Monday, August 31, 2009

"I Can Be Anything": "Reading Rainbow" calls it quits

Venerable children's show "Reading Rainbow" has ceased production after 26 years, making it the third-longest running children's show in PBS history.

Below is the "RR"'s iconic theme song.

Sing along.

You know you can.

You know you want to.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Math is hard, but not this hard!

Thought we'd throw in a little levity today because the weather report for Auburn Hills, MI--home of Teacher's Brunch HQ--is reading 69 degrees with rain. Sometimes, you have to laugh or you'll cry.

So, good luck to all the teachers (and especially the professors at Ohio State, who apparently have deeper struggles than we ever imagined).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reaching Into the Old Mail Bag

Yesterday we received the following email from English teacher Ben Smith regarding one of our most popular posters:

Hi there --

I recently ordered and received a poster featuring World Literature authors in a periodic table design.

I was very taken aback to find that of all the authors you could have included on this design, you chose to include Adolf Hitler among them.

I mean, that was a shocking discovery. I'm trying to imagine the conversation that could have led to his inclusion -- "sure, he was a genocidal maniac responsible for the murder of thousands, but he did write Mein Kampf..."

It's offensive not only on a human level, but even if there were an objective way to look at it, how could Hitler's body of written work merit this?

I've already decided how I'm dealing with it -- perhaps making it a teachable moment. I'm going to cut that square out, put a small reflective surface or mirror behind it, and tell them that that's a space where they can imagine themselves joining the rest of the world's authors.

It's not possible to preview every detail of the poster on your online site, but even still, I assumed I was safe from Hitler.

Is Ted Kaczynski on your poster of famous mathematicians?

This was our reply:

Of course, there is no way I can argue with you about Hitler's madness. Words can't fully explain his actions and the destruction he caused. He actually appears on another poster of ours, the Periodic Table of Dictators, Despots, and the Despised. I think you'll agree that he certainly belongs there.

Hilter's inclusion on our literature poster was not without deep discussion around here. It is true that he only wrote one piece of any real note. We decided early on in our creation of these types of posters that "one trick ponies" could be included. Otherwise, we'd lose worthy authors like Harper Lee and others whose body of work is limited.

We also decided to expand our thinking of "literature." That's why we include musicians and other writers whose work may not be considered "literary," but remains noteworthy (Stan Lee, a personal hero of mine, appears on our American prose poster, for example).

We accepted in listing authors that we'd include some whose work is banned/disapproved/ill-considered by a potential host of people. J.K. Rowling, who appears on the World Lit poster, has had her work removed from school libraries, and Oscar Wilde also appears on that poster, just to name two.

None of that explanation diminishes Hitler's atrocities, obviously, but that was part of the point of his inclusion. If the over-arching message of our posters is about the far-reaching power of the written word, unfortunately, if we are being academically honest with ourselves and our students, we felt that must also include acknowledgment of the potential for words to be used for pure, unspeakable evil.

I am sorry that his appearance disappointed you, but I assure you that his inclusion was not arbitrary, or merely for shock value. Thanks for being a customer of ours. I hope you'll remain a customer of ours.

That provoked the following reply:

Thanks for your quick response. As a seller of educational materials, I am certain that your decisions regarding content come from careful conversations with a number of people.
It's precisely this fact, however, that concerns me.

As a songwriter, I was first interested in the poster because of its inclusion of writers like Leonard Cohen and Elvis Costello. Like you, I appreciate this expanded idea of literature.
But with this expanded definition and a vast library of literary forms and authors to choose from, it is even more perplexing to me to include Adolf Hitler.

Perhaps you would consider me a bit too sensitive, but I bristle a bit at the comparison of Hitler as a "one trick pony" like a Harper Lee or "ill-considered" like a J.K. Rowling.

I'm not above appreciating the juxtaposition of two unlikely personalities. I think there could be great hilarity in a one act play with Oscar Wilde and Adolf Hitler.

And I suppose, there is some relief in knowing that Hitler is sandwiched between Joseph Hayford and Ahmad Kasravi on your poster. Still, I would argue that despite your assertion about your intentions not be shocking or arbitrary, Hitler and his funny mustache come off as both. (It might be an easy fix to switch it to Charlie Chaplin; he was a better writer anyway.)

I'm academically honest enough to realize that words have the potential to be used equally for good and evil, even the same words--take the Bible, for instance--but if the goal was to provide a wide ranging scope of world literature--for its potential for good and evil and in between, Hitler's inclusion is a bit of an outlier here and as a result, in my opinion, calls attention to itself in a...weird way--for lack of a better word.

Certainly Mao Tse Tung, who is probably responsible for the death of millions as well, was more of a poet and philosopher than Hitler ever was.

In any case, thanks for your response. Like I wrote before, this will become a teachable moment however it plays out.

And our reply to the reply. . . :

Your points are well-taken. In particular, I take some satisfaction over the inclusion of Leonard Cohen into the conversation because a) he has recently become a favorite of mine (I have no real excuse for having discovered him so late) and b) Hitler would really, really hate being on the same poster with Cohen. That makes me smile.

Hitler is a difficult figure for us at TD because we're always struggling to present the "complete" Hitler. If we avoid some aspects of his biography--for example his writing, his failed artistic endeavors--we risk not giving students a complete picture of an important historical figure. However, if we go too far to "humanize" him, we risk trivializing or trying to blandly explain away a monster. It's a line we try to walk, to obviously varying levels of success.

With your permission, I would like to excerpt some of our email conversation into a blog post. We get a hundred or so visitors a day, though very little interaction, and I am hoping it might spark some debate.

Or blog is here: , and as fate would have it, I recently wrote about the latest Quentin Tarantino film.

I appreciate your passion, even if we are on opposite sides of this argument. Your students must really benefit from the energy you put into your teaching.

And one final response before we put it here in all its bloggy goodness:

That would be okay -- I'd appreciate knowing how/what you are excerpting/editing before it's reprinted. (I'd be happier if you just posted our correspondence as it was -- to avoid being misrepresented.)

Not that you would do that intentionally, of course. But I try to pick my words carefully --

I don't think you need to struggle with Hitler any more than you would struggle with Leonard Cohen. There is no worry of not presenting the "complete" Hitler --
There are few men from the 20th century as well documented as Hitler. There was a good article in Slate earlier this year about folks' curious obsession with his sex life and his one testicle. I believe there is a disturbing romanticizing of his life. He's either demon monster or failed artist--lot of armchair psychologist stuff.

Personally, I'm tired of it. If history teachers want to duke it out, go for it. But, I see no compelling reason for his infiltration into literature.

We thought we'd open up the floor to everyone.

Both sides have a pretty strong argument, though obviously we're a little biased.

What is certain, however, is that there are some lucky students out there who have a passionate, informed, creative (a reflective piece in the cut-out box is a splendid idea) literature teacher.

Feel free to comment in the comments section, or drop a line to teachersbrunch at teachersdiscovery dot com.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Oh, No! We got our U.S. History products all wrong!

Well, not exactly.

Some of us from Teacher's Brunch HQ in Rainy-and-60-degrees-all-weekend Auburn Hills, MI saw the latest Quentin Tarantino film, "Inglorious Bastereds," over the weekend.

While professional movie critics have largely been split about the film's success or failure, we amateur film critics thought the movie was pretty good.

In particular, the performance from Christoph Waltz as suave, smart Standartenf├╝hrer Hans Landa was impressive, and he rightly won an award at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Though the film is decidedly not safe for school, we wondered at the time how many U.S. History students are going to see the film and write essays about the war's end that are just plain WAY wrong.

We also thought to another recent WWII film, "Valkyrie." That movie probably is OK for most high school classrooms, conforms to reality more than a bit more closely, and is available here.

Tom Cruise is even not too crazy in it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Young Adult Book Cover Activity

Hello to everyone from Teacher's Brunch HQ in We're-Going-Back-To-School-Too Auburn Hills, MI. (of the four people in our immediate office, three of us hit the college books again in a couple of weeks and the other just finished a fitness trainer certificate program.)

We found this great blog post about creating your own fake YA book cover taking advantage of some of the cliches of the genre.

Essentially, you use a random name generator to create your Author persona, a random word generator to create your title, and Flicker to find an image that you crop (badly, if you stick to the cliches).

In addition to a great use of technology, we think this activity could be extended in the classroom to have students write a 250-word synopsis of their "books."

A nice way to highlight what students did NOT read over the summer, but might have!

Our book cover is below.

It's the heart-warming story of a father coming to terms with his newborn son's birth defect, as well as his own feelings of abandonment from a childhood spent without his own long-haul trucker father.

A best-seller, for sure.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Some fava beans and a nice chianti

With all of the conversation about the proposed health care bills, we here at Teacher's Brunch, HQ in still-freaked-out-by-swine-flu Auburn Hills, MI thought it might be beneficial to remember one of the very earliest social program suggestions, "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathon Swift.

Here is the full text.

Swift makes some valid points, though we worry that playgrounds might be mistaken for farmer's markets.

Friday, August 7, 2009

R.I.P., John Hughes

Word is out that director, screenwriter, and Michigan-native John Hughes passed away yesterday while on a visit to New York City.

For many teachers, we imagine his films helped to define and shape their own school experiences. Certainly, many of his films touched those of us here at Teacher's Brunch HQ.

Who didn't want to be Ferris Bueller? Smart, popular, nice, with devoted friends and family and a pretty-fancy-for-its-time computer? Ferris was an Id tempered with boyish innocence and good humor, bucking the system without breaking the system. You might not trust him with your car, but you would trust him with your life.

As kids we rooted for him. As teachers we admonish him, while silently rooting for him.

In a world full of regrets, Ferris said "The question isn't 'what are we going to do,' the question is 'what aren't we going to do?'"

A rather nice legacy to leave behind.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

You Got Jokes?

Ryan found this site that should brighten your day:

With football season approaching, we thought this one is a particularly good one:

A football coach was asked his secret of evaluating raw recruits. "Well," he said, "I take 'em out in the woods and make 'em run. The ones that go around the trees, I make into running backs. The ones that run into the trees, I turn into linemen."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Play Ball! Two New Science Games

These two new gems just arrived to spice up Science classrooms everywhere.

The first baseball game covers micro-organisms and bacteria. Sure, it's a gribbly topic, but that's what makes it all the more fun!

Tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms, floods, earthquakes, tsunami, and a host of other insurance adjuster nightmares take center stage in our second new game, Natural Disasters Baseball.

Of course, both of these games are perfect for your new interactive whiteboard, but they work great on a regular wall, or a computer lab.

Let us know what you think of them by emailing us at teachersbrunch at teachersdiscovery dot com.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Your Friends at Teacher's Brunch--On the Cutting Edge of Educational Theory

In this month's issue of the English Journal, you'll find a piece called "Turn It On and Turn It Up: Incorporating Music Videos in the ELA Classroom" by Luke Rodesiler.

It's a fine article, one we here at Teacher's Brunch HQ in apparently prescient Auburn Hills, MI firmly endorse.

We endorse it so much, we even went back in time to create a blog post about the exact same thing. You'll find it here.

(We tried to post some of the videos Rodesiler mentions, but the videos are technologically blocked. They are, however, pretty widely available for viewing in your classroom.)