Notes from the Smithy… #93
Notes from the Smithy… #93
fall – 2015
Greetings from Southern Oregon. The rains are still to come in earnest, but they will come. School is on, and students should be well into their studies. Get in some good teaching and learning before the holidays.
NEWS what’s happening
JUST FOR FUN more proverbs
MY DEBT a teacher’s influence
LITERATURE an observation
RECENT READS a few from me
MISCELLANY as it says
ONLY FROM ME: 1) I have the major tests for the vocabulary books. There are six of these tests, one for each nine weeks of work. 2) I have finished the final test for Jensen’s Grammar. It is 100 questions and quite comprehensive. Both of these are available for FREE, but you have to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get them. I am the only source for these tests. You will have to print them off. Each set includes the test and the answers.
NOTE: I still have some copies of Jensen’s Grammar that are unused but have a name written in them one the inside cover or the first page. I will sell them for $25 each plus shipping and handling, but that’s a 24% discount.
Wordsmiths no longer publishes Writing to Change the World. I expect it is or will be available in a somewhat altered form from another publisher. I have let English Fun Stuff run out of print, but it may become available in ebook format. Other changes may be coming soon.
God continues to bless my wife and me with way more than we deserve. Our health is good, and we have a great church family. Our grandchildren all seem to be doing well, and we are blessed to help a local family with home schooling. Life is good. Praise God for His faithfulness.
JUST FOR FUN
Last time I gave you some pretentious proverbs. Here are few more. It is acceptable to use a dictionary for reference.
Those who discover something can retain it, but those who mislay it will lament.
The ability to persevere is equated with moral excellence.
Actual possession of an ornithological vertebrate is valued at double the number in woody vegetation.
Coming only close to the mark is similar to unit of measurement of 1760 yards.
Reduced speed coupled with a constant rate garners the victory over the competition.
First person singular nominative followed by the proper relative that wavers with indecision is the one who will find himself in the vanquished position.
That big African or Asian cat finds it impossible to transform his own maculae.
A male representative of humankind gains the reputation of the troupe with which he associates.
Well built and maintained property barriers develop beneficent folks who are juxtaposed.
Lack of immediate information equates to positive tidings.
Those things of highest value during the course of living come without a price tag.
The person spoken to is unable to discern the value of a tome by viewing its dust jacket.
If you need help, then ask me via email.
Last issue I gave some history about how the grammar book came to be. The other three basic books developed in different fashions. Let’s take a brief look at two of them.
In my senior year of high school, I was privileged to have an excellent teacher of English, Thaddeus Muradian. He put us through our paces in that class. We read Shakespeare and other English literary classics. We had rigorous vocabulary lessons, and we wrote 500 word essays weekly under pressure. He demanded much, and we produced accordingly. It was really a wonderful experience and was foundational to my understanding of English grammar and writing.
Since Mr. Muradian was so successful in teaching me and others, I thought it would be good practice to pass on to my own students some of what he had taught. Thus, I determined to put together a vocabulary program and a punctuation series loosely based on my experience in English IV.
Having a good vocabulary is key to expressing oneself, so I determined to build a program that would systematically build up a student’s word hoard. That latter expression, word hoard, comes from Beowulf. It is evident that many words are actually built from smaller pieces. I am mainly speaking of polysyllabic words here. Each word has a root. It can also have affixes or other roots combined with the original root. An affix is either a prefix or a suffix. It was also clear to me that many words could be built around a single root; these words would constitute a family.
For instance, impress, depress, express, and pressure all have the same root. They are part of the family of words built around the root press. I had kept my vocabulary word lists from my English class, so they became the basis for my initial research. Eventually I went to the public library and found a book in the reference section regarding word roots found in English. From my lists and that book, I compiled groups of words into various families.
Because I was keen on systematic repetition as a superior method of instruction, it was necessary to decide how to apply that to vocabulary. I settled on using the families one word at a time per lesson, the idea being that the student would see the same roots week after week. I came up with a number of different exercises and finally settled on the four which are in my vocabulary book; four allowed the fifth day of the week to be a test day. Once I had the methodology in place, it was relatively easy, albeit time consuming, to write all the exercises.
One side note that I learned when putting the books together is that we use the Greek and Latin roots differently in English. With Latin roots, the English language adds all sorts of prefixes and suffixes, but with the Greek roots, English often combines two roots and perhaps adds an affix or two. For instance, the word independent has the Latin root pend and two prefixes and one suffix. The telephone is from the Greek and has two roots, tele and phon.
My other debt to Mr. Muradian was the instruction he passed on regarding punctuation. We were given a list of rules, about 65 of them, and each rule had a number. It was our job on a regular basis to go through a written piece and find the errors and correct them. The original piece had punctuation left out or the wrong punctuation inserted.
However, not only did we have to find the errors and correct them, we also had to give the rule number by memory. This was all in preparation for the Subject A exam, which had at the time a similar exercise on the test. The University of California required this test for all entering freshmen.
He had a clever shorthand for a set of rules that concerned putting two clauses together. I D, for instance, was shorthand for independent clause and dependent clause in that order. The shorthand identified the types of clauses and showed that no punctuation should go between them. Reverse the order, and it became D, I. That meant a comma was needed if the dependent clause came first.
Over time I reworked his system and came up with my Major Punctuation book. The General Punctuation book soon followed and was based on the type of exercises mentioned above. Later I combined the two books into Jensen’s Punctuation. Spaced repetition was built into these exercises also.
One thing that always bugged me in English books was that the sentences were random in the exercises. I determined to have all my sentences tell stories or set scenes. When writing the exercises, I usually adapted sentences from books that I was reading at the time. For the major punctuation section, I generally selected widely known books such as A Tale of Two Cities and The Odyssey. It made for more interesting exercises. The final test in the major punctuation section comes from Circus by Alistair McLean. The final sentence ends with a malfunction on the high wire. One student when taking the test got to the end and stood up in class and said, “Well, what happened?” I told him to read the book, so he promptly went to the library to get a copy. Aha, he was hooked.
For the general punctuation section, the first 45 lessons are from a book entitled From Sea to Shining Sea by James Alexander Thom. It chronicles the travels of Lewis and Clark, and my lessons do the same. It does make for some interesting and informative reading all the while teaching the students to punctuate.
So that’s how two of my books developed, both as a result of an excellent teacher I had way back in the day. Thanks, Mr. Muradian. May you rest in peace.
While I read a lot and have ideas about what is and isn’t good literature, I have produced no reading books or study guides. Many others have filled this niche quite well. Over time the readers commonly found in schools have changed in their content and intent. Older readers obviously had older stories; newer readers, perhaps in an attempt to be more relevant to current society, have dropped the older stories and replaced them with newer ones. Of course, there is the possibility that the design is to also alter the shape of society by influencing young readers. I submit that new stories are not always better, but the same can be said for older stories.
Some folks think that literature published years ago is automatically better. That is not the case. Good stories tend to persist, at least in novels. There are good stories that are no longer read also. Generally it is because they are not republished and not readily available. Some older stories are very tied to their era by virtue of the language and references made to social customs and technology of the day. Such stories sometimes lose relevance because some or even much of what is referenced is foreign to a modern reader. I remember reading a Dorothy Sayer’s novel and was quite at a loss to all the references to English society at the turn of the 20th century.
While teaching in the public school, the literature books were up for adoption and renewal every seven years. The year previous to adoption, the curriculum director and maybe a few teachers were given samples from major publishers for evaluation. Not much remained the same from prior editions. When the district adopted new texts, which I was required to use, I requested permission and was granted the right to save a class set of the older readers. In this way, I could use certain short stories from the old readers that I thought were valuable.
By the time I moved to the high school level, the English literature text had a modernized version of Romeo and Juliette. The rationale was that the students couldn’t understand the language Shakespeare used. Perhaps some of the newer teachers couldn’t either. To me it was dumbing down the material. My advice: review the texts and even be selective about which stories you will use from a given text. Happy reading!
Summer is tough on my reading schedule as there are so many outside activities to attend to. However, I managed to read seven books, some rather lengthy, and my brief reviews follow.
History is one of my areas of interest. This quarter I read Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival. The title is a mouthful, but it describes the book fairly well. Peter Stark wrote it, and I was quite pleased with the book.
The history was good, and the characters were relatively well presented. Lots of interesting facts were presented along with some commentary by the author on whether certain decisions were wise or not. It is sad that much of what was in the book is relatively unknown today. I am quite familiar with Lewis and Clark’s expedition as noted earlier regarding my punctuation book, but I really knew nothing of the Astorians, who they were and what they accomplished.
The writing generally flows along pretty well. Stark has three parts to cover, and he moves between them quite well. First, there is Astor himself; he stays in New York but is the overall planner and uses his money to fund the venture. Second, there is the Tonquin, a ship sent from New York around the tip of South America and up to the mouth of the Columbia. Captain Thorn comes off as making some bad choices which eventually cause the ship to be destroyed. Finally, and most interesting for me, there is the Overland Party. They begin in Montreal and get to St. Louis. From there they go up the Missouri but determine to avoid the Blackfeet Indians and thus go south of Lewis and Clark’s route into totally unmapped territory. The struggles of the Overland Party were many, and a number of men perished.
Those living in the Northwest and anyone interested in the history of the Northwest would benefit from reading this book.
Smokejumper: A Memoir by One of America’s Most Select Airborne Firefighters is the autobiography of Jason Ramos. This book was part history, part personal reflection, and a bit of commentary on smokejumping and the political aspects of trying to do a job within multiple jurisdictions that can’t agree or come to a conclusion. Jason’s wish is that the smokejumpers were free to do their jobs and not have to wait and often watch a fire get big that he and his fellow smokejumpers could have taken care of initially.
There are some nice pictures in the book and some good commentary on certain fires, primarily in the Pacific Northwest, but that is where he is based. Being from the NW and having lived here for over 45 years, I remember well some of the fires he spoke of. It was an easy read and moved along quite well. It was informative about training and equipment and so forth.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough was a pleasure. There is no question that David McCullough knows how to write history that is readable, informative, and understandable. From the plethora of material available on the Wright family, he has sifted it into a most enjoyable book. Bishop Wright, their dad, and Katherine, their sister, were unknowns to me; now I see how integral they both were to the success of Orville and Wilbur.
There is drama about how the experiments are going. The disrespect of the bureaucracy of our government even in those days sadly comes through. The entrepreneurship of the two brothers overcomes the indifference of the government and even the people. Spending about $1000 of their own money on travel and materials, they did what $50,000 of government money to Samuel Langley could not do. Their plane flew, but his did not.
It is a story for young men to read to get a vision as to what can be done with grit and determination along with careful study and planning. It is a story for those governing us to read so they can get out of the way of the inventors and game changers.
Memoirs of a Redneck was written by Charles Peil. Charley was a friend of mine; he is now deceased. We taught together for about 15 years. Born in 1919 in southwestern Oregon in a rural area, he recounts his life in a series of short chapters, usually two or three pages. The chapters are roughly in chronological order, and that gives order to the multiple stories he tells. He has stories of all sorts; some are funny, and some are quite touching. Charley was in WWII in Europe and later in the Pacific but mustered out as the Korean War began. He went to school on the GI Bill and became a science teacher, which is when and where I met him.
He writes in an easy to follow style. The book was self-published and is not available to the general public. I borrowed a copy from his daughter. I only caught one typo. Having known and worked with Charley, I can say the book reflects his personality and philosophy. I enjoyed it immensely, but the personal connection helped I am sure.
It is a nice little book and gives a picture of life in the US when it was much freer. Charley was a man I looked up, and I am proud to call him my friend.
Terry Brooks is an author I have followed for years. This time I read The High Druid’s Blade, #1 in The Defenders of Shannara series. Terry Brooks writes well. Over the years I have enjoyed most of the books in his various Shannara series and his Magic Kingdom of Landover series. He is able to build suspense rather well and deal out revelatory information in a nice way. The relationships between Arcannen and a couple of the other characters in the book do stretch credibility a bit, but it’s fiction. Paxon is the typical hero, young, inexperienced, trying to find himself and become familiar with the magic he suddenly finds he has.
The book begs a sequel. The main villain escapes, so a showdown is somewhere in the future. Paxon seems to have developed a bit of a romantic interest which will have to be developed or terminated. The Druids need to get revenge for a killing. Chrys needs to find out about her magic and be trained to use it. Yes, some loose ends need tying up and likely will be in the next books.
I read two Mistborn novels by Brandon Sanderson. The first one I picked up was #4 in the series, The Alloy of Law. This book takes place centuries after the first three. This was my first try with this author, and I was impressed. He seems pretty creative. I liked Wax and Wayne, such a play on words. In fact, Sanderson has lots of interplay that is witty and fun, almost slapstick at times. The story is good with a mixture of action and intrigue; there is mystery and some love, but he also picks up on some themes of politics and cronyism and class privilege.
The second Mistborn novel I read was #1, The Final Empire. It was enjoyable. I liked the characters and their interplay. The story moved along at a relatively even pace. There were a few unexplained things, but that is fine. The secrets were ultimately revealed, at least most of them. A couple of revelations were a surprise in what and how they were revealed. I will read the next two in the trilogy. Vin/Valette shows some character growth. She is a good heroine, learning and humble yet powerful, a nice combination.
1. This newsletter is posted quarterly on the website, and it is emailed free to those who wish to subscribe. You will note my website and this newsletter are pretty free of commercials, and that is the way I intend to keep it.
2. Remember, if you have questions, I am only an email away, email@example.com. I am your support, so use me when the need arises. I try to email a response within a day or two. The more specific the question, the better my answer will be.
3. It was a good season so thanks to the many who purchase and recommend my materials. It is gratifying to know the books help students to learn, and I am most thankful for the unsolicited success stories that are passed on to me from time to time.
4. The next issue of Smithy Notes is scheduled for distribution sometime this coming winter, Lord willing.
For His glory,
October 23, 2015 / Frode / 0