Wednesday, December 15, 2010

paper shrapnal. . . seriously?

I honestly don't have the foggiest idea how this happens. One day I vacuum, and the floor is pristine. Within a matter of hours, sometimes minutes, there has been a paper shrapnel explosion and the floor is covered. One of the unsolved mysteries of the classroom, I guess.
None of this was there one hour prior to when this photo was taken. Seriously.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

a middle schooler's favorite book

Every year if you were to ask one of my students what their favorite book was, it would be a toss up between The Count of Monte Cristo and The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. And may I just say, that they have excellent taste, because these happen to be two of may favorite books too. But right now, we are entrenched in The Count of Monte Cristo and loving it. In fact, if all we did all day was read CMC (our affectionate nickname for the book) my kids would be totally content. For a group of kids who generally do not espouse a love of classic literature, this says a lot. I will never forget one student I had a few years ago who struggled with language arts getting so into the book that he came in one Monday morning and said, "Mrs. Freeman, I accidentally read ahead in The Count of Monte Cristo" (this being expressly forbidden since it becomes too hard for them not to give away the plot twists for their classmates).

"Oh really. How far ahead did you get?"

"A Hundred pages."

Accidentally reading ahead a hundred pages from a kid that does not normally enjoy reading is a pretty ringing endorsement if you ask me.

The book is about Edmond Dantés who is wrongfully accused of being a Bonapartist and is thrown in prison for 14 years. After his escape, Dantés takes on the role of Providence to punish those who took away his happiness and rewarding those who were good to him. It is a classic suspense and revenge story with tons of great twists and turns. In our reading just this week, the plot started to get really think so I made a character web to hopefully help everyone keep all the characters and their relationships straight.

It looks like a twisted mess and I love it! I can't wait to add more to it as we read. The blue ribbons represent the main characters' connections with Edmond Dantés and his aliases, and the white ribbons represent romantic attachments.

One of the best things about reading this book is showing them the movie afterward because they feel so jipped. Until I read the book, I like the movie, but so much is left out it is not even funny. The movie covers about 125 pages of the abridged version (535 pages) of the story that we read. Entire plot lines and characters are left out including my favorite: Monsieur Noirtier, the former Bonapartist who is paralyzed and can only communicate through blinking his eyes and yet his cunning and passion make him one of the most vivid, dynamic, and active characters in the book.

This year, one of my students came up with one of the most thoughtful insights about this book which has totally enhanced my reading of the text. In Bible a few weeks ago, we studied the story of Joseph, a man who seemed to have everything going for until a few people plotted his demise. From then on, Joseph is thrust into some extremely difficult circumstances over a period of many many years. One very astute kid observed that this was much like Dantés whose life was ruined thanks to a few scheming friends. Both face devastating circumstances and eventually become one of the most powerful men in the land. Like Dantés, Joseph is reunited with his brothers and even tricks them to get his younger brother and father to come to Egypt. But unlike Dantés, Joseph trusts God's sovereign hand over each situation and had an eternal vision for his life: "But Joseph said to them, 'Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.' And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them" (Genesis 50:19-21). Dantés on the other hand, takes matters into his own hands enacting magnanimous generosity or cruel vengeance individually concocted for each of his friends. Slowly, we watch Dantés turn into a monster until he is introduced to forgiveness, mercy, and love. This striking contrast between these two Biblical and literary characters is so inspiring--and the fact that it came from a middle school kid makes it that much better!

Take a seventh or eighth grader's advice and read CMC; you won't regret it.

it's beginning to look a lot like. . .

Christmas! This year, as every year, I am honing in on some meaningful traditions while scrapping the stressful, futile ones. Every December, I enjoy being intentional about the ways we celebrate and prepare for Christ's birth.

This year, I rang in the season with Michael W. Smith. The school was generously given several tickets to his Christmas concert at teh Dallas Symphony so I got to take 2 seventh grade young ladies. It was an absolutely lovely evening of beautiful music (some of which really brought me back to the the glory days--'90's anyone?) all of which was so God-honoring. Michael W. Smith is a great performer and his humility is refreshing and a great testament.

With the Christmas music came the desire to decorate. Unfortunately this year, I was not able to have White Christmas or Meet Me in St. Louis in the background during the decoration ceremony because my husband was studying for finals. . . alas. But I did put up a little tree in my classroom.

Also, this year was the first time that we read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol aloud in class. We haven't finished yet, but we are all enjoying it immensely. As one might suspect, the story is much darker than any of the movies, but the characters are much richer. The descriptions of Scrooge nephew and his contagious laugh are priceless. Here is one of my favorite passages so far in which Scrooge's nephew gives a retort to Scrooge's argument that Christmas should not be celebrated because it does not profit anyone:

"There are many things from which I might have derived good by, which I have not profited, I dare say," returned teh nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it come round--apart from the veneration due its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creature bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done my good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

What a beautiful sentiment about a wonderful time of year. God bless us, every one!

Monday, December 6, 2010

somerset maugham

I was recently introduced to the novels of Somerset Maugham and have really enjoyed it. First, I read The Razor's Edge. The Razor's Edge is about rich Americans living in Europe prior to and during the Great Depression. It is an interesting look at the society of that time and people's search for meaning and happiness in all kinds of different, and mostly wrong, places. The characters in this book are rich, dynamic, and very compelling, but I found the plot a little slow even for my taste. Then I read The Painted Veil. Having loved the movie, I looked forward to reading the book and was not disappointed.

The movie came out in 2006 and stars Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. It is definitely the best love story I have seen in a while and is absolutely beautiful. I highly recommend it.

The book follows the movie almost exactly until the end. And even though it is certainly not as happy, I must say that I loved the book as much as I loved the movie but for different reasons. The movie is compelling because it tells a beautiful love story between Kitty and Walter. An ill-matched couple from the start, Kitty, the socialite, and Walter, the bacteriologist, hit rock bottom when Walter finds out that Kitty has been having an affair with am English diplomat in Hong Kong. Walter refuses to allow Kitty a divorce and requires that she follow him into a cholera epidemic in rural China. In the movie, Walter and Kitty begin working alongside one another in a convent and slowly grow in respect, friendship, and then love for one another. But the book is quite different.

The book examines Walter and Kitty's relationship much more realistically and is more about the effects of sin and heartache and the weight of forgiveness than it is about love. Even though it was not romantic at all, I found the story in the book very compelling as Kitty begins to search for meaning in a world where she is surrounded by death and is eventually forced to start over all alone in the world.

You absolutely must see and read The Painted Veil. I got through it in about a week and was sad when I finished--always the sign of a good book--but both books are worth reading.

recently funny quotes

From one of the nightly pillow fights in DC:
Student: "You hit me in the Gettysburg!"
I don't know where your Gettysburg is but apparently it hurts.

We were talking about Thomas Jefferson's quote: "That government which governs best, governs least," and I was explaining that Ralph Waldo Emerson tweaks that quote in Civil Disobedience when he says, "That government which governs best governs not at all."
And one of my students asked: "Wait, he tweeted it."
The thought of Emerson on twitter cracked me up.

One of the vocabulary sentences that was recently turned in to me for the word instill:
"How can I instill in my little sister the beauty of math?"
Now that is a devoted student.

Locker Art
A sculpture of twisty-ties recently found decorating an eighth grader's locker.

On the bus last week, one explorer told me, "My teacher has a Beyoncé."
"Really?" I replied. Trying to figure out what she meant, I asked, "Do you mean she as earrings like Beyoncé or a picture of Beyoncé."
"No," she retorted exasperated with my ignorance.
"What do you mean your teacher has a Beyoncé?"
"You know. . . someone who is going to be her husband!"
"Oh!" I said, quite relieved. "You mean she has a fiancée!"
Great rhyme. I never would have thought of that one.