The Original "Give a Damn"

A Teacher's Plea

Screen Shot 2020-04-21 at 11.32.53 PMOnly those who go where few have gone can see what few have seen.
Buddha Gautama


I wrote this piece many years ago, and it is my first writing piece that I wrote "for" my students at the time. For ten years I was the shop teacher, but the school needed an English teacher for one section of 8th grade. I had to beg for the job. Mr. Ward somewhat reluctantly gave me a try. Then they were stuck with me. This was before we even had blogs, and I was struggling to get my students to actually give a damn about what they were writing. I wanted them to know that I cared more about who they were then what they were. They seemed shocked, but they reacted with enthusiasm, and when I see them now, many years later, we laugh and remember it as if it were yesterday.

    This is my first year of teaching English, and already a horizon of discontent is looming. In another place I would probably need a bodyguard. Today, I not only assigned my eighth grade class the first five chapters—37 pages—in some book called A Guide To Writing Essays, but I also told these students the same thing I told their parents: that nothing is more important than the ability to write a good essay; that essay writing is a skill that will save them time and again in this great adventure called life. I then went on about how educational, fun, and rewarding it would be. I teased them with tales of how they would discover huge deposits of original thought and creative speculations—rough stones that they would craft into a wonderful creation called The Essay. They were writers, each and every one of them, and I would prove it to them. I think some of them believed me—even I believed me! I’m sure some of them saw through my pontifications and secretly wished to be placed in another section. Their parents were, I’m sure, aghast at my naivete, but they simply looked at me with stoic resignation, accepting the fate of their son to be the proving ground for an old shop teacher run amok in a classroom. 

Continue reading "The Original "Give a Damn"" »

George Writes an Essay

Another take on how to write about reading...

    Why am I the poor smuck saddled with a teacher who insists on finding meaning and metaphor in everything we read? Like The Odyssey: I mean, the book is full of random everythings; Like just when Odysseus starts to figure something out (and I have a half a clue what is going on) he breaks of into some wild story with a hundred new characters. "Oh," says my teacher, "that is a literary technique to build the scope and sweep of the poem. It is the hallmark of an "epic" literary work." If that is the case, then I have a crazy old uncle—a guy who never knows when to stop talking—who is probably a direct descendant of Homer. Yeah, from now on I'll call him "Uncle Epic." The only reason I half like the book is because I actually believe that I'm supposed to like it—or at least appreciate it. I can't imagine that every English teacher for the last 1500 years or so is wrong. Maybe they've all been hypnotized by the Siren's song of conformity. I liked that part of the book: Odysseus getting his crew to lash him to the mast so he could hear the Siren's song, but still not do something stupid like get lured away by Siren herself. "Stairway to Heaven" probably had that effect in the 70's when it first came out. Jees, I'm as bad as Homer; Listen to me getting off track. And I shouldn't get off track because this foolish essay is only one of six assignments over the weekend.



Continue reading "George Writes an Essay" »

Patty: A Personal Memoir

My Way Cool Sister


God takes one to teach many...

    We were coming home from church one morning and Jimmy Glennon pulled up beside us as we approached the Sudbury road lights. He didn't notice the well-dressed family of eight scrunched into our old Pontiac station wagon as he revved the engine of his yellow and black mustang fastback. I was crammed in the rearward facing back seat doling out peace signs and air horn salutes, but the scene unfolding in front of me was one of the coolest scenes ever: here was the guy Patty had a date with the night before seeming to challenge my father to a drag race, or at the very least humiliate, the infamous and fiery EJ—on a Sunday morning no less.


Continue reading "Patty: A Personal Memoir" »


A Reflection on Reading & Writing

Screen Shot 2020-04-02 at 12.30.13 AM

When people see things as beautiful,

ugliness is created.

When people see things as good,

evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.

Difficult and easy complement each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low oppose each other.

Fore and aft follow each other.

~Laozu, The Dao de Qing


    I went to school in China almost forty years ago. I was not a particularly good student, but I loved living in China--when China was a much more rural country than it is now. Back then there were few cars on the streets of Beijing and only one high rise building, the Beijing Hotel--almost ten stories high--where the few foreigners, business seekers and reporters in the city lived and stayed and drank and dissipated their days and nights away--or so it seemed to me.  The Chinese people, aside from the communist party elite, were poor, but incessantly gracious, and few seemed unhappy. One night while visiting a Zhang Hong Nian a poet, artist and friend of mine, I asked how, in the face of such daily hardship, the average Chinese person maintained their dignity and sense of humor.


Continue reading "Balance..." »

Our Finest Hour

Why words matter…

Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 12.37.09 AM

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth[e] last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

~ Winston Churchill 

    No less than the soldiers tasked with storming the beachheads of France in World War II, we are all living through an epochal event in human history. Nothing in my sixty-two years of life comes remotely close. The pandemic is not a storm on some other shore; it is not a drought in some arid county or backwater village; it is not a political upheaval in some far-off nation—and it is not a time to put our heads in the sand and our asses to the sky. It is a challenge—a massive challenge—a challenge that is effecting and transforming the entire world, and it is upending and re- tasking the daily, normal lives of billions of people. You are, by dint of fate, simply one of the many, but no less than the trees and stars, you have a right to be here and you have an obligation for your voice to be heard and recorded in the incessant book of time.


Continue reading "Our Finest Hour" »

How to Keep a Journal

Writing about Your Life

Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 10.24.26 PM


Today you may write a chapter on the advantages of travelling & tomorrow you may write another chapter on the advantages of not travelling.

Henry David Thoreau, The Journal, 1837-1861

For many of my students, even the sound of “free writing” in a journal induces a panic attack. I can hear their collective cry: “Free means anything, and any thing is the same as everything, and everything is just too hard to choose from--so just please give me something--one thing--one fun and easy writing prompt, plus a rubric and a brief word count, and, easy peezy, I’ll get it done in twenty... thirty minutes tops!”

Continue reading "How to Keep a Journal" »

Life in the New Time

Sua Sponte

Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 2.12.10 PMIt is in Your Hands and me, who never seems at a loss for words, is stuttering for normality in an unnatural time, but it is in and through words, graced by magnanimous and selfless actions, that we can carve new paths through uncharted woods. No lesson plan, no "Week in Review," no enlightened curriculum, and no "How-to-Video" is readily at hand. Only an indefatigable spirit, suffused with stubborn persistence, and an almost intolerable patience, will keep the axe in our hands and keep our lives flailing forward. In time, the path--our unique paths--will open before us and lead us to where we need to go.

Continue reading "Life in the New Time" »

The Week in Review: 2/24-3/1

Reading, Annotating, Researching & Writing

In class this week (and Monday):

  • Continue reading and annotating Lord of the Flies--Chapters 1-7.  You do not have to crazy annotating, but you should be able to provide me with quick visual that show you are highlighting new vocabulary and passages that validate important themes and/or incorporate good writing techniques. (3 Points)

  • Monday's class will begin with a fifteen-minute Socratic discussion on the themes in Chapters 1-7. You would be wise to research some of these themes over the weekend. (2 Points)

  • After the discussion, you will then be given thirty minutes to write a 250-300 word Literary Analysis paragraph--which includes two supporting quotes and one outside source quote to back up and validate your theme.  (3 points)



Download Lord of the Flies Research

Download A-Maker: Literary Analysis Paragraph Level lI

A Bit of Lord of the Flies Research…


To teach a book like Lord of the Flies is never an easy thing to do. Obviously, I want you to “like” reading the book. From the perspective of “technique,” this book is incredibly well written, and an entire semester could be spent just analyzing the rhetorical techniques Golding uses to tell his story; however, that only brushes the surface of how and why and what Golding attempts to achieve. The book is amazing in how it incorporates “secondary meaning” into the unfolding of the plot.

So below, is some “research” I did to help myself find the deeper meaning in the “themes” and “allusions” Golding weaves into Lord of the Flies. Notice, too, that I cited my sources as footnotes. Good writers borrow and great writers steal—but good  and dutiful researchers “always” cite their sources and give credit where credit is due.

Read the Research doc thoroughly. I think it will be help you more fully appreciate the opportunity you have right now—not to simply read, but to explore, reflect and engage Lord of the Flies in a deep and enduring way.

The Week in Review: February 10-21

Update: Last weeks assignments are not due until after class on Friday.

What Kind of Boy Are You?

Screen Shot 2020-02-10 at 11.08.48 AM

“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?”

William Golding, Lord of the Flies



Class Meets:  Monday,  Wednesday, Thursday 



The Week in Review


Continue reading "The Week in Review: February 10-21" »

The Week in Review: 2/3-2/10

The Final Push

    Always step up into a lifeboat. You are a writer who has been hired to produce an Epic Story worth publishing--and you have been given a deadline. The boat is sinking and you will either go down with the ship, or you will step into the lifeboat and complete your work on time. But not before the ship sinks.

It's time to set realistic goals--and maybe even lower your bar--but don't settle for less than you are capable of achieving.

The due date is at the end of the first class next week. The final proofreading and editing can be finished in class on that day. You will submit your work to me as a pdf. I will review it in Notability. You are responsible for utilizing my Rules for Editing and my Top Ten Writing Errors to help with your proofreading.

I do appreciate all the work you are putting into this assignment. Be sure to continue with your metacognitions!


Download Design Writing: Rules for Editing

Download Design Writing: Top Ten Writing Errors