But I didn’t take the test.

Another day, another NPR story, another reason for me to write.

I missed this story about the SAT and ACT college entrance tests the morning it aired, but I caught a link via Twitter and then thought about the subject for quite a while after reading it. Mainly, my thoughts centered about the thoughts, “I didn’t take either the ACT or SAT, yet I made it through college, and now I’m a teacher. I think I ended up just fine.”

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I don’t think so.

Image courtesy of stockphotosforfree.com

Image courtesy of stockphotosforfree.com

On the way home yesterday, I heard an NPR story about how a computer program at MIT has apparently learned how to “help” an MIT media lab student “compose” a sonnet using a database of Shakespeare’s works.

Including only words used by Shakespeare, the program suggests words that The Bard might have used in “that situation,” or, when writing a sonnet.

The transcript clarifies: “It was [Mathias’] sonnet confined to authentic Shakespearean language. It’s the same predictive software we see when our devices try to finish our sentences and suggest the next word.” Great, so a new application of technology.
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Fifty Shades of Shame

Yes, that’s right…after holding out for forever, and feeling buried by work and so many other things, I finally gave up and decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Why? Well, as Neil Gaiman said, we all need an escape sometimes, and sometimes the heavy fiction I am so prone to reading is just not good to read in the midst of a school year. Also, friends of mine – and my mother-in-law (YIKES!) – have read it, and they seemed largely unaffected by it (both literally and intellectually), so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to read just the first book of the series. After all, an escape is fine every once in a while: a balanced approach is always good, right? After all, I try to read “real” literature the majority of the time.
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Working Together…

Yet again, NPR made me think on the way to work this morning. I heard about how Denver now has a shared workspace called Galvanize, a place in which workers from various technology-based companies come together to work, and most importantly to share ideas.

I immediately thought to myself, “Algonquin Round Table!” and “nerdfest that gave birth to Frankenstein!” Both of those groups paved the way for developments in literature and ideas and making connections – among other things.

I think it’s great that there are ways for companies to share space and ideas and think together (or, as the story points out, share a cup of coffee or a beer at Galvanize’s bars). I also think it’s great that many teachers allow their students the chance to collaborate about their work and share ideas.

And then of course I had to wonder where the real opportunities are for today’s writers, authors, anthropologists, sociologists, etc. get together and discuss ideas. Yes, I understand that the internet is here for us to collaborate and share ideas in a variety of ways. However, I believe face-to-face conversation and collaboration are invaluable when it comes to actually making true connections and also true developments in ideas, literature, and, well, the humanities field.

For something as valuable to the human experience as the humanities, we should make more of those connections happen.

I am a nerd

Why? Because I love listening to NPR. I almost always hear a story that somehow relates to something I am teaching currently, or am planning to teach, or have taught in the past. Yesterday morning, on the way to work, I heard a story about Albert Camus – it would have been his 100th birthday. So, why is this interesting to me? Well, I’ve taught The Stranger before, and in my experience, it’s either a “love it” or “hate it” book. Mostly, this either/or situation is most often caused by a reader’s reaction to Meursault, the main character.

Regardless of one’s feelings for Meursault, though, one of the important things with The Stranger is understanding the context, and understanding Camus’ background. He was an Algerian-born Frenchman, or as the NPR story referred to such people, pieds-noirs. So, his knowledge of the racial tensions in Algeria was first-hand, based on experiences he lived. That was the basic premise of the story, along with the fact that Camus’ legacy is a tad bit controversial in his two native countries, due to a variety of circumstances.

What I also loved was that the story immediately following, which related to Camus’ essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”. I used the essay as method of introduction for students, so they would better understand Camus’ philosophy of absurdism. Basically, his view of life was there was no point to anything, because every day just included the same monotonous activities, and getting up each day meant you had to do it all over again. The NPR story related the premise of Camus’ essay – and his absurdist philosophy – to modern psychological research about “why people end up in boring jobs.” That connection, of course, is what ultimately made me say, “That is so cool!” to myself while driving to work. Talking to myself in the car of course makes me an even bigger nerd. However, what made me geek out the most was that it thrills me to see (or hear, in this case) when modern science, culture, basically anything in contemporary life, relates back to seminal pieces in literary history.

Until next time…