Reads of the Week #54

We were away in Spain, or Catalunya to be exact and a bit political, so this is the best of  the what I’ve read over three full weeks. 

Two pieces on holidays struck me over the last few days. The first is by Heidi Stevens, a favourite writer. She picks out the good with the bad of every family holiday here with honesty and necessary humour. Hilary Fannin’s piece is about some of the same summer things, that time of year that memory always marks as the good old days, but with a glance back and forward to children and grandparents to provide us with some perspective on aging. 

This account of the tragic aftermath of the 1916 Rising for Thomas MacDonagh’s family by Ronan McGreevy reminds us that the after effects of the Rising on the families of the executed are little discussed.  

The anniversary of the signing of the Versailles Treaty brought me to reading this amazingly detailed New York Times piece from the time

Two podcasts this time the first is from Radiolab on how Henrietta Lacks changed modern science and, eventually, her family’s understanding of itself; and from BBC Radio a look at She Moved Through The Fair, an episode of the brilliant SoulMusic series.
From Atlas Obscura how the Great Hanoi Rat Massacre of 1902 did not go as planned, obscure but fascinating history. 
And finally, Sonny on the Causeway, kinda. 

Reads of the Week #53

This week, the week the State Exams finished for 2017, also marked the finishing of my school work. I manage the Book Rental Scheme in our school and that means waiting until late June to stock take and look at the order for next year. It’s an opportunity for listening to radio while I work and for finding reading material that distract me from textbooks. 
Earlier in the week I read a piece by Michael O’Loughlin to mark Bloomsday in the Irish Times on James Joyce as a European. I liked this line in particular ‘There are few other nations whose foundation myth is based on the notion that we’re not actually from around here.’



Last week Fintan O’Toole won the Orwell Prize for his coverage of Brexit and in this article for the New York Times, he deftly puts British turmoil in an Irish context: perhaps some of us in Ireland can be allowed a moment of schadenfreude as we look across the sea and ask… the question the English so often asked about us: Are the English fit for self-government?



For Fathers Day, Esquire published this moving piece by Tyler Coates on his father’s voice which is moving and real: The last remaining evidence of my father’s voice, the final thing that roots him and his existence in my brain, will eventually cease to exist–just like VHS tapes, and the accent he spoke with, and my memories of him, too.



To my friends’ baby girl: I hope you grow up to be Wonder Woman by Heidi Stevens is essential reading for anyone with a daughter. [You were born] the same week a female superhero (finally!) started kicking butt at the box office… a signal of our fondest hope for you: that you grow up knowing you can choose your own path and fight your own battles and change the world.



Here, Pasi Sahlberg reckons we should be concentrating on ‘small data’ to improve education, ‘small data’ emerges from the notion that in a world that is increasingly governed by binary digits and cold statistics, we need information that helps us to understand better those aspects of teaching and learning that are invisible or not easily measurable. 



Organising Teaching: Developing the Power of the Profession from Howard Stevenson and Nina Bascia has seven challenges for teacher unions to reorganise and it is essential reading for teacher trade unionists. 

Podcast of the week is the conversation between Tom Sleigh and Paul Muldoon about Seamus Heaney’s In the Attic and Tom Sleigh’s own The Fox On the New Yorker Poetry Podcast, which, mainly due to Paul Muldoon’s knowledge and geniality is a always a treat. 

And finally, this weeks picture of the week is of  Ballinaboy, County Galway, Ireland, 1965 by Edwin Smith which I found on twitter from Anne Mortier. Beautiful landscape, ominous skies, homestead in between, the perfect vision of Ireland. 

Reads of the Week #52

Reads of the week is back! I took fifteen months or so off mainly to write about the ASTI and education in general but there is time now to start curating and recommending things you may have missed over the last week. (Actually I’ve cheated this week and gone back two weeks). 
First there’s local (for me) history of boys who chose to fight in World War One rather than stay in Clonmel Borstal, the only such Irish institution outside Dublin. Seventy of the more than fourhundred who went to war died. Great work by Conor Reidy.  

Next is some more local-ish history.  Colm Wallace has completed a study of murdered Free State Gardaí from 1922 to 1949 and this is the story of the first, killed in Mullinahone. 

My Family’s Slave is a  piece by Alex Tizon, who, sadly, died in recent months. It’s about a woman who lived with with his family from before he was born and long after she needed to. And was never properly paid. It hurts to read but his journey to do Lola justice in the end is  powerful. 

From prose to fiction, but not too far a journey: to Alexie Sherman‘s Clean, Cleaner, Cleanest, a short story about a motel cleaner that gets to you by describing a life of seemingly banality in hugely human detail.

Podcast of the week is on Manzanar the Workd War 2 camp for Japanese-Americans, now designated a National Historical Site. Interesting discussion on whether the camp was an internment or concentration camp. I listen to a lot of podcasts/radio (50 hours this week is a record [yes I keep track!]) this one stayed got to me. The quiet dignity mixed with activism and the pursuit of justice are moving. 99 percent invisible have dozens of podcasts like this 

Not a great title but the idea that we raise our girls to fight stereotypes and pursue their dreams, but don’t do the same for our boys is worth considering. 

This is the best video essay on film I’ve seen in a while The Legacy of Paranoid Thrillers.  

Fintan O’Toole won the Orwell Prize for his writing on Brexit Britain: The End of a Fantasy for the New York Review of Books is a good place to start reading his work.  (@fotoole for @nybooks)

This is a very good accounting of where the ASTI was, is and might be heading by Katherine Donnelly. 

One more history story to finish about how Mike McTigue took on ‘the Battling Siki‘ during the Civil Wat to become a world Champion. 

The picture with this post is Blue Horses (1911) by Franz Marc, a German artist who was killed in World War One. We went to an exhibition of his work in Madrid in 2008 with Child One and brought home a stuffed red horse we christened Frank. Child Three sleeps with it now. 

One of those classes: children on top of my greenhouse

Child on Top of a Greenhouse 

The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,

My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,

The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,

 Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,

A few white clouds all rushing eastward,

A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses, 

 And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting! 

 Theodore Roethke 

Thursday was one of those days. One of those classes that just clicked and a group of 12 year olds, without knowing it gave their teacher the belief that good things can come from throwing the plan out the window.

We were reading Theodore Roethke‘s Child on Top of a Greenhouse, having spent the whole month on poetry. We started by linking Bruegel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus with poems by William Carlos Williams and WH Auden about the painting. Looking at paintings is a great way into a poem, the visual, the narrative, the surface and the depth of a painting are great mirrors for how I want them to see a poem: what comes naturally in reading a painting can be taught quickly for a poem. You have to present them with the limitless possibilities in a piece of art: I tell them there are no wrong answers and no judgement but we’ll move ahead when we’re all happy with a suggestion. I like to introduce ‘the maybe’, ‘maybe he’s saying…’ maybe it shows…’

We wrote some poems, haikus about what we saw.

We moved on to First Steps by Van Gogh. I didn’t link this to a poem but used it for a writing exercise for homework and built on the still moment in a painting so we could discuss the stillness in a poem. I didn’t talk about it that way, but talked about a snapshot, or a selfie that captures a fleeting thing forever.

Then we went ‘under the surface’ The Road Not Taken: we discussed the ending first, where is Frost when he tells us the story?, how does he feel about it ?and then the choices he made, the choices we make. All very structured, me taking less of a lead, but still prodding their ideas along, them getting more confident.

Last week we tore into Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney to look at the senses and emotions in a seasonal poem that has all the heartbreak of youth, but still an adult’s view, looking back. The haikus they wrote, edited and tweeted in response are here.

So it was all going pretty well before we even got to Roethke. I wanted to do a mirroring exercise: take the poem and rewrite for yourself. That had to wait.

I opened with a joke in the first line, how does the wind billow out the back of your trousers? They smile but set me straight, it’s not flatulence it’s how high up he is! We talk about the onomatopoeic cracks under his feet as he realises how high up he is, we look for other onomatopoeic words. I explain what putty is (the generation gap!) and it’s all going fine. I think it is when we get to chrysanthemums that things take off. I say they are sometimes symbolic of death but I don’t know if that’s what Roethke has in mind. Someone says they’re half grown like the boy. Someone else says he’s going to get killed, not literally but throwing forward to the end, killed ‘like parents do'(!). Then we talk about sunlight and streaked glass, ‘the place the child was in’, ‘he’s up high, he can see stuff he doesn’t see when he’s down low’ and the transition into my favourite part of the poem is ready, so far: 90% their work. Look at those clouds, look at those trees, I say. ‘He can see new things’, ‘maybe he hasn’t noticed this stuff before’, ‘maybe he’s very still, because he doesn’t want to break the glass and everything in the sky is moving’ (no homework for you!), ‘the horses’ manes are like the trees in the wind’  ‘when you said about the chrysanthemums, they were half grown, maybe he isn’t going to be the same after this’, ‘maybe this is when he grows up’ (no homework for anyone!).

‘I think he mightn’t care about the adults pointing up’, ‘they aren’t just adults, it’s everyone’, why does he repeat everyone?, I ask, ‘for emphasis’ (love that), ‘but maybe it was a barbecue and all the neighbours are there, even his grandparents are pointing’ (beautiful). And then this clincher: ‘I don’t think he cares about them being angry.’ I push here, and they divide into two groups, some say ‘he does care, it brings him back down to earth’ (I don’t acknowledged this because I’m floating on air at that stage), some others say ‘maybe he’s a man now, writing this and he knows being up on the greenhouse is the right place to be’.

And I tell my students, twelve year old girls who rode the crest of this poem and didn’t blink an eye, that this has been the best class in my room for years. and as they’re leaving one turns to another and says ‘that was good, wasn’t it?, ‘yeah,’ comes the reply, like they can do this all the time.

And while this doesn’t happen every day, or even week, I’m the better for it, because it makes me reach, and they’re the better for it because it makes them think. I didn’t think once of outcomes, or objectives or process, but I was a teacher in the middle of it all.

 

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Reads of the Week #47

First post in this series for 2016 has a New Year feel: things to read, Christmas memories, reflections on the year gone by, the best photos of 2015 and the start of a new sporting year. 

Here are 50 Great 21st Century Novels For 6th Formers

These are the books James Wood of the New Yorker loved in 2015

Harper Lee’s Christmas in New York

This is Katie Coyle’s year in reading and grief
Two sets of photos: 2015 in photos from the White House, and the New York Times best photos of 2015

And finally two great sporting reads: Paul Rouse on the glorious disease called Hope for GAA players, and PM O’Sullivan’s interview with Shane McGrath is powerful too.

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Reads of the Week #45

  
More great writing, an extract from each should whet your appetite. (I reckon that’s the first time I’ve written the word whet.)

How much thought and effort do you invest in making sure you look good, popular and happy on Facebook or Instagram, asks Michael Gonchar

Oliver Burkeman says young people today, along with their Snapchat and their selfies and their sexting, apparently engage in a practice known as “phubbing”. According to Sherry Turkle, the American sociologist of digital life, this involves maintaining eye contact with one person while text-messaging another.

How unusual is it for a gun owner to have two AR-15 assault rifles and 2,500 rounds of rifle ammunition—the “arsenal” police found in the possession of Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, asks John Weiner. 

Donal Fallon writes about a  funeral procession without a corpse: the Manchester Martyrs and Glasnevin Cemetery
When it comes to teaching poetry, Andy Tharby asks how much should I tell them and how much should I elicit from them?
As a child, Freya McClements had 16 library tickets

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Reads of the Week #44

This week I’m going to let some extract speak for the exceptional writing I’ve picked speak for themselves. 



There are plenty of ways to help children who have miserable lives but making excuses for them is not one of them, says Heather Fearn here.

Let us not make people at the margins into scouts or spies for the mainstream. Let us stop asking people to speak for the entire cacophonic segment of humanity that shares their pigmentation, genitalia, or turn-ons. Katie Coyle is insisting we do better.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were killed at sunset on 19 June, 1953. It was their 14th wedding anniversary. A few days earlier, they had said goodbye to their children, Michael and Robert, who were 10 and six. They were young parents. They were people who loved. Their fate was awful. This is Sam Jordison on EL Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel.

The first poems I read by a poet who was not dead or a writer of hymns were by Ted Hughes, writes Anthony Wilson, discussing Hughes’ impact on his life.

This is an except from “Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories” by Rob Brotherton on autism, vaccines and why some people believe Jenny McCarthy over every doctor.

In this year alone, Russia has seen the appearance of a new Stalin museum in Tver Region and a monument to the ‘Big Three’ (Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) in Crimea in memory of the participants of 1945 Yalta conference. Statues to the Generalissimo have been unveiled across the entire country—in Lipetsk, Mari El, North Ossetia, Stavropol, Vladimir and in the Kuban region. Stalin is back writes Dmitry Okrest.
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