Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quema de Diablo

A stray dog got in the house. Not my house, of course, I live on the 11th floor of the second tallest building in Guatemala. The stray dog was hiding in the bathtub of my friend Lissy’s mother’s house. The dog was hiding because tonight is La Quema del Diablo, or The Burning of the Devil. According to my friend Tobin, The Burning of the Devil is the informal commencement of the holiday season, a day when Guatemalans get together and burn effigies of the devil to represent a clean break for the year. It is also a wonderful excuse to light fireworks and burn effigies of the devil. Supposedly the new start that the festivities represent is not specific in any way, but I am going to take it as an opportunity to not be as self conscious. I think a clean break is due in that department, at least until I start wandering around in my bathrobe in the afternoon, demanding people write down everything I say.

The stray dog was hiding out in the bathtub because every living soul in a three mile radius was lighting bottle rockets and firecrackers. If you are wondering, I think she made it out alright; last I saw of her, she was lounging in the garage, gnawing on a salchicha.

One day, this won't look so awful.

I had a brilliant idea. I know lots of people who are really interesting. People who spend their time as journalists, musicians, kinetic industrial designers, raconteurs, environmental architects, public defenders, etc. So I thought it would nice if I could conduct interviews with these interesting people over Skype, so that we all may learn from their wisdom.
This is the result of my first attempt at Skype interviewing. Needless to say, there is room for improvement. Anyone have any bright ideas?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Wordnet is really cool

Here's something that happens to me all the time: I'm writing a story, and my hero is in, perhaps, a forest. And he's looking around the forest, and he sees some trees. And this where I get stuck, because I can't for the life of me figure out what kind of trees he's looking at.

We know this: specificity is good in writing. "Bob looked at the tree," is not nearly as potent an image as "Bob looked at the oak." With the substitution of a single word the image goes from vague (and thus unlikely to excite the interest of the reader) to much more concrete.

The next time I find myself stuck for specificity, I'm heading to Wordnet. But what is Wordnet? Wordnet is really cool.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How should we view education in the 21st century?

RSA stands for the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce; they are a British organization who, according to their website, "has been a cradle for enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress." Whomever they are, they have taken the audio from several lectures by leading British thinkers and used cartooning to diagram the ideas presented in the lectures. The resulting videos are very cool. Here's a lecture on education in the 21st century by philosopher Ken Robinson. I am interested in the following two questions:

What idea did you find particularly interesting, or particularly controversial, from the lecture?

If you were to design a school for the 21st century, what features or values would you want it to include?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


This video comes to us from thismustbetheplace, a web video series about how different people define what a home is. Clearly Chong Gon Byun here, a Korean living in Brooklyn, at least partially defines home as a work of art. But what I like about this video, the reason I think it is interesting, is the way in which it focuses only on details. Byun doesn't ever say, "My opinion of home is . . ." Rather, the camera overwhems the viewer with details and allows them to draw their own conclusions. I think this method really invites the viewer in.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Clarifying What an Introvert Is

Biographical Note:
My name is Joshua and I’m a senior. I have 2 English classes this year (American Lit and Senior Seminar) so I’m getting a lot of writing experience. I’ve already written my college essay (which may be interesting to read. I’ll ask Mr P.) Hopefully the topics I write about will be interesting. It always feels good to just write in a quiet place and get all of your thoughts on a sheet of paper (or a document!) My hobbies include a love of all things video games, watching anime when I have time, and eating lots of pizza!  I also spend a whole lot of time on the internet so I know many MANY things that others may or may not know about. I may decide to write about it one day.

Clarifying What an Introvert Is

By Josh

On all the personality tests that I’ve taken in my lifetime I’ve always been declared as an introvert instead of an extrovert. If you don’t know what either of these words mean an introvert is someone who prefers to spend time alone and do activities in a quiet place while an extrovert is someone who wants to be with others and do loud activities. However I don’t feel that that definition of an introvert is really correct. It’s way too general and broad. I want to clarify what I believe an introvert is and how I reflect that definition.

Just because someone is an introvert doesn’t mean that they don’t want to go out and spend time with others. An example would be lunch time. Most of the time I’ll spend my lunch time working on school work in a quiet part of the school, but if given an opportunity (say advisory lunch for example) I’ll join in and laugh and joke with others. Some of you have firsthand experience of this while bonding on the senior essay writing trip. While I enjoyed thinking in a quiet place about what my thoughts are on a certain subject, my favorite moments include that 1 dinner when the girls were talking about certain “subjects” that can’t be repeated in public while the guys were sticking eating utensils in my afro that desperately needed a haircut while taking pictures. I still need those pictures by the way.

The best definition of being an introvert that I’ve heard of comes from the book Into the Wild of all places. Believe me I was not expecting this either. I hated that book. Anyway it was describing the main character’s personality and said that “Introverts aren’t shy, they just need to be away from people from time to time.” Another way of saying this is that Introverts have their energy drained by being around people while extroverts gain energy. This statement just resonated with me. This is what an introvert is. I have no problem with being around people and speaking my mind. I’m not really that shy either. I just needed a break from people. To recharge my energy so to say. If I’m constantly around people for a long period of time I get exhausted rather quickly. I need some me time to just chill and relax while doing whatever I want.

It may be that I’m too thoughtful and considerate of others. No I’m not bragging or anything. Listen to my reasoning before jumping to conclusions. I’m always thinking before speaking my thoughts. Rarely do I randomly spout whatever comes to mind (although whenever I do it tends to be extremely funny and inappropriate, but that’s for another time) unless I’m overtired or am extremely comfortable with the situation I’m in. Anyway I always think about others before speaking. I think about what a person says, what I feel about what they say, and if I say what I’m thinking how the person will respond. Doing all these steps over and over in social situations can really tucker a fellow out. This may also be a reason leading to my introverted personality.

All in all I like being an introvert. I feel that some people don’t understand the pleasure of being alone with your thoughts for awhile or having their “me time”. So just because I (or other introverts) don’t hang out with you or join in on discussions don’t think that I don’t like you. I was probably just tired from being around people for an extended period of time. And I believe that that’s perfectly fine.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writing as Cooking

In class today, I was instructing the 9th grade to create short autobiographies that they can post with their writing in order to help GW students get to know the writer behind the writing. I was working to communicate that the most important aspect of their bios was that they be unique, that the reflect the writer behind the writing. Anyway, Gio chirped in, "so you want us to make this writing flavorful."

I hollered, "I WANT ALL OF YOUR WRITING TO BE FLAVORFUL!" Pablo and Ha Nuel yelped. I'd clearly alarmed them with my grizzly bear bellow.
"Reading writing that isn't flavorful is like eating stewed celery. It's horrible!"

Thinking about it later, I realize that this comparison is an important one (thanks Gio!). Writing and cooking aren't all that different. Both are concocted and then fed to an audience. There is no such thing as perfect recipe for either. Rather, the creator must mix their ingredients together to create something that is balanced, appetizing, and substantive. The greatest praise that either can hope to expect is twofold:
  1. that their audience wants more
  2. that their product is so good that others try to imitate them
So, next time you are cooking up a paper, I want you to think about the best meal that you ate the previous week. Why did you like it? What do you think other people like? What ingredients are you working with as you construct your paper? Interesting ideas? Cool words? A solid, fancy, or unorthodox formula? What do you want your writing to taste like?

BTW, I really like cheeseburgers.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Learning from Video Games

While writing his definition essay on the word “game,” Inkwang asked me for my opinion of the word. I said that the thing I like about games is that games are simply groups of rules, so basically anything can be a game when properly defined. Of course, it is possible to center an educational course (in this post, I’ll be directing these thoughts towards my ESL course) around the model that many video games provide. Mr. Pereira first presented this idea, and it’s been germinating in my head ever since. Mr. P suggested that many teenagers are very motivated to play video games, and perhaps if a teacher could distill some of the aspects of video games that drive that motivation, they could apply them to anything. Because a video game is a system, and systems can arguably be used to learn algebra just as easily as they can be used to kill fictional zombies.

So how might I create a video game-like system to help teach my ESL course? Well, first, I must look at what I want. Many video games think about this; the creators of “Call of Duty” want to recreate military experiences realistically. They want other things too, but that’s surely one of their goals. I want to teach English, but more specifically, I want each student to demonstrate mastery over eight areas important for success in an English language classroom: Reading/Main Idea, Short Answer, Research, Outline, Essay Writing, Oral Presentation, and Listening. What seems really cool to me, is that this system seems to have a lot in common with a video game. Each area, or level, has its own set of obstacles that must be dealt overcome. And until those obstacles are mastered, the player can not move on to the next level. Thinking about my ESL course like a video game makes me realize that I can allow each student to move at their own pace, and I can be sure that students will really understand the levels they have passed. Of course, at this time, I don’t have a team of 3D game designers make my class look like “Bioshock,” but for now I am going to try to work with what I can.

Here’s where you come in. Many of you play lots more video games than I do. What am I not thinking about? What are your favorite aspects of video game systems? What can I do to make this project as cool as possible?

Live Blogging from the National Conference for Teachers of English

8:00 am

Today I am at the Barcelo Hotel in Guatemala City, attending an the National Conference for Teachers of English, hosted by Instituto Guatemalteco Americano, and I had a notion. Why not live-blog the event? This is something I’ve never done before. Live-blogging is a form which demands brevity, and for me that is sometimes difficult. But I think it is a cool way for me to reflect on my day here, and I’m trying to expand my brain a little bit, and think about all the different ways we can use this blog. So, I’ll be checking in periodically with my thoughts about the different sessions I attend.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Superman

by Ji Eun
My second monthly fun paper is about a superhero. Some might have already heard this story but I’ll still tell it to you. It is about how I started to hate the so called hero, Superman. It all started when I was about six or seven years old. It is the age when kids usually want to be a superhero. In my case, it was Superman. I actually thought that Superman really existed and that he could actually fly. I also thought that if I learned to fly, I could be a hero like Superman. I thought Superman was the best hero ever. I really liked him a lot. When I saw him in the cartoon, I thought that he was really awesome and that I could be a hero and help people like he did.
One day, I saw an old lady who was carrying a bag full of vegetables and other ingredients to cook. I thought that it was my chance to be a hero and to become Superman Jr. At least that’s what I thought. I guessed that Superman was too busy fighting with other guys, so I walked to the lady to help her carry the bags. To show her gratitude, she gave me some money to buy cookies and have fun but I didn’t take the money. I smiled and with a loud voice I said, “Superheroes don’t take money after helping! It’s natural!” She smiled back and I went back home. I was so proud of myself but I did not think that I was ready to be a hero. Not yet, but soon.
The next day I woke up in the morning and happily marched out from the house. “Today I’ll help a lot of people and become a super hero” I thought. I helped others from morning until night! I was super super proud of myself. I thought that the time had come. The time for me to become a superhero, but then I remembered that superheroes fly. I had a mission to accomplish and it was to do a test to become a superhero. The test was to be able to fly. I ran home, unlocked the house, and walked in.
There was only my sister, my brother, and my aunt watching the television. I told my sister that I was going to try to fly. She just laughed and nodded. I was really nervous because it was the last mission I had to do to become a superhero. I calmed myself down and made a position to get ready to fly. Suddenly, my sister pulled me as I rapidly stretched out my arm like superman. Then I screamed, “Superman!” Then I jumped and directly fell on top of a pair of sharp scissors. I started to bleed but I was still happy that I found out the truth about superheroes. They didn’t exist and people can’t fly. Bye-bye superman. My mom and dad received a call from my aunt who told them what had happened. My dad took me to the hospital where I had surgery and stayed for a month.
Superheroes don’t exist and people can never fly unless they have a machine. No more Superman, no more stupidness, no more memories of Superman. Bye-bye.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal;

bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different." - T.S. Eliot

One of my favorite poems by the American poet Robert Pinsky is a poem called “Shirt.”


The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams,
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians

Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band

Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes—

The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out

Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another. As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.

A third before he dropped her put her arms   
Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once

He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers—

Like Hart Crane’s Bedlamite, “shrill shirt ballooning.”
Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked

Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord.   Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans

Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,

Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers
To wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader,

The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:

George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit

And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,

The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape,
The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.

I think this is a really wonderful poem which manages to highlight the double-edged nature of modern labor -- how it is both necessarily dignifying and profoundly alienating -- by focusing on a single, ordinary piece of clothing. Pinsky uses the binding force of the literary device of anaphora to weave the painful, proud history of labor in America into the fabric of this poem: the legacy of slave labor, the terrible fire at the Triangle Shirt Factory that lead to some of the first workplace safety regulations, and the generations of immigrant workers who made America’s economic ascendancy possible.

In this poem, Pinsky also ties the act of making poetry to more supposedly simple labor of making a shirt with his references to Hart Crane and George Herbert. The George Herbert allusion is particularly fitting. Herbert is notable for his intricate rhyme schemes and famous for writing “pattern poetry,” in which words were placed on the page to make a picture. In sewing, a “pattern” is the original garment from which other garments are copied. Pinsky’s connection between George Herbert and Irma, a clothing inspector, emphasizes the similarity of pattern-making across these two disciplines.

So I found it both surprising and apt to discover yesterday that Pinsky’s whole poem itself was clearly cut from an earlier pattern.

This week’s issue of the New Yorker includes an article by Adam Gopnik on the economic theories of Adam Smith. Smith’s book, The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, is the most famous and influential economic treatise ever written and is the foundation of all modern economic theory. It has long been on my list of books to read, but I’ve never gotten around to it.

In his piece, Gopnik writes, “To illustrate his central thesis about ‘the division of labor,’ and to illuminate the play between large and small in economics, Smith began his book with one of the great virtuoso pieces of mock-epic writing of the period. He took a single worker in England and meditated on the number of different occupations and laborers involved in dressing him.”

Sound like a familiar theme? Wait until you see the actual quote from Adam Smith…

The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production…To say nothing of such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner, the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the smelting-house, the brick-maker, the brick-layer, the workmen who attend the furnace, the mill-wright, the forger, the smith… without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.

What we have here is the very pattern after which Pinsky’s poem is modeled: not only are the themes the same, but the literary device of anaphora, the wide-ranging vision, and even the central image of the shirt are all the same. The poem itself is a work made possible by the labor of earlier writers, working in diverse fields, brought together by a master craftsman. Adam Smith, I feel sure, would approve.

I think Pinsky is one of those poets who actually do a terrible job in reading their own poems. Pinsky’s poetry is actually quite humble, witty, and humane, but his readings are always, to my ear, awfully pretentious and portentous. But for curiosity’s sake, here’s a video of Pinsky reading this poem. Beforehand he makes a few comments which are interesting in light of the poem, but the poem itself starts somewhere around 2:55.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Greetings! From Guate

If you have read the previous post, you will know that Mr. Pereira and I are starting this blog together. To start things off, we are telling you a little bit about ourselves. This is a curious challenge for me, as students at both the GW Community School in Virginia and the Equity American School in Guatemala City know me. However, many of you know me in different ways, so this is a great opportunity to write to you as a general audience of my beloved students. Plus, who knows what crazy crap I have told some of you, but not all of you?

In considering how to tell you about myself, I came upon a funny idea. . . I would go back into my digital past and dig up the Myspace (gasp!) profile I wrote for myself before I met Andie Arnold or Edie Garcia, Joe Ramsay Clark or Amir Mubarak. So I did, and I think it says a lot about me (for better or for worse). Here it is, in all its glory:

  • I am a teacher. I am a citizen of the world. I am an eager soul. I am a best friend. I am an awesome uncle. I am FOR sandwiches. I am interested in individuals, not systems (Beware the BUREAUCRATS!! BEWARE THE POWER HUNGRY STOOGES AT THE TOP!!!! IN FACT, BEWARE POWER IN ALL OF ITS FORMS!! IT IS NOTHING BUT TROUBLE!). I am full of gratitude (sometimes I am loudly full of gratitude). I am aware of the good I am capable of. I am carefully tinkering with how I might facilitate that good. I am sour sometimes. I am ready. I am great.

I received a Bachelors of Science in Education degree with a major in English Secondary Education from Northern Arizona University in 2005. While at NAU, I didn't do any research nearly as interesting as the stuff Mr. P did for his Cognitive Science thesis, but I was, as Mr. P points out, in a travelling hootenanny, which is kind of like a traveling musical party. We drove a van all over the United States performing something that wasn't quite a play, wasn't quite a concert, and wasn't quite a documentary in civic centers, playhouses, old converted churches, and casinos. One of the members of our band backed over a group of nuns because their outfits were the same color as the crosswalk he was trying to maneuver. No nuns were seriously hurt.

I think our college experiences explain a lot about how Mr. P and I differ in some interesting ways. While he was researching poetry in a six by six room, I was playing Woodie Guthrie songs for the good people of Tucumcari, New Mexico (pop. 5,268). I might be worldly, while Mr. Pereira is cerebral. But these differences almost completely miss the point, because Mr. Pereira is in fact more similar to me than almost anyone I have ever encountered. We're both remarkably curious people. We both love soul music. We both think Mr. Hartman has bad taste in movies. We are both pretty anxious and pretty loud. We are both intensely driven to be effective educators. Without that last similarity, in fact, I have no idea where I would be today. When I started out as a teacher I was, as they say, "full of piss and vinegar." This means that I was very enthusiastic and very confident, but not very skilled. Luckily, Mr. Pereira was there to teach me how to take my enthusiasm and turn it into effective education.

For four and a half years, Mr. P's and my classrooms were so close that we could often hear each other screaming through the walls. I for one miss his muffled voice very much. Now that we are 1,849 miles apart, we thought we would use the power of this blog to bring our classrooms a little closer together. So, while we're not physically near, maybe we can still hear each other screaming through the walls.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Greetings! From Virginia

So as Michael and I have decided to start this blog, we thought that we might as well tell you a little bit about ourselves. I'm going to tell you about me, and he's going to tell you about him because, as writing teachers everywhere are always saying, "write what you know."

So the first thing is that if you're reading this blog, you may very well know us as "Mr. P" and "Mr. AB," or "Mr. Pereira," and "Mr. Andrews-Bashan," if you're not into the whole brevity thing.  That's because we're teachers.

But this isn't about us, it's about me. I am a teacher. I teach English at the The GW Community School. I've taught there for nine years, and it's the only post-college job I've ever held. One summer I worked as a counselor at a preschool camp, and in high school I was a page at the local library. In my whole life, those are the only jobs I've ever held, and now that I write that down, it's pretty incredible. The other half of this blog was in a TRAVELING HOOTENANNY so, basically, jobwise I am the boring half. I do really enjoy teaching, however, and in a couple of years ago I was honored to receive the Washington Post Agnes Meyer Private School Teacher of the Year award. The picture accompanying the award is the dorkiest picture ever taken of me.

I have a degree in English and one in Cognitive Science from Vassar College. That's a pretty good description of my intellectual interests right there. I like reading and writing and psychology and neuroscience and philosophy. My English thesis was about the relationship between language, physical space, and history, and how ghost stories work to warp or disrupt the relationship between these elements by undermining and reconstructing written language as a signifier. I am much dumber now than when I wrote it and can't understand a word of it. My Cognitive Science thesis was on the role that rhyme may play in making difficult poetry more understandable. I got to mess around with eye-tracking software and spend hours running statistical analyses in a 6x6 windowless room while listening to oldies on a transistor radio. It was awesome.   

I'm married, I have two cats, and sometime in the next month I'm going to become a father for the first time. That blows my mind, but I can't wait. I keep imagining pacing back and forth with this little girl in my arms while I read the Odyssey or Paradise Lost and she falls asleep to the most beautiful, ennobling, human music ever created.

In my spare time, I like writing and making music. As far as writing goes, my first love was poetry and maybe if I work up the nerve I will post some really terrible things I wrote when I was 17. As far as making music, electronic music is my thing, and although I can now brutally murder some chords on the guitar and occasionally remember how to play them on the piano, I do a lot of my music-making using samples and synthesizers and such. Every once in a while I do some work on my long-term novel project, which is a satirical philosophical bildungsroman about pirates. Nothing I make is very good, but I sure do like making it.

And now, in an attempt to differentiate myself from Michael, here are some things you should know about us:

Michael is a little bit Beatles.
Daniel is a little bit Rolling Stones.

Michael is a little bit Harper's.
Daniel is a little bit New Yorker.

Michael is a little bit Catcher in the Rye.
Daniel is a little bit Moby Dick.

Michael is a little bit Radiolab.
Daniel is a little bit This American Life.

Michael is a little bit Li Bai.
Daniel is a little bit Du Fu.

Both of us are a little bit Han Shan.