Over a year ago I provided a statement of what DEMOI Independent Learning is about and which pops up every time you or I open this page. I remain proud of that statement but I know now that what I then said is, of course, only a portion of what I am actually trying to do as a teacher.
Here is another, alternate form of synopsis which expresses for me what I believe I am doing:
“This,” he said, handling it, “is a stone, and within a certain length of time it will perhaps be soil and from the soil it will become plant, animal or man. Previously I should have said: This stone is just a stone; it has no value, it belongs to the world of Maya, but perhaps because within the cycle of change it can also become man and spirit, it is also of importance. That is what I should have thought. But now I think: This stone is stone; it is also animal, God and Buddha. I do not respect and love it because it was one thing and will become something else, but because it has already long been everything and always is everything. I love it just because it is a stone, because today and now it appears to me a stone. I see value and meaning in each one of its fine markings and cavities, in the yellow, in the gray, in the hardness and the sound of it when I knock it, in the dryness or dampness of its surface. . . Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another.” -from Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Apparently the English have shown that when you teach students philosophy they improve in mathematics and logical reasoning skills. I am pleased to say that I teach and discuss philosophy with my students. The Socratic approach is the very core of what I do; it’s what I’ve been doing at DEMOI for three and a half years and it is what I am also doing at The Infinity School. http://infinityschool.ca
I’m also pleased to say that my students love the challenge of thinking philosophically and would excel in any school that makes philosophy a core subject:
I am really getting a kick out of the fact that an increasing number of my students want to undertake the “Big Book Initiative.”
Right now I have a student reading Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and another who is considering reading War and Peace. I have a third student who is currently looking over a list of books that includes Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
I love their ambition.
Here is a sample of some of the books my students and I have been reading lately. I’m immensely proud of them for undertaking all of these:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth
Logicomix, by Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos Papadimitriou
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ecological Imperialism, by Alfred W. Crosby
The Birth of Tragedy, by Friedrich Nietzsche
Selections from The American Political Tradition, by Richard Hofstadter
In all cases my students have enthusiastically embraced these challenging readings. I could not be more proud of them.
I am posting a link to the Studs Terkel radio archive. http://studsterkel.wfmt.com
This archive includes broadcasts Terkel did over his long and distinguished journalistic and broadcasting career.
As a teacher of history and the humanities I am thrilled to be able to use this resource with my students but also to use it as a means of expanding my understanding of the American past and present.
–Jeremy Nathan Marks
I am currently studying environmental history with a student. The book, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (by Alfred W. Crosby) is an eye-opening examination of the growth of European imperialism from the standpoint of botany, epidemiology, agriculture, animal husbandry and also includes a fascinating study of climate and sailing.
The book requires readers to rethink how they understand and imagine the meeting of cultures. All too often we’ve been led to believe that one civilization colonizes another because it has superior technology, belief systems and a more sophisticated cosmology. Crosby challenges all of that. He also challenges the idea that European colonization of the globe was an inevitable result of the sophistication of European cultures.
But one of the most interesting questions his book raises is how the Europeans themselves were suited to new and alien environments and how well they did or did not adapt their thinking, mores and habits. In this age of globalization and global tourism where a person can go to the tropics, stay in an air conditioned villa, eat imported cuisine and traverse the landscape in familiar vehicles, it is all-too-easy to forget that even in the most easily settled of European colonies (e.g. Canada, Australia) colonists were often ill-suited to their circumstances and held to belief systems and aesthetic values which not only did not serve them but often led to a violent relationship with the land itself.
One of the finest examples of this in literature and film is the novel and movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock” about a turn-of-last-century picnic gone horribly wrong in the state of South Australia. The tension between the daughters and matrons of British culture and the ancient, un-English landscape of the Australian continent is palpable in Joan Lindsay’s novel and in Peter Weir’s cinematic adaptation. What stands out for me is the difference between the children of the wealthy, whose parents made money in international business, and those labourers who appear to be the descendants of the original English colonists. The question of adaptation, acclimation and acculturation cuts across the matter of social class:
–Jeremy Nathan Marks