the volunteers who had the children’s book section alphabetized by author AND organized by series. This made my shopping a breeze…and I was at $99 (for 153 books) in a little less than an hour.

I asked Denise, the wonderful woman who tallied my purchases, if she was noticing a down turn in the number of books donated for sale this year. She indicated that the paperback trade books did seem to be less plentiful, but that “children’s books are still coming…” thank goodness!

What is remarkable is the amount of historical fiction there was for sale, an indication that this genre is popular for young readers in Newtown. Just living in this old New England town, settled in 1705 with Colonial homes lining many of the streets, makes them already familiar with American history!

The most recent iteration of Wonder Woman (2017) on the big screen has received much attention because of its woman director Patty Jenkins and its attractive and agile star at her most womanliness. Actress Gal Gadot admitted she was 3-5 months pregnant for the role of Diana during much of the filming. The film also offers a similar message to the one that reverberates from the young adult novel, A Wrinkle in Time by one of my favorite woman authors, Madeleine L’Engle

Sitting in the dark, above the explosive noise in an action packed sequence, I heard the argument posed by the villain of the film, Ares, the god of War. At the climax of the film (and I do not believe the following is much of a spoiler), Ares admits to seeding treachery into the souls of mankind and bellows for Diana to destroy mankind, to give into her rage saying:

Ares: “They do not deserve your protection.”

But, remembering the sacrifice of others, Diana makes a different choice:

Diana: “It’s not about what you deserve, it’s about what you believe, and I believe in love.”

That same argument Ares makes is the argument made in the climax of A Wrinkle in Time. Teen-aged Meg, the awkward nerdish heroine, confronts IT, a grotesque villainous mass that has taken a sinister control over the mind of her beloved younger brother Charles Wallace:

Mrs. Whatsit hates you,” Charles Wallace said.
And that was where IT made ITs fatal mistake, for as Meg said, automatically, “Mrs. Whatsit loves me; that’s what she told me, that she loves me,” suddenly she knew.
She knew!
Love.
That was what she had that IT did not have. (12.135-140)

Of course, Wonder Woman has supernatural powers that help her defeat her foe. She is also not above using violence to achieve an end….she is an Amazon after all.

Meg in contrast is bookish and insecure; without sword, shield, or lasso. Meg realizes that she is incapable of directly defeating IT:

 But she, in all her weakness and foolishness and baseness and nothingness, was incapable of loving IT. Perhaps it was not too much to ask of her, but she could not do it. (12.141-143)

Meg must use her wits rather than physical strength, and she cleverly defeats IT in a confrontation with lines so deeply etched in my literary memory files that I can still recite them, as I did watching the film:

But she could love Charles Wallace.
She could stand there and she could love Charles Wallace. (12.144-145)

Perhaps it is not surprising that in both stories, and against impossible odds, Diana and Meg find the same elixir on their hero’s journey to be the power of love. Their stories follow that archetypal journey: the call to adventure, leaving the known world, meeting the mentor(s), the test, the sacrifice, the ordeal, and the return with the elixir.

Please understand that although I enjoyed the film, I am not elevating the screenplay, production, or even the performances in Wonder Woman to the high regard for which I hold A Wrinkle in Time.  Although they are both fiction, the D.C. Comic heroine does not hold the same place in my literary heart as does Meg.

My 9-year-old self identified with Meg, and I longed for a Mrs. Which to blow into my life with an adventure. My own copy of the novel, a mottled blue hardcover signed by L’Engle, is a treasured possession.(see story here) In my current role as an educator, I continue to encourage others to read the book. L’Engle tells a wonderful story.

I do not think, however, that L’Engle would be unhappy with my comparison. The similarities in comparing the message of Meg’s story to Diana’s story in the film is what Madeleine L’Engle meant when she said:

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”

There are different ways to become familiar with our nation’s founding documents: reading, memorizing, studying, reciting are a few. But in our keyboard- swipe-click-centered world, rewriting by hand is not one that immediately comes to mind.

A story feature in the NYTimes The Constitution, By Hand (6/30/17) written by Morgan O’Hara explained her process for copying the United States Constitution out by hand with a few sharpies. She noted that:

Hand copying a document can produce an intimate connection to the text and its meaning. The handwriter may discover things about this document that they never knew, a passage that challenges or moves them. They may even leave with a deeper connection to the founders and the country, or even a sense of encouragement.

Whatever her original intent for deciding to hand copy the lengthy document, her explanation for discovering things about a text echoes the arguments put forth about close reading that were initiated with the Common Core. Close reading requires students to read and reread a text several times; each time for a different purpose.

The first reading is to understand what the text says. The first reading is for comprehension: Who (character); What (events); Where/When (setting); Why (plot or information) questions asked.

It is the second reading, however, that asks a reader to become familiar with how the text operates:

-What does _____ this word mean in this context?
-How is the text organized? (sequence. cause and effect, compare/contrast, description)?
-What ways does the author use punctuation to control the reading of the text?

Asking students to write out by hand the  United States Constitution with the Bill of Rights is akin to having them perform a second close read. In copying the words and the punctuation and imitating the structure (sequence),  they could, like O’Hara, focus on how the text operates. How this particular text operates is exactly what constitutional scholars, lawyers, and judges debate regularly in courts.

How the Text Operates

For example, if you copy out the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, you will notice that the framers used three commas and two semi-colons in order to to separate clauses:

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Recently, the first semicolon after thereof was at the heart of the case (January 2010) Citizens United . The Supreme Court determined that this semicolon links the free exercise of religion and the free exercise of speech and that the framers did not mean that each clause of the First Amendment should be interpreted separately. The decision gave corporations the same free speech rights as people, and that corporations should have the same free religious exercise rights as people as well.  Handwriting the First Amendment and pausing to consider that semicolon can bring attention as to how the author(s) or Founding Fathers used punctuation to control the reading of the text.

Punctuation in the Declaration of Independence is also recently under scrutiny. Danielle Allen, then a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., caused a stir when she located an extra period on an original copy of the document at the National Archives after the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (see photo clip)

National Archive copy of the Declaration of Independence (with questionable period)

Allen suggested that this period -which could be an ink blot- might be misinterpreted to mean that that the list of self-evident truths ends with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Ink blot or intentional sentence stop, Allen argues that Thomas Jefferson did not intend to separate the phrase using a period, but had intended a continuation with the phrase that follows:

“— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

In an article that followed in The Atlantic, Have We Been Reading the Declaration of Independence All Wrong?Allen explains,

“The logic of the sentence moves from the value of individual rights to the importance of government as a tool for protecting those rights…You lose that connection when the period gets added.”

Legislators and scholars have argued about the intent of Thomas Jefferson since the release of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Students should have the opportunity to add their voices to the impact of different interpretations on their lives as well.

Muscle Memory

Outside of noting the punctuation in primary source documents, there is a fair amount of research that promotes the writing by hand as a great instructional tool in developing muscle memory, which is described on the Logic of English research blog as meaning “the students can write quickly and legibly with little conscious attention.” Writing by hand helps students as a multi-sensory approach to reading and spelling. This understanding contradicts long held beliefs that copying does not improve understanding. There may have been examples of monks who copied Ancient Christian manuscripts who were unable to even read, but in these cases the goal was artistic, not  literacy. Moreover, in the 21st Century, there is an increase in attention being paid to the loss of writing by hand in our tech obsessed culture.

New research shows that a multi-sensory approach that combines the finger movements (kinesthetic) with the sensorimotor part of the brain shows how writing by hand helps us recognize letters. Researcher Anne Mangen (The University of Stavanger-2011) explained the connection between reading and writing and how the sensorimotor system plays a role in the process of visual recognition during reading, saying:

“The process of reading and writing involves a number of senses. When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback is significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.”

Feedback like this may be helpful to students. Of course copying the primary documents such as the United States Constitution or the Declaration of Independence in their entirety would be a lengthy commitment. Copying entire sections or even phrases, however, can give students that same kind of motor action and brain feedback and help them better appreciate a passage for what it says (meaning) and how it says it (text structure).

At the very least, they will experience the same process of duplicating these documents in the authentic way they were created by our Founding Fathers….by hand.

My letter to the Social Studies Department Chair at West Haven High School

Dear Mark …and to every other Civics or AP Government Teacher in the USA:

Sorry to interrupt your well-deserved summer vacation.

But I have a resource that I think you should use next year in the Advanced Placement American Government class. You should share this resource with the Issues in Government classes.

This Sunday’s NY Times (7/2/17) magazine has special section devoted to a single spread layout, four pages long, that features an annotated United States Constitution.

 

How could this be used in your classroom?

You will note that on the front of the section is the editors’ statement about the Constitution, that “Schoolchildren are sometimes forced to read it.” You have mentioned several times that students at every level sometimes have difficulty reading a primary source document like the Constitution. They are not alone. The editors of the section also note that scholars “pore over it,” inferring they too are reading the text to better understand this primary source document:

“For most Americans, the United States Constitution remains a distant and archaic text, a relic to be revered but rarely consulted.”

In presenting this annotated document, the editors have given teachers a tool to help students better understand our country’s basic rules. They have implemented a literary strategy known as “chunking the text” which means breaking down a difficult text into more manageable pieces so that students can close read for better comprehension. Chunking helps students identify key words and ideas, develops their ability to paraphrase, and makes it easier for them to organize and synthesize information. Close reading requires students to read and reread a text multiple times for what the text says and how the text works in order to determine how the text has an impact on their lives.

Several sections of this annotated Constitution have commentary from a lawmaker or a scholar or an author or a NYTimes editor. Over 30 individuals offered commentaries printed in the margins including: Representative John Conyers (Michigan), Representative Adam B. Schiff (California), Senator Mike Lee (Utah), Senator Lamar Alexander (Tennessee), Senator Patty Murray (Washington) Janet Napolitanto (former Secretary of Homeland Security), Jamal Green (Columbia Law Professor), Lawrence Tribe (Harvard Law Professor) as well as staff writers Adam Liptak and Emily Bazelon.

Each short commentary, about one or two short paragraphs long, serves as a model for students to follow. Students can be asked to imitate what the contributors have done and chunk the text of the Constitution in order to rewrite text in their own words. By chunking the text, students are better able to identify key words, to analyze ideas, to paraphrase, and to synthesize information.

Each commentary is connected by an arrow imposed on the section being annotated. For several sections Amendment 14 -Civil Rights) there are several commentaries. In total, there are 40 commentaries offering multiple points of view on our founding charter.

For example, Senator John McCain writes about the “common defense”(Article I: Section 8):

“With the powers given to us by our founders, it must be the urgent work of Congress to meet our sacred obligations to give our service members everything they need to defend our nation and our liberty.”

Vanita Gupta, former assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice writes about the 14th Amendment,

“The struggle to realize the promise of this brief but important clause has been at the heart of every movement for civil rights in this country and continues to animate social justice activism of today.”

Their examples serve as models to show students how to analyze and to synthesize the language of the document.

What teachers have with this annotated Constitution are 40 mini-lessons they can share with students sequentially or by order of a trending topic (capital punishment, freedom of the press, etc.)

But that’s not all!

There is a prologue to the inside spread, a two page essay by author  Garry Wills, who has written about James Madison, framer of Constitution. His essay, titled “Child of the Enlightenment,”  discusses the principles derived from the the Age of Reason that guided the “secular miracle” of the Constitutional Convention over the course of a year: convened in 1787 and ratified 13 months later in June 1788.

Wills considers what he calls the “myth” of the checks and balances built into the Constitution, suggesting that:

James Madison was not so much as wanting to encourage “competing interests but to arrive at a ‘disinterested’ view of a common purpose, what Enlightenment philosophers call ‘virtue’ – or public spiritedness.”

Wills argues that such virtue was-and still is -the key component of all government.

Finally, at the the bottom of Wills’ prologue, there is a timeline marking several Constitutional milestones, beginning with its origins in Ancient Greece and ending with today.

Taken as a whole, the special section this Sunday eliminates the need for civics textbooks, which I have often suggested are dated. We both know that students are more motivated when they respond to the issues being discussed today.

This four page spread of newsprint is an entire civics course. ..you just have to get a copy! (or you can borrow mine).

Stress: That tension we feel mentally or physically when we must deal with demanding circumstances.

Not all stress is bad. Some stress is good for problem solving. Too much stress, however, is unhealthy.

For the past year, I have worked ( painted, cleaned, packed) in order to downsize, move, and place my house on the market. That stress was physically demanding…and is ongoing.

This March, my mother’s five year battle with Alzheimers/dementia finally consumed her, and she passed away shortly after we relocated her to my sister’s home. That stress was emotionally demanding.

How much stress is too much?

I researched a test for stress that was developed back in 1967 by psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe.

That same year, in April of 1967, the Beatles released the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

How are these two events related?

Reports about the The Beatles at that time indicate that they were frustrated by the screaming crowds at their live performances. According to their producer, George Martin, the Fab Four “wanted to spend more time in the recording studio.” Paul had asked his fellow band members, ‘We need to get away from ourselves – how about if we just become sort of an alter ego band?”

It was stress, the demanding circumstances of touring, that drove The Beatles into the studio. In this case, stress proved to be positive force for making music.

That same year, psychiatrists Holmes and Rahe released the results of their research using surveys of more than 5,000 medical patients. The patients were provided a list of 43 life events they had experienced within the previous two years. They labeled each event as a Life Change Unit (LCU) and assigned each LCU a different “weight” for stress. Adding up the weights gave a patient a score; the higher the score, the more likely the patient was to become ill.

Holmes and Rahe scaled the top 5 LCUs and their weights (_) as:

  1. Death of spouse (100)
  2.  Divorce (73)
  3. Marital separation (65)
  4. Jail term (63)
  5. Death of close family member (63)

While most of these LCU events are associated with negative stress, there are a few on the list that could be seen as positive stress creating events such as taking a vacation, weighted at 13.

One example of positive stress associated with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the release of the album as an outstanding personal achievement for The Beatles, a positive LCU, weighted at 28.

From November 1966 through April 1967, The Beatles spent over 400 hours in EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London. This dedicated studio time gave them the chances to experiment and try innovative recording techniques.  They had the time to work together and share what McCartney described as “a huge explosion of creative forces.”

Within the album’s catalog, there are songs with explicit references to life changing events, both small and large. A few examples are listed with their weights according to the Holmes and Rahe stress test.

They included a song that referred to everyday stress:

“Woke up, fell out of bed,
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup,
And looking up I noticed I was late.”

A Day in the Life

Being late could contribute to stress or trouble with boss (23) and maybe change in responsibilities at work (29).

They included a song that referred to a LCU event such as a son or daughter leaving home (29) with a heartbreaking narrative:

Wednesday morning at five o’clock, as the day begins.
Silently closing her bedroom door,
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more,

She goes downstairs to the kitchen clutching her handkerchief.
Quietly turning the backdoor key,
Stepping outside, she is free.

She’s Leaving Home

And they included a lighthearted address to the worries of aging:

“When I get older, losing my hair
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine,
birthday greetings, bottle of wine?”

When I’m Sixty-Four

Stress from aging could be measured on the scale as retirement (45) or change in social activities (18).

In 1967, The Beatles met the challenges or the causes and effects of stress on their lives through their music. They wrote songs abot the stress in everyday life, the ordinary and the extraordinary.

That same year, Holmes and Rahe laid out their rating tool to measure the cause and effects of stress on their patients’ health.

I determined my own personal stress level after totaling the Holmes and Rahe scale weights for my mother’s death, my downsizing, and my hip replacement- all within the past two years. I was relieved to see a total of 141 because that score leaves me into the lowest category with “a low to moderate chance of becoming ill in the near future.” To provide sense of their scale, Holmes and Rahe highest score is a 600.

Perhaps the best way to deal with personal stress of any kind is the suggestion that comes from the lyrics in Sgt. Pepper as well. The album may be 50, but the advice from The Beatles is timeless:

“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.
Mmm, I’m gonna try with a little help from my friends.”

A Little Help from my Friends

Every school year, students in hundreds of freshman English classes nationwide read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

They are learning about meter and experiencing the rhythmic patterns of Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter:

  • Ten syllables in each line
  • Five pairs of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables
  • The rhythm in each line sounds like:
    ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM / ba-BUM

In the play, the pattern of  iambic pentameter sounds like:

Juliet: o NOW be GONE, more LIGHT and LIGHT it GROWS
Romeo: More LIGHT and LIGHT, more DARK and DARK our WOES

Studying the meter of Shakespeare’s poetry in English class is akin to practicing the Common Core Mathematical Practice (MP7) which asks students to “look closely to discern a pattern or structure.”

Students can find language patterns everywhere.

Now, some freshmen English classes might be reading Romeo and Juliet during the week of Valentine’s. They might already be familiar with some of the iconic images of the holiday: roses, Cupids, or those candy conversation hearts.

But did they notice that the conversation hearts associated with Valentine’s Day have a specific pattern?

According to Necco, the maker of the candies, the pattern to the conversation heart: five letters on the top line, and four on the shorter line:

 

cartoon-heart

Necco, or the New England Confectionery Company, has produced candy conversation hearts since 1901, and the flavors traditionally include: Lemon, Apple, Blue Raspberry, Strawberry, Grape and Orange.

While the language on the conversation hearts are no substitute for Shakespeare’s genius, they can be helpful when “sometimes you don’t have the words to express your feelings.” Every year from February to January, Necco produces almost 100,000 pounds or 8 billion pieces of sugary sentiment. There are hundreds of suggestions submitted each year to the company with new sayings. Many of these are sayings that reflect cultural shifts: From “Call me”, “Email me”, or “Fax me”, to “Tweet Me.”

Asking students in classes that are studying Romeo and Juliet to create new conversation hearts to accompany the play could be a fun assessment, especially on Valentine’s Day!

The standard pattern of these conversation hearts could be used as a way for students to summarize several of Shakespeare’s speeches.

For the line:

  • But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. (2.2.1-3)
  • Conversation heart summary: Romeo to Juliet: You’re a Sun

For the line:

  • ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy; (2.2. 38)
  • Conversation heart summary: Juliet to Romeo: Enemy Mine

Students could also use the conversation hearts as a way for students label characters:

  • Tybalt: Angry Ally
  • Mercutio: Amigo Poet

Students could also try other patterns on the conversation hearts such as:

  • six letters on top line, three letters on the bottom line;
  • four letters on the top line, five letters on the bottom line;
  • Punctuation could be used as well.

Students could string the phrases from a few conversation hearts together to create a new line of sweet poetry. In that case, they might choose to include the most popular conversation heart, “Marry Me”…which is more positive for celebrating the Valentine’s holiday than than the more tragic “Kiss-I Die!”

If music be the food of love,” as Shakespeare suggests, then the food for the mind is vocabulary.

The term vocabulary is defined as “a list or collection of words or of words and phrases usually alphabetically arranged and explained or defined.” There are a number of reasons to think about these lists of words and phrases as things that are consumable. Consider how often references to words or phrases are framed in metaphors of food:

  • Food for thought;
  • Digesting what was said;
  • Chew on it for a while;
  • Difficult to swallow.

These metaphors continue in today’s digital age, where words and phrases are encoded over “feeds” or electronic transmission of news, as from a broadcaster or an Internet newsgroup. screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-9-06-49-pm

 

All these food metaphors signal how important vocabulary is to a student’s developing academic life. Just as food is metabolized and turned into the building blocks and fuel that the body needs, educators should see vocabulary to be part of the building blocks of critical thinking. Just as any student must internalize food for energy, research shows that for vocabulary to be effective, students must internalize words to use them correctly in both receptive and verbal language. And just as food is necessary every day for physical growth and stamina, vocabulary is necessary every day,  in all subject areas, for a student’s academic growth and stamina.

These food metaphors also support the idea that vocabulary should not be an isolated activity, but a daily requirement that teachers need to incorporate in all lessons. The teaching of vocabulary is too important to be left to workbooks or worksheets; teaching words and word meanings must be part of speaking, listening, reading and writing in every day’s lesson.

While the first step in a successful vocabulary program is explicit instruction, the steps of continued exposure and direct practice are also important. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in teaching vocabulary educators should:

Use repeated exposure to new words in multiple oral and written contexts and allow sufficient practice sessions.”

In their article posted on Adlit.org, Explicit Vocabulary Instruction, researchers have found that “Words are usually learned only after they appear several times.” Words that appear infrequently may not be the words that should be targeted for explicit instruction.

This research is supported by Robert Marzano who outlined a six step process for educators in Education Leadership Magazine, “The Art and Science of Teaching / Six Steps to Better Vocabulary Instruction” (September 2009). These six steps outline how repeated exposure might be accomplished:

  1. Provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term.
  2. Ask students to restate the description, explanation, or example in their own words.
  3. Ask students to construct a picture, pictograph, or symbolic representation of the term.
  4. Engage students periodically in activities that help them add to their knowledge of the terms in their vocabulary notebooks.
  5. Periodically ask students to discuss the terms with one another.
  6. Involve students periodically in games that enable them to play with terms.

There are many ways that students at every ability level can be independently engaged on digital platforms that support vocabulary activities. There are multiple software programs with “feeds” that can help student practice vocabulary with games or flashcards on different devices. Examples of these platforms include:

Research suggests that it is the repeated exposure to words that is most effective, especially if they appear over an extended period of time. Researchers estimate that it could take as many as 17 exposures for a student to learn a new word.

This kind of repeated exposure echoes the practice of the Pulitzer Prizewinning Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, who is featured in the (2015) documentary City of Gold. In the film, Gold explains that before writing a review on its food, he will visit a restaurant sometimes a dozen or more times, often tasting the same dish several times “to make sure I get it right.” Gold’s multiple visits to a restaurant “to be sure to get it right” can serve as an example of how educators need to recognize the need for repeated exposure in vocabulary so that students can “get it right” as they ingest and digest vocabulary words.

Students must regularly read their vocabulary words the same way they eat three meals a day, and a possible snack before bed. They must write their vocabulary words, listen to their vocabulary words, and speak their vocabulary words.  In offering an academic diet that is rich in vocabulary, educators should know “students are what they eat.”

Click bait headlines, such as the one above, may not have been “liked” instantaneously around the 13 original American colonies, but the spreading of fake news and misinformation was still a factor in the news cycle of 1776.  A close look at American history reveals that fake news has been around since the country’s inception, and even the honorable George Washington had to confront the repercussions of intentional misinformation.

There are forgeries at the New York Historical Society known as The Letters from General Washington to Several of His Friends, written by a British sympathizer who planted the letters to create doubts about Washington’s commitment to the cause of the American Revolution. One of the circulated letters, included the following statement:

“Thus circumstanced, can you point out a way in which it is possible for me to resign, just now, as it were on the eve of action, without the imputation of cowardice ? I think not.”

The discovery and then release of this misinformation in these documents would have certainly delighted the hearts of British loyalists. In fact, the timing of this faked correspondence as news in November of 1776, soon after the disastrous military decisions Washington made in New York, was meant to encourage Tories in America and in Britain.

A Forgery: "Contemporary Letter from George Washington to Martha

A forgery: “Contemporary Letter from George Washington to Martha Washington, June 24, 1776” on exhibit at the NY Historical Society.

These forgeries, reported to be in Washington’s hand, were supposedly found in a large trunk, a portmanteau, that had been left behind while during the General’s hasty retreat to Fort Lee, New Jersey. The crafted propaganda pieces were intended to question the integrity of that upstart who was leading the American revolution.

Circulation of this fake news and misinformation was furthered when a London bookseller published the contents of the handwritten fakes in a pamphlet titled Letters from General Washington to Several of His Friends in the Year 1776. According to Edward G Lengelmarch  (

“British reviewers panned the clumsy fraud, but it sold moderately well, and a year later the letters reappeared in newspapers in British-occupied New York City.”

These letters portray Washington very different from how he is viewed today. While historians acknowledge that Washington was keenly aware of the many obstacles the faced in opposing the British, they are unanimous in saying that he was unwavering in his commitment to the American Revolution. In contrast, the forged letters suggest Washington was a man plagued with doubt. One fake letter states:

“At length, however, when a Continental army came to be voted for, my fears returned with redoubled force; for then, for the fifth time, I clearly saw our aims reached farther than we cared to avow. It was carried with an unanimity that really astonished me; because I knew, many who voted for it were as adverse to the independency of America as I was.”

The forgeries also impugn Washington as an individual who secretly remained loyal to King George:

“I love my King; you know I do: a soldier, a good man cannot but love him. How peculiarly hard then is our fortune to be deemed traitors to so good a King! But, I am not without hopes, that even he will yet see cause to do me justice: posterity, I am sure, will.”

The letters may not have had the desired effect at their release, but they caused considerable problems when they resurfaced again twenty years later in 1795. In that summer, Washington was in his second term as president when the Jay Treaty, which sought to normalize the new government’s relationship with Britain, turned into a political hot topic. Federalists Alexander Hamilton and the architect of the treaty, John Jay, supported the treaty. They were fiercely opposed by leading Republicans Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who believed the treaty was betrayal of America’s relationship with France, who was at war with Great Britain.

According to Lengelmarch,  Republicans wanted to “humiliate the president” and in a move that was calculated to “shatter the air of noble authority”:

“…they reprinted the fake letters from 1776 and cited them as proof that Washington had always been a British sympathizer. What had been a half-forgotten old joke now became a dangerously real slander.”

In his retelling, Lengelmarch suggests that Washington initially underestimated the power of such misinformation. Even though there were Federalists who decried the letters’ authenticity, the letters were repeatedly reproduced in Republican sympathizing newspapers. Washington finally broke his silence and repudiated the letters on March 3, 1797, his last day in office.

In 1799, Congress posthumously decreed that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” We also know that he was the first American president who had to confront fake news and misinformation.

Other American presidents have had to deal with fake news. During his Presidential reelection campaign in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln was challenged by the news circulated by  The New York World that claimed Lincoln and his Republicans advocated intermarriage between the white working class and blacks. Later that year, the Journal of Commerce ran a story that Lincoln was going to conscript a number of men. The origin of the fake news was a Brooklyn speculator who was trying to move the money markets, and a frustrated Lincoln had to shut down the Journal of Commerce for a couple of days.

The difference today is that the fake news and misinformation that Washington and Lincoln had to confront in their lifetimes was somewhat limited to the platforms of print media. They did not have to compete against a 24 hour news cycle fed by an increasing number of platforms that disseminate a crush of raw or unvetted information daily.

What is the same, however, is the challenge any American president faces in countering the efforts of a single individual, who with a handwritten letter, a text, or a tweet, can create fake news. Whether it be the pen or the keyboard, such misinformation can undermine the processes of democracy.

We should know that fake news and misinformation in American history is not a recent phenomenon. Therefore, we need to train ourselves -and our students- to be more skeptical. We need to consider who may benefit from a salacious headline or tempting tagline. When the clickbait seems too promising to resist, we must be ready to stop and ask who is promoting that information… and why? Without healthy skepticism, we may be just like those British sympathizers who were duped by tools of propaganda.

Washington reportedly never told a lie, but as for the charge of being a coward? History has the evidence to prove that charge was most definitely fake news.