SubscribeStar Saturday: The State of Education Update II

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Spring Break is drawing to a close, with a four-week-ish slog to the relative freedom of summer vacation, when I go from being a stressed-out ball of blubber persisting on processed foods and frozen pizza to living like a chubby retiree.  As such, it seemed like an opportune time to look at the state of education in the United States.

As I wrote this morning, lately I’ve been listening to quite a bit of the ideas of “unschooling” advocate John Taylor Gatto.  Some of his views on adolescence (he says there really isn’t one, and that childhood essentially ends around the age seven) are pretty radical, though they aren’t without historical precedent, but for the most part, I find myself in agreement with assessment of the modern educational-industrial complex.

The first JTG video I watched/listened to

In essence, Gatto (should I call him “JTG”?) argues—and supports, with ample primary source research—that the modern system of “warehouse” schooling is not a proper education at all, but rather a massive system for indoctrinating students into compliance and mass conformity.  He argues that little real “education” takes place inside of schools, and that a genuine education comes from within the student himself.  In other words, all of the world is a “classroom” and everyone in it a “teacher” to the open learner.  An elite, private or boarding school education is available to anyone, Gatto contends, for free.

Gatto famously quit after a long, celebrated career in New York City public schools in a letter to The Wall Street Journal entitled “I Quit, I Think” (note that the title has two possible meanings:  the first, obvious one is the note of uncertainty the added “I Think” carries; the second one is the subtle implication that because “I Think,” I (Gatto) must quit).  In short, Gatto came to believe that what he had been doing for years was actually harming students, rather than improving their lives.

Talk about a heavy epiphany.

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Supporting Friends Friday: Mariella Hunt’s Serialized Novella

Readers my recall an edition of Supporting Friends Friday dedicated to Mariella Hunt, an Idaho-based author who also dabbles in cute water colors of birds.

Before she started painting birds, Mariella was a writer—a prolific one, at that.  I discovered her first through her paintings, through Andrea the Ilustrator’s blog, but have come to appreciate and enjoy her writing as well.

Mariella is a talented non-fiction writer, but her real passion is fiction.  She tells me that she is hoping to make a living as a freelance writer, and is currently publishing her novella The Sea Rose via Amazon’s Kindle Vella service.

Kindle Vella allows authors to release stories serially, in short little doses or chapters, much the way much of Charles Dickens’s work was published.

I’ve read the first chapter of The Sea Rose, and it’s good—really good.  I am eagerly awaiting the second chapter (which should be available by the time you read this post!).

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TBT^2: On Ghost Stories

It’s that time of year again—the so-called “spooky season,” when Halloween decorations go up, scary stories get told, and overwrought bloggers with delusions of grandeur stage over-the-top concerts from their front porches (well, maybe that last one is just me).  As the weather turns cool and the leaves begin to fall, it’s almost impossible not to settle in with some hot coffee and a good collection of ghost stories.

So, for the second year in a row, I’m looking back this TBT to 2019’s “On Ghost Stories,” a post that now will hold the distinction of being a perennial favorite.

One might think that as scary as the real world is, we’d spend less time reading spooky fiction.  It seems the opposite is the case.  Perhaps the idea that malevolence is not necessarily the result of human frailty, but rather due to wicked supernatural influences, is oddly comforting.  That evil is the result of our fallen nature—and, of course, the malignant supernatural influence up on it—is a bit easier to forget, perhaps, when reading about some ghostly figure wreaking havoc in the English countryside.

More likely, it’s just that we enjoy being scared—when we can easily flip off the television or close the book.  Horror is fun when there are no real consequences attached to it.  Then again, just watching horror movies probably isn’t healthy (I’ll report back if I suddenly get any macabre urges).

Well, whatever the reason, a good ghost story is hard to pass up.  With that, here is “TBT: On Ghost Stories“:

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Supporting Friends Friday: The Cinematic Compositions of Mason Sandifer

The first two editions of Supporting Friends Friday (highlighting the poetry of Jeremy Miles and the music of Frederick Ingram) have been well-received, particularly by the friends being supported, and it gives me a great deal of joy to showcase their works, albeit from the humble platform of this blog (read by dozens a day!).  As I have written many, manymany times over the last year, making a living through creative work, like writing books and playing music, is difficult, especially in The Age of The VirusBuilding up a community of artists who celebrate one another’s works is an important part of the indie music and publishing business.

It’s also just fun, much like the music of Robert Mason Sandifer, the young composer I’m highlighting today.  Mason, as I call him, is a private student of mine, so this post is perhaps tad self-serving, but even if he weren’t my student, I would adore his music.

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Improving Christian Fiction

I stumbled upon the psychotherapist and author Adam Lane Smith when Mogadishu Matt wrote a “Sunny Side Up” book review of Smith’s action-comedy novel Maxwell Cain: Burrito Avenger (readers will forgive me for noting that my own book, The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard: The Ultimate Flatfoot was featured in the inaugural “Sunny Side Up” review).  I have yet to purchase any of Smith’s works yet, though I intend to pick up copies of Maxwell Cain and books from his Deus Vult Wastelanders series.

I have, however, signed up for Smith’s e-mail list—the least any potential supporter can do—and have enjoyed his e-mail blasts.  One recent message caught my eye:  a blog post entitled “Time to Fix a Problem.”

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Comic Review: Dracula: Vlad the Impaler (2021)

This past weekend I went to Athens, Georgia, with my girlfriend to see the sights.  We spent a good bit of time in downtown Athens, near the University of Georgia campus, which was overrun with graduates and their families in town for a weekend of graduation ceremonies.  Amid our sightseeing, we stumbled upon Bizarro-Wuxtrey, a comic book and record store that truly lives up to its name.

The first floor of the shop is Wuxtrey Records, a record shop that, due to Virus-related capacity restrictions, we were not able to browse.  The second floor is—like Bizarro Superman—the comic book section.  It was the classic comic book store, complete with an overweight, older gentleman with long hair and a beard manning the shabby little counter.  The store features several rooms of comics and old magazines, including back issues of old niche magazines dedicated to sci-fi flicks and movie monsters.

Amid the stacks of new arrivals I found the subject of this post:  the black-and-white reissue of the 1990s graphic novel Dracula: Vlad the Impaler.

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Spring Break Short Story Recommendations 2021, Part II: “The Personality Cult”

Today’s short story selection, Michael Noonan‘s “The Personality Cult,” comes from Terror House Magazine, an alternative online literary journal that publishes some excellent works from newer authors (although, it should be cautioned, they publish anything, including pieces that are borderline smut; browse with care).  Indeed, two of my Inspector Gerard stories will appear there later this month.  I’ve been reading Terror House Magazine for a couple of years now, and have been impressed with the gems they publish.  “The Personality Cult” is one such precious stone.

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Spring Break Short Story Recommendations 2021, Part I: “Black Tancrède”

It’s another glorious Spring Break for yours portly, which means it’s time to whip out some classic tales of ghostly spookiness.  This week I’m working my way through Chilling Ghost Stories, edited by Stefan Dziemianowicz, published in March 2020.  It’s a collection that was clearly compiled for the bargain section at Barnes & Nobles, with a list price of just $10 for 471 pages of medium-sized print chills (I picked it up for $8 plus tax thanks to my handy Educator’s Discount card).  The stories were written from 1893 to 1929, with today’s selection, Henry S. Whitehead‘s “Black Tancrède,” being the latest.

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Brief Monday Morning Update

Last week was an exceptionally busy one for yours portly, with a number of duties and responsibilities intersecting at once.  I’m sure many readers have noticed this phenomenon, but there is a decidedly cyclical nature to workflow; indeed, it’s almost tidal in the manner it ebbs and flows:  I can go for two or three weeks enjoying a fairly placid schedule, only to have a couple of weeks of intense activity.  Everything seems to come to a head at the same time.

That’s particularly true in education, a field that is structurally cyclical, with regular intervals of heightened activity baked into the calendar.  The third quarter ended Friday, marking the beginning of the end of the school year (fourth quarter—that last, mad dash to summer vacation—starts today).  That means last week was a flurry of finalizing grades and writing report card comments.

My school requires unique, individualized comments for every student, and though we teach (on average) fewer students than the typical public school teacher, we’re expected to go above and beyond.  Because my colleagues and I were scolded as a group for comments deemed inadequate (for the record, I always write exceptional comments), I decided to double-down and write even more ridiculously detailed comments.  Our registrar read through them Friday morning (after I worked furiously and late into the night Thursday to finish them before the weekend) and said, “I felt like I was reading a novella.”  Mission accomplished.

That’s all to say that I’m very tired, so I thought this Monday would be a good opportunity to offer some brief updates.

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