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I Love Reading Shakespeare

June 24, 2016
By Chelsea Carrier

5 Reasons I Love Reading Shakespeare with Middle School Students

Chelsea L. Carrier

 

When my 7th and 8th grade students first hear that we’re going to read Shakespeare, many slouch in their chairs, groan, gag, and roll their eyes. But each time we open A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, they find out how accessible and enjoyable the Bard can be, and I’m reminded of five reasons I love reading Shakespeare with my middle school students.

1. It’s accessible.

In honor of the Bard’s death on April 23rd, my students and I drank tea, ate donuts, and read a few sonnets. Then they had a challenge: write a sonnet in 10-15 minutes. The form might not have been as precise as the bard’s, but hopefully the resulting verses dedicated to potatoes and sushi not only helped them remember the rhyme scheme and standard lengths of a Shakespearean sonnet, but enabled them to recognize Shakespeare as something they could regard with a bit more familiarity than fear.

2. It’s challenging.

Language has changed dramatically over the past four-hundred years. Not only does Shakespeare's language include archaic words, but poetic devices. Add that to the fact that we are reading aloud, something not everyone enjoys. Both drama and Shakespeare require a level of vulnerability - everyone feels awkward and self-conscious, and sharing that draws us closer together. In fact, I probably hear more encouraging remarks among the students to each other during this time because for once, all of them are intimidated by the reading, and it brings them together.

3. It’s relational.

Since my students are encountering Shakespeare for the first time, we read the plays together in class. They love this, if for no other reason than they don’t have homework. As we read, I often stop them so we can discuss, and while many times the pauses enable us to clarify the basic plot or highlight a witty comment, we are also able to reflect and sympathize with the characters’ experiences, both tragic and comedic.  

4. It's physical.

Drama is the marriage of the abstract and the concrete, the literary example of the Word becoming flesh. Plays are meant to be performed, so when we read, we don’t simply sit around the room and read parts. We move the tables and chairs aside, do a few drama warm-ups (voice exercises, tongue twisters, and concentration games) and then we perform an informal dramatic reading. Sometimes I’ll stop the students in the middle of their reading, and we’ll discuss what the character would be doing in that moment, and then we back up and actually do it.

5. It’s enjoyable.

What? Yes, actually, during these weeks multiple students come in and ask, with anticipation in their voices, “Are we going to read Shakespeare today?

Why Broken Stories Matter

May 22, 2015
By Dane Bundy

Why Broken Stories Matter

 

     A few weeks ago, in rhetoric class, my students and I finished studying a number of short stories to look at persuasion’s role in fiction. Among the stories, “The Birthmark” by Nathaniel Hawthorne evoked the most rewarding discussion (maybe the year’s best). At first it didn’t look like this would be the case. A number of students found the lead character wretched: a man who is obsessed with creating human perfection. His obsession ultimately produces a dark narrative that concludes with little redemption in sight. It is a broken story.

 

     Daniel Taylor in his work, Tell me a Story, places stories into three helpful categories: whole, broken, and bent. He defines a broken story as one in which good is portrayed as good and evil as evil, however, in the end, good is not victorious, but evil is.

 

     When I think of a broken story I first think of the book of Judges. At this period in biblical history, the Israelites have worked themselves into a downward spiral of rebellion. Though we see glimpses of redemption from time to time (Ruth comes to mind), the story of Judges ends with the haunting lines, "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25). Gulp.

 

     Over the last couple of years, I’ve thought a lot about the purpose and value of broken stories. Shouldn’t Christians feed themselves on what Taylor calls whole stories? He defines whole stories as tales in which redemption takes place and good (not evil) is victorious.  The Bible itself is a whole story. We may also include Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

 

     At Cornerstone, we don’t limit ourselves to whole stories. Actually, we read plenty of broken tales, ranging from the Greek or Shakespearean tragedies to the dystopian novels of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.

 

     I admit, broken stories are dark and unnerving and difficult to navigate at times. Have you ever had a grand piano dropped on your chest? I have: the afternoon I finished 1984. I was hoping, and expecting, Orwell would use Winston to expose and topple Big Brother; instead our hero is consumed by it.  

 

     If you let them, broken stories will burden your soul.

 

    Over the past couple of years, I’ve come to realize that broken stories may serve an important purpose: they affirm what it’s like to live in a fallen world. Often it is the righteous who suffer and the wicked who prosper, and some people never experience a happy ending.

 

    However, broken stories may stir significant questions.

 

  • Why did the villain win? What did the villain want? Is there hope the villain will ever find redemption?

Why is this character the villain?   

  • Why did the hero fail? What did the hero want? Is there hope the hero may conquer the villain?

Why is this character the hero?

 

     A couple of these questions led our rhetoric class to consider man’s pursuit of perfection. However, the bell rang and the students left with no answers, just a handful of questions, terribly applicable to their own lives.

 

     Why does man seek perfection? Will he ever attain perfection? Is anyone perfect?

 

     Good literature asks questions like these, questions that apply to my students, but also you and me, and, for that matter, all who are human. Storytellers have a high calling: to tell the truth. They turn their backs on their craft when they sugar-coat or misrepresent what takes place in the world. The author of Judges, and the author of every book in the Bible, fulfills this high calling. Because of this, when we read Scripture, we read about murder, rape, depression, persecution, and betrayal.

 

     The Bible does not sugar-coat, because God always tells the truth: our world is a broken one. If you are human, you are broken. If you are human, you will never attain perfection. Left alone, we will never muster a happy story. It’s true: evil will always win.

 

     My students must hear this. I must hear this.

 

     If I don’t listen, I will never understand what’s about to come next: God became man and carried our burden of brokenness. Indeed, it was so heavy, it broke the god-man in the most violent fashion. But, after three days, God delivered justice, destroying evil in blinding glory. God made it clear: the only way to wholeness is through the god-man. This is the good news.

 

     The broken stories of human existence matter because they can lead us to the whole story of the Gospel, and as a teacher at Cornerstone, I am called to help my students understand the road from broken story to whole story. What a privilege it is.

Latin's Not Dead

April 09, 2015
By Tracey Carrin

Why Study a “Dead” Language?

Amo, amas, amat…amamus, amatus, amant.”  This is the mantra of every current and former student of Latin. Last week, as my 5th grade class chanted this verb, a hand shot up to ask a pressing question:  “Why do we study Latin since it’s a dead language?”  Well, young one, I’m glad you asked!
 
How can something so ubiquitous be dead?  (ubiquitous, from the Latin ubique, meaning everywhere)  Latin is a language (language, from the Latin lingua, tongue) that is hard to escape.  Its remnants (remnant, from the Latin remanere, to remain) litter our English language like shells on a beach, each one a wonder to find and investigate (investigate, from the Latin investigare, to track or investigate).  I propose that this language is far from dead, but vibrantly alive in the language we use every day.
 
True, Latin is not a modern spoken language.  The Roman Empire from which it sprang has long since disintegrated.  However, the Romans left behind ideas that shaped Western civilization, including their prolific language.  The structure of English comes mostly from German (as well as many of our monosyllabic words), but even so, 60% of our vocabulary has a Latin origin.  An even higher percentage of our words that are two or more syllables come from Latin.  There are two main reasons for this abundance. 
 
First, in the 4th century, St. Jerome translated the Bible into the vulgate (or common) Latin. Then in 1382, John Wycliffe translated that work into English.  At the time, English was a new and somewhat underdeveloped language.  Words like propitiation and sanctify did not have an English equivalent, so the Latin words themselves were adopted into the malleable English language.  A thousand Latin words slipped into our language through the door of the Wycliffe Bible.
 
The second reason we have a generous amount of multi-syllabic Latin-based words is that all of academia in Europe knew and communicated in Latin during the Enlightenment.  It was the international language of the well-educated.  New ideas created a need for new vocabularies in science, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy, and thus found their expression in the “dead” language of Latin. The academic preference for the common “lingua Latina” spawned vast amounts of vocabulary.  Today the fields of law, medicine, and science are filled with Latinate lexicons.
 
But why do we study Latin today?  Are there still good reasons, even if you will never become a doctor, lawyer, or scientist? Educator Dorothy Sayers, whose essay The Lost Tools of Learning has inspired the resurgence of classical education in our country, offers us this startling perspective on the importance of Latin during a 1952 speech entitled “Ignorance and Dissatisfaction,” given in Cambridge, UK, “...If I were asked what, of all the things I was ever taught, has been of the greatest practical use to me, I should have to answer: the Latin Grammar.”
 
Classical education fosters sound thinking, writing, and speaking.  These skills are not merely philosophical niceties, but benefit the student in practical ways.  Latin has a positive and profound impact on the acquisition of these skills. 
 
At first glance, you may wonder, as my young student did, "Why do we study Latin since it's a dead language?" As we look closer at this language of weighty influence, we realize that Latin is not dead.  It's immortal.

 

Citations:
 “The Adventure of English: Birth of a Language,” BBC Documentary, 2003. YouTube, 2014.
*Note: This is a wonderful series, but due to some language and content, parental discretion is advised.

We’re All Mad Here: Keeping Faith in the Logic Stage

February 12, 2015
By Chelsea Carrier

My eighth graders just finished reading Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Some of the kids loved it. Others were disturbed by the absurdities. Many of them asked questions. Lots of questions. Their logic radars were on high alert, but to their frustration, there weren’t always explanations.

 

I realized that I could have helped them pick the story apart, but I really didn’t want to overanalyze, therefore killing the story. So I began to ask myself: Why read nonsense literature? What’s the place of nonsense in the life of a Christian? Then I remembered something I had read a few months ago in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien:

 

The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world….

 

The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain….

 

The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason. (30-31 and 34, emphasis mine)

 

I shared these quotes with my students, trying to emphasize that while I want them to develop good reasoning, ask questions, and seek solid answers, I don’t want to squelch their faith. That is not the purpose of logic. At the end of the day, there are some things that are simply beyond our understanding. We are finite beings living in a world created by an infinite God.

So we read chapters from the book of Job, tracing his suffering, God’s sovereignty and goodness, as well as God’s “answer” to Job’s questions. As one student pointed out, God’s answer was really more a series of rhetorical questions. Finally, we read Job’s response:

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;

I will question you, and you make it known to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;

therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42.2-6)

 

 

In the madness of our lives, all we can sometimes do is choose to rest in the truth that God is good, He is sovereign, He loves us, and He is not obligated to explain Himself. And somehow, once we have that perspective, we are comforted. At least for a little while.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009. Print.

 

The ESV Study Bible. Ed. Lane T. Dennis. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008. Print.

Three Reasons to Still Read as a Family

January 09, 2015
By Chelsea Carrier

A few weeks ago I was in the library with my 6th graders. As they lay on the rug reading Nancy Drew and perusing the shelves for books both desired and required, my eyes caught sight of a book I hadn’t heard in years.

It was The Good Sam Harrington, and I vividly remembered watching my best friend’s mom recite it. Mrs. Stockton is one of the best story-tellers I know, and I remembered how even in high school she had held me spellbound as she performed a dramatic retelling of the simple book she had memorized. I slipped the book from the shelf, thinking I’d try it out on my eighth graders during study hall. I asked them to simply be respectful as I read and even told them they could work as they listened.

At first, I was too busy trying to read the story well (and honestly getting caught up in it myself) that I didn’t pay much attention to my students’ responses. But at one point I managed to see some of them in my peripheral. They were sitting there, looking at me, eyes filled with anticipation. The same pairs of eyes that give me blank stares. The same pairs of eyes that have rolled in my presence. The same pairs of eyes that have narrowed in deep thought at times and widened with laughter at others. Once again, I was reminded of the importance of reading to children, regardless of their age.

Below are three reasons why you should still read as a family.

1.      Reading as a family allows your child to learn from your example.

 

I remember sitting in my dad’s lap while he read this little book called The Little Taxi that Hurried. No one can read that book like my dad. One of these differences has to do with sound effects. Only Dad can make that taxi honk properly. Thankfully, I have five younger brothers and a sister, so dad hasn’t stopped reading The Little Taxi that Hurried. In fact, everyone crowds in the living room when he reads to the younger kids.

 

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that more than the sound effects, different voices, and expression, one of the beautiful things about my dad’s reading is that it isn’t perfect. He stumbles over sentences and mispronounces words, just like the rest of us, but he doesn’t care because he loves his kids and wants to share a story with them. For some reason, I’ve noticed that people tend to approach reading aloud like praying: if you can’t do it perfectly, then don’t do it all. While we want our students to improve their reading skills and learn to become engaging storytellers, it’s important to remember that we are all human, which means we are full of quirks and imperfections and therefore in desperate need of a holy and loving God. When you read with your children, you are providing them with not only a model of good reading but a parable of living in grace.

 

2.      Reading as a family allows older children to encourage and challenge younger children.

 

About a year ago, I read a few passages from The Hobbit in my living room during  a discussion I was having with my mom and fifteen-year-old brother. I didn’t anticipate my other younger brother and sister listening. They asked me if I could read the book to them. They were six and seven, but I thought I’d humor them. and then let it go when they got bored. But they wanted to hear the story. After about twenty minutes or so, my voice would start cracking, my throat would grow dry, and they would still be asking me to keep on reading. It was during those months that we read that I realized how important it is for younger children to listen to challenging books. Not only does it make them feel special because someone is paying attention to them, but reading challenging books familiarizes them with advanced vocabulary, grammar, and style. In addition to exposing them to language, many times reading challenging classics introduces children to the great ideas and themes explored in literature, generating vital conversations at home.

 

3.      Reading as a family allows younger children to encourage older children.

 

I tried an experiment a year or two ago. I told my seventh graders they were going to read to kindergarten. We practiced reading children’s books. No one complained. Little kids don’t know when you mess up, or at least they don’t care. Students who struggled with reading Dickens and Shakespeare had five and six-year-olds in their laps hanging on their every word. One young man in particular caught my attention. I already knew he was a good kid and that he thought deeply, but reading took him a while. He had those kids entranced, and he came alive, reading them this story, and all I could think was, “He’s going to make an amazing dad.”

 

Not only did my seventh graders find a “safe zone” for reading, but they were able to minister to children in a practical way. They also experienced success with reading, something that some of them rarely experience or believe possible.

True learning is a lifestyle involving a community of people at various ages leading, serving, encouraging, and challenging one another. So create some free minutes this evening, have everyone pick out a book, and read together.


 

Book Review: Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung

November 24, 2014
By Tracey Carrin

Crazy Busy

A Fresh Perspective


 

I was too busy to read this book.  You know how it is — soccer practice, dance class, piano lessons, work, housework, just too busy.  I always feel behind, like I’m trying to catch up.  So I definitely did not have time to read this book. I told some other people to read it.  I thought about reading it.  But I was just too busy.

Can you relate?  Rush, rush, rush — always the next thing.  Life seems to be on fast forward.  So what made me actually stop to read it?  A podcast. I serendipitously heard Kevin DeYoung speaking on one of my favorite podcasts.  As I heard him talk, I was magnetized.  I just had to read it.

Since I know you are as busy as I am, I am going to give you the best things I gleaned from this book, Crazy Busy, by Kevin DeYoung.

Sit at the feet of Jesus.  Simple, right?  You already knew that, right?  Yes, but we forget.  We too easily become Marthas — worried and bothered about so many things.  We cannot do everything, and we cannot discern what to do and what to leave undone without seeking His wisdom.

We are finite.  We cannot do it all, and we weren’t designed to do it all.  God has a specific place for each of us and a specific sphere of influence.

Sleep and rest show us that we are dependent creatures.  Our God needs no sleep, but we must plan to have breaks.

This little volume was a refreshing breeze to my soul, pointing me to worship our great God who is boundless, limitless, infinite, and wise.  The ideas DeYoung shared caused me to take a deep breath and think about why I am so busy, and then to sit at Jesus’ feet and ask Him for wisdom and help.  Highly recommended!

 

If Jesus had to be deliberate about his priorities, so will we.  We will have to work hard to rest.  We will have to be dedicated to being disciplined.  We will have to make it our mission to stay on mission.”

—Kevin DeYoung

 

Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary fiction)

November 20, 2014
By Faith Acker
  • Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary teen fiction)

 

 

As I write this post, my ninth-grade English students are reading about the homecoming of weary Odysseus, whose hostility towards the son of Poseidon (the Greek god of the sea) has caused numerous complications and frustrations to delay our unhappy hero.

 

Our journey through the book is not without its own delays and frustrations.

 

“Why is Odysseus so mean to the Cyclops?” one student asked.

“I didn’t understand anything that happened on page 326,” another student journaled.

“Why does he have to sneak around in disguise?” my students demanded on several differing occasions.

 

 

Reading The Odyssey is, for many students, an odyssey in its own right. We read it for the better part of a school quarter, and it is one of the most detailed and dense books on the Cornerstone curriculum. Some students struggle with the line breaks and the elaborate poetical language; others are frustrated by the lack of proper nouns. A large percentage of them would prefer to read Divergent and The Hunger Games, with whose main characters they identify more strongly.

 

However, The Odyssey has one significant benefit: it provides a safe arena in which students can evaluate and critique the actions of other human beings.

 

In many first-person present-tense teen novels of today, the stream-of-consciousness monologues of the protagonist-narrators leave readers little room for literary interpretation. Towards the end of The Hunger Games, protagonist and narrator Katniss says,

 

“I can’t get caught out here. . . . Not only will I face death, it’s sure to be a long and painful one. . . . The thought of [my sister] having to watch . . . keeps me doggedly inching my way towards the hideout” (223).

 

  • Collins’ readers can have no doubts about Katniss’ motivations; she wants to protect her sister from any harm or suffering. Her explanation isn’t wrong, but it means that discussions of the book focus predominantly on facts and personal reactions. Readers are not encouraged to discuss and analyze Katniss’ motivations, because the author has already revealed the answers.

 

In contrast, consider The Odyssey:

 

“They sent their ravishing voices out across the air

and the heart inside me throbbed to listen longer.

I signaled the crew with frowns to set me free--

they flung themselves at the oars and rowed on harder . . .

But once we’d left the Sirens fading in our wake,

once we could hear the song no more, their urgent call--

my steadfast crew was quick to remove the wax I’d used

to seal their ears and loosed the bonds that lashed me” (277).

 

Like Katniss, Odysseus is in great peril and great agony. Although his statements, like those of Katniss, are in the first person, my students were quick to query:

 

“Why does he want to listen?”

“Why do only the sailors seal their ears?”

“Why is he so desperate to get free?”

 

Both The Odyssey and The Hunger Games can be used to answer important and meaningful questions, and many of the same questions can be applied to both. For instance:

 

How does this book present a hero, or a savior?

What is the source of the protagonist’s strength?

What does this book teach about friendship, loyalty, or truth?

 

When the discussions have faded, however, uncertainty about The Odyssey remains. We could discuss and debate The Odyssey for an entire year, or read it once every year, and at the end of that year, there would be more to discover and debate. For a few, the same could be true of the newest teen novel; for thousands, this has already been true of The Odyssey.

 

Citations:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2009 (2008).

Homer. The Odyssey. transl. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1997 (1996).

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