Up Above From Down Under


Up Above From Down Under.

This is a collection of memories and experiences from throughout the life and work of an Australian teacher who came to the USA and ended up staying. Beginning with early anecdotes from his experiences of arrival in Australia from Italy to beginning teaching in America, the author takes the reader through some comical and educational experiences.

Advertisements

New Word of the Day


THE NEOLOGIST STRIKES AGAIN! This is an announcement to all the linguists out there: I am coining a new word, I chanced upon it when I made a typo as I was writing something. The new word is:
YOLD and it is the past tense of YELL, just like
TOLD is the past tense of TELL

Sentence:

He was pleased with himself after he had yold the news all over the village as he had been told to do.

Saved In Iraq


SAVED IN IRAQ

by

Enzo Silvestri

            Daniel Mann sat wrapped in his thoughts, contemplating his life thus far. What had happened to his nice life back in St Pauls, North Carolina, how did he end up here?  He was reasonably popular in High School, and his grades were fairly keen as well.  He joined the 82nd atFortBragg, in Fayetteville, as soon as he was able to after school.  The Army taught him many things that he would be using throughout life, and as a bonus he would qualify for college tuition assistance after he returned from Iraq.  He remembered his last week at home before he deployed to the war zone.  His mom fed him his favorite food every evening, and all the town of St Pauls wished him well and gave him going away gifts.

The Life Center in McLean St, the Church he’d grown up in gave him so much strength and hope.  He remembered the Children’s Church each Sunday, and how he and his best friends would leave the service when Pastor Ray ushered them out to their respective classes.  Those were great times he remembered, and then the Youth Group, and Mr. and Mrs. Ivey, yes they sure had some fun and holy times together, singing, and praying and performing skits.  And then there was Tegan.  She was wonderful, and a year younger than Daniel.  He used to tease and poke fun at her in Children’s Church, and they were always arguing about something or other.  But then overnight everything seemed to change and he could feel an attraction between them as they sat in the Youth meetings, pretending not to look at each other.

“American!” his Arab captor sneered, “get up!”  Daniel stood and eyed the men who had just walked into his makeshift prison cell.  Mohammed, his guard showed in another man also dressed in military fatigues.

“Stand to attention for the Sheik, you Infidel pig!”  yelled Mohammed as he punctuated his order with a punch to Daniel’s kidney region.  Daniel straightened up slightly but he couldn’t do much as he had already been severely beaten during torture sessions since his capture.  The Sheik motioned for the guard to stand back out of the way and with a handful of papers he walked right in front of Daniel.  He spoke with an educated American accent as he held up the papers.

“Sergeant Daniel Mann,” the sheik said calmly, “82nd Airborne, isn’t it?”

Daniel droned out for what seemed like the hundredth time, “Mann, Daniel, Sergeant, 53624739.”

“Ah, yes, your name, rank and serial number, just like in the movies.  But you will see that today it will not work. Turnabout is fair so I am Sheik Ahmed bin Masawi, warrior of Allah.” He walked in front of Daniel and eye-balled him silently, then he started again philosophically.

“You know warfare today is as much conducted in the minds of people as on the battlefield, especially the gullible readers of the western newspapers.  You accuse us of muzzling the press, but your press shapes your knowledge, more than you think.  I know that you would rather be on your nice peaceful little farm in North Carolina, maybe drinking a beer, having a cookout?”

“I don’t drink.”  Muttered Daniel.

“I see, well no matter, I just have this document that I want you to read, and then sign.”  He handed it to Daniel who poured over it silently.  When he had finished reading it he turned back to Sheik Masawi, “So, you want me to rat out all my buddies and the US Government?”

“Yes, I want you to admit the truth, I know you Americans are afraid of the truth! Islam is the truth and the way.”

“You’re just using Christian words.”

“I am a Muslim!  I do not need your infidel words!”

“Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, Daniel insisted barely audibly, “He said that 600 years before Islam even existed.”

“Ahh yes Jesus, was a prophet of Islam too, but the Bible is so distorted, but you know even your Jesus, promised that another, the Paraclete was coming, that he was not fit to tie the shoe straps of, Mohammed.  Jesus prophesied the coming of Mohammed!”  Masawi calmly stated as if the information would shock his Christian prisoner.  Daniel steeled himself and faced the Sheik again.

“Actually, the only distortion here is your own, Jesus didn’t say that at all, in fact that was John the Baptizer talking about Jesus, and the Paraclete that Jesus talked about, he is the Holy Spirit, who came 50 days later on Pentecost so you…”  His words were cut off by a sharp blow in the face by Ahmed Masawi.

“Shut your filthy mouth American dog!” and he picked up the papers from where Daniel had dropped them.  “You will sign these papers, or you will experience some of your own Guantanamo methods until you beg for mercy, and there won’t be any bleeding hearts here to help you.”

The guard motioned to Mohammed and another man to bring Daniel into another room which was separated from the rest of the cell complex of the prison.  As he was escorted and dragged by the two men past the cells of the other soldiers, Masawi who was walking ahead of them kept reassuring with his soft voice that the pain would cease as soon as Daniel signed the confessions.  Daniel had a look around the room taking in all the elaborate equipment that adorned the walls and alcoves in the room.

“Impressive, isn’t it Sergeant Mann, I am a student of Archaeology you know, these shall we say, fine instruments of persuasion were discovered by the Antiquities Department.  Relics they are of the Crusader occupation in the eleventh century, and they are in remarkably good condition, don’t you think?”  Daniel remained mute before his captor.

“You know,” Masawi continued, “they don’t care about you.  Your precious Government sent you in here and now they are barely keeping their own jobs in the face of their own opposition in Washington.  They’ll end up pulling you all out and America will lose another one.  We will always be here.” Daniel looked at him as he paced up and down, “now, what was the document you destroyed when you were captured?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.” Daniel feigned ignorance.

“Come on Sergeant, we saw you throwing something into the fire just before you were captured, what was it?  What is your primary mission purpose in Mosul?”  He shouted at Daniel who just looked back at him with silent eyes, then he spoke softly again.

“I am sure that you have spent enough time in my country, probably at Harvard or Yale or Stanford to know that I wouldn’t be telling you anything, if in fact there was anything to tell.”  Ahmed ignored what Daniel had said and continued with his questioning.

“This radio,” he held the small device, was in your pack, who are you meeting, what was your objective, where is your partner?”

“I work alone, sort of like Dirty Harry, you know?” Ahmed’s hand slapped him hard across the face, then he turned to his subordinates, “Put him into the apparatus.”  And he pointed to an upright torture machine.  As they came towards him Daniel raised his arms and asked, “Please a moment,” and he fell to his knees praying silently.  The guards were about to grab him anyway when Masawi stopped them and allowed Daniel to pray.

When he’d finished he stood and willingly offered himself to his captors.  They took him to an upright pillar which was the support column in the corner of the chamber.  Driven into the top of it were iron staples for supporting heavy weights.  They put his wrists into iron gauntlets and made him step onto a box about two feet high.  His arms were then lifted up and an iron bar was passed through the rings of one gauntlet, then through the staple and rings of the second gauntlet. This done they fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it slipping, and then, removing the box from under his feet, they left him hanging by his hands and arms fastened above his head.  Hanging like this Daniel began to pray aloud and Masawi slapped him again, and asked him whether he was willing to talk now.

Daniel answered through gritted teeth, he could hardly utter the words, such was the gripping pain which came over him.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of…” he was cut short again by a slap to the face from Mohammed.  The pain was worst in his chest and belly, his hands and arms.  All the blood in his body seemed to rush up into his arms and hands and he felt as if blood was oozing out from the ends of his fingers and the pores of his skin.  But it was only a sensation caused by his flesh swelling above the irons holding them.  The pain was so excruciating that he thought he could not possibly endure it.  Yet he didn’t feel any inclination to give them the information they desired.  His Lord saw his weakness in the eyes of His mercy and didn’t permit him to be tortured beyond his strength.

The pain seemed to numb his senses and he drifted back to his insertion point with his squad.  He jumped first, and had come down into a thickly wooded field, where his canopy was snagged in a tree.  He’d released his harness and dropped the thirty or so feet to the ground with no trouble and he knew to keep radio silence.  He had headed for the rendezvous point but he was careless, and he stumbled into the path of the insurgent militia.  He thought of just taking cover and getting into a firefight with them but then his buddies would join in and blow their objective, so with a half a dozen AKs pointed at him he’d silently just raised his arms to fight another day.  He was brought back to the present by a bucket of water splashed in his face, and he was thankful for some moisture at least.

His captors continued questioning him and inflicting pain with the pillar device.  The questions were the same as always, the same ones that Daniel had refused to answer but they just kept on and on at him, expecting to wear him down eventually.  They took turns twisting Daniels body so that the irons on his hands and wrists would dig in and lacerate his arms, leaving great welts.  Daniel was thankful for he did lose consciousness a few times and this brought some relief as he couldn’t feel the pain.  However, as soon as Mohammed and his partner saw that Daniel was unconscious they would rouse him again only to redouble their efforts.

Daniel’s thoughts went back to The Life Center, to Pastor Ray giving a sermon.  He could picture the Pastor lying on the floor during his sermon to illustrate a point and he smiled outwardly.  He thought of Tegan and feelings of warmth came over him and he smiled again.  The commander strode back into the torture cell as the prisoner was being woken from his faint once again.  Ahmed was angered that the American would smile at being tortured.

“Sergeant do you think this is amusing, let me assure you I am deadly serious, I know you had partners and you will eventually reveal the target.” Daniel shook his head once again as Masawi could see the pain that was shooting up his body, it won’t be long he thought.

“Where is your Jesus now?” Masawi taunted Daniel.

“In fact,” Daniel grimaced his words, “when I was praying just now he spoke to me and he sent me relief.  He sees my agony and the struggle going on in my body and mind, he gave me this most merciful thought: ‘the utmost and worst they can do to you is to kill you, and you have often wanted to give your life for your Lord God.  You are in God’s keeping’.”

“What do you know of God you infidel?” Ahmed spat out at him

“Why do you call me Infidel, this word means ‘one who has no faith’, I have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

When those present saw that Daniel was not about to answer their questions they left the chamber and returned to their headquarters above ground and left Daniel hanging in the same position.

“We’ll see how resolute he feels after a few hours.” They laughed derisively as they walked up the stone stairs leading from the chamber.  One man remained down in the cells to guard him although he hardly needed guarding as he was fully immobilized by the device.  He stayed Daniel thought, out of kindness maybe,  every few minutes he took a cloth and wiped the perspiration that ran in drops continuously down Daniel’s face and body.  That helped a little, but he added to his sufferings when he started to talk.  He went on and on begging and imploring me to pity myself and tell his master what he wanted to know.  “What would it matter,” he said, “your Air Force will blow this whole complex up soon so no one will know.” Daniel understood now why the guard had stayed behind, saw through the ruse that Ahmed had left him to try and trick him.

Three hours passed after which Sheik Masawi returned to the chamber.

“Has the prisoner come to his senses yet?” he asked the guard loudly enough for Daniel to hear clearly.  The sheik addressed Daniel directly, enough of this playing there are many other torture methods, thanks to your forebears, in this chamber, you will give me the information I require if it kills you.”

“Oh give me a break Ahmed, for heaven’s sake.  Do you think I am going to throw my soul away to save my life?  If you do, then you have learned nothing of Americans in your years at our Ivy League schools.”  Ahmed looked at him with seething anger at first, then as he regarded Daniels battered form dangling from the device he resigned himself and with a grunt and stormed out of the cell once again.

Shortly thereafter he fell into unconsciousness at the pillar.  For how long he didn’t know because when he was awoken by his guards it didn’t seem like that much time had passed.  Two guards held his body up and another placed the box under his feet again and Daniel felt the blood start circulating and he came to again.  As soon as he was aware he started praying aloud, and hearing this, the guards would pull the box out from under his feet.  They did this to him eight or nine times a day every time he lost consciousness they would ease his pain and bring him back, then he would pray and they would let him down again.

After what seemed like days of this treatment Masawi returned.  Coming to him and standing staring into his face he asked, “Are you ready now to submit to the will of Allah and his Servants?”

“You want me to do what is sinful. “ Daniel replied calmly, “I will not do it.”

“All you have to do is sign this document admitting your illegal mission, and you will be free to go.”

“I have nothing to say to you.” Daniel said resolutely, “other than what I have already told you, Mann, Daniel, Sergeant, 53624739.”

In a rage sheik Masawi turned his back and strode out of the cell animatedly shouting angrily in a loud voice, “Fine, then hang there until you rot off the pillar.”  Daniel prayed silently that he would have the strength to endure what was going to be a long time hanging from the pillar.  His arms had become numb by this stage and his fingers were feeling like they should fall off soon.  Two guards came to the chamber after an hour and took him down from the pillar, and Daniel silently thanked the Lord for the relief.  The guards took him back to his cell and he was thankful to be able to lie down and rest a while.  He quickly drifted off into a sleep that filled his mind with images of home and family.

The dull throbbing ache where his hands had been secured to the pillar had subsided somewhat, but when the guards came and roused him after just six hours, the handcuffs were forced back on his lacerated wrists.  This made them even more painful than normal because they had swollen.  Once he was back in the torture chamber and secured to the pillar once again, the sheik motioned the other guards to leave.  They had not removed the box from under Daniels feet so his weight was not supported by his arms and shoulders.  Sheik Ahmed Masawi stood in front of the tied up Daniel and spoke calmly.

“Sergeant Mann, I am as you mentioned before an educated man, and you were correct, I was educated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  That’s just up the road a bit from your place I imagine.”

“Yeah so,” Daniel replied slowly, wondering what new tactic he was employing.

Don’t be so suspicious Daniel, I am a Muslim yes, but I was invited to Christian services also when I lived in The Bible Belt.” Daniel perked up when Masawi said this,   “And did you go along to the Churches?”

“Yes but I found it very uninspiring, the people just sat or stood and sang a few songs, and then the Imam, I mean Priest, or whatever, gave a sermon about Eternal Life and Salvation.”

“And,” rejoined Daniel, “How was it, did he teach you something about Christianity?”

“Hah yeh!” Ahmed spat out, “The Imams are right, Christian beliefs and the Bible are full of contradictions.

“Ok, can you name just one, or are you just repeating your Imam’s words?” Daniel asked, but ?Ahmed was stuck for words and couldn’t think of a specific instance.     “Well, I can’t name one off-hand, but there are many of them.”

“How do you know that, did your Imam tell you?”  Daniel pushed him.

“Nevertheless Sergeant,  what he says is true.” He asserted.

Daniel began again softly, “Ahmed you are an educated man, how can you believe a man who promises carnal rewards in the after-life?  Surely an omniscient God can do better than ‘sex with virgins’ forever.  How can you champion the causes of a Religion that teaches its children to look forward to blowing themselves up, to equating Jews to the spawn of monkeys?  That is the kind of garbage they believed in the Dark Ages, how can you, a university educated man actually accept that some humans are born of monkeys, now that’s just dumb!”

Ahmed raised his hand to strike Daniel but he held off and lowered his hand again, as he remembered his cousin Fatima.  She had made friends with a Jewish boy inBaghdad’s Jewish quarter, of Taht al-Takia.  She was told in no uncertain terms to never see him again.  She of course disobeyed her father’s instructions and when they were caught together the Jew was murdered on the spot.  His uncle then called a meeting with all the family and explained what had happened and then he took his daughter and put her in the car with a suitcase and drove off with her.  She was not seen again by any of them and her mother said she’d gone to live with relatives in Lebanon.  Ahmed was old enough then to realize that they had no people in Lebanon.

“This was the way of Islam,” he’d said, “she brought disrespect on the family, she deserved her fate.”  But he reasoned, if we ask God to forgive us, then why don’t we forgive each other.

“Christian,” he began again, rousing Daniel whose head had slumped, “tell me, why do you follow a prophet of God who was killed by the Jews?”

“Because that’s why he came, he offered himself as the eternal sacrifice in our place.” Daniel replied, inwardly praying that his words not return empty.

“Our prophet Mohammed was victorious, he conquered peoples and then he ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, how can a dead prophet compare?”

“Yes, it seems ridiculous,” agreed Daniel, “God has made Salvation simple, to confound the wise.  We must understand it from God’s point of view.”

“You are not making sense now Christian.”

“Ok Ahmed, suppose someone sinned against you, what would you need to forgive them?”

“Ahh Christian, you are a debater I see, well, I suppose I would need for them to ask for my forgiveness and really mean it.”

“Ís that all?” Daniel probed.

“I can see where you are going with this Christian, but of course I would need restitution of the wrong doing.”

“Exactly, so when you sin against Allah, how do you get forgiveness?”

“So now you wish to have a theological discussion, I must remind you I am a Sheik after all.  But to answer your question, in Islam when one sins against Allah, one needs to confess the sin and promise not to do it again, and endeavor to lead a sinless life, and Allah accepts him.”

“But then Sheik Masawi, what about Allah’s restitution, how is he going to get recompense?” Daniel countered.

“Oh Allah is not like men, Allah is merciful, he forgives whom he will.”

“But if you sinned against Allah, surely you have to die, because Allah cannot dwell with sin, can he?” Daniel felt that he was starting to make his point.

“Yes, but Allah is merciful, Allah can forgive the contrite heart.” Sheik Masawi’s voice seemed a bit unsure of the doctrine that had been hammered into him for years.

In the old days the Jewish Priests, the Kohanim had to sacrifice animals to obtain forgiveness of the sins of the nation.  Now they had to do that daily, and then once a year the Priest went in to the Holy of Holies into the presence of God to deliver the sacrifice,”

“Yes yes, I know all this; we also study your Bible even though Christians and Jews have corrupted it.” Ahmed hurried him along.

“Not at all Ahmed, but how can an animal-sacrifice pay for a man’s sin, surely a man’s transgression requires a man to pay?”

“Hah Christian, by that logic then everyone would have to be killed, no one will survive.”

“Yes, the scripture in Roman’s says, ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and again ‘for the wages of sin is death’.”

“But Jesus was teaching the people good things and they killed him.”

“Yes, but he was resurrected by his father, God, and he now sits at God’s right hand forever interceding for us.  Now whenever the Satan, the great accuser tries to accuse us before God, Jesus is there and intercedes for us.  When God sees the blood of Jesus he does not see the sin anymore, because with the blood there is forgiveness.”

“So you’re saying that one just needs to accept that some Jew who died 2,000 years ago did it for me, and that makes me a Christian?”

“In a nutshell yes, that’s right.” Daniel asserted, thanking god as he opened the heart of his Arab captor.  Ahmed considered Daniel’s words for what seemed like hours as time seemed to stand still.

“Bah, you are crazy Christian,” he blurted out, “it is impossible that Salvation could be so cheap and easy.”

“I didn’t say anything about cheap and easy, I said it’s free, but it’s not cheap, it could well cost you your life.”  Ahmed’s eyes perked up when Daniel mentioned this.

“Are you afraid of Death Sergeant Mann?”

“No, Jesus has removed death’s sting, no one needs to be afraid anymore.” Daniel paraphrased a Scripture as he continued in the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.

“But how can you be so sure that your good deeds will outweigh your bad?  Islam teaches us that at the judgment our good and bad deeds will be weighed and if we have more good than bad…” Ahmed explained, using the measure that Islam used for entry toParadise.

“Ahmed it is also written that all men’s righteousness is as filthy rags before God, so nothing we can do will work in our favor.  It is by His Righteousness and Jesus’ Blood that we are accepted into Paradise, not good deeds.” As Daniel spoke Ahmed could sense something tugging at his heart.  He had never heard Christianity explained like this before, it was as if God was calling to him specifically.  He shook himself out of his reasoning, how; he reasoned could he turn his back on a lifetime of Islamic study?  All his family was Muslims, and he himself had killed dozens of Christians in the name of Allah, for the causes of Islam.  Indeed, he thought, becoming a Christian might be free, but the American was right in saying it was not cheap.

He was snapped out of his thoughts by the sounds of explosions and automatic weapon fire.  Mohammed came running into the cell and threw an AK-47 at Ahmed and then went charging out again.

“Kill the infidel Ahmed!” shouted Mohammed as he ran up the stairs firing as he went.  Sheik Masawi turned to his prisoner and leveled the AK at his head.

“So Daniel, you are not afraid to die, would you like me to send you to meet your Jesus?” he said as Daniel stood wordlessly before him.  He raised the AK slightly and depressed the trigger and the tell tale sputter of the weapon firing as Daniel fell to the floor.  “No,” he said again, “I have to live in this world, so you should have to as well.” He said as he ran up the stone stairs to join his comrades.

The old Prison complex was stormed by US Army troops of the 82nd Airborne.  It was Daniel’s squad that had tracked the beacon in his radio and were attempting a rescue now that their objective was secured.  Grenades exploded simultaneously at the entrance to the building, and in the ensuing mayhem the Americans stormed the building making short work of the defenders.

“Danny, Danny, are you down here?” yelled Mike, his old schoolmate from St Pauls High.  Three men went rushing down the stone stairs with Mike and they saw his crumpled form at the foot of the pillar.  Thinking the worst they cursed loudly, unable to bear the loss of their buddy.

“Hey what would Mrs Ivey say if she heard y’all cussing like that?”

“They spun around to look at Daniel who had raised himself up slightly.”  They rushed to him and lifted him to his feet and helped him out of the room.

“Hey men we thought you was dead there for a while.” Said Mike in his Robeson County drawl.  Daniel smiled and looked at him, “Yeah, so did I at one point, but Ahmed just shot the chains that held me to the pillar.

“Well how about that?” mused Randy, one of their squad.  They helped Daniel up the stairs and outside.  On his way out he saw the prone body of Ahmed where he’d fallen just inside the entrance of the main building.  He regarded him silently, saying a small prayer, asking God to have mercy on his soul.

His buddies huddled around Daniel tending to his wounds and giving him some food and water, when a terrorist who had hidden in one of the nearby buildings ran out brandishing a sputtering AK-47 and screaming “Allah Akhbar!”  The squad immediately spun around and hit the ground, ready to return fire but a single pistol shot silenced the AK before they could get a shot off.  Daniel turned and saw Ahmed holding a pistol as he smiled at Daniel and fell face down in the dirt.  Daniel went to him and helped him to sit up and gave him some water.

“I guess I owe you one now eh Sheik Masawi.” Daniel tried to make light of the situation, but Ahmed shook his head.

“No brother, I am going to meet Jesus, in fact I can see him now waiting for me, and I have you to thank, may God Bless you Daniel!

“The Lord Bless you Ahmed, and keep you.”  Daniel replied as Ahmed’s eyes closed peacefully.

THE END

Fairvale High – Part II


Fairvale High

By

Enzo Silvestri

Part II

            Yvonne instructed them to open their texts to the Epic of Gilgamesh story, and before they started reading she wanted to teach them a little about the background.  “Epic means a story, a story about heroism, about heroic deeds, and Gilgamesh was a king in Uruk which was in modern day Iraq and this epic tells the story of Gilgamesh who, when his friend Enkidu dies is so afraid of death that he embarks on a quest for eternal life.  Included in this account is a story of a great flood.

“That was Noah, not Gilgamesh, my preacher would whoop me if he knew you was teaching us about Gilgamesh.”  Billy interrupted, bringing sounds of agreement from other students.             “Actually,” Mrs. Forester continued, “some scholars claim that this is where Moses got the idea of Noah’s flood from, but others say that Gilgamesh copied the details from Noah’s flood, and changed the characters.  We can work out though that the Bible story is dated before the Gilgamesh one, so who copied who?  When reading Literature we need to decide for ourselves what we’re to believe, to judge it by its merits.”  The class settled down to reading the text while Mrs. Forester went from desk to desk assisting students, and explaining some parts in more detail.

The following week Yvonne went to the Library during her planning period and she met the  English III teacher who was in there with her class as well.  They were doing some research and she was flipping through a magazine.  Yvonne had some questions she wanted to ask about the English faculty so she introduced herself.

“Hello I’m Yvonne Forester, the English II teacher, are you teaching an English III class?”

“Oh hi, I’m Karen Hamilton, yes this is an English III class, we’re doing research for their practice Senior Project this year.”

“That would be so nice to have,” Yvonne sighed, “but anyway, is there a faculty meeting ever, I mean in my last schools we got together every month or so to talk about stuff in English.”

“Nah, everyone here pretty much goes their own way, well, Judy is the English Chair, but like she’s only out of College for three years, so we figure why make more work for ourselves, they don’t pay us enough.” Karen laughed.  “Yvonne was nodding her head uncertainly, “Yes I guess so.” She murmured.

“But speaking of meetings,” remembered Karen, “a bunch of us teachers, meet about every other Friday at the Black Swamp Grille.  You know, it’s onthird street, up at Pemberton.  You can join us there as a sort of faculty meeting, only you’re not allowed to talk about school.” She laughed.  Yvonne laughed also as she thought back to how she and her colleagues inPalm BeachCountyused to have a similar meeting place.  She figured though that kids down in Florida had some more opportunities than up here so she thought that she’d have to improve the odds for them if she could.  The rest of the week went well with her fourth period students now beginning to get with the program and actually let her teach them something about English Language Arts.  Over the next few weeks she taught explicit classes on sentence construction and paragraphing, linking sentences and Introductions and conclusions, all geared towards the state writing test.  “A good way to think about essays is that a paragraph is a microcosm of that essay.  What’s a microcosm you ask, does anyone know?  Well a microcosm is like a small plan or layout of something which is much larger, but still is of the same structure.”  Her students were starting to mutter at this explanation so she decided to clarify.  “By that I mean that the paragraph is structured, or made op of the same elements as an essay.  Let’s see, how does an essay start?  Hands please.”  A few of the quieter students raised their hands, and Mrs. Forester called on one, “Natalie, yes?”

“The introduction of course.”

“Excellent yes, that’s correct the introduction, now what can the introduction in an essay be likened to in a paragraph?”

“The first sentence?”Alicesaid softly, a little uncertainly.

“Exactly, thank youAlice, although we don’t call it the first sentence, what do we call it?”

“The topic sentence.” Jackie stated vehemently.

“very good, very good, thank you Jackie, it’s nice to see that our exercises have left a lasting impression.”  Yvonne went on to explain how essays can be written on her expanding principle.  Each paragraph being a miniature of the whole essay and dealing with a separate topic all related to the central topic of the essay.  Over the next few weeks of practice essays her fourth period class went from regular scores of 1, and 2 in the practice tests to regular 3s and some 4s.  Dr. Benson regularly popped in to Yvonne’s class room to see how things were going, as the rating for her school rested on the shoulders of her Sophomores.  She was pleased with the progress that Mrs. Forester was able to achieve with her students.

Mike Forester, Yvonne’s husband, was also an English teacher but he had specialized in Australian Literature and secured a position at the local university lecturing Freshman Composition three days a week.  Yvonne arranged for Mike to come to her classes on one of his off days and do lessons on Australian Ballads.  She had told him of the gang culture around the school so since Mike liked to perform with his university classes, he had some ideas of his own on how to fire up the students’ imagination, when it came to ballads.  His wife had three periods a day, with planning period at second block.  The first went fairly easily with the Honors class and he performed the ballads as they are supposed to be performed with thick Aussie accents and idioms, and the second also a high achieving regular class.

When he came in to fourth period word had already gotten around the school of his presence.  Yvonne introduced Mike to the class, and explained that he taught at the university, but that he’d volunteered to come in to school for a day.  He gave a short history of ballad writing in colonialAustralia, then instead of launching into his favorite ballad in the usual way, he performed “The Man From Ironbark” in a ‘Rap’ fashion.

THE MAN FROM IRONBARK by A.B. “Banjo”Paterson

It was the man from Ironbark who struck the Sydney town,
He wandered over street and park, he wandered up and down.
He loitered here, he loitered there, till he was like to drop,
Until at last in sheer despair he sought a barber's shop.
"'Ere! shave my beard and whiskers off, I'll be a man of mark,
I'll go and do the Sydney toff up home in Ironbark."

The barber man was small and flash, as barbers mostly are,
He wore a strike-your-fancy sash, he smoked a huge cigar;
He was a humorist of note and keen at repartee,
He laid the odds and kept a "tote", whatever that may be,
And when he saw our friend arrive, he whispered, "Here's a lark!
Just watch me catch him all alive, this man from Ironbark."

There were some gilded youths that sat along the barber's wall.
Their eyes were dull, their heads were flat, they had no brains at all;
To them the barber passed the wink, his dexter eyelid shut,
"I'll make this bloomin' yokel think his bloomin' throat is cut."
And as he soaped and rubbed it in he made a rude remark:
"I s'pose the flats is pretty green up there in Ironbark."

A grunt was all reply he got; he shaved the bushman's chin, 
Then made the water boiling hot and dipped the razor in. 
He raised his hand, his brow grew black, he paused awhile to gloat, 
Then slashed the red-hot razor-back across his victim's throat: 
Upon the newly-shaven skin it made a livid mark - 
No doubt it fairly took him in - the man from Ironbark.

He fetched a wild up-country yell might wake the dead to hear, 
And though his throat, he knew full well, was cut from ear to ear, 
He struggled gamely to his feet, and faced the murd'rous foe: 
"You've done for me! you dog, I'm beat! one hit before I go! 
I only wish I had a knife, you blessed murdering shark! 
But you'll remember all your life the man from Ironbark."

He lifted up his hairy paw, with one tremendous clout 
He landed on the barber's jaw, and knocked the barber out. 
He set to work with nail and tooth, he made the place a wreck; 
He grabbed the nearest gilded youth, and tried to break his neck. 
And all the while his throat he held to save his vital spark, 
And "Murder! Bloody murder!" yelled the man from Ironbark.

A peeler man who heard the din came in to see the show; 
He tried to run the bushman in, but he refused to go. 
And when at last the barber spoke, and said "'Twas all in fun— 
'Twas just a little harmless joke, a trifle overdone." 
"A joke!" he cried, "By George, that's fine; a lively sort of lark; 
I'd like to catch that murdering swine some night in Ironbark."

And now while round the shearing floor the list'ning shearers gape, 
He tells the story o'er and o'er, and brags of his escape. 
"Them barber chaps what keeps a tote, By George, I've had enough, 
One tried to cut my bloomin' throat, but thank the Lord it's tough." 
And whether he's believed or no, there's one thing to remark, 
That flowing beards are all the go way up in Ironbark.

The Bulletin, 17 December 1892.

His students loved the ballad, and got right into it by clapping time with the rhythm.  Mike went on to explain the workings of rhyme and rhythm in balladry, explaining also that when students were rapping they were doing their own form of balladry, just that rapping was a modern name for it, and that they employed some of the same poetic devices that the classic poets had.

“How you mean,” Antwan felt he had to object here, “are you sayin’ that them rapper dogs think about all that shit when they rappin?”  Mike smiled as he had expected an objection like this, so he said, “Ok, Antwan is it,” Yvonne had described the more outspoken students, “can you give me a couple of lines of your favorite rap performer?”

“Thieves In The Night” by Blackstar

 

Give me the fortune, keep the fame,” said my man Louis
I agreed, know what he mean because we live the truest lie
I asked him why we follow the law of the bluest eye
He looked at me, he thought about it
Was like, “I’m clueless, why?”
The question was rhetorical, the answer is horrible

 

Mike wrote them on the board as Antwan recited them.  “Ok that will do, that’s enough to show you what I mean, now, in just these few lines I can see many poetic devices.”             “Is rhyming a device?” asked Jasmine.

“Yes certainly, and here you have end rhyme, and interior rhyme, and the scheme changes from ABBA to CC in the same line.  Mrs. Forester has taught this, where does he use an Oxymoron?”

Jackie was the first to get it, “In ‘truest lie’.”

“Yes, that’s great, and what is the imagery evoked in ‘bluest eye’?”

“He talkin’ about how white people make the laws.” Antwan wanted to get a word in since it was his favorite Hip Hop performer.

“Hey Mr F, you sound like you know a bit about hip hop, how long you been listenin’ Dog?”  Mike smiled at Antwan when he asked this and he just held his hands plam upwards, “Actually Antwan, I have never heard that song before, and the reason that I could deconstruct it with you was that every piece of text or media follows some sort of rules and once we know them we can decipher them.”

“Hey y’all pretty cool dog.” Antwan respected the man who showed that he understood his art form even better than he did himself.  Mike once again addressed the whole class, “Ok now you have all seen how these devices can be employed to say what you want to say.  I am going to give you a task now, and Mrs. Forester will be grading it for you.  I have here some templates that will help you get started writing  your own ballads, each day, and Mrs. Forester will give you another sheet when you finish each one until you have a five stanza ballad.  It can be about anything, but there has to be a conflict.  Mike finished the lesson and after chatting with a few of the students, he and Yvonne drove home, discussing how the day had gone.

“I thought that went pretty well eh?” Mike began.

“Yes, and I was surprised at how quickly you were able to get Antwan to come around, how did you come up with that hip hop stuff anyway?”

“Remember, I have kind of been around a few times, you use what they know so that you can reach them.” He smiled.

Over the next two weeks Yvonne taught her classes intensive essay test skills, such as introductions, paragraphing, and conclusions, and she insisted on having only one topic dealt with in each paragraph,

“Don’t limit yourself to the five paragraph essay, I know that is the ideal length we talk about, but understand that it is just an example, if you have more points to make don’t just write them into an existing paragraph, add a new paragraph.  Now, I know you are sick to death of practice essay tests,” she smiled as her students groaned, “but practice makes perfect, and the school is counting on you guys to improve our scores.  Tomorrow there will be a school-wide sophomore writing test in first block.  I have been bragging on you guys, don’t let me down now.” She smiled warmly.

In the teacher’s lounge the following day she just sat there drinking a coffee, listening to some of the other teachers complaining about their students.

“Can you believe it,” Jo Williams a math teacher was saying, “Tameka Johnson, she’s one o’ yours Ms Forester, comes in five minutes after we started the writing test, and doesn’t even notice that everyone else is writing.  She just sits down, pulls out her make-up kit and starts doing her nails.”  The teachers all laughed along with Jo, “So what did you do?” Stuart Canady of the Science department asked her.

“Well I sat there looking at her, and she was so wrapped up in her own little world that she ain’t seeing nothing, so then I get up and write the time on the board, and she looked up, “Oh Ms Williams, we s’posed to be doin’ that test huh?” She says, and I say, “Uh huh,” and she says “Oh dang, why didn’t y’all tell me, where’s the prompt?” and she runs around getting her stuff and I gotta hand it to her, she wrote like the blazes for the rest of the period.  Hey Mrs. Forester, you gotta let me know what she got on that essay.”

On the following Tuesday, towards the end of fourth block, Yvonne was giving her class a final pep talk before the state writing test on Wednesday.

“For the test tomorrow, according to the instructions, you are to bring nothing to class.  Everything will be provided, as in pencils, and paper.  There are special instructions which your teacher wherever you are in first block tomorrow will have to read to you.  All I can say is, go over your lessons, make sure you know how to respond to the prompts.  If they ask you to compare, don’t argue, if they ask for an opinion, don’t contrast facts.  Just do as they ask, remember we have done each of these types of essays to death, it should be a walk in the park for you.”

The next day the writing test was announced over the PA system and teachers followed the sealed instructions to the letter.  At the end of the allotted time the essays were collected and placed in sealed envelopes once more and the school mailed them off to the State Department of Education.  Yvonne wondered how her fourth block class had fared as she supervised only her honors students from first block.  Her other students would have been at any number of other classes in first period.  In the final period of the day students were ready to relax and chill out, as they put it.

“Come on Mrs. F, we done did a test this morning, we should be relaxing now.”  Yvonne smiled, “Oh I’m sorry, we’re still doing English II, now, the World Literature gets interesting, now that the essay writing is out of the way.  In your text books is an excerpt of Night the novel by Elie Weisel.”  The students without being told all flipped their texts to the first page of the novel, and prepared to read.

“However, I feel that you can’t get a true feeling for the point of Mr, Weisel’s experiences from just a short excerpt, so I have taken a class set of the novel itself from the library.”  As she finished speaking a loud groan went up from the class, until she picked up one of the novels and they saw how slim it was.

“That don’t look so hard to read Mrs. F, I finish that in no time.”  Rattled off jasmine, “Don’t let appearances fool you people, the story is very involved and full of layers of meaning, it’s not like reading a Mills & Boon.”

“Hey my mother reads them!”  Billy remarked.

Yvonne gave them a short lecture about WWII and the Holocaust, relating this to racial prejudice in many parts of the world.  Her students could definitely relate to the concepts that Weisel was espousing in his book.  The kept a reading journal and each evening they would read a chapter and in class alternately students would write a summary on the blackboard.  This enabled those who had missed something to include it in their own summary.  They would discuss the story the next day and foreshadow what might happen in the next chapter.

Mrs. Forester decided to give the students a new kind of final exam at the end of the semester.  They had all been used to taking a ‘Scantron’ multiple choice exam, but Yvonne wanted to give students a chance to show what they had learned during the semester.  She selected ten of the items that the class had read over the semester and for the exam they were to select any five and answer the question.  The answers were to be at least half a page and more if needed.  She could see the fear on the students faces as she explained the final exam to them on the day, but then when she told them it was an ‘open book’ exam their fears dissipated somewhat.  She reminded them that ‘open book’ was useless to them if they had not done the readings in the first place, as they did not have time to read during the exam.  ‘Open book’ was for dates and references mostly.

The final exam was weighted at 75% of the overall semester grade, so regardless of the result of their writing test they could still pass the grade and be promoted to Junior.  She spent a weekend going over all over the exam papers and with the aid of her husband she was able to grade all three of her classes in time for the opening of classes on Monday.  Her Honors class performed as expected and breezed through with mostly As and some B+s, and the Third Block class all managed to pass the course.  When the principal had given her the fourth block class originally, she hadn’t held much hope and expected them to drop out of school or repeat the grade.  As it turned out, everyone scored a C+ or better on the final test and when Yvonne factored in their semester work and writing test scores and averaged them for the final grade, she no longer had any Cs but the lowest was B- with several As as well.  The students of fourth block were over the moon with happiness at having succeeded against the odds.

“Hey Mrs. F we should have a party tomorrow, it’s the last day of school before summer break, so you just leave it all to us, we’ll handle everything.”  Jackie bubbled as she started discussing what to bring for the party.  Yvonne and Mike were chatting in the living room of their home and she said that she was so glad that she could make a difference with the kids, in a small way.

“Oh I think it’s in quite a big way, my wife’s a brilliant teacher.”  Mike muttered as he kissed her again and sniggled closer to her.

University had broken up for the semester already so Mike accompanied his wife for the last day of school so that he could congratulate Yvonne’s students.  The first two classes of the day had also arranged parties and Mike and Yvonne gorged themselves with sodas, popcorn, and candies of all kinds.  Yvonne was thinking that she was a little disappointed for her fourth block class who basically had their thunder stolen from them.  After the third block students had cleared up the trash from their party they all left at the bell and Yvonne and Mike awaited the arrival of the next class.  The bell sounded but still no students had shown up and Yvonne looked at Mike wondering if they’d even bothered to come to school today.

The Public Address buzzed, “Would Mr. and Mrs. Forester please report to the school auditorium please?”

“Now what?” Yvonne muttered, “oh well this way.” She led her husband.  They arrived at the school auditorium and it was empty as expected, the Seniors had graduated, the Prom was weeks ago, so of course it’s dark in here she thought.  Suddenly a hand grabbed her in the dark and ushered them to front seats of the Auditorium.  The lights went up and all of her fourth block students were lined up at stage left withPrincipal Dr. Benson seated in the centre of the stage.  Mr. Forester stood and walked up the stairs to centre stage where he assumed the role of MC.  He began with a speech lauding the achievements of his Wife Yvonne in one short semester and then called on Yvonne’s students to walk on stage and receive their passing report cards from Dr. Benson just like a graduation.  Finally Dr. Benson took the microphone and thanked Yvonne for the hard work she had put in to a class that everyone including herself had virtually written off in January.

“Mrs Forester it was a blessing to have you here this year and I am sure the students will agree that we will miss you during summer vacation.  And of course I expect to see you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in August for the new year.”

“I’ll be here, thank you for confirming my job for next year, that means we can have a good vacation now.”

“Oh where will you go?”

“My husband has offered to show me around his home town inAustralia.”

“Ooh, lucky you…” laughed Dr. Benson.

The End

Neologism for the day


last night a school friend from Australia asked me if there was a word for a person who collects quotations. They had duly searched and I searched and we didn’t find any such description, I decided to invent one. I have some experience with neologism, having studied the exploits of Shakespeare, Dickens, Douglas Adams, and May Gibbs. I delved into Greek and Latin and decided Greek was best and I came up with “Parathetist”, made up from the Greek for Quote “Paratheto” and the suffix “ist” for practitioner. If anyone knows of another word for this meaning let me know…

Enzo

Grammar: Conjunctions



Conjunctions

Joining phrases and words

We use conjunctions every day. We use them without even knowing we are using them. In school however, we are required to pick out the parts of speech as part of the learning process. The following are some easy to learn ways to recognize the different conjunctions and their roles in English grammar.

Put simply, a conjunction is a word that joins single words or a group of words. The first type is a coordinating conjunction and this joins words or groups of words that have equal grammatical weight in a sentence. Equal grammatical weight simply means that the words have a similar importance to the sentence meaning. These are: and, but, or, so, nor, for, yet.

Correlative conjunctions: These work in pairs to join words and groups of words of equal grammatical weight in a sentence. These are: both…and; just as…so; not only…but (also); either…or; neither…nor; whether…or.

correlative conjunctions make the relationship between words or groups of words a little clearer than do coordinating conjunctions. Examples are: Coordinating: Kim and I must test the software. Correlative: Both Kim and I must test the software.

Subordinating conjunctions. this joins two clauses, or thoughts, in such a way as to make one grammatically dependent on the other. The thought, or clause, that the subordinating conjunction introduces is said to be subordinate, or dependent, because it cannot stand by itself as a complete sentence. E.G. ‘Since’ you learned to dance, you have become more graceful. [‘Since’ is the subordinating conjunction]. Others are: after, as though, although, because, until as, etc.

Conjunctive adverbs. This is used to clarify the relationship between clauses of equal grammatical weight in a sentence. These adverbs are usually stronger, more precise, and more formal than coordinating conjunctions. Notice that when a coordinating conjunction is used between clauses, a comma precedes the coordinating conjunction. When a conjunctive adverb is used between clauses, a semicolon precedes the conjunctive adverb, and a comma follows it. Conjunctive adverbs have many uses, as the following examples show. To replace ‘and’: also, besides, furthermore, moreover. To replace ‘but’: however, nevertheless, nonetheless, still. To state a result: accordingly, consequently, then, therefore, thus. To state equality: equally, likewise, similarly.

Cheers

Enzo Silvestri