Looking Back – Again

The weirdest things formerly taught in schools

Part Two:

Pluto is a planet

Kids used to be taught that our solar system has nine planets, and that Pluto was the ninth.

They were taught wrong. On August 24, 2006, the icy ball 7.5 billion kilometers away had its status downgraded to “dwarf planet,” courtesy of the International Astronomical Union.

It didn’t have enough gravity to clear its orbit of debris, which is one of the characteristics required to be considered a planet,” says Mary Colson, an eighth-grade teacher.

Darkroom skills

While some schools may for retro reasons offer photography darkroom courses, digital technology has largely killed the need to go into dark rooms and develop film in baths of toxic chemicals. Besides the dangerous chemicals, equipment and supplies for the outdated developing processes are hard to find.

Diagramming sentences

In the days of old, elementary students were taught to diagram sentences, to understand their underlying structure. These parts might include a subject, a verb, an object, adjectives, adverbs and so on. But the system developed by Reed and Kellogg fell out of favor as educators moved away from such regimented methods of analysis to freer forms of expression.

Using blackboards

The old blackboards and chalk first got downgraded by the introduction of computers and now are increasingly replaced by more versatile whiteboards, which can accommodate eye-catching marker colors and even serve as projection screens. Kids no longer have to clap together two chalk erasers to clean them, sending up clouds of particulate.

“Chalk really isn’t good for anything. It gets all over your hands and your clothes,” agrees a fifth-grade teacher in New Haven.

Note-taking

Before there were smartphones to photograph teacher presentations or record their lectures, students had to take notes—that is, on paper with pen. While technology may be more convenient, research shows that students have to pay more attention to what is being said or shown when they take notes, so they learn better.

Civics

Up to the 1960s, it was common to have separate high school civics courses, designed to teach students about community service and the government. But these courses have been slashed with school budgets, leaving the majority of schools civics-free. Some education experts believe that civics courses develop young people’s critical-thinking skills, making them more engaged in public debates and more likely to participate in elections.

Spelling

Apparently some students might have trouble spelling ABC as schools move away from explicit instruction in spelling, perhaps driven by computers and their easy spell-checks.

Writes a literary expert J. Richard Gentry in Psychology Today: “America has moved to a toxic system for delivering spelling instruction in spite of an extensive and evolving body of research showing that direct and explicit spelling instruction is required for students to master the Mechanics of reading and writing.”

Sewing

Teaching sewing skills to girls has become passé, as gender roles have become less strictly defined.  Still, with six in 10 adults unable to sew well or at all, there might be a rationae for both sexes learning to mend tears, and sew on buttons.

“We have shifted away from the anachronistic view that girls should sew as an acquired life skill. Now we would say that boys or girls who want to go into textiles [need to learn certain skills] and we would try not to be gender specific,” says Julie Nugent, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association.

Math drills

Again, calculators, smartphones and personal computers are making serious math drills less common in schools. But many educators push against the idea of always letting machines do the thinking for us, and losing the chance to exercise our mental chops. The benefits of math drills just add up.

Tough gym classes

Chances are, kids’ memories of gym class today are much different than their parents’. In the 1960s there was a push towards high-intensity fitness regimens. Today kids are more likely to be given choices that let them avoid team sports and sweaty workouts. However, with childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles at an early age becoming an issue, a return to gym-class tough love might be in order.

Flash Fiction #186

Conversation Thread

PHOTO PROMPT© Sandra Crook

FEELIN’ CREATIVE GROOVY

Bob didn’t object to Canada finally legalizing marijuana. Many of his friends had indulged in weed without legal approval for years. He didn’t, and couldn’t understand some of their justifications. “It improves your creative abilities, man.”

Once, he’d thought that his dreams contained epic ideas. A counsellor had taught him how to wake and write them down. The next morning’s notes had read

FREEM DOESN’T CLAVITZ
PROBLY SHOULD QUEES

His friends’ 4:20 “creative” sessions reminded him of those attempts. Eight stoners, loudly holding forth on 13 subjects, all at once! 😯 There wasn’t a single coherent conversational thread to be grasped.

***

Go to Rochelle’s Addicted to Purple site and use her Wednesday photo as a prompt to write a complete 100 word story.

***

Click on the title to hear Harper’s Bizarre tell you how groovy it was, back in the Hippie days.

Friday Fictioneers

WOW #40

Music Staff

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the most useless Word (Of the Week) in the English language.  It is

SOLMIZATION

Music. The act, process, or system of using certain syllables, especially the sol-fa syllables, to represent the tones of the scale.

Solmization comes from French solmization, a derivative of solmiser “to (sing) sol-fa.” The system of solmization is attributed to Guido of Arezzo (c995-1049), a Benedictine monk from Arezzo, Tuscany, who also invented the staff notation used in Western music. Solmization entered English in the 18th century.

While the system is used thousands of times a day, I have never heard of it being identified or given credit for by this name.  The act, or process, which Good Old Guido developed/invented/applied, occurred exactly once – never previously, and never since.  This is a definition which Jim Wheeler will probably dislike, because it’s a one-off.

Somebody had to go to the trouble to come up with a label for a thing which occurred with the same frequency as those infinite monkeys, banging out Shakespeare on infinite typewriters.  (You’d think that somebody’d give them word-processors and keyboards these days.)  I’m not surprised that it came to English through the surrender-monkey French.  They’ve got lots of time to sit around, eating snails and mouldy cheese, and being pretentious.

I may have to give my Word-program Spellcheck a slap upside the head.  Whenever I type in this word, it insists that it should be ‘solmisation’, even though my dictionary site spells it with a Z for both British and American English.  As noted above, even French spells it my way.

I’m going to spell it ‘lazy weekend‘, but I’ll see you back here Monday, with the next A To Z Challenge letter.  😀

Book Review #12

cymbalum mundi

This will be a review/discussion of a somewhat older book with the odd, Latin title of Cymbalum Mundi. First, let me just say that if, like me, you ever get a chance to read this book….DON’T!

Some time ago, I published a post about how The Church, at the beginning of the Renaissance, made torture a competitive sport, offering rewards, both secular and spiritual, for winners. Jim Wheeler made me aware of a book titled A World Lit Only By Fire, a history of the excesses and hypocrisies of the time.

I obtained it by asking for an inter-library loan. Within its pages, it mentioned another book which listed and mocked certain Church practices.  Always willing to learn more of the failures of the best of the Good Christians, when I returned ‘World’, I requested another special loan.

This book was written in 1537. The title is in Latin, because back then, all serious works were written in Latin, so that educated people in different countries could all read them.  I requested an English translation.  Two weeks later, I got a call to pick it up.  I left the wife in the car, and when I brought it out, I tossed it into her lap.  Fortunately, before I got out of the parking lot, she asked, “Do you read French?”

The author was a Frenchman named Bonaventure Des Periers. While he titled it in Latin, the original text is all French.  I might get the gist of a current French document, but not the detail this book required.  I immediately returned it, and the Library Lady told me, “You should have told us you wanted an English version.”   👿

Two weeks later, I got another call, and carefully checked it before taking delivery. The French copy came from the University of Waterloo, 5 miles north, in our twin city.  The second, English copy, also came from U of W.  I’ve personally borrowed from Wilfrid Laurier University, our neighbors’ second, smaller school, but let the librarians do the work on this one.

The Book – Cymbalum Mundi [The Noise of the World]
(The anticipated applause of his adoring readers)

The Author – Bonaventure Des Periers

The Review – I don’t know what I expected to get with this book, but I didn’t get it. It came with 4 pages of Foreword, 28 pages of Introduction, 5 pages of Notes, and 4 pages of Literary References – and none of it actually explained only 74 pages of allegory and allusion.

It consists of five small segments, beginning with a fake letter to a fake friend, explaining how he carefully translated this from the original Greek. This is followed by four small scenes from a Shakespeare-like play; only, A Midsummer’s Night Dream is lucid and crystal clear, compared to this.

Jupiter sends his son Mercury to Earth, to have an old book rebound. He falls in with three brigands who steal the book from his bag, by replacing it with a worthless book, the same size and shape, while they are drinking at an inn.

NOW:

Does Jupiter represent God?
Does Mercury, the Messenger, represent Jesus?
Is the book Mercury brings, the tattered Old Testament?
Does the new, rebound book represent the New Testament?
Are the thieves the rulers of the Church, who steal The Word, to sell to the masses and enrich themselves?
Is the fake book they substitute, the code of rules the Church uses to control the laity?
Is the hostess of the inn a stand-in for the Virgin Mary?
Is the real food and wine she serves them a denial of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation?

The problem is, he never actually says. One well-known historian, with a pile of evidence, says yes, while another, just as renowned, and with as big a pile of proof, says the exact opposite.  You can ‘make’ this book say anything you want it to.

I had hoped that it might show more of the excesses and failings of the Church. What it shows, is the tap-dancing necessary for any writer of this period to present some doubt, and cause people to think, without ending up chained to a post, tap-dancing on a large bonfire.

It was interesting, and in the end educational, but not really fulfilling.