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We need your help!

We are looking for backers for our independently-produced documentary on Magna Carta: Our Legacy of Liberty. We want this documentary to be crowd-funded because we are making it for you, individuals who value and cherish their ancient liberties.

We need $75,000 to produce it. Anything above that means John and I get paid, so don’t be shy. ;) Please share with your friends and thank you!

Well! A first draft is done

“Thanks. Maybe I look better than I really am…”

Claire died three months later, her mother weeping quietly by her side.

THE END.

I did it! I finally wrote a novel!!! (It only took me 28 years, not bad, huh?) The first draft clocks in at 72,388 words. Now I let it sit there for at least 4 or 6 weeks, and give it a good edit.

For now I’ll give myself a wee pat on the back.

Icitte on parle crapjoual

Good grief.

A Quebec woman says she lost her fast-food job last week after management publicly humiliated her for speaking English to another employee.

The woman says a store manager at the Deux-Montagnes, Que., Valentine restaurant where she worked put up a note that openly ridiculed her for speaking English. The note said employees are only to speak French to one another. It finished with “Thanks,” and then named her specifically.

But that’s not the worst. The worst is the note in question. Have a look:

And this is French?

And this is French?

The proper French would be: On parle français entre employés” – see, French in French is spelled with that little squiggle under the C, and if you’re speaking between employees presumably there is more than one employee involved (duh) so “employee” should be plural.

Always remember this: In Quebec, when some jerk gives you grief for speaking English, 99% of the time he or she is functionally illiterate (also: a boor). The reason French is dying in Quebec isn’t because of those of us who speak English. It’s because of people who can’t be bothered to speak French properly.

Where do kids get their wisdom?

An excellent piece on a giant part of education that is thoroughly missing from school nowadays (and has been missing for at least four decades).

The Common Core promotes 10 so-called “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards” for reading that emphasize technical skills like analyzing, integrating, and delineating a text. But these expectations deal very little with ensuring students are actually appreciating the literature at hand—and say nothing about the personal engagement and life lessons to which my principal was referring. Kate Kinsella, an influential author who consults school districts across the country and is considered “a guiding force on the National Advisory Board for the Consortium on Reading Excellence,” recently told me to “ditch literature” since “literary fiction is not critical to college success.” Kinsella continued, “What’s represented by the standards is the need to analyze texts rather than respond to literature.

As a teacher working within this regimented environment, my classroom objectives have had to shift. I used to feel deeply satisfied facilitating a rich classroom discussion on a Shakespearean play; now, I feel proud when my students explicitly acknowledge the aforementioned “anchor standards” and take the initiative to learn these technical skills.

But as a man who used to be a high school student interested in pursuing wisdom, I’m almost startled to find myself up late at night, literally studying these anchor standards instead of Hamlet itself. I’m making plans to teach the students how to “evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence” instead of asking them, “Who here sympathizes with Hamlet, or Ophelia, or any character, and how so?”

It’s not a personal shift—I’m still me, still interested in wisdom for the same reasons. And my principal cares deeply about the spiritual well-being of our students. It just feels like a very slow, gradual cultural shift that I don’t even notice except for sudden moments of nostalgia, like remembering a dream out of nowhere. Eighty students making a long trip to see live theater—a rather adult-themed Tom Stoppard play. A long session of students complaining about Briony from Atonement. A courageously deep discussion on Hamlet’s strangely reasonable musings on suicide. Teenagers feeling a peculiar affinity for Meursault; teenagers expressing a deep, deep hatred of Meursault. A lesson on both love and education from Wuthering Heights.

I get it: My job is to teach communication, not values, and maybe that’s reasonable. After all, I’m not sure I would want my daughter gaining her wisdom from a randomly selected high-school teacher just because he passed a few writing and literature courses at a state university (which is what I did). My job description has evolved, and I’m fine with that. But where are the students getting their wisdom?

My new crush

No, really. I am in awe of this historian (unfortunately now dead) and his books. I’ve read his Story of Mankind and am now working my way through The Arts, and I am utterly impressed by his ability to make history clear, simple, and fun to read. Highly recommended for children, too, and teenagers.

I was painfully reminded earlier this week of the reason why most people think history is boring. I was watching a university course on the legacy of Magna Carta (for a fun project we’re working on – more about that soon) and while I’m sure the guy is earnest and full of wonderful knowledge, he is also deadly dull. I mean, his voice has dust in it. It comes out of his mouth and crackles helplessly in the air before our very eyes. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

Hendrik Willem van Loon is never dusty, and for that I will love him forever.

Reason, my friend and enemy

I’m reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which is a very splendid book indeed. It is full of profound remarks, such as this one:

So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

Funny I should be reading this as I was considering whether to splurge on another glass of wine or not…

Garbage in, garbage out?

A study shows a connection (though not, note, a clear causal relationship) between what children eat and their academic performance. I’m not into easy panic, but whoa, this is kind of scary.

Researchers at Ohio State University used data from a nationally representative sample of some 11,700 children to measure how fast food might be affecting their performance in class. The study measured how much fast food the children were eating at age 10, and then compared the consumption levels to test results in reading, math, and science three years later.

What they found is that even small increases in the frequency with which the students ate fast food were associated with poorer academic test results. Habitual fast food eaters—those who ate fast food daily—saw “test score gains that were up to about 20 percent lower than those who didn’t eat any fast food.”

The connection held true even after the researchers took into account more than a dozen other factors about the children’s habits and backgrounds that might have contributed to the association between fast food consumption and poorer academic performance, including fitness, broader eating habits, socioeconomic status, and characteristics of both their neighborhood and school.

“Our results show clear and consistent associations between children’s fast food consumption in 5th grade and academic growth between 5th and 8th grade,” the researchers wrote. “These results provide initial evidence that fast food consumption is associated with deleterious academic outcomes among children.”

I found a resolution for your teenagers

I was just talking with Dear Husband last night about the depressing lack of ability most college kids have these days to argue logically or even recognize a logical argument when one hits them in the face. How young people these days have trouble arguing in favour of their positions against opposition (or argue against opinions they disagree with), and how that makes them incredibly credulous (to wit; most have bought into global warming panic in recent years without being able to explain what global warming really is and how it’s supposed to work, just that it’s super-duper bad).

If this sounds like a young person you know, I’ve got a cure: The Oxford Critical Reasoning for Beginners course, available for free here. I’m going to sit through it myself, because it’s never a bad idea to refresh these things.

You’re welcome!