5 Awful Books I’ve Read This Semester

In honor of finishing Gossip Girl by Cecily von Zeigesar for E 405 today, I thought I’d document the top 5 most gut-wrenchingly awful books I’ve read this semester. So, here they are, in no particular order:

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

This book is really a collaboration by Jobie Hughes and James Frey, the author of the magnificently fictionalized A Million Little Pieces. It’s too bad because this book started out awesome. It had so much potential to be great. And then, by chapter 11… it flopped. The idea’s great, but the execution was sloppy. The morality lessons were thinly veiled, none of the characters felt wholly realistic and I wasn’t attached to any of them. As a matter of fact, I disliked the hero, John Smith, because he was childish, selfish, and immature, putting his social life and his weak attachment to a bland pretty girl over his and his guardian’s mortal lives. Such a let-down. Oh, and the movie? Not better.

Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

SPOILER: This book is a lie. This book was not written anonymously. It was written by a woman named Beatrice Sparks. Who knows how much of this story is true? And, because it is a lie and written by a middle-aged woman instead of a fifteen-year-old girl, the language is either very dated or too advanced, the author leaves out things like what happened in school and the “love of her life” Roger, LSD is her “gateway drug,” and it treats all drugs as the same. Also, the author treats her and her friend’s rape very lightly. So… this book is just a contrived 70s scare tactic. And apparently they made a movie out of it. Why would they do that?

Crank by Ellen Hopkins

So at least this book about drugs isn’t a lie. I didn’t like this one for personal reasons, not because it was poorly written. It was just such a depressing story, although if you like realistic drug abuse fiction or poetry, then this book is for you.

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

Ugh. Every overtly sexualized, negative stereotype of women is represented in this comic, so no, it is not directed at female readers even though almost all of the characters are female. I don’t think this would even be appealing to men either. I would think the women’s extreme savagery and use of the words “c***” and “b****” would make male readers uncomfortable. Then again, I’m not a man, so I don’t know. I was also disturbed by the derogatory terms used by women to address other women, especially the discussion of the word “c***”, and the whole thing with the Amazons was ridiculous. And the whole thing with the Republican senators’ wives attacking the White House was absurd. So not only are Republicans gun-toting assholes, their wives are weapon-wielding psychos who are either too stupid or ignorant, or both, to have a calm, rational discussion without killing someone. Also, the Washington Monument as the memorial to all men? Really? How original to use phallic imagery to show men’s superiority (not).

Gossip Girl by Cecily von Zeigesar

So, this book was extremely painful to read. As a YA reader, this book was awful and I would never recommend it to anyone. As a critical reader, I would do the same thing but for slightly different reasons. I hate the characters, I hate the narrator, I hate the content, I hate the message it sends. I heard in the TV show at least Serena’s a bit more likeable, but in the book she’s not. None of the characters are good people, or even have any redeeming qualities. They’re all shallow, entitled, backstabbing gossip-mongers. So is the narrator, but worse. The content… I don’t even have space to go into. But the message is the absolute worst. Young women, according to Gossip Girl, need to be pretty, skinny, rich, catty, and dumb. Mostly skinny. The only good thing Gossip Girl gave us was this video:

Which is the exact opposite of everything Gossip Girl stands for. Yay irony!

“Don’t feed the bears.”

I went and visited my old AP Lit teacher, Mr. Hoffman, today to observe his ninth grade English classes for EDUC 275. I was excited, of course – I love Hoffman, and I loved the two classes I took from him. But today I also met his student teacher, Melanie, whom I have heard a little about but never actually met. When he finally introduced us, she looked at me and said, “You know, you look really, really, really familiar.”

Turns out we have met before. Five years ago, Melanie and I were in the same Speech class. I taught her how to make origami cranes after I gave speech on origami. Apparently neither of us have thought of that in years. When I finally placed her face, I mentioned it to her and she screamed. Literally covered her mouth and screamed, “Oh my God, I remember!! I make cranes all the time, not even kidding!”

Anyway, once Melanie calmed down enough to be coherent again, the three of us continued a conversation Hoffman and I had been having about teaching, and they shared a couple of stories with me that I’d like to now share with you.

The first story is about assumptions and ability. The second is about powerplays.

It’s been 11 years since Hoffman has taught a regular English 10 class, although he has taught Pre-AP 10 for that many years. He and Melanie assumed that regular sophomores would be equipped with the same knowledge and tools to understand the same books he usually taught to his Pre-AP kids. They started first with Lord of the Flies, which went well enough, so then they were going to teach Macbeth next, like he always does. Yet, after a few days, he and Melanie agreed it would be best to pull the plug.

Naturally, I asked why. Was it the language or did the kids simply not care? Hoffman leaned toward the language; he said that, as soon as the kids began to struggle, they gave up on reading. They believed there was just no way they could understand it (not, at least, without lots and lots of work put into it), so most of them quit. Because they weren’t learning anything except to hate Shakespeare, Melanie and Hoffman agreed that it would be best to teach something else.

Macbeth failed in the regular English 10 class because Hoffman and Melanie overestimated their students’ skills. I don’t mean to imply the kids were too dumb to get Shakespeare, because that’s not it at all (also, that’s a stupid assumption). It’s just that those kids have probably had little to no experience reading Shakespeare before this class. I read Romeo and Juliet in Pre-AP 9; therefore, I was already experienced with the language and better prepared to read and understand the language and what Hoffman was asking me to look for. If these kids didn’t read Romeo and Juliet, it would be pretty intimidating to be asked to read one and then analyze it.

Personally, I don’t know if I agree with this choice. Then again, I wasn’t there, so it’s difficult to decide for myself whether I agree that this was the best option, or a cop-out. I just don’t know.

Which brings me to my next story. Hoffman prompted Melanie to share a student-teaching horror story about powerplays. The moral: never engage in them.

So Melanie was teaching the class while Hoffman was sitting at the back and observing. It was still the Lord of the Flies unit, but that day they were reading a poem called “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. And there was this kid in the class. He was an upperclassmen retaking the class, and he was obnoxious and clearly didn’t want to be there. You know, the kid who breaks budding teachers without breaking a sweat.

Well, on this particularly day, he was playing catch with a kid across the room, a kid who’s normally a good student, who works hard and does well and all that. This is distracting and a hazard, so Melanie told them to stop. They did, but then the kid started twisting his waterbottle with the cap on, trying to make it explode and stuff. Melanie decided to call out the kid and ask him to read.

Ironically, this was the day after Hoffman and Melanie had had a talk about those kids that are distractions in the classroom. “Don’t feed the bears,” he told her. So you can imagine the mixture of shock and horror Hoffman felt as his poor, unassuming student teacher called out this student.

The kid looked at Melanie. And he shook his head. “No,” he said.

Melanie said, “Yes.”

“Nope.”

Melanie folded her arms. The kid folded his. Epic staring contest. Then, Melanie said something she immediately, instantly regretted:

“We can just sit here and do nothing.”

Worst decision ever. Melanie had backed herself into a corner, but there was nothing she could do. If she took it back, if she asked another kid to read instead, then the students would lose their respect for her authority, which would cause utter chaos. But she couldn’t keep arguing or have a staring contest forever. Eventually one of them would blink, and it wasn’t going to be that kid.

Luckily for her, kids are impatient. After a few minutes of complete and utter silence, some of the kids start saying, “Just read already.” The kid still refuses. It’s a good old-fashioned Mexican standoff.

And then someone starts reading. Surprisingly, it is another repeat student. And Melanie can’t help thinking, Oh thank the Lord, I’m saved.

But not emotionally. When class ended and she went next door (it was lunchtime), she saw another teacher.

“So how’d it go?” And Melanie burst into sobs.

Even though it was one of the most traumatizing experiences Melanie has had as a student teacher, both she and Hoffman agreed that she had learned and grown from it. She didn’t melt into tears or start shouting or simply give up her position. Although it wasn’t the best decision she’s ever made, she was lucky that her students backed her up, and thus a catastrophe was averted.

An Unexpected Journey: Teachers and Hobbitses

Now that I’ve finally finished pouring out my soul into a Shakespeare paper and accomplished pretty much nothing all day, I’m finally going to sit down and write my blog. *cracks knuckles* Okay.

At the beginning, many of these blogs were about teaching fears: what’s going to happen, and how am I going to react, when I am in the classroom and [this] happens? I personally didn’t write one, but I read them and agreed with them because I think we’re all afraid of the same things. I think Natalie’s blog and Alex’s vlog were some of the first posts to address these and they hit upon the majority of fears, and I remember reading and watching these and thinking, “Wow, other people are afraid of this stuff too?” Well, before we are sorted into new groups and have to start focusing and synthesizing new topics, I’ve recently been inspired to write mine.

For E 405 (Adolescent Lit), I’ve started reading The Hobbit so that when the first movie comes out in December, I’ll actually know what’s happening, as opposed to when I saw The Return of the King and had to keep asking my brother what was going on. And I’ve realized that Bilbo and I have a lot in common.

Bilbo Baggins in his natural state: completely flummoxed.

The Hobbit is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s about how a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is recruited by the wizard Gandalf and thirteen dwarves as a burglar in order to help the dwarves reclaim their homeland from the dragon, Smaug.

Much of the beginning of the story is devoted to explaining personal histories, and the very very beginning is Bilbo’s family history and personality. And it comes down to this: Bilbo is an unlikely hero. He is the most unlikely person ever to be asked to become a burglar and go on an adventure with a bunch of dwarves and an enigmatic wizard. He is literally thrown into this adventure against his will, and he doesn’t really want it, and he has no idea what to make of it, so he sort of bumbles along, wishing he was back in his hobbit-hole and hoping he doesn’t die in any number of horrible ways.

Right now, I feel a lot like Bilbo when it comes to teaching. I’ve been second-guessing my career choice all semester, wondering if I’m really cut out to be a teacher and if I’ll be a good teacher or just another statistic. Most of you are juniors but I’m only a sophomore and, although I have enough credits to be in these classes, I don’t feel mentally prepared to be in them. I was all fired up to start working on lesson plans and unit plans, thinking “This will be a cakewalk,” only to discover after one I hate them and never want to create another one. Also, what is a cakewalk exactly? I don’t even know…

I’m about a quarter of the way through the book, but Bilbo is still scared out of his mind most of the time. He doesn’t know how to deal with the dwarves, who don’t respect him, or Gandalf, who confuses him, or goblins, who also don’t respect him and actually would like to eat him, or Gollum, who… he doesn’t even know what Gollum is, but he wants to eat him too. And that’s how I feel! Well, not the being eaten part. But I don’t what I’ll do with middle school students, high school students, other teachers, principals, parents, the whole shebang, because I know they’ll perplex me. Classes and lectures can’t prepare you for when your students start dropping f-bombs or parents yell at you because their kid’s failing.

When I first started reading it, I looked it up on Sparknotes and read Bilbo’s character analysis. And they wrote that the thing about Bilbo is… he doesn’t change. While other characters are being corrupted by power or greed or revenge or whatever (cough Gollum cough), Bilbo stays the same. He’s the only character who remains true to himself. He may be swept up in the tidal wave of adventure, but he doesn’t let it chip away at him. I would bet that, on the last page, he’ll still be thinking about his next meal and warm night in his hobbit-hole. Because of course he must survive. He’s the hero! And there’s a whole trilogy that comes after (and he’s in it)!

So maybe there is hope for me. Bilbo survives his brief, harrowing career as a “burglar.” Maybe I can survive my own harrowing career as a teacher too. At least there’s no chance I’ll be eaten by orcs, dragons, or deranged hobbitses…

And… trailer! Or Toby Turner’s literal trailer. Because it’s awesome.

(Also, I accidentally typed the title as “An Unexpected Gollum.” My brother starting cracking up.)

Genre Paper 2: Screenplay

For my second genre paper, I wrote a screenplay with the purpose that it would help students better understand character motivations.

Overview: Six fictional characters, one therapist, and one reader meet for a group therapy session that erupts into arguing until the reader recognizes each of the character’s motivations.

Cast List:
Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby)
Esther Greenwood (The Bell Jar)
Billy Pilgrim (Slaughterhouse-Five)
Prince Hamlet (Hamlet)
Rosencrantz (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)
Guildenstern (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)
Therapist
Sam

Because I was worried about the rubric, I created a mini-unit plan around the subject. All the links are in my previous blog post.

So, without further ado, here is my screenplay. I hope you enjoy it!

GROUP THERAPY

Written by Kayla Martinson

FADE IN:

INT. BASEMENT-EVENING

We are in the basement conference room of a community center. Poorly light, plainly furnished, with no windows or decorations. There are eight metal folding chairs arranged in a horseshoe. Six people – five men and one woman – are already in the room, standing near the chairs and chatting with one another. Except for BILLY PILGRIM, a pale and disheveled old man, who is staring off into space.

The THERAPIST enters, followed by SAM. The THERAPIST takes quick strides, wears dark-framed glasses, and carries a clipboard. SAM is a bored high school student, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans with earbuds in.

NOTE: both the THERAPIST and SAM are unisex characters.

THERAPIST
All right, if everyone will sit down, we can get started.

Everyone grabs a chair and sits down. The woman guides BILLY to a chair.

THERAPIST (CONT’D)
Everyone, this is Sam. He’s from the local high school and he’ll be sitting in on our session today. Just pretend like he’s not even here.

SAM pulls out the earbuds and waves hello.

THERAPIST (CONT’D)
(brightly)
Okay, who would like to start?

JAY GATSBY raises his hand. GATSBY is tall and tan, with slicked-back hair and an expensive white suit and gold tie. He often fiddles with his heavy gold watch, and his confident smile seems forced and fake.

THERAPIST (CONT’D)
Okay, Jay.

GATSBY
Well, I’ve been thinking about Daisy –

The other patients groan. The THERAPIST glares at them and waves her hand in a “quiet, please!” gesture. They stop and she looks back at GATSBY.

THERAPIST
Go ahead, Jay. What about Daisy?

GATSBY
(dreamy and nervous)
Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about our first kiss, how her face was so white and pure, how I knew that, when I kissed her, I would never think about any other girl for as long as I live, and there was just this sound in my ears, like a tuning-fork striking a star –

SAM
(chuckling)
Man, you need to get laid.

THERAPIST
(shocked)
Sam!

There are a few snorts and giggles as SAM makes a “what’d I do?” expression at the THERAPIST, who stares at him in dismay. GATSBY folds his arms sadly and slides down in his chair. The THERAPIST leans over and touches his shoulder.

THERAPIST (CONT’D)
(kindly)
I’m sorry, Jay. Would you like to finish?

GATSBY shakes his head no and slides down further in his chair, pouting. A beat of silence, then ESTHER GREENWOOD, a rail-thin young woman with bobbed hair, conservative clothing, and wide eyes, speaks up.

ESTHER
Well, I can’t even imagine getting married. I mean, I’m not getting married. If I get married, then I’ll never be able to do anything! I’d have to choose between my husband and my career and I just… I-I don’t know. It’s like my life is this beautiful fig tree and each of my choices is a fat, purple fig, but I’m stuck in the branches and starving to death because I couldn’t make up my mind about which figs I wanted.

BILLY
(absently)
So it goes.

Everyone ignores BILLY, but SAM stares at him. PRINCE HAMLET, a rude and angsty young man dressed all in black, interjects.

HAMLET
(mocking)
What twaddle. You think your life is hard? Your most difficult decision is choosing between marriage and writing poetry. That’s nothing compared to my life, what with my father being dead, my uncle having murdered him, and my mother being so idle she’ll leap into the bed of the closest warm body without a moment’s hesitation.

THERAPIST
(placating)
Hamlet, please. There’s no need to attack Esther when she’s sharing.

HAMLET
(matter-of-fact)
There is if she is going to be ridiculous and absurd.

THERAPIST
(chastising)
Hamlet!

HAMLET
(long, dramatic sigh)
Fine.

ESTHER glares at HAMLET, who rolls his eyes in response. The THERAPIST looks around, then smiles at ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN.

THERAPIST
Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, would either of you like to share? You’ve been awfully quiet today.

ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN, two naive and often-baffled men whom no one can tell apart, look at each other.

GUILDENSTERN
Should we?

ROSENCRANTZ
I’d like to.

GUILDENSTERN
But what about?

ROSENCRANTZ
I have something.

GUILDENSTERN
Do you?

ROSENCRANTZ
Are we playing questions again?

GUILDENSTERN
What do you think?

ROSENCRANTZ
Do I think?

GUILDENSTERN
Don’t you?

ROSENCRANTZ
I suppose.

GUILDENSTERN
Statement. One, love.

ROSENCRANTZ
When did we start keeping score?

GUILDENSTERN
Since now.

ROSENCRANTZ
(triumphantly)
Statement! One all.

Everyone has been watching the exchange like a tennis match, looking between the two men as they alternate speaking. SAM is the only one who looks confused – the others are used to it – but his confusion quickly morphs into frustration.

SAM
(angry)
Just share already!!

ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN look up, then ROSENCRANTZ starts speaking.

ROSENCRANTZ
Well, we were talking and I asked him if he ever thinks of himself as actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it? And he said no, and I said, ‘Nor do I, really. It’s silly to be depressed by it. I mean, one thinks of it as being alive in a box, but one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead, which should make all the difference… shouldn’t it? I mean, you’d never know you were in the box, would you? It would be just like being asleep in a box. Not that I’d like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air – you’d wake up dead, for a start, and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box.’ And then he said –

GUILDENSTERN
Stop flogging it to death.

ROSENCRANTZ
What a thought, right?

HAMLET groans loudly.

HAMLET
(whining)
Why my mother and the traitor thought it was a good idea to stick me with these two half-wits who can barely tell each other apart – because they’ll both look if you say, “Guildenstern” –

Both ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN look at HAMLET, and GUILDENSTERN angrily elbows ROSENCRANTZ for looking.

HAMLET (CONT’D)
– let alone have a meaningful conversation about death, which they know nothing about, I will never truly know.

ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN lower their heads in embarrassment.

ESTHER
(quietly)
Well, maybe if you weren’t acting like an escaped mental patient, your parents wouldn’t have had to call them in.

HAMLET
(sarcastic)
As if you have any room to talk, what with being actually insane.

ESTHER’S mouth drops open in horror and she starts whimpering. GATSBY awkwardly pats her on the shoulder, trying to comfort her.

HAMLET slides further down in his chair and throws up his hands in anger.

HAMLET (CONT’D)
(shouting)
This is ludicrous! I can’t work with these irrational nutcases!

BILLY
(absently)
“There they go, there they go.” He meant his brains.

The patients start talking over one another.

ROSENCRANTZ
(to GUILDENSTERN)
‘Cause you’d be helpless, wouldn’t you, stuffed in a box like that? I mean you’d be in there forever, even taking into account the fact that you’re dead.

GUILDENSTERN
(irritated)
You’re still on about that?

ROSENCRANTZ
It’s an unpleasant thought, isn’t it?

GUILDENSTERN
I think I’m going to kill you.

ESTHER
(sobbing)
Oh, God, I’m such a disappointment. What must they all think of me? Why couldn’t I just die?
[repeat]

GATSBY
(sniffling)
Daisy… Oh, Daisy…
[repeat]

BILLY
(underscore; absently)
The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist.

HAMLET
(loudest of all; angry and despairing)
O that this too too solid flesh would melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew! Or that the Everlasting had not fix’d His canon ’gainst self-slaughter! O God! O God! How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this world! Fie on’t! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden, that grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature possess it merely. That it should come to this! But two months dead! — nay, not so much, not two: so excellent a king; that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr; so loving to my mother, that he might not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth! Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him –

Basically, the session has erupted into chaos. The THERAPIST tries calming the patients down but she is ineffective, her voice swallowed up by the wailing and yelling.

Meanwhile, SAM has been watching. At the onset of the chaos, he was perplexed. Now he is disgusted and irate. Finally he stands up and shouts, cutting off HAMLET’S soliloquy.

SAM
(enraged)
HEY! SHUT UP!!

Everyone immediately stops talking.

SAM (CONT’D)
What the hell is wrong with you people? Seriously?

SAM sarcastically addresses each character in turn.

SAM (CONT’D)
(to GATSBY)
Dude, you need to get a life. Yeah, Daisy’s hot and you guys used to be in love and all, but that was five years ago. She’s obviously moved on, you know, being married and everything. And it’s not like you couldn’t get any girl you wanted. You have nothing to prove to her. Why would you even want to? She’s obviously a bitch. You should just enjoy all your money and booze and whatever and get over her. She’s not worth it.
(to ESTHER)
Okay, what century are you living in? We have a little thing called “working moms,” where, you know, you have kids and a career. God, why would you ever think you needed to choose between one or the other? And just because you can’t choose right now doesn’t make you a failure. So stop freaking out and get a grip.
(to BILLY)
I don’t even know what the hell you’re saying, but it’s seriously messed up. Life’s hard, I get that, but you can’t just disregard it all by believing in aliens and time travel! Be a character in your own friggin’ story, man, not the stupid plot device that’s killed off in three pages!
(to HAMLET)
We get it, man. Your dad’s dead. Your uncle did it. Your life’s messed up. We friggin’ get it. Maybe if you’d grow a pair and actually do something with your life, you wouldn’t be here. Either that creepy ghost-thing was telling you the truth or it wasn’t, so you just need to make up your mind about the whole thing and kill Claudius already. Also, lay off your mom and Ophelia. First, Ophelia never did anything but love you. Second, it’s seriously creepy that you’re obsessed with your mom’s sex life. Not okay in any context.
(to ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN; winding down)
And you two! You’re like some bizarre combination of your buddy Hamlet over there and Billy friggin’ Pilgrim! Just ‘cause you’re minor characters in Hamlet’s big production of beating around the bush doesn’t mean you can’t do something with your lives. Or at least friggin’ question it. Don’t be a Billy! And the obsession with death and boxes, while deeply philosophical and funny as hell, is weird. So stop. Everyone. Just. Stop.

SAM glares at them all for a minute, breathing heavily from his lengthy rant, then his expression clears. His shoulders relax and he straightens up.

SAM (CONT’D)
Wow. I think I get books now.

Without another word or even a glance back, SAM leaves.

The patients and THERAPIST sit in uncomfortable silence for a few long moments, glancing around nervously at everything but each other. Finally, the THERAPIST looks at her watch and clears her throat.

THERAPIST
Well. Our time is up. I’ll see you all next week.

Everyone except BILLY stands up, exchanges a few awkward glances, then leaves the room. On his way out, HAMLET stuffs his hands in his pockets and halfheartedly kicks a chair over.

BILLY remains seated, staring off into space. SAM’S rant clearly didn’t cut through the fog.

The lights turn off. BILLY shuffles in his chair.

BILLY
Oh. Hi, Montana.

END SCENE.

Genre Paper 2: Links

I spent ALL DAY expanding on my genre paper so it will meet our rubric. Missing that whole “completely open-ended” thing…

Anyway, I wrote a screenplay based on an idea I had a couple of years ago in my AP Lit class. Fearing I wouldn’t do so hot based on our new rubric, I transformed the entire thing into a lesson plan. So:

Here is my lesson plan with a sources cited/consulted list at the end.

Here is the informational handout and assignment.

Here is the outline I made for my screenplay, doubling as an example outline.

I’ll probably post my screenplay tomorrow (don’t want to spoil the surprise!).

So, to make it clear, I wrote in two completely unfamiliar genres, it’s public because they’re Google docs, and I had to do research to write all this nonsense!  Rubric = done.

Now, I need a break…

Elementary

Who is this?

It’s only a silhouette – no detail, no color, not even facial features- and yet you can still identify who it is.

Yay! It’s Sherlock Holmes!

Sherlock Holmes holds the record as the most-portrayed fictional character on screen; Shakespeare’s Hamlet comes in second. It’s estimated that 72 different actors have played the 125-year-old detective, the most recent addition being Jonny Lee Miller from CBS’s Elementary. Early actors went the way of the silhouette – which is a statue in front of the Baker Street Underground Station in London – complete with deerstalker and Inverness cape, but more recent actors, such as Robert Downey Jr. and my future husband Benedict Cumberbatch, have forgone the look in favor of steampunk Victorian and the most badass coat in the history of outerwear, respectively.

How is this relevant, you may be wondering. More specifically, how is this related to education?

Before you even started reading this blog, you were probably able to identify the above silhouette as Sherlock Holmes. At the very least, you recognize it. It’s so classic and so universal that that symbol is stamped onto the spines of mystery novels in libraries everywhere. Even if you don’t know his name, you know his image.

The fact is Sherlock Holmes is everywhere. Not only is he the inspiration for the majority of detectives and detective duos in books, movies, and TV shows, his original stories have been remade hundreds of times, three having premiered in the last three years alone. Wikipedia even has an entire page dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and pop culture.

Before I go further, I should dispel the rumor that he never existed. Sherlock Holmes is not and was not a real person; he was just the fanciful creation of a bored doctor named Arthur Conan Doyle waaay back in Victorian-era England. Neither is/was Dr. Watson, his faithful companion and biographer, although his character was based on Doyle himself. They were characters in a book, nothing more. Made me sad when I found out.

But you’d never know that by simply asking people. I would bet that 1/3 would say, perhaps with a trace of trepidation, that he was a real person. Why is that? Because Holmes has so deeply ingratiated himself into pop culture that children can recognize that the above image represents “mystery.” And the idea of a police consultant? That came from him, too – the world’s first consulting detective.

So how is this related to education? Because the original stories are classic literature. Yeah, they may not be ground-breaking works in terms of style or themes, but they have produced one of the most iconic characters in history, so they’re worth having a look at. I first studied the stories in seventh grade as part of a mystery unit around Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote one of the first detective stories, because Poe inspired Doyle and his creation. I also studied two of the stories last semester, in my British Literature class and World Literature class, because Holmes is both classically English and universally amazing.

The stories are also very representative of Victorian literature and Victorian England as a whole. Through Dr. Watson, Doyle professes some of the common beliefs and ideals of your upstanding Englishman: the rise of the middle class, the pros and cons of colonialism, the fear of the “other,” the ideal woman, Freudian theories (although these were probably by accident). But Doyle also created an ideal hero. Holmes is more than a detective; he is an agent of justice. He makes it clear that he is not a policeman, so therefore he is not bound by a policeman’s rules, i.e. the law.

Here’s an example. Imagine you were being stalked by someone; what would you do? Most likely, you would go to the police and tell them you were being stalked. The police would hand you a restraining order and grimace, because that’s all they can do to help you. Until the stalker puts your safety at risk, he or she is off limits in the law’s eyes. How would that make you feel? Safe?

The difference between Sherlock Holmes and the police is that the police follow the law and Holmes seeks justice. He will always believe you, solve your problem, and make things right. If you were able to take this problem to Holmes, he would not rest until the stalker was behind bars or out of the country and you were safe. Wouldn’t you feel better with a guy like that on your side?

And, better still, he is not an ideal hero; Holmes has flaws just like every other human being. He’s arrogant, melodramatic, and easily bored. His wit is sharp and caustic, particularly to the bumbling police force, but Dr. Watson is not beyond his sting. Not only is he above the law, sometimes he is the law. And, perhaps most damning, he’s a cocaine addict for about a third of the stories. Because Holmes appears in 56 short stories and four novels, Doyle had loads of time to develop his and Watson’s characters, to really humanize them in a way that hadn’t really been done before. However, because Holmes stands for such lofty ideals, these flaws endear him rather than offend and alienate his readers. That’s why people keep coming back to the stories, people keep writing about him, and he keeps cropping up on our screens.

Most people don’t know all this, but I think it’s important that they do. Doyle has contributed so much to pop culture, not only in his legendary characters, but in the style of his stories and even some of Holmes’s methods– many great strides in forensic science have come about thanks Holmes and Doyle. And, while the stories may not be strictly canonical or the best thing since Shakespeare and sliced bread, they have a lot to offer readers, both young and old. I’m hoping that, someday, I’ll be able to teach these stories in my classroom, and I really hope my students will enjoy them.

If this sparked your interest, all the stories are available for free on the internet, and there are dozens of film and television adaptations on Netflix and Youtube. And if you haven’t already, you should definitely watch Sherlock, ’cause Watson has to blog too!

And so I leave you with this:

Colorado’s Teacher Effectiveness Tool

In my group this week, we agreed to peruse the Eduwonk blog, which is a lot like our blog because a) multiple people blog on it, and b) it’s all about education! Anyway, second blog down summarized many different articles, so I started clicking and skimming to find something of interest. Then I found this article that was published in the New York Times yesterday and was excited to see this picture:

Yay Colorado! I like when our state is in the news and nothing’s on fire and nobody’s deceased. Plus doesn’t that guy look so happy?

This article talks about the state-imposed Teacher Effectiveness Tool, which will come into effect in the 2014-15 school year. Combined with standardized test scores and classroom observations, teachers will be evaluated with this 24 page rubric, which is a checklist on such broad ideas as “motivates students to make connections to prior learning” and “provides instruction that is developmentally appropriate for all students.” The NYT was kind enough to attach a link to the rubric, which can be viewed here. ‘Cause I know how much our class loves rubrics.

This evaluation tool, and others like it, came about due to pressure from the Race to the Top program and the No Child Left Behind law – funding from Race and waivers from NCLB – and within the last three years, 36 states and the District of Columbia have implemented new teacher evaluation policies. Teachers are graded on a scale of “effectiveness”: highly effective, effective, partially effective, or an ineffective. Anyone who receives an average “ineffective” or “partially ineffective” rating for two consecutive years will lose their tenure, and are given two years to improve. If they don’t, they will lose their jobs, which, naturally, is Colorado teachers’ biggest fear.

I actally saw this new tool in action. I went to Lucille Erwin Middle School to do my observation for my EDUC 275 class, which is where my mom works, and she and her vice principal let me sit in as they went through the second half of the rubric. As I listened, I was surprised by how big a focus there was on what students were doing in the classroom, and what students appeared to be getting out of the lessons. It’s less about what the teacher is doing and more about what they have done in their classrooms to encourage their students to participate. There was definitely a dialogue going on between my mom and her vice principal, and she was honest about what she has and has not done and what her students are able to do now and will be able to do by the end of the year.

So I think it’s a pretty great tool, and that it has the potential to be more effective than traditional evaluations. It’s more specific and allows for some leeway, and hopefully more honesty. And, because it is so specific, I think that teachers who struggle to meet some of the standards will have a better idea of what they need to be doing in their classrooms in order to improve. Then again, I like rubrics.

Photograph © The New York Times