Amazon.com Widgets The Good Place (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and writing)

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

Critical thinking?
     Or "the laws of life"?

What do young people, facing what they face, most need to learn?

Quickly, someone will answer, “critical thinking!”

If “critical thinking” means paying attention to evidence and reason, I’m all for it.

But if it means, as it so often does, a haughty sense of superiority to received wisdom, well, then I think it’s something of a superstition, part of the unquestioned folklore of a frustrated tribe of intellectuals who wish they were taken more seriously than they are. For them, the world would be a better place if it ran more like a graduate seminar, where those with a gift for verbal performances were the stars. But life is not like that.

Life is full of character tests where we must not just speak but act, and in situations where we can never have all the data. Often, simple goodness and obedience to principles ends up being far more efficacious than the ability to split hairs and see through arguments. One who sees through everything may end by seeing nothing.

As the man said, being intelligent is like having four-wheel-drive. It just means you get stuck in more remote places.

To live intelligently, the best tools are often traditional bits of wisdom encoded in time-tested proverbs and folk sayings, like these (most adapted from John Templeton’s Laws of Life):

The law of the harvest: you reap what you sow. Also expressed as “What goes around comes around” and “As ye judge ye shall be judged.”

It is better to love than to be loved.
Success is a journey, not a destination.
Enthusiasm is contagious (and nothing important is achieved without enthusiasm).
The borrower is a servant to the lender.
We find what we look for (good or evil).
Every ending is a beginning.
The way to fix bad things is to create good things.
Love is stronger than everything else.
You can’t solve a problem at the same level as the problem. You need to get above it.
The truth will make you free.
To find gold you need to search where the gold is.
Habit is the best servant, the worst master.
People are punished by their sins not for them.
Make yourself necessary and the world will feed you.
Luck favors the prepared.
Defeat isn’t bitter if you don’t swallow it.


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

This is madness!
     From an NCTE report by Kathleen Blake Yancey

. . .A second story of composing begins in the spring of 2008, when a high school student on Facebook decides that testtaking could be more fun for him, for other test-takers, and for the test-scorers. And the test? Advanced Placement—AP English, AP history, AP psychology, AP calculus . . . all AP tests. The idea was basically simple: get students to write the “iconic phrase” THIS IS SPARTA from the movie 300, in capital letters, anywhere on the test, and then cross it out with one line. Because the rules of the test stipulate that students can cross out mistakes and cannot be penalized 6 Writing in the 21st Century . A Report from NCTE for doing so, none of the test-takers could be penalized. In addition, “bonus points” were available if students also wrote THIS IS MADNESS elsewhere on the test. And write they did.

Facebook users “flocked” to join the group Everybody Write “THIS IS SPARTA!” in fact over 30,000 students. And the readers of these exams enjoyed several laughs, which was the intent. According to Erica Jacobs, who teaches at Oakton High School in Virginia, AP readers participated in the joke in several ways, including exchanging notes with each other about the crossed-out lines, posting a sign proclaiming “THIS IS SPARTA” on a reader table, and beginning the last day by announcing, “This is Sparta!” (par. 9) And what were they laughing at? Two examples from AP history exams:

  • As the country slid deeper into the Depression, it became clear that drastic change was needed in order to save the American banking system. Fortunately, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, after taking office, immediately declared “THIS IS MADNESS!” and established a four-day banking holiday.
  • After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth cried, “THIS IS SPARTA” before jumping from the balcony.

Now what’s interesting to me about this event is fourfold. One is that these students understand the power of networking, which they used for a collective self-sponsoring activity, in this case a kind of smart-mob action. When you have a cause, you can organize thousands of people on very short notice—and millions when you have more time. Teenagers understand this in ways that many adults do not, and what’s as important, they understand how to make it happen.

Two is that the students didn’t stop with Facebook and AP. They went to Wikipedia, where they posted the line THIS IS SPARTA at one point on the entry for the College Board, and THIS IS MADNESS at another point on the same entry. Both those lines stayed on Wikipedia for at least a month, when they were later taken down: contrary to popular belief, Wikipedia is monitored. But these students understand how to contribute to Wikipedia. They understand both the reach and the impact of networking. They understand circulation of messages—from a Facebook group to high school and college teachers to a site that rivals encyclopedias in comprehensiveness and exceeds them in timeliness and that offers opportunities for all of us literally to make knowledge.

Three is that the students understood the new audiences of twenty-first century composing—colleagues across the country and faceless AP graders alike. They understood one audience—the testing system—and knew how to play it. Several of the students were concerned enough not to want their scores to be negatively affected, as they revealed on another site where college advisers answer questions (answers.yahoo.com)—and those queries were removed, too!—but these students—and there were thousands and thousands of them—were quite simply bored enough to take the chance. Put differently, they refused to write to a teacher-as-examiner exclusively; they wrote as well to live teachers who might be amused at the juxtaposition between a serious claim about John Wilkes Booth and THIS IS SPARTA. Put differently still, they wanted not a testing reader, but a human one.

Four, we can imagine the ways we might channel this energy for a cause more serious, for a purpose more worthy. In other words, these students know how to compose, and they know how to organize, and they know audience. How can we build on all that knowledge? How can we help them connect it to larger issues?

Kathleen Blake Yancey


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

21st Century Skills
     Are video games adequately preparing our students for life in a post-apocalyptic world?


Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Children For The Apocalypse?


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

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