Thoughts about Bright Ideas

Okay, so I have to be really honest with this blog entry and I don’t think that it is going to make Prof. Rozema very happy (Sorry!!).  I thought that the teaching conference was a waste of my time and money.  Told you Prof. Rozema was not going to be very happy.

The thing is, I was REALLY excited to go to the conference.  I was even okay with waking up really early on a Saturday that should have been spent working on end of term projects (like these two, huge, overwhelming pedagogy projects that I have to do).  However, I must have put my hopes too high because I was disappointed.

To begin, the Key note speaker Jacqueline Woodson, while she was relatively funny I failed to follow her speech.  It felt like a bunch of random comments intermixed with snippets from her books.  I did enjoy when she shared her writing with all of us–she really gets at the voice of her characters and presents them well.  Overall, I enjoyed her funny comments and her readings but I honestly can not tell you what the point of her speech was.

After the Keynote, I went to a breakout session that was meant to talk about literature circles.  The presenters wanted to give us a way to connect to both reluctant readers and to literature lovers.  A literature circle composed for reluctant readers is one that allows them to choose whatever book they want to read, whether it is a trashy romance novel, a comic book, or a classic.  When students are able to choose their own book, this makes them want to read it more.

For literature lovers a literature circle is a bit different.  Because they are already reading for fun, these students often need to meet at times outside of the confines of the classroom.  The presenter brought in three high school girls that are part of a lit circle that meets once a month to discuss books they are reading, and things that they are writing.  The girls said that since it was not part of a classroom setting they felt more comfortable because nothing was for a grade.  Plus, they know that everyone there reads and writes just as much as they do so they do not have to feel like the loser “book worm” like they do when they share in class.

So my problems with the session are:

I feel that I learned better ways of engaging reluctant readers during Eng 311 though the use of not only lit circles, but also, Symbolic Story Representations, dramas, games, etc.  This session only presented one idea–which I already knew about. I would suggest that the presenter read Wilhelm’s You Gotta BE the Book to enhance her ideas. 

I think that as far as the after school lit circle for literature lovers goes–it would be difficult.  Many teachers simply do not have the time to stay after school for a couple of hours to hang out with the students.  Regardless of this argument–I think that the people who love literature should not be separated into their own group.  Instead, they should be used to help the reluctant readers enter the story world by showing how they do it.

Overall, the session did not really teach me anything new, but it did demonstrate that lit circles do work.  I plan on using lit circles in my future classroom so it was nice to hear teachers claim that they worked, but it was even better to listen to the high school girls talk about what they enjoyed about lit circles.

The second session that I went to was meant to teach me how to interview well.  However, it was just a bunch of obvious recommendations such as: dress up, know your stuff, and be confident.  I felt rather ridiculous because we “role played” in groups for a little while pretending to be principals or interviewees.  I did enjoy one of the hand outs that they gave titled: “Common Interview Questions/Prompts.”  It seems rather handy for when I practice my interview with someone else, but the questions are rather obvious.  The one idea that I did gain was to visit the school website before interviewing to learn the school colors, mascot, purpose statement, etc. because soemtimes principals will ask these questions to see if the person they are interviewing really cares about the school itself.  I thought that it was a neat idea.

I feel bad that I did not get much out of this conference, but it is the honest truth.  I wish that I would have attended different breakout sessions, because some of them sounded really neat.  This one experience does not put me off to the whole conference thing, so I am sure that I will go to really meaningful conferences later in life, but for today, sorry but, I am still disappointed.  I hope the rest of you enjoyed your time and learned more than I did! 


Conclusion on Censorship: Good AND Bad

Censorship was a more difficult topic than I first thought that it would be.  But here are my conclusions of the semester:

I feel that the true question behind censorship is “Why??”  Why are we banning this book? Why do we think it is unsuitable?  Why would we want to keep people away from it? If these questions can be answered sufficiently than censorship seems to be an okay thing.  But see, now I’m asking myself – who determines if the answers are sufficient?  Oh censorship, you tricky subject you! Okay, I guess that overall I think that censorship has leaked into too many areas of our lives and is mostly used with bad intent.  I feel that sometimes subject matter frightens people into claiming that books are “unsuitable.”  To which I would reply that these people need to examine the world around them and see that there are lots of different things that people are exposed to in everyday situations.  Sometimes, these things are confusing and hard to understand.  However, many people (myself included) find that exploring these issues in books helps them to understand the issue and how to deal with it.  Therefore, books dealing with “off color” words such as scrotum, or issues such as sexuality are often helpful. 

However, there are times when censorship is good.  I would not want to thrust ideas upon people if they are too immature to handle them.  It is one thing for students to go to a library, pick out a book, and read it on their own.  It is quite another to have a teacher in the front of the classroom force children to read things that they may not be ready to explore.  If teachers want to teach books that may be controversial they will want to be ready with arguments to back up why they are teaching a book (like the activity that we did in class for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.)

So, overall I feel that censorship has gone too far in that it affects everything from standardized tests, to novels in class, and even war.  However, if there were no rules at all then teachers/people would be able to get away with whatever they wanted and I think that in the end many students could be harmed by certain novels if they are not ready to deal with the issues presented. 

The final thing that I want to talk about is blogs.  I feel that blogs are a great addition to a literary classroom.  Teachers could ask students to post thoughts, feelings, etc. about the novels in class.  They can also post discussion boards where students can talk about issues in the book or answer questions.  It takes the literary discussion away from the classroom and in doing so gives everybody a place to express what they feel about a novel being studied.

Powerful Healing Potential!

The semester is finally over and now it is time to sum up all of the things that I have explored with this post!  Let me see here:          

To begin, I learned that there are many students that deal with depression.  Often, these students do not show clear-cut signs that they are depressed.  Teenagers do not want people to think that they are different, because this would make them an “outcast” at their schools or in their families.  So, instead of talking about it they bottle up their emotions which leads to even more hurt, anger, confusion, and depression. 

Next, I learned that writing has been known to help out many people that are in dire situations: cancer patients, people in jail, and other depressed people. After seeing how writing has helped others I have come to the conclusion that writing down thoughts/feelings is a great way to help teenagers that deal with depression. One of the first articles that we read by Elbow stated that writing is about telling the truth.  If students are encouraged to write about the struggles they face every day it may help them in dealing with the struggles.  I also think that the writing process has a lot to add to this equation.  The first step of the writing process is to “just get it down”/ “write and write a lot.”  I think these concepts are very therapeutic in that students are able to sit and write what they feel without having to “edit their emotions.”  They are given the ability to forget about mechanics, format, and grades and simply write just for the benefit of writing. 

I have explored the idea of a daily journal a lot in this post and I have come to the conclusion that it would be helpful for students.  I think that it not only can help them with their depression/anxiety, but will make them better writers overall.  Starting off each day of a writing class by giving students time to write shows them the importance of writing and the benefits that are reaped from it. 

 Finally, I want to talk about the use of blogs in a classroom.  I think that blogs have been an interesting addition to the “traditional English class.”  They take writing a step farther than simply objects that are produced for the classroom/teachers eyes only.  Using my topic, if students were to use their blogs to explore their own thoughts, feelings, and ideas then they too could be an interesting way to deal with depression.  It takes a lot of bravery to post something on the web for everyone to see, but I think that it would be very therapeutic for the student and also helpful to others that would come across it.  

 So overall, blogs are great, depression sucks, and writing has POWERFUL HEALING POTENTIAL!

Writing as a Career= Depression?

So far most if not all of my posts have shown that writing can help those who are battling with depression.

So this week, it was my goal to try and find an article or blog that went against my own belief.  It took awhile but I finally did it.

I found a blog written by Ian Hocking, a writer from the U.K, that expresses that writing as a career can actually increase the chance that a person will be depressed.

He writes,

The writer works alone and for long periods. Social isolation is linked to depression because social interaction provides various kinds of support that can inhibit depressive thoughts and tendencies. The writer doesn’t get much exercise. Regular exercise mitigates against the development of depressive symptoms. The writer is poorly paid, and this might lead to poor diet (though I must say that, in my case, the reduction in shopping budget has led to healthier meals), which is linked to depression. Poor pay is also linked to lowered social status, another causal factor in depression. Finally, your success as a writer is almost completely attributable to other people – editors, publishers, readers – and when those people aren’t helpful…this might lead to a sense of hopelessness, and a feeling that the fundamentals of life are not under your control.”

I think that this blog is a nice contrast to all of my musings and emotional entries about how writing is the way to deal with depression.  According to Ian and the Grumpy Old Bookman, writing is sometimes the cause of depression.

I understand that choosing writing as a career can be a frustrating path that leads to depression and I think that is exactly where my old posts differ from this one.

My other posts deal with writers who are writing just for the pleasure of writing or writing to specifically deal with a problem such as depression.  The blogs talked about here deal with writing as a career.

I still feel that overall I would claim that writing does indeed help depression, but now after reading these two blogs I might be a little more reluctant to tell a student that may be prone to depression to choose writing as his/her career.

Ian Hocking.”Depression in the Arts.” March 14, 2007

Michael Allen. “Suicide is painless.” March 14, 2007

“In The Mix” helps with Depression

I was trying to find examples of writing that teenagers have produced about their depression. I stumbled across the web site for “In the Mix.”  My link brings you to examples of writing, but I want to encourage all of you to browse around on the site.

 “In the Mix” is a film that talks about teen depression and how to know if symptoms that students are showing are just from everyday stress or if they are battling with depression.  It provides current stats about depression and teenage suicide and even provides definitions to “depression” and “self-injury.”  I think this is a great site to visit—especially for future teachers.  It also has a place where you can order a video. Now, I am not advocating that you run out and get the movie—but it might be something that you could show to students in the first couple days of school to show them that they are not the only people dealing with depression. 

The thing that I love most about this site is that it provides a space for people to out post their thoughts, feelings, and personal testimonies about depression. The first story really hit me.  This kid goes through all this terrible stuff just so that he can live.  At the hospital he has to eat charcoal in order to make himself throw up all of the pills inside of him.  The thing that affected me the most was when he writes,  

“In the hospital, on my floor, there were a lot of sick kids. I mean, really sick…and I was there because I tried to kill myself. I took a room from someone who could have been dying, all because I did something stupid.”

He realizes that suicide is not the way to die and that it really is “something stupid.” The other writer ends with a poem that I would like to share with you. 

“Take a razor
Slit your wrist,
Until there’s no sound left,
Beat the crap
out of yourself
while no one cares,
Until you finally
Dig to the bottom
Of your being.
Go as far
as you can go,
On the road of self-discovery,
Even if it results
in death.”

The thing that I like most about both entries is that they both do not say that there struggle is over.  They both realize that they can receive help but do not act as if the problem will just disappear.

I think using these or other examples of writers talking about depression is an awesome thing to use in the classroom.  They can be used to start a discussion or to be used in a journal activity.I think that so far I have found that writing seems to help people with depression.  But this takes it one step further: when student writing gets published-whether in a book, magazine, or on the web-its potential grows.  Not only does it help the writer, but it can help all of the people who read it as well.

D. and M.P. “Teens Writing About Depression.”

Censorship—through Bombing?

In these last three posts about censorship I have tried to get off of the obvious topic and expand my knowledge about different types of censorship and different reasons for censorship.


During my semester look at censorship I learned that there are many different reasons: to guard our children from items that we feel they should not be exposed to, because of certain morality issues, and more recently I learned that it can be used to standardize our language. 

Today, I want to talk about extreme censorship. One of my last posts was about Abdel Kareem Soliman who was censored even went to jail because of what he posted on his blog.  This post is about the most extreme censorship of all.  Bombing.


A suicide car bomber blew up the Mutanabi book market in Baghdad.  This is not just simple censorhip of one book because it says a sexual word—this is censorship of reading and knowledge in general.


The authors Sumana Raychaudhuri and Saswato Das state


“The symbolism was clear: The suicide car-bomber wanted to strike at the heart of
Iraq’s intellectual life… it is clear that the bombing, which killed and injured scores and left a 20-foot-wide crater, was targeted at those who think, read or are interested in learning.”


They think that the best retaliation to the bombing would be to rebuild the book market.  They think it would be a symbol showing that no matter what happens that the people of Baghdad will continue to gain knowledge.


Now, I do not think that it is the best of ideas to re-build just because it will probably be attacked again, but there are other ways to retaliate.


“A popular Arab saying holds that “Cairo writes, Beirut prints,Baghdad reads.” For a thousand years, Baghdad has been a leading cultural light of the Arab world, and this is not the first time its books have been desecrated.”


I think that if the people of Baghdad find ways to keep reading even with all of the war and destruction that they will send the message that no matter what –they will not stand for this type of censorship and will continue to educate themselves.


This article taught me to look at the reasons behind censorship.  Are the people who are doing the censorship doing it because they want to protect me, or are they doing it to send me a message that I can not learn.


The reasons behind censorship determine whether or not censorship is okay.

Sumana Raychaudhuri and Saswato Das.”A tradegy for all who love books.” Newsday. March 14, 2007

Standardized Tests and Censorship

I know that there are a lot of people in my 310 class that are looking at standardized testing.  This post is for all of you!!  Check out this article that I found about the process that tests go through in order to be “non-biased.” The author Cristi Laquer feels that  

the process of bias and sensitivity review is something perhaps more sinister: a particularly stunning demonstration of how the inertia built into bureaucracy can maintain a concept of standardization that actually requires censorship to function.”

Laquer talks about many different sentences and words that had to be cut out of questions just because someone on the panel thought that it would be biased towards one group or another.  Anything dealing with religious beliefs, the word wizard, and even a story dealing with mountains had to be cut out. Now, I can understand where words carrying religious connotations need to be cut out, but “mountains”?!?!.  Honestly people, just because students do not live in the mountains does not mean that they do not know what they are.  But apparently 

“children from non-mountainous regions might not understand it.”

Laquer was on a panel that just dealt with vocabulary questions.  They had to make sentences that would be used in a vocabulary section on a standardized test.  So, my feelings on the whole thing are that trying to “fix” our standardized tests is becoming almost ridiculous. Honestly, the point of vocab is not always whether or not a child knows a word, but if they can derive its meaning based on its context.  So, using a story about mountains would not really matter because it is not about personal experience but more so about developing meaning through what a student reads (Yippie for Reader Response Theory).  Honestly, I agree with the author that the intentions are good, but all of this review is turning into harsh censorship.  Laquer ends by saying,  

“Our language is being sanitized by the government, but we should not assume that censorship is always the result of a villain that we can fight head on. It is the result of thousands of well-meaning people trying to create a standard and a way to test everyone against it. Perfect standardization is probably impossible, and it may be time to consider that it is also undesirable. A language meant to fit everyone is meant to benefit no one.”

I especially like her last sentence so I ‘m going to let her end my blog with it as well:

“A language meant to fit everyone is meant to benefit no one.”

Cristi Laquer.”Standardizing Sensitivity.” The College Hill Independent.March 16, 2007.  

Be Careful When You Blog

This post does not have to do with whether censorship is a good or bad thing.  It also does not talk about a specific book being censored as my other posts do.  I needed a short break from all of the same ‘ol stuff.


This weekend I found an article that talked about awards that were handed out to people who went against censorship.  Some of them wrote stories, others made films, and others simply spoke out about what they believed.

The journalism award went to Abdel Kareem Soliman who wrote using the name Kareem Amer.  This post will be about him. You may be wondering why I would blog about a journalist instead of talking about the man who got the literature award.  I understand that my topic is censorship in literature, but I chose Soliman because he was censored because of his blogging.  If you want to see his site I have a link at the bottom of the page.  You won’t be able to read it, but it is pretty cool anyways. 

Even more that just being banned from the web, Soliman  

was recently sentenced to four years in prison after using his web log to criticize the country’s top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university, and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator.”

It is odd because in our classroom we see blogging as an educational tool, something fun to do on the weekend, a way to connect with others, and a way to put our knowledge out for people to see.  We don’t really think that there may be other people reading our stuff (besides the teacher and fellow classmates.)   It really hit me in class on Thursday when Professor Rozema showed us the blog conversation that took place between the student and the author of the “This I Believe” essay.  Then, I found the short article on censorship awards and the two of them combined made me really think about the things I write before I post. 

As bloggers we need to be careful about what we say and how we say it.  The internet has such potential for us now and for our future students.  However, we all need to realize that what we post is out there for ALL to see and the things that we say should be closely monitored.  Now, I’m not saying that we can’t take a stand for our beliefs—in fact I think that is what blogging is all about but I am saying that how we say things makes a big difference.

So, yeah I just thought it was neat to think about all the people who are potentially reading our blogs. So be careful what you say!

Abdel Kareem Soliman’s blog.

“Awards for free speech defenders”. BBC News. March 14, 2007

Censorship Affects More Than Books.

Over the last month or so that I have been looking at censorship within schools I have found many articles against censorship and a couple that are all for it.  Today I ran across an article that was talking about censorship within all aspects of life not just novels. 

The article talks about how censorship occurs within politics, and our laws—the example that the article used is that we do not allow child pornography.  As far as politics go, the beginning of the article talked about various cases where assassination was used as censorship.  If a person does not want another one to be heard, in essence they want to “ban” them, they do so by killing them.  Obviously this form of censorship is wrong. In the case of censorship based on laws it is needed or people would run rampant and child porn could potentially be legal but how far should we let censorship go?  How culturally based is it?  

After talking about political censorship the article moved on to censorship in literature.  It proposed a reading of various previously banned books.  It claims,  

Reading the great banned books of other times and other climes will hardly sort out the dilemmas and contradictions that recur in the history of public speech. It might, though, help us to understand that the sands of taboo and transgression, of heresy and blasphemy, are forever shifting under our feet. Within a generation (to take just two obvious examples), Joyce’s Ulysses and Lawrence’s The Rainbow moved from being proscribed to being prescribed – from the magistrates’ court to the seminar room. Other novels travel in the contrary direction. In 1900, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery saga Uncle Tom’s Cabin seemed to millions one of the noblest, most influential books since the Bible. By 2000, it had become a byword for patronizing ignorance. Our shibboleths and scapegoats will no doubt look as bizarre to future critics as the passions of the past so often do to us.”

I agree with this part of the article.  Many novels that were banned no longer are or maybe they still are but no longer should be.  People who are thinking about banning a book need to truly look at the reasons for banning it.  Are we banning it because the topic makes us uncomfortable? (Homosexuality, race issues, women’s rights), or are we banning it for valid reasons?  I think that these questions need to truly be addressed before a book is banned.  How much is society playing a role in the banning?

I think that we do need to realize that censorship of literature may not always be right and we should look into how much of our lives are infiltrated by other forms of censorship.  The article ended with a lot of quotes from various authors about censorship and I will leave you with my favorite.

“’Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.’”ALFRED WHITNEY GRISWOLD, ‘THE NEW YORK TIMES’, 1959

James Madision. “Censorship: Still A Burning Issue.” The Independent. Feb. 25, 2007

Helping Patients Cure Themselves

When we try and heal people in hospitals we do not just heal the physical problem but rather we heal the person as a whole.  This includes allowing family members to visit, decorating rooms with flowers and balloons, making sure the patient is not depressed, and by making sure to talk to the patient everyday.  I propose that we add yet another: Give every patient a notebook and ask them to write in it everyday. 

I have yet again found another article where writing has been proven beneficial.  Earlier on my site I talked about how writing helped the women that were in prison deal with their issues.  Today, I will talk about how it has also helped patients in the hospitals—specifically those dealing with cancer. Susan Bauer-Wu, director of the Cantor Center for Nursing and Patient Care Research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, claims that  

“research suggests that by spending 30 minutes each day for four days to write out their innermost thoughts and feelings, patients can significantly boost mental and physical health.”

This blog has been very beneficial to me so far.  Sometimes, I feel very connected to my topic about writing as therapy for depression.  I enjoy telling stories about my life and connecting it to what I am studying.  I sometimes feel that this within this blog and my blog for 310 that it is therapy for me. Now, I don’t share my innermost thoughts and feelings but I do share a lot about how I have felt in the past about things and when I give my opinion about something my feelings are being shared.  I am glad that there are people out there doing research about writing as therapy and that it apparently does work because it is something that I have been thinking about for years. 

Bauer-Wu defines writing therapy as,

“Expressive writing therapy is just that: Patients are encouraged to express whatever is on their mind, letting their hopes and fears flow out in a natural, unrestrained way. It’s akin to keeping a journal, but more focused on the things that might be bothering you or triggering stress.

“We tell them, ‘Don’t worry about the punctuation, the words, just go with the process,’ ” Bauer-Wu said. “We also encourage them to build on whatever they have written before.”

The result, for many patients, is a kind of catharsis — a release and articulation of issues bottled up inside — and also a healthy coming to terms with some of those issues.””

I absolutely love how she talks about the writing process and building on what they have written before.  It connects perfectly to process pedagogy which we looked at in English 310.  Her therapy is to let people write and write a lot for 30 minutes four times a week.  The results are amazing.

““One of the things that’s been found in cancer patients across different studies is what we call ‘improvements in health-care utilization,’ ” she said. “Patients end up going to their doctor or calling nurses less frequently. They need fewer sessions with a mental health counselor. Basically, they are having fewer physical symptoms and coping better.”

Indeed, there’s data that suggest that writing out your emotions eases stress and, in turn, boosts the immune system. “We’re not sure how that might work.””

I have become so excited about Writing or Expressive Therapy.  To me, there are no real downfalls to it.  In fact, so far all I have seen or read about are benefits that writing therapy brings to people. I am a little disappointed that there have not been articles specifically relating writing therapy as a way to help teenage depression, but I feel that if it is used to help cancer patients and women in prison then writing can definitely be used within a school setting as therapy as well.  Hopefully soon I will find an article that specifically links the two together.

E.J. Mundell.”Words Can Help Healing.” Canadian Press. Feb. 22, 2007

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