Posts Tagged ‘worthwhile’
Fantasy kinda sucks. As a longtime fan of the genre, I’ve somewhat earned some right to say that.
While “Harry Potter” is fun to read — excepting the fifth book — its colorful characters and whimsical settings are bogged down by weak writing.
“His Dark Materials” has similar strengths and flaws, and was worsened even further by the author’s tendency to proselytize.
The worst of all of them is that “Eragon” series; it reads like it was written by a 19-year-old homeschooler from Montana. In part because it was.
Whatever Neil Gaiman writes, he tends to exhibit the same self-indulgent fascination with multi-pantheon crossovers, leaving Terry Brooks alone among living fantasists for being above reproach. After all, Brooks is the only one who doesn’t take his fantasy settings seriously.
It’s become a rule, therefore, that fantasy as a whole is a thin, shallow genre of fiction with especially egregious pretensions that it has meaningful depth and that it’s romanticism profound rather than transparent. Science fiction, unfortunately, is much of the same.
Fortunately, because the overall crappiness of fantastic literature is a rule, there are going to be exceptions. I just spent the better part of two days — almost spilling over into three — reading one of the most important and, dare I say, literary exceptions in recent memory.
“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” had interested me ever since I first saw it on the discount bookshelves and bestseller lists, but I decided against bothering with it. I didn’t have the money to buy it, and it was too contemporary to be in the school library, besides. Having recently graduated to the local library, I saw it Thursday last and, on a whim, checked it out.
Though buying this book in its native Britain would set me back a good 7 pounds, I’d call it an even trade: the hardcover weighs almost that much. There are nearly 800 pages in the hardcover version I spent a weekend reading — that makes it roughly the size of a King James Bible after a begat-ectomy.
Despite that it reads like Jane Austen and the humanity of its title characters are straight out of Dickens — if you’re sure I exaggerate, you’ll appreciate this book more than I did — I enjoyed every moment.
I shouldn’t make my admiration seem so unlikely — I was bound to like “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” from the very start. It has the flair of a finely researched history, and more footnotes per page than “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” a history in which the author, for whatever reason, apologizes for including as many footnotes as he does.
It’s no criticism of the novel to say that these footnotes were my favorite part of the 7-pound blunt object that is “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell,” and I suppose quite a few readers came to the same conclusion. Indeed, the footnotes were enjoyable enough, and added so much to the world of the novel, that when the author decided to make her second book an anthology of stories, at least a few of these stores were inspired by her first novel’s footnotes.
There’s a lot of story in the book, and it would be difficult to summarize it without unbecoming spoilers and lengthy exposition, but, given fantasy these days, that depth is one of the great charms of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.” Suffice it to say that the whole of it focuses on the careers of two British magicians of the Regency period, and is full of charmingly fleshed-out characters.
The early 19th century is the such a refreshing setting for fantasy. Rather than a world where dwarves and elves and orcs are the face of the fantastic, one of the great squabbles between the two title characters is over the status and usefulness of fairies, creatures that had once encompassed the whole of British fantasy before Tolkien injected high fantasy with his mish-mash blending of Old Norse mythology and Anglo-Saxon epic. However well-written “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” is, and however well it stands on its own merits, that it ignores the 50-year-old precedent of swords and sorcery, a subgenre that might as well be mimeographed from the worst parts of “The Lord of the Rings,” is one of the greatest strengths that author Susanna Clarke chose for her world of British magic.
After reading so much of dwarves and elves and orcs, a reprieve was due; we needed a reprieve into densely imagined real literature from dense-minded pulp literature, even if that it lasts only a weekend.
But what a weekend.
Arguments concerning vocational education have come and gone. In an era characterized by the push to getting all students to college, critics view this push as detrimental to the value of a college degree and, most importantly, to lives of the students. College isn’t for everyone, they say, and we’re wrong to assume that.
As such, the current argument for bringing back woodshop, autoshop and welding classes goes a little something like this:
What is the role of schools, but to prepare students for jobs? We should re-delegate that responsibility to the high schools and trade schools, where job training belongs, rather than impose that on colleges and universities.
Moreover, students who won’t go to college will just tune out school. Bringing back vocational programs will keep the bored students from skipping classes entirely.
My master teacher and I had a lengthy discussion about this idea, and we came up with no answers. I suppose if we did, we’d be busy writing some groundbreaking doctoral dissertation, earning the appreciation of all teachers ever along the way. We aren’t.
Sure, we could bring back, say, welding. But eventually, all the welding jobs will go to robots. They won’t need, or need as many, professional welders. We’d be preparing our students for jobs that won’t exist.
There’s always information technology. Google is making a few billion dollars, isn’t it?
But what is a Google? What does it Google produce? Can you go to a store and buy a Google?
That’s what I worry about with our economy. We used to have a lot of manufacturing jobs, but we don’t, anymore. Our economy is leaning towards companies like Google, which have no tangible product.
Google is an extension of information services and the advertising industries, two industries which, frankly, aren’t going anywhere.
How much of our economy could be information services and advertising, though? Those industries can’t keep growing forever; our entire economy can’t be based on marketing.
We left it at that. Vocational education can’t stick around with the tentative and unstable waves of the future, and it can’t go ahead and stick with the echoes of the past.
We agreed on this: Vocational education should exist, and should be an integral part of the high school curriculum. We just don’t know how.
This tightly cropped and messed-a-little-with picture, courtesy of Kate, describes the student teaching experience.
I’m somewhere around week five’s upward trend. Little comfort, because it won’t last very long.
I’m feeling confident about my ability to keep the rapscallions under control, and I’m feeling more and more confident about my ability to plan a lesson that might even teach something they end up learning, but despair is on the horizon.
I’ve already begun to start planning curricula for next year, and it takes a hell of a lot of time. I’m only three weeks into 11th-grade U.S. history. I’m thankful that its three weeks on presidents, maps and timelines double as the first six weeks of 8th-grade U.S. history.
I’d be fine if I didn’t have anything else to do. The chances of nabbing a job teaching American history are slim to none, so I’ll probably end up teaching a different subject while I plan a whole new curriculum.
It’ll be harder, as I’ll have other obligations. You know: making copies, answering phone calls, doing paperwork, grading papers and homework. Oh, and because I’m a new teacher, I’ll get to coach, sponsor or mentor something.
I’ll be busy enough already with contractual obligations. Inevitably, good teaching will have to wait. How depressing.
Moral of the story? Teaching would be an easy job if we all had secretaries. That would leave us time to plan new, exciting or even worthwhile lessons from the get-go.