Friday, October 26, 2018

Blog #14: Things Fall Apart

Due: Wednesday, October 31 at the latest.

Efulefu (C) level: 350 words and a quote from the novel
Unoka level (B): 450 words and two quotes from the novel
Okonkwo level (A): 550 words, two quotes from the novel, and at least one reference to an outside works or texts. 
Chukwu level: (A+): 750 words, at least two quotes from the novel as well as quotes, and at least two references from other works or texts.

Things Fall Apart is about identity, perception, family, and society in a culture on the verge of dramatic change. Throughout the novel, we see how the prospect of change affects individuals within and outside of that culture. We see how the interplay between cultures and between people in a community can shape both a society and its citizens.

Throughout the time we've read the novel, we've explored works on identity, gender, politics, society, leadership, and culture. Depending on your history and your interests, this book could be about dramatically different topics. For this blog, take the time to engage with an idea or theme that resonates with you and make connections with examples inside and outside of the novel.

A Culture On the Verge of Change

  • What forces are at play?
  • What connections can you make to things happening now?
  • What role do tradition, ritual, and ceremony play in maintaining a culture and what role do they play during a time of change?
  • What effect does status play in cultural change?
  • How does push and pull influence people?

Progress and Tradition

  • In what ways does the idea of progress shape the novel?
  • How does the idea of a single story play into the idea of progress?
  • How does tradition perpetuate and thrive from one generation to the next?
  • This book features to belief systems that are similarly based on hierarchy and tradition. Why do they have such trouble coexisting? What key differences between the societies bring them into conflict? 
  • What role do customs, worship, festivals, ceremonies, trials, and religion play in this society? What anthropological connections can you make to American practices in these areas? What can we learn from this society as Americans? 

Identity, Knowledge, and Fear

  • How does tradition perpetuate and thrive from one generation to the next?
  • In what was does Okonkwo build and lose his identity throughout the novel? What forces drive this transformation?
  • How does Fear play into the development of characters in the novel? 
  • Other issues of identity that emerge throughout the novel:
    • Social Identity
    • Masculine and Feminine Identity
    • Religious and Spiritual Identity
    • Cultural identity
    • Beliefs about Justice and the impact on identity

If none of these questions work, here are some questions I stole from a great school and teacher in Pleasanton, California. If you are the teacher who wrote these questions, you are getting the titles of our village. May Chukwu bless your people and your traditions - in both your motherland and fatherland. I tried to find you to ask permission and thank you, but I couldn't.

1.   How does the father-son relationship throughout three generations shape the personalities of Okonkwo, and Nwoye? Comment on their characteristics and the role their father plays in making them who they are.

  1. "The story of Okonkwo is in a way the story of our culture; he pays a price because he places too much emphasis on strength and manliness." Discuss this quote as it applies to both the novel and our own modern American culture.

  1. One of the themes of Achebe's novel is the striving after titles, trophies, and status in general. Write an essay commenting on the presence and importance of status symbols in Okonkwo's world and today's world. Explain their appeal and the ways in which searching for status symbols is a negative force in life.  

  1. Discuss the ways in which the District Commissioner symbolizes intolerance and disrespect for cultures he considers inferior.
  1. Okonkwo suffers because he does not understand himself.  Do his experiences help lead him to self-awareness or not, and why?

  1. "[Okonkwo's] whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness."  Explain how fear, in an ironic way, is the catalyst for destruction and failure in the novel?

  1. Comment on how Achebe, through this novel, counters the Imperialist stereotypes on Africa as an uncivilized continent.  What aspects of Ibo culture contradict this commonly held stereotype?  Perhaps use the District Commissioner’s comments to help convey the imperialist view.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Blog #13: The enduring messages of Hamlet

Due Date: Saturday, October 5 and the end of the day.
Minimum Word Count: 500
Minimum Quotations and Specific Text References: 3
Please come up with a better title than "Hamlet" and start with a strong thesis or claim.

Your task:

You've been working on this blog post for the past week. It's based on the essential question that fate selected for you. If you need a reminder about your question or a copy of the outline sheet that you got in class, click here.

Throughout the process of reading, discussing, and writing about the play, you followed and took notes on your essential question. Now, this is your opportunity to present your reflections, discoveries, and conclusions in the form of a blog post, complete with textual citations and quotations (required) and multimedia (when appropriate).

You must incorporate at least two relevant quotes from the play, as well as paraphrased instances from Hamlet or other texts that relate to your thinking (between 4-8) that support your answer. You might also consider using minor supporting information from other sources (allusions to historical figures, celebrities, the Bible, or other stories/films). If you allude to anything other than the play itself, be sure it is cited correctly to credit is given to the original authors.

Here's how you cite examples and lines from the play:

25. Verse play or poem For verse plays, give act, scene, and line numbers that can be located in any edition of the work. Use arabic numerals and separate the numbers with periods.
In Shakespeare’s King Lear, Gloucester, blinded for suspected treason, learns a profound lesson from his tragic experience: “A man may see how this world goes / with no eyes” (4.6.148-49).

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Blog #12: What is Justice?

Due Date: Wednesday, September 12
Minimum Word Count: At least 400
At least 1 quote or reference to Book I of Plato's Republic
At least 1 quote, reference, or link to a modern example of justice or injustice

The first week of class has focused on two main questions:

Why bother being good?
What is Justice?

Discussions have been deep and gloriously messy. We've looked at some real world examples that bring these issues to light and some philosophical questions from 2000 years ago that are some of the first examples of moral philosophy.

These questions have sparked a lot of thought, discussion, and debate. Most of all, they've called into question some of the essential questions about what it means to be a part of a culture or civilization.

For your first blog, take time to come to some conclusions for yourself on the issues of goodness and justice. Here are some possible questions to get you\ started, but you are always more than welcome to come up with a question or questions on your own.

What is justice?

Is justice, as it is currently practiced, just the advantage of the stronger? How do you know?

Why do you think our discussion on the importance of doing good turned into a discussion on the benefits of being bad?

How is the ideal of justice different from how you have experienced justice?

How do children learn about justice, and what does that say about us?

Look at the current events surrounding Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter and discuss how you see justice or injustice playing in to these situations.

Why bother defending justice?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Blog #18: Where do we go from here?

Over the past 17 blog posts, you have been responding to questions I've asked or issues we've discussed as a class. You've synthesized ideas from dozens of people, analyzed works spanning over 3000 years, tackled some of the most difficult and enduring questions facing philosophers, and made connections with both depth and breadth.

For your final blog, I will ask you the question I started with as I started preparing to teach this class: Where do we go from here?

This is your chance to write in your own way about the entirety of your experience with me and Quest English. You get to make some final connections and summarize the point of your own growth and development as a reader, writer, thinker, teacher, and learner. Consider the major themes of the class as well as your thinking on what we've done that continues to resonate with you.

I am not putting a word limit on this blog and I'm not going to specify what you link to here. Please, if you can, consider the entirety of the experience, as well as the works we've read recently that talk about freedoms, laws, morals, ethics, hope, and despair. Take a look over the other posts you've done and see how your thinking and writing developed over the course of your Quest English experience.

I'm very much looking forward to reading what you come up with. This could be my last chance to read your writing for a while. This experience has changed me for the better in so many ways. I'm looking forward to seeing what you have to say.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Blog #17: The Line Between Civilization and Savagery

Due: Monday, January 22 by the end of the day
Word Count: 650
Textual References and Links to sources: 3-4 (or more)

Note: Please cite page numbers and specific passages from the novel to support your inferences and conclusions. We will be using these questions and your conclusions, questions, and insights to spark classroom discussion on Wednesday.

Example citation:

Scout says that "Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it" (Lee 4). She seems to be trying to emphasize not just the age of the town, but also the slowness of the town, the values of the people, and the way that summer heat made everything drag on.


This isn’t the first time we see one of the Price women choosing materialism over God, despite Nathan’s harsh beatings and warnings. On page 363, Rachel reaches for her mirror instead of for her Bible, explaining “[ . . . ] it didn’t seem worth saving at that moment, so help me God. It had to be my mirror.” Whether this shows rebellion or just the simplistic mindset of a 15-year-old teenage girl, I’m not sure. Perhaps she was, in her own, small way, rebelling from Nathan. But maybe she just wanted to make sure that no matter where she went in Africa, she would always know the state of her appearance. That seems pretty likely.

  1. When Lord of the Flies was first released in 1954, Golding described the novel's theme in a publicity questionnaire as "an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature." Plato's Republic attempts to address the defects of individuals through examining a society. What connections can you make between The Republic and The Lord of the Flies? Play special attention to issues surrounding the development of a just individual.
  2. What connections can you make between the roles that laws, morals, and ethics play in our society - and the development of individuals - and the role they play in the world of Lord of the Flies?
  3. Examine the way that the conflict on the island developed and shaped the characters and their morals. Look at the role of preserving old ways and the way the situation created new ways of problem solving, both positive and negative.
  4. Discuss the development of norms on the island and between the boys as compared to the previous norms the boys have had. In what ways are norms more powerful than ethics and laws?
  5. The rescue of the boys is a controversial way to end the book. The boys are left with the guilt of their actions, but are they responsible for them? Are the boys truly accountable for their actions?
  6. Lord of the Flies once again sparks a "Good Leader vs Good Person" debate in the characters of Ralph and Jack. One has leadership placed upon him while the other covets the position. What does this reveal about leadership in general and the way our leaders work today. Consider Taite's presentation on sociopaths, psychopaths, and good leaders. 
  7. The island was a "paradise", which allowed the boys to survive rather easily. Their life on the island is free from drama besides increasing heat. Do you agree with what William Golding seems to be saying about human nature leading us toward savagery even without conflict to guide it? Why or why not?
  8. The Beast and The Lord of the Flies are pivotal characters in the book despite not existing in physical form. How do these things further the plot line and reveal essential truths about the characters and human nature?
  9. Explore the life of William Golding. What about his life experience is revealed in this book and the allegories it contains?
  10. If you have a question that isn't addressed here but you feel like you can explore with text references and inferences, feel free to explore it. Also, you are welcome to combine multiple questions in order to make a point. 
Possible ideas to explore that were brought up in seminars and classroom discussion:
  • The difference between civilization and savagery
  • Laws, Morals, and Ethics
  • Symbolism and Allegories within the text
  • Original Sin and Evil
  • Leadership and Authority
  • Connections with modern politics or society
  • The defects of society as a reflection of the defects in human nature
    • A reverse look at The Republic as compared to Lord of the Flies
  • Justice
  • Making connections with other works we've read
  • Fear and Hope as driving forces for behavior and motivation
  • World War II
Suggested topics from Spark Notes:
* The sample reader's notebook above is done by a senior in high school with a lot of experience writing these notebooks. It is also over 600 words longer than the entry you are expected to create. No pressure.

1. Of all the characters, it is Piggy who most often has useful ideas and sees the correct way for the boys to organize themselves. Yet the other boys rarely listen to him and frequently abuse him. Why do you think this is the case? In what ways does Golding use Piggy to advance the novel’s themes?
2. What, if anything, might the dead parachutist symbolize? Does he symbolize something other than what the beast and the Lord of the Flies symbolize?
3. The sow’s head and the conch shell each wield a certain kind of power over the boys. In what ways do these objects’ powers differ? In what way is Lord of the Fliesa novel about power? About the power of symbols? About the power of a person to use symbols to control a group?
4. What role do the littluns play in the novel? In one respect, they serve as gauges of the older boys’ moral positions, for we see whether an older boy is kind or cruel based on how he treats the littluns. But are the littluns important in and of themselves? What might they represent?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Blog #16: Hope and Fear, Survivors and Empathy

Due: Bring a printed copy to class on Wednesday, December 20
Minimum Words: 800
Textual References and Links: Four
Remember to quote and cite the works you are using correctly.

It seems we're always living at some point on a continuum of hope and fear. They are two emotions that are powerfully motivating and almost ever-present in our lives.  In class, we discussed how closely related the two emotions can be. Some of you went so far as to say that the two concepts are the same thing. Of course, I disagree. Others have talked about the important roles each play or the relationship between the two emotions.

Huge topics call for a lot of latitude in responses. So, I've provided several possible questions with an important disclaimer near the end. Synthesizing sources is essential.

  • How do hope and fear shape and change people? How do the roles of hope and fear change throughout a person's life?
  • What is the relationship between hope and fear? How does this play itself out in some of the works we have read and how could this relate to real life?
  • Do we truly treat survivors as winners and those who don't survive as "losers"? How is this attitude present in literature, history, and the way we treat others. What can be done about this?
  • We've talked extensively about all of the advantages fear has with motivating people. What benefits could there be from leading with hope? What advantages should there be with leading through fear? How does this show itself in some of the literature we've examined in class?
  • Hugh Howey wanted us to explore Plato's Allegory of the Cave and the 24-hour news cycle and what it does with our optimism and pessimism. Can you fully explore these ideas in the context of Wool and/or the other works we've read in class.
  • What role does hope and fear play in education in general or your education specifically? What themes from some of the works we have read fit well with your educational experience?
  • We started to explore the idea of pride and ego as they relate to fear. We also looked at the popularity of superheroes during times of fear and hopelessness. What connections can you make with these concepts and the discussions in class as they relate to the literature we've studied as a whole?
  • Propaganda can be used to inspire hope or create fear. We looked at some stereotypes created about Germans, Russians, and Japanese people during World War II. Why is it important to fear an enemy? What are the positive and negative consequences of propaganda? 
  • Under what circumstances is hope more powerful than fear? How can fear be healthy? How does this show itself in life and what connections can be made with the work we have studied in class?
  • MAUS explores the idea of survivor's guilt as it relates to hope, fear, and ego. It also brings up the fear that defined lives in the concentration camps. What conclusions can you make based on this work as they relate to other things we've looked at. If you need help citing a graphic novel, check out this resource.
  • Is there truly a difference between fear and anxiety? Is all fear the same size? How could it be important to recognize these distinctions? Is it truly possible to dance with The Resistance
If you haven't figured this out by now, it is essential that you provide evidence from the texts we've studied in class to support or illustrate your claims. Beyond that, you can create any question for yourself to pursue that allows you to synthesize multiple sources in your writing. Citing evidence and using correct formatting worth 25 of the 50 points of this blog.

Works for your consideration:
  • Wool by Hugh Howey
  • The Lady or the Tiger by Frank Stockton
  • Hiroshima by John Hersey
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  • The Republic by Plato
  • MAUS II by Art Spiegelman
  • "All The Kings Horses" by Vonnegut
  • The introduction to Slaughterhouse V.
  • I, Zombie by Hugh Howey
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • The blogs and opinions of Seth Godin
  • The Hunger Games, specifically Catching Fire by Suzane Collins
Seth Godin has a unique perspective on the fear that stops people from being creative and publishing ideas or shipping new products. Here's him talking about Dancing with Fear.

He has a ton of other information about the hard work of doing Emotional Labor and often talks about how the best of us are paid to confront failure and overcome fear. If you want stuff by him, ask McCallum. 

Here is some help with how to format citations like a pro.

Don't forget to provide links within your text to your outside sources and credit all opinions that are not yours.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Blog 15: The Republic and Justice

Due: Tuesday at the end of the day
Minimum words: 450
Minimum Direct Quotations from The Republic: 1
Minimum links: 1

When I originally selected Plato's Republic for this class, I knew it would be challenging - both in the way it is written and the concepts that it contains. I wanted a piece of literature that would stretch us and make us work. However, I also wanted this work to be worthwhile - to lead us to some deep discussions and conversations about the nature or morals and justice. 

In this blog post, please reflect on your thinking about The Republic and the concepts that you found most important or interesting. Please go beyond whether or not you "liked" the book.

Here are some concepts and potential questions for you to consider if you need some help getting started:
  • What is the true nature of Justice?
  • What is the nature of Goodness?
  • What is wisdom and where does it come from?
  • The Forms.
  • The Allegory of the Cave
  • The Tripartite Soul
  • The value of a Philosopher king
  • The role of luxury in a just society
  • Wisdom, Honor, and Appetite 
  • Censorship and "The Noble Lie"
  • Creators, Makers, and Imitators
  • Restorative Justice versus Punitive Justice
  • The Tyrannical Man
  • What is justice?
  • What does it mean to be a just person?
  • What should more people understand about justice that would help make the world a better place?
  • What value is there in studying this work from 2300 years ago in a modern context?

Why is "goodness" so hard to understand or describe?

How have the philosophies in this book influenced things, beliefs, or systems you encounter in your life?

Can you connect the ideas presented in this book with current situations?

Why is justice so important to us but so difficult to describe or obtain?

Why must Socrates describe a just city in order to shed light on a just person or the concept of justice in general?

What quotations or concepts stick out to you when you look at key quotations from The Republic