Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Friday, August 30, 2013

Harvest by Jim Crace


Harvest by Jim Crace opens with the joyous day after the harvest, the day off, the day of celebration, only to have to put out a fire in the Master’s stable. The fire is extinguished without a fatality except for Walt’s hands. Walt is the most recent addition to the Village. He is an outsider, a visitor who stayed. He married, but his wife soon died. He is a widower like Master Kent. Another visitor, Mr. Earle or Mr. Quill as the Villagers call him. Mr. Quill is so called because he wanders about the Village with a canvas and quill to record or account the property for the real heirs of the land. Master Kent married into the land and he is not blood. A third group of visitors have also appeared and are blamed for the fire. The two men are head shaven and pilloried while the older woman is head shaven and disappears.
Walt is our narrator and has slowly become “a beer and bacon man who knew the proper value of an iris bulb. It did not take any working days before I understood that the land itself, from sod to meadow, is inflexible and stern. It is impatient, in fact. It cannot wait. There’s not a season set aside for pondering and reveries. It will not hesitate or rest, it does not wish us to stand back and comment on its comeliness or devise a song for it. It has no time to listen to our song. It only asks us not to tire in our hard work.”
With the coming of the new master, Master Jordan and his evil minions. “He’ll put an end to all the sauntering. He will replace us with a nobler stock.” Sheep are his answer and he doesn’t need the Village, the people or the land as is.  Things will change as Master Havoc and Lady Pandemonium rule the land now. What starts as fire will end in ash.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín


The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín is the account of Mary after her son’s crucifixion. A first person narrative speaks of her suspicion of his friends or misfits as she called them, of Lazarus and his sister’s demands on her son, of never to use his name; just refer to as him, my son, our son, and other non-personal third person references. She speaks of the agony of the day he died and the pain he must have gone through. He wasn’t that person others bestowed such grand ideas, hopes, and accolades. She was his mother and remembered motherly things of his life, surely different from what is read in the gospels.
She reflects on the crucifixion after Lazarus goes home and Mary is told she is being watched and to be careful. When her son comes home, turns water to wine, walks on water, he tells her to leave and tries to separate himself from her. She becomes a shadow and is not welcome anywhere except at the home of Lazarus’ sisters. Mary can’t understand why people treat her as if she can perform these same miracles her son is attributed to. She is confused as he is sentenced to be crucified and wonders if there is anything to be done. She does sense a power about him, but she can’t explain it. All she knew was she had to wait to bury her son.
But she can’t, she must flee. She doesn’t believe he is the Son of God and also that this wasn’t worth it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Return to Oakpine by Ron Carlson


Return to Oakpine by Ron Carlson is all about the undefeated championship team of 1969. A member of that team now asks his son why he ran around the town to which his son replies, “ Because I’m alive, Father.”
Oakpine is coming to life again as the boys from ’69 are returning home. The old band is getting together and Jimmy has come home to die. Football is still big on Saturday. We all know what it is like when those who have been gone for so long return home.
Decades measure the time the band lasted played. A generation has been added, so that those boys of ’69 are now fathers. Saturdays are still for football and in one son’s senior year there is a battle of the bands and the son will fill in for one of the older, unable to play band members. Innocence and missed romances are renewed and reflected on. For Mason, going home was possible.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg

The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Söderberg is from the same stock as Ibsen, Ingmar Bergman, Wallander, and Girl with Dragon Tattoo. I remember going to a film retrospective of Swedish comedy at the Scandinavia House one summer, which isn’t comedic at all. I am a fan of Icelander Arnaldur Indridason; so I was prepared for anything with Söderberg’s debut novel.
Sophia is an enigma. She is a nurse who always seems to be smiling, happiness radiates around her, her house is different from her neighbors house because it to seems happy as if just painted, just cleaned. “that was just the way she looked, as if she had been born with a smile in her eyes.” She is certainly different from Leszek Smialy who spends his weeks off every month holed up in a hotel room, drinking day and night, waiting to get back to work for a Guzman. “He just waited for the week to be over so he could get back to work again. Leszek never understood why Guzman insisted on making him take time off.”
Lars, is a Swedish investigator, caught in a weird place as he watches the nurse, Sophia, who has gotten involved with Guzman, the son of the Swedish gang leader who is in a battle with a German gang and possession of Rotterdam. This has all been going on when Lars joins the task force and seemingly falls for Sophia. What a confused set of circumstances have ensnared us.
Add to this mix of misfits, Jens, who is a freelance arms dealer. He gets involved when his shipment of arms gets entangled in a drug shipment of Guzman’s with the German gang. Jens becomes a go between for these two gangs. He knows Sophia from the old school days. In fact they dated. Lars who is the outcast of the group of police outcasts Gunilla has assembled is collecting his own data on Sophia and his colleagues. Gunilla is the puppet master.
At some point all of this has to explode. It’s a combination of Keystone cops, Bourne, and Enemy of the State. It is very ironic that the happiest person in Sweden, the girl with smiling eyes, is being victimized by the police and by the ruthless Guzman gang, but more from the police. It has to be her good nature as a nurse, since all she has done is good, becomes the victim of these dark forces. I do recall during my visit to Sweden and especially Stockholm, even on the warmest and sunniest of spring days, when a t-shirt was too much to wear, the locals still had that eternal scowl and dark cloud hanging over their beautiful blond hair. I loved how justice and irony wove its way through this very entertaining and roller coaster debut novel.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft


Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft is all about family, friendship, and trust. This is Thoft’s first novel and it is brilliant. Two families are intertwined through legal entanglements that lead to revenge and murder. Both families show loyalty to each other while tearing the flesh from the other and others around them. Women are very protective of their young, which get them killed, jailed, and praised. There are good women gone bad, made bad by circumstances, and bad by nature. Then there are those women who are just good. The men in their lives, too, fit into these categories and as all these people interact a most daring and fascinating tale emerges with so many great surprises and not so great surprises.
Fina, short for Josefina, is the youngest of four, three older Ludlow brothers. She is the toughest one. They are lawyers in their dad’s firm. She is their private detective, because she couldn’t do what it takes to be a lawyer, follow rules and sit still. She is as good at her job as they are at theirs. Some might think, better. As in all families there are secrets, deep dark, horrible secrets and the Ludlows are not exempt. They are a powerful Boston family.
In contrast, there is a powerful Southern family, the Dupreys. They, too, have secrets, are depraved, and are ruthless. They are on the opposite sides of the law from the Ludlows.
When these two families interact it is like oil and water. Fina is the match that ignites the fire that scorches both families. Fina is a great fresh new character who fights for the truth no matter what. She is a hero and I hope to see more of her.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks


How many of us have fantasized or actually put a message in a bottle and thrown it into the ocean from the beach or a boat? There are so many scenarios of this event and the magic that is associated with this act. There are so many fun tales and stories about throwing a bottle into the ocean with a message in it that the title of this 1998 novel caught my eye. The only question left, after you have decided to throw a bottle into the water, is what would the message be?  Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks provides the answer to this question and the result of carrying out the act of throwing a bottle into the ocean with a message in it.
Theresa and Garrett are two lonely people who discover each other not by chance, but by some supernatural event. Theresa lives in Boston with her son and is a columnist for a local paper. Garrett lives in Wilmington, NC. He owns and operates a dive shop there. His pregnant wife died three years earlier in a terrible car accident. He sends messages to his lost wife in bottles he throws into the ocean. Theresa finds one of these bottles, a second one is sent to her, and she discovers a third one in Yankee magazine.
Theresa tracks down Garrett and visits him without telling him about the messages in the bottles. He is still having dreams about his dead wife. They are both locked into their separate lives and living alone. There love grows to its ultimate place, but neither can budge from there places which can only have a tragic concluson as we are left with “if only.”

Friday, August 16, 2013

Southern Cross The Dog by Bill Cheng


Southern Cross The Dog by Bill Cheng is a glimpse at the Deep South. I have heard about how dynamite was used to relieve the pressure of a river. It happened in 1927 in this novel. It changed everything for so many who survived. We have a harrowing story of the deep south of the 20’s and 40’s. It’s a tale of black and white, black lynching, white cruelness, and white and black struggles. There are so many interesting characters, intersecting over time or living a parallel life. It’s muddy and filthy and steamy in the swamps and even in the towns. Love is not love; it is rutting. It’s about beating the devil or at least hoping you reach heaven before the devil finds out you’re dead.
“How capricious this place, this world. She’d been alive and now she was dead and no flannel pouch could change that. He recognized that at any given moment, the world could turn itself on its head – all could be taken, all could be returned. One moment we are free, and alive and full of blood, and in the next we are cold. Passing into history. What are the rules?” This is Eli philosophizing. He is a black piano player who has medicinal powers he bestows on folks in the form of a flannel pouch filled with herbs and other devilment.
So much of this merry-go-round is about trying to get off and to set a new path.
Eli explains to Robert, “This is one thing I’ve learned. The one truth God has ever given to a man. And it’s that the past keeps happening to us. No matter who we are or how far we get away, it keeps happening to us.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

All That Is by James Salter


All That Is by James Salter starts with the invasion of Okinawa. That is where my dad did his service as Seabee at the end of the war. He just got in and found himself building landing fields on Okinawa, and then the war was over.
Philip Bowman survived the invasion and the war and came home a hero to his family. He went to Harvard planning to study science and changed to journalism. He wanted to work at the New York Times but settled for a small book publisher, Braden and Baum. He met Vivian Amussan, a Virginia girl raised in horse country, at a bar on St Patrick’s Day. She was with her friend who lived in NYC. Bowman and Vivian dated and married. Her dad wasn’t enthusiastic, nor was his mom. The parents were right.
Characters come and go throughout this novel. Just as he or she or they are becoming interesting, poof they disappear one way or another. Bowman certainly is a womanizer. He has passionate affairs that smolder and flame out just as passionately. He is the victimizer and the victim.
Bowman’s mother is dying and Beatrice made one of the most beautiful comments about death: “When you die, what do you think happens to you?” She answers her own question when Bowman defers. “I think that whatever you believe will happen is what happens.” What a profound truth, comment, and theory.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Wait

Wait
for the sun to rise
for the water to boil
for the bell to ring
for the light to change
for the next available operator
for the check to clear
for the time to pass
for the show to start
for her water to break
for the letter to arrive
for the doctor to see you
for the fish to bite
for the thunder 1, 2, 3…
for the other shoe to drop
for me too
for the leaves to change
for the phone to ring
for the sun to set
for the rain to stop
for your number to be called
for the ice to freeze
for the store to open
for the moon to rise
for my love to appear
for my time to come
for the crying to stop
for the moment to speak
for the ball to drop
for the story to end
for the next time
for the wine to breath
for us two
for the snow to melt
for the wood to catch fire
for the butter to melt
for the cavalry to arrive
for the end of the week
for the lights to go out.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Gypsy Boy On the Run by Mikey Walsh

Is Gypsy Boy On the Run by Mikey Walsh just a con? Just read the Acknowledgements section and you are left with a few questions after he acknowledges his gypsy culture, thanks all his relatives and friends and most of all claims to cherish his gypsy culture and that he is a Gypsy Man, in a book titled Gypsy Boy. Is this another Education of Little Tree or A Million Little Pieces? Okay, let’s read on.
At fifteen, Mikey escapes from his life as a Romany Gypsy with his friend Caleb.  Mikey’s young life is bizarre to say the least. As a male gypsy he is expected to be a fighter, a womanizer, and a drinker. He is none of this. His older sister dresses him in dresses, until his dad discovers this. He does karaoke with his mum and sister. Even his older sister calls him a poof. He is always losing fistfights. He blames his inability to drive and do other manly things on his gayness. Oh and he is abused by his dad’s younger brother for years. He was a failure as a Gypsy Man and was constantly reminded this by his family and his clan. Then he meets Caleb.
He runs away from home with Caleb to Liverpool. They are chased. He hides in the boot, in bathrooms in pubs. There are phone calls, crying, and fights. Eventually Caleb and a friend, David, drop him in Leeds to fend for himself, to find a bed sit, a job and to wait for a month till he turns sixteen and he is free. Is this for real?
Mikey gets a place, gets a job and after he finally gets paid he goes to his first gay bar with Laura, a gay work mate.  Caleb is angry that Mikey went to a gay bar. Caleb set down rules. Mikey is in the place he was running away from. He keeps going from the frying pan to the fire.
This is a fairy tale. It is make believe. It is entertaining at best, boring at worse, but a fabrication through and through. It lacks soul, passion; that’s how I know. It’s not as good as the above-mentioned hoaxes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Improbable Scholars by David L Kirp


I have always been intrigued and amused by the titles of educational scholarly treatises, be they articles or books. This one is no exception, Improbable Scholars, The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools by David L. Kirp. Of course the title grabbed me for two reasons: ‘scholars is what I called my students and this is a book about the futile attempts to explain American education. His credentials don’t impress, instead they send up red flags.
I can still hear my dad, also an educator laughing so hard he teared after he asked me in 1974, why I became a teacher. I responded because I wanted to be in a job without politics. Now forty years later, I would laugh, but instead I am crying at how stupid I was, not about teaching but about the politics. Education is more political than even politics and that is sad, depressing, and why education is so troubled in this country. Get politics out of education and then we can speak about reform and about creating a very good educational policy driven by pedagogy and not politics.
This tome begins with an account of schools published in April 2012, like its many predecessors, going back To a Nation at Risk, that advocates essentially for the abandonment of public schools for Charter Schools. This is from Joel Klein and Condi Rice, two very unqualified individuals on the subject of education. Klein proved his incompetence during his tenure in NYC by constantly uprooting any plan he put into effect the very next year with another ill-advised idea. Education is like tea, it takes a little time to brew. We cannot expect to see the results they hoped for when teachers had so little time to prepare and implement the crazy ideas espoused from Tweed and then have all that change the next school year. Schools are not to be run like business, yet educational leaders have been chosen to emulate business practice, and well we know how that has worked out in business and education. Please leave education to educators not career politicians or bored businessmen and crackpots with connections.
Kirp turns his focus Union City’s George Washington Elementary School. In his Introduction he mentions business folks, politicians, journalists, school administrators, but not teachers. Education is about teachers and children, not these other buffoons. He does mention Obama’s reference to the fact we all have a teacher I our life we can point to as an important person in our lives. I’d like to think we have more than one, I do. Kirp spends too much time with the useless folks in our schools, the administrators. Get thee to the classroom, Kirp and close the door and observe, patiently.
Finally on page 18, we finally meet a third grade (one of five) teacher, Alina Bossbaly, curvy and no schoolmarm. YIKES!!! A quick Richard Elmore reference about the importance of the teacher and Kirp is back in his comfortable office of generalities and political tripe. Eventually we get into the classroom and the rituals and routines. Good! There’s a discussion of the SWBAT, students will be able to, multiple intelligence classroom structure, and an understanding of how students must take control of their own education, too. But in the end it is still compartmentalized, divided by time stamps and borders; when in fact we should be coloring outside the lines and getting out of this infernal box education keeps getting packaged in. Educators know this, but administrators don’t as they visit and want to see a schedule that is followed to the letter and time stamp for visitors who have too little knowledge about the workings of education except what they read rather than do. One important tool in education is to let teachers teach teachers by inter class visitation and team teaching. We still isolate teachers and introduce another teacher for a specific function for a limited time each day thereby interrupting any flow. We still don’t get it and Kirp is proving that point with each page we turn. As we learn last year’s class different from this year’s class. That is education in the raw not neat; it is messy and outsiders quite frankly become uncomfortable and anxious. Teaching is an art, but here the artist is interfered with unlike the teacher’s counterparts. Were we to watch painters, sculptures, cooks and others work we would be flabbergasted, but not with the teacher, we hear criticism and unwanted or unneeded advice at every turn. Let the teacher work without this constant interruption and ill-timed cacophony.
Kirp truly shows his ineptness when he speaks of the principal who now has to be an educational leader. Hello David, how do you think the name principal came to be? Let me give you a hint, the principal, back in the day, was the “principal teacher.” The problem was that bureaucratic crap was foisted onto this lead teacher’s back and educational duties were slowly chipped away. There was a time when principals actually taught a class or two. Not any more, since politicians and business leaders have brought their wares to education. So often and too often in my career I have seen great teachers become administrators and instantly forget their roots like they are subject to that much wanted light pen in Men in Black. All administrators should be issued a pair of dark glasses to protect them from the lobotomy that unfortunately happens. How often do we hear and see that tyrannical principal who continues while teachers drop like flies. Damn you Peter Senge. We continue to hear about improving schools. So where is the teacher training, the collaboration ideas and plans? Where is the voice of the teacher who knows instead of the constant drone of writers, journalists, politicians, administrators, and outsiders? Some happens here just in passing with the traditional teaching coaches (very suspect since those I encountered in NYC were unsatisfactory teachers who had to have a job, so they became coaches), and mentor teachers who do work over and above regular assignments without proper time off or even additional pay. Education is a profession where incompetency is rewarded and there isn’t meritocracy as in other professions. Those who can do more for little recompense, again unlike other professions that reward overtime and merit. Do administrators understand that when they poke their heads into a classroom just to say “Hi” in what they believe is helpful is actually very destructive to continuity, flow, and instruction? No I think not, cause they do it all the time and compliment themselves on their “hands on” and “being involved” attitude and approach.  Oh and how about those constant PA announcements? YIKES!!
Kirp does get props for understanding the value of veteran teachers and speaking about a Dream team of teachers. This is what this book should be about so policy makers hear it from a voice they trust and hire. I also like the absence of Teach for America volunteers at this school. Wise move. Experience always counts more in everything, especially teaching. Joel Klein never got this in NYC which is why he is so unqualified to speak about education. And Condi Rice, haha. A most telling comment from a new teacher in a learning mode exclaims, “Now I get it.” Teaching is always about these epiphanies and schools must provide these opportunities to happen on a daily basis, but alas, they don’t. You see teaching is not a static job, it is ever changing, so the kind of evaluation outsiders attempt will not work today as it did yesterday. Constant adjustments must be made which standardized tests can’t account for.
“Good Schools = Good Politics. Oh no. Talk about an oxymoron. Good Politics? And in the same breathe with Good Schools? Where is the Pedagogy? Educational policy has to be an equal balance of good pedagogy and good politics. Why are we still associating good education only with politics? Where is the pedagogy? I know where Kirp is coming from. My biggest disappointment with Obama is his educational policy. He campaigned with Linda Darling-Hammond as his educational mouthpiece. Excellent choice, brilliant. Then he appointed Duncan over Klein. Oh my goodness, what a mistake, as we have seen. Where is the pedagogy?
Once government got it’s foot into the schoolhouse, Brown vs BOE of Topeka KA, Nation at Risk, NCLB, US Ed Reform and National Security (what a scary title) and other lesser potent reports sprinkled amongst these reports; Education has taken a nose dive. The simple answer is the inclusion of politicians and we all see very clearly what politicians can do to a finely tuned lean mean fighting machine. That some of the biggest scandals in NYC politics are school related shouldn’t be surprising, (Boss Tweed for one) and how publishers have held education at ransom with their texts and now tests makes education America’s second biggest moneymaker behind the military. Who controls the educational purse strings? Politicians, not educators.
Another well-intentioned attempt at speaking well of education, but with no real focus or direction, let alone a need. Good grad school fodder to be used for a semester than shelved alongside other attempts waiting for the next installment of more useless blabber.  Oh where are the voices of Dewey, Skinner, Montessori, Freire and others?

Monday, August 5, 2013

After Shock by Andrew Vachss


After Shock by Andrew Vachss is a high speed ride. A former merc, Dell, hooks up with a former nurse, Dolly, with doctors without walls. They first met when she nursed him back to health in the Congo. They get back together because he wants that and helps make her dream come true, a cottage in Oregon not far from the ocean. He cashes in; she cashes in and they plan to live happily ever after. Now we know that never happens as planned.
This is a fascinating tale about the law, life, and justification. A senior, MaryLou, on her way to a bright future after completing a stellar high school softball career shoots and kills another student in school. It is not a school shooting as we have come to see in this country, it is a shooting done in a school. The dead victim is a leader of a gang of boys who gang rape young female students. This gang has operated unimpeded since 2001 because the prosecutor’s office has failed to act on the thirty-nine cases that have come to their offices. It takes Dell and Dolly to bring this to an end and to vindicate MaryLou and free the town of the stigma and to justify this righteous shooting. It’s complicated, it real, it’s engrossing, and it is very very satisfying.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Delicate Truth by John Le Carre


What would summer be like without a new John Le Carré thriller? He doesn’t disappoint with A Delicate Truth.  A man named Adam, married with a daughter and has served his country admirably for twenty years has never seen action. He is a well-travelled desk jockey. Suddenly without warning he is to become Paul Anderson, unmarried and childless and become active as directed by the minister in Gibraltar. He has no idea what is going on except he is holed up in a hotel and is pretending to be an ornithologist. Hush hush, cloak and dagger, tallyho and all that rot.
All of a sudden we are tagging along with a career diplomat name Toby who has gone from here to there and ends up as a private secretary for Quinn who has a dark past, Toby can’t seem to get a handle on. One thing is for sure, being in the corps is a dog eat dog world and who to trust is always in question. Toby has conferred with his mentor, Oakley. They speak about the minister; or rather Oakley pumps Toby for information. Oakley tells Toby to contact him immediately if anything strange comes up. Strange happens and Oakley is out of touch so Toby sets up a tape recorder to capture the clandestine weekend meeting. Eliot and Paul meet with the minister about something happening on the rock. When Toby finally gets to Oakley, Oakley denies previous meetings and Toby is flummoxed. He digitizes the tape, leaves one on his computer and tapes a backup on a thumb drive to the back of his grandparents wedding picture. Then he is transferred to Beirut from his London job. Needless to say, his girlfriend Isabel has left him. Such great intrigue and back stabbing.
Well, Paul isn’t Adam, he is Kit and married to Suzanna and is now retired and living in the country. He has a daughter, Emily, who is a doctor. It’s three years later and out of nowhere Jeb shows up. Paul’s or Adam’s or Kit’s worse nightmare. Toby reappears and after Jeb disappears, Toby is left to find him because Paul is not capable to do so. Jeb is a key witness to a government crime. Emily provides some more information and sends Toby on his merry way.
Each of the first four chapters presents a piece of the puzzle that will have to be solved in the final three chapters. Hang on this is just another beautifully twisted story by John Le Carré.