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…you enter the long black branches of other lives.
Did I Miss Anything?
Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours
Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 percent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 percent
Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose
Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light suddenly descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring the good news to all people
Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?
Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human experience
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been
but it was one place
And you weren’t here
From Did I Miss Anything? Selected Poems 1973-1993, 1993
Let’s put the tools in the toolbox. Commit these to memory, start applying them, and you’ll start some keen thinking:
Fact: a statement that can be verified.
Opinion: what someone thinks, believes, or wishes.
When you state your opinion, there are four types:
Judgement evaluates, using evidence and reasoning.
Advice recommends, usually based on judgement.
Generalization is sometimes true, depending on degree: all, some, none, most, many.
Personal taste or sentiment is what you like.
(I suggest a sentence mnemonic: Japanese Animals Grazing Peacefully.)
“Gladiator was a terrible movie for swordfighting aficionados” is judgement.
“You should go to college” is advice.
“Men have more upper body strength” is generalization.
“My favorite color is __________________” or “I’ll take the Pepsi” is personal taste.
The Elizabethans of Shakespeare’s time, in response to the Question of Good and Evil, believed in three factors that shape how things unfold:
Providence, i.e., God’s will,
Fortune, i.e., luck and chance, and
human character, i.e., your diligent study, practice, training, and action.
Take care of your end, my friends: “‘Good luck’ is when opportunity meets preparation.”
I get steamed when colleagues insist that “the information is all on the student’s smart phone: why do we teach just the information?” I get the point. But.
When you fall down and hurt yourself, I run up to you and I start the primary assessment. When that is complete, I start a secondary assessment. If there are more of you hurt, I start to triage.
What I am not doing is looking things up on my smartphone. You get me?
What are the basics that need to be in the long-term memory?
(I am dismayed by the amount of high school seniors who can neither write a sentence, nor define a sentence, nor understand a sentence: how the hell did they make it to my threshold?)
Sentence: A complete thought, usually sayable in one breath.
When you say a sentence, it is of four purposes:
Declarative asserts truth or falsehood.
Interrogative asks for truth or falsehood.
Imperative commands or requests.
Optative wishes for the non-existent.
(Some argue that the exclamatory is a purpose, but note that you can speak any of the sentences plainly or with force.)
The sentence ends in three ways:
Period. Question mark? Exclamation mark!
(In this age of slapping down punctuations with no regard for rules, do not think this is an unnecessary review.)
The sentence is left incomplete in two ways:
The long dash interrupts thought.
The ellipses leaves the thought purposefully.
If you would like, you can teach this with two fists raised, and make one hand the sentence purpose/type, and the other hand the ways to end the sentence. Five and five. See it?
I come from a background of training in organizations in which one is called upon to recall information and complete tasks during stressful conditions. The EMT uses acronyms and abbreviations such as AVPU and APAIL in order to run through a memorized checklist and efficiently classify the patient’s condition. The infantry soldier likewise uses training standards such as SPORTS to clear a weapons stoppage under fire.
In English, I try to simplify the processes and definitions into memorizable units, which I ask the students to master by rote. Then we apply.
Repetitio est mater studiorum: Repetition is the mother of learning.
(In the classroom, I demonstrate the techniques and standards as they are taught, adding the elements of the physical, the choreography of it: this is one reason why the teacher and the classroom are crucial, and simply reading my blog is an incomplete experience.)