Flannery O’Conner on Teaching Literature

In 1963, Flannery O’Connor addressed the claim that “students do not like to read the fusty works of the nineteenth century, that their attention can best be held by novels dealing with their realities of our own time.”

Her response:

“English teachers come in Good, Bad, and Indifferent, but too frequently in high schools anyone who can speak English is allowed to teach it. Since several novels can’t easily be gathered into one textbook, the fiction that students are assigned depends upon their teacher’s knowledge, ability, and taste: variable factors at best. More often than not, the teacher assigns what he thinks will hold the attention and interest of the students. Modern fiction will certainly hold it.

“Ours is the first age in history which has asked the child what he would tolerate learning, but that is a part of the problem with which I am not equipped to deal. The devil of Educationism that possesses us is the kind that can be ‘cast out only by prayer and fasting.’ No one has yet come along strong enough to do it. In other ages the attention of children was held by Homer and Virgil, among others, but, by the reverse evolutionary process, that is no longer possible; our children are too stupid now to enter the past imaginatively. No one asks the student if algebra pleases him or if he finds it satisfactory that some French verbs are irregular but if he prefers [John] Hersey to Hawthorne, his taste must prevail.

“I would like to put forward the proposition, repugnant to most English teachers, that fiction, if it is going to be taught in high schools, should be taught as a subject and as a subject with a history. The total effect of a novel depends not only on its innate impact, but upon the experience, literary and otherwise, with which it is approached. No child needs to be assigned Hersey or Steinbeck until he is familiar with a certain amount of the best work of Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, the early James, and Crane, and he does not need to be assigned these until he has been introduced to some of the better English novelists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

“The fact that these works do not present him with the realities of his own time is all to the good. He is surrounded by the realities of his own time, and he has no perspective whatever from which to view them. Like the college student who wrote in her paper on Lincoln that he went to the movies and got shot, many students go to college unaware that the world was not made yesterday; their studies began with the present and dipped backward occasionally when it seemed necessary or unavoidable. . . . ”

“The high school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. He will teach literature, not social studies or little lessons in democracy or the customs of many lands.

“And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.”

from Flannery O’Connor’s “Total Effect and the Eighth Grade,” published in The Georgia Bulletin in 1963, reprinted in Mystery and Manners (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1961)


(from the Circe podcast Close Reads)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Response

High School Nature Study

Nature Study for high school:

Nature study continues throughout all the school years for Mason’s students, and indeed, it should continue beyond. As adults we should still be taking an interested, curious notice of the natural world around us.

For a good idea of what sorts of things older students can do for nature study, you should visit this blog.
The post linked above contains ‘a list of Special Studies from the chapters in Furneaux’s “A Nature Study Guide” which CM mentions as a reference book for outdoor work.’  You want to read the whole thing, but here are just a few examples:

Gradual transition of bud-scales into leaves.
Simple experiments to demonstrate the manner in which the sap flows.
Germination of various seeds under different conditions as to moisture, food, heat and light. Records kept Plants reared from seeds, in a good soil, for continuous observation. Records of life-history.
The growth of bulbs and corms.
The growth of potato plants from the tubers under varying conditions. Make records.
Spring flowers (chiefly outdoor studies):
Habitats and habits.
Calendar observations.
Cultivation of flowers in the school garden.

Rearing of caterpillars or other insect grubs for the study of their metamorphoses.
Observations of aquatic creatures in the school aquarium:
Development of frogs’ eggs.
Various aquatic larvae.
Water snails. Small fishes.
Marine life as seen in the rock-pools.
Studies of Earth, Air and Sky.
Daily path of the sun: rising, setting, altitude at mid-day.
Lengthening day and increasing warmth.
Spring winds and showers. Droughts and dust.
Planets visible at the time. Appearances and movements.
Stars. Their apparent motions. Conspicuous constellations.

Summer Studies

The flowers and weeds of the garden:
The struggle for existence.
How plants are protected – thorns, spines, prickles, etc.
Forms and arrangement of leaves. Leaf mosaics. Functions of leaves.
Storage of food in rootstocks, tubers, bulbs, etc.
Calendar of summer flowers. Records of observations on the habitats, habits, flowering, fruiting, etc….
The jetsam of the seashore.
Various human activities in town and country.
Weather charts: how made, and their use.
The rocks and soils of the neighbourhood:
Building and paving stones. Their properties.
Other mineral products of the neighbourhood.
Disposition of rock-beds in the locality.
The forces moulding the land:
Streams and their action.
Action of the sea on the land.
The atmosphere as a denuding agent.
Clay, chalk, coral, and other interesting rock-formations.
The magnetic compass: its principle and use:
How to find the geographical North by means of the compass, the pole star, and the sun.
The northern constellations of stars always visible:
Their apparent daily motion.
The Milky Way. The universe.


So they are getting more involved in record keeping, studying habitats, ecosystems, biomes, noting more in depth observations of seasonal changes.  Their studies include biology, botany, earth sciences, astronomy, and more.


Nature Study, Know the World

Nature Study as science

As a help in school discipline (from Comstock)

The Value of I Do Not Know (from Comstock)

More advice from Comstock

Nature study ideas

Nature study is first hand observation, not watching a movie.=)

listen to the Intro to Comstock on librivox





Posted in Nature Study | Tagged , , , | 3 Responses

Never tolerate evil

“One must never tolerate evil. For first evil is tolerated; then embraced, then hailed as being good – then it becomes unlawful to do what is actually good.”

From a video game, of all places.  The Elder Scrolls vs Skyrim

I have never played it, and I don’t know anything about it. I just liked the quote.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Responses

Giant Shipworm Discovery

Giant shipworms, which don’t burrow in ships, have been eluding scientists. Scientists have known of it for a long time, but only recently were able to study a live specimen.  Which is funny, because Pilipinos on Palawan Island  have been eating them for quite some time.

“”I’ve been studying shipworms since 1989 and in all that time I had never seen a living specimen of Kuphus polythalamia,” Daniel Distel, a co-author of the new study and the director of Northeastern University’s Ocean Genome Legacy Center told The Sydney Morning Herald. “It was pretty spectacular to lift that tube out of its container for the first time.””
The scientists ‘discovered’ how to obtain the elusive live specimens from a television show in the Philippines, where these shipworms are eaten as aphrodasiacs.

Here’s the video. It’s called tamilok in the Philippines, and there are different kinds- most don’t have shells and do burrow in wood (shipworms). The giant tamilok, or Kuphus polythalamia, has a shell which can be 5 feet long. It hides in the mud, and doesn’t eat wood.

Here’s a video of scientists pulling out the giant, tusk-like shell from the canister used for transporting it. They cut open the shell and shake out the worm. I think it’s cool, fascinating, and intriguing – the worm in the shell is glossy black and huge. But you might feel differently.

There’s a photograph of Pinoys with a giant shipworm pulled from its shell and being prepared for cooking and eating in one of the links above. Yet in spite of that, CBS News in this articleby Mindy Weisberge, breathlessly speaks of it being seen alive for the ‘first time’ by the late to the party scientists:
“An enormous, worm-like mollusk called a shipworm that inhabits a shell resembling an elephant’s tusk was recently seen for the first time ever.

The animal’s long, tubular shells — which measure 3 to 5 feet in length — were discovered centuries ago, but no one had ever glimpsed the creature that made the shells.”

This part is interesting:
Instead of living in a piece of wood that they consume, the enormous worms bury themselves in marine mud, and they survive through the activity of special bacteria that live in their gills. As the worms filter the water — which is chock-full of rotting wood — the bacteria process hydrogen sulfide produced by the decaying wood and plant material, using it as the fuel for a chemical reaction that results in nourishing organic carbon, the scientists wrote in the study.

Most shipworms measure just a few inches in length, because they can’t grow larger than the piece of wood they inhabit — they can’t move to a new piece of wood if they outgrow the first, so if they grow too big, they would starve to death, Distel told Live Science.

But K. polythalamia, which lives in mud, has no such restrictions, he said.

“There is not much to limit their growth, and they have a pretty unlimited source of energy from diffusing sulfide. It is also possible that their sulfur symbiosis provides them with plenty of nutrients and energy, allowing them to grow faster and larger than their relatives,” Distel said.

It may have taken several centuries to track down these unusual shipworms, but now scientists can finally begin to unravel the mysteries of their unusual biology, life cycle, and their symbiotic relationship with the still-undescribed bacteria that live in their gills and make their food.”


There’s more about them here, along with an excellent diagram.

And this article, minus the error on it not being seen ever until now, also has more detail than others if you want to put together a chapter of biology study of these bizarre members of the mollusca family.


How it lives:

Hydrogen sulfide is not a gas that is usually described as life sustaining. Even at low concentrations it smells like rotten egg and exposure to high levels can cause all kinds of health problems, such as nausea, loss of smell and even death in extreme situations. However while its toxic fumes might knock most of us out, there is a creature that thrives on this toxic gas – the giant shipworm, a mysterious mud-dwelling creature that has eluded scientists till now.

Found in a lagoon laden with rotting wood in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, the giant shipworm (Kuphus polythalamia) has been playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can with scientists since the 18th century. While its empty shells, which can measure up to five-foot long, are fairly common, the creature itself – and a live specimen at that – is not, says lead investigator Daniel Distel, a research professor and director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University.”

More on eating Giant Tamilok.

Posted in Critters | 3 Responses

Science Links for Homeschoolers- Emphasis on Shrimp Dissection

Science Demonstrations, density with flax seed and water;   Bernoulli’s Principle with a leaf blower and a beach ball.  Fun stuff showing real principles at work.

Huge collection of science websites of interest to learners and homeschoolers.

Gray’s Anatomy is online, free!

Observation based study of plants

Flower labeling

How to write a lab report

Anatomy comes from the word anatomae, which means dissection. Dissection is a good way to examine the structures, both internal and external, of an organism and discover how they work.

Dissecting a shrimp or a crawdad (we purchased our shrimp from the market): There are helpful youtube videos, but they are of limited use to me with my limited wifi, and I don’t want to use it hunting for the best of the videos.

Have the student write down or tell you everything he can think of that he knows about shrimp.

Observe some living shrimp.  Go to the pet store or a walmart and look in the aquariums. Visit an aquarium. Ask around among your friends, people at church, co-workers, and see if anybody has any aquarium shrimp.  Go tide-pooling. Go snorkeling. If your student is unable to observe a living shrimp or a crawdad, then don’t do this lesson. Do something he can see living in real life- an earthworm, a grasshopper, a fish.

Once you’ve observed a shrimp doing shrimpy stuff, write down everything you have observed and try to draw one.

The worksheets below come from this site.

Get your shrimp (or a crawdad) for dissecting.  You’ll need some kind of tray to put it on, gloves, a sharp pair of scissors, tweezers, and maybe lemon juice (you rub or splash it on the shrimp if the smell is too strong), and a magnifying glass or a microscope if you have one. An apron isn’t a bad idea. You can always just safety pin a beach towel- either bib-like, pinned in back, behind your neck, or safety pin each of the top two corners to the shoulders of your shirt.   Bleach the tray when you’re done.

Cut along the underside of the shrimp (use very sharp, small scissors), and make your incisision between the left


This simple worksheet has a drawing of a shrimp to label, a list of questions on observations- how many legs, how many this, etc, and instructions to find certain organs and draw them, and if possible examine with a microscope and draw what you see that way.


And answer key to the drawing- here it is with the proper labels.

This worksheet has a drawing of the internal organs and the parts are labeled.  It says it’s a diagram of cephalopods at the top of the page, but this is definitely a mistake. It’s unmistakably a shrimp, and shrimp are arthropods.

Marine ecosystems, shorelines

Marine ecosystems, coral reef

(both of the above links contain extremely simplified, dumbed down text. But you could use them as a basis for choosing what topics to explore further)

Coral Reef Life– fabulous pictures. Very helpful as a field guide, except not so much use ‘on the field,’ unless you bring a smart phone and a pocket wi-fi with you to the beach or on the boat.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

  • The Common Room on Facebook

  • Amazon: Buy our Kindle Books

  • Search Amazon

    Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

  • Brainy Fridays Recommends: