Guest Post: Famous Writers’ Insults

Guest Post by: AussieWriter

Famous writers are humans with their own weaknesses and peculiarities. And sometimes they can’t resist the temptation to insult their colleagues. It’s difficult to say was it mostly because of personal reasons or professional ones. But all in all, great writers remain creative even in sharing these insulting characteristics. This infographic from AussieWriter depicts some of the most figurative among them.


Book Review: Dark Life

dark lifeI picked up Dark Life by Kat Falls at a Scholastic book fair while substitute teaching last spring.  I was intrigued by the description of the world and thought it would be interesting to read.    I greatly enjoyed it.

The Premise
A catastrophic series of earthquakes led to the ocean level rising so much it swallowed most of the low lands.  In fact, the book mentioned that the Statue of Liberty has collapsed into the ColdSleep Canyon (formerly the Hudson Canyon) and it cannot be found.  The entire East Coast as it is known today is gone.  As a result of a massive loss of dry land, giant “stack cities” were built to house the world’s population.  However, humans just weren’t meant to live in giant skyscrapers in apartments the size of a closet.  The apartments are so small in fact, that parents don’t have their children live with them past the age of six.  Kids grow up in boarding houses and parents come visit on the weekends where they can rent “quality rooms” aka a living room with a kitchenette.  A group of people decided that this just was not the way people were meant to live.  They realized the Earth still had all the same land (and more) than it did before…it just was covered in water.  And so, a territory was formed and pioneers embarked on a new frontier…the ocean floor.

The Plot: A Pioneer Story
Dark Life is your basic pioneer story.  People who are fed up with the current way of life and embarking on a new life in an unknown place.  There are a different set of challenges they face than those who live “topside” (or above the water’s surface), different predators, and they experience a different connection to nature.  One of these challenges is a band of outlaws who are threatening the Benthic Territory.  Dark Life‘s plot centers around this specific threat.

The Subplot: Government
There a subplot that weaves in about government responsibilities, government abuse of power, and citizens standing up for what they believe is right.  I don’t want to spoil this subplot too much, but I wanted to point out the threads of this subplot are intricately woven in as if this were a young adult novel or maybe even an adult novel.  Kat Falls has done a suburb job merging science fiction with history.

The Characters: Ty and Gemma
It comes as no surprise the main characters are teenagers and children (after all, it was published by Scholastic!).  However, Kat Falls purposely chose this age group because Dark Life isn’t just about living in on the ocean floor, it is about the long-term effects.  Ty is the first child to have been born subsea.  He has lived his entire life underwater, only spending a short amount of time above water.  Gemma lived topside and has come subsea to look for her brother.  She comes with rumors of “dark gifts” of the children of the sea.  Dark gifts that seem to have resulted from the immense water pressure.  She clings to the theory of their existence, despite Ty’s instance that the research doctor was a disproven quack.

The World: Benthic Territory
Kat Falls has created an excellent science fiction novel.  She has thought about the clothes they wear, the houses they live in, the food they eat, transportation, long-term effects, and how sustainable the subsea economy is.  These are all key elements to creating an effective science fiction novel.  Recently, my husband and I attended Detcon1, a science fiction convention in Detroit, Michigan.  One of the panels we saw was about this exact topic.  Successful science fiction lies in the coherence of the details.  And Kat Falls does not fall short on detail.

The Sequel: Rip Tide
I just found out when I went to Amazon to grab a book cover image that there is a sequel to Dark Life, titled Rip Tide!  I have added it to my wish list and will review it in the future.

Dark Life is an easy adult read; I read in a couple of hours.  However, for those it is grade-appropriate for, it may take a little longer.  Concepts such as bioluminescence, biosonar, and aqua architecture will take some time to understand.  However, a field trip to an aquarium either before or after this novel (I suggest before to draw students in!) would be excellent.  This novel would also work well in cross-curricular studies of oceanic life in science class.

F for Effort

Awhile ago, I reviewed Richard Benson’s first hilarious test answer book, F in Exams.  His second book, F for Effort, utilized the same premise and just provided more funny answers that serve as excellent introductions segues into the class to educational lessons when you have some time to kill.  It too is available in paperback or Kindle versions.

F for Effort has two sections: elementary and high school.  Within the high school section the content is broken down again by subject matter: biology, chemistry, physics, math, English, history & geography, and extra credit.  The elementary section is not broken down further.  The following are some screenshots taken from the Kindle version of the book.






High School











“Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”

A few weeks ago I saw a video on Facebook titled “Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”.  It was posted on June 15 by Aliēnātus: the truth is out there.  The goal was to open people’s minds to what was in the Common Core curriculum and that the curriculum is horrible because it “indoctrinates” students starting in the 1st grade.  According to the commentators in the video, the book(s) shown have been approved by the state of Utah.

I was outraged, but not by the curriculum, rather by the ignorance of the commentators in the video and by the comments on the video.  It still outrages me, thus, I have decided to embedded the video and share my thoughts.

My Issues with Statements Made in This Video

The commentators have no authority on the subject matter.  The commentators who are evaluating the curriculum have no stated background in teaching, curriculum planning/design, or education.  One commentator claims he has a 6-year-old (1st grader).  This does NOT make him an expert on what is taught or should be taught but isn’t being taught in the 1st grade.  It is apparent that he has not seen the entire K-12 system as a whole, its successes and its failures, from the standpoint of an educator.  He is a parent.  He may be an expert on the interests of his child, but that does not translate into the expertise of the educational goals for that grade.

The commentators’ narrow focus on the title, “Literature and Writing” ignores the benefits of working with content in different contexts.  Since the commentators are not well-versed in educational issues, they do not understand that one of the major problems of the American school system is that we pulled apart our content and put each one into different boxes called grade level and subject matter from which we were told to never deviate into another subject or grade level.  In other words, the 1st grade English teacher taught 1st grade English, which included reading, spelling, writing, and literature.  Students were not taught reading in 2nd grade science class because “that’s the 1st grade English teacher’s job.”  We now know this chunking to be very problematic and the term “cross-curricular” has entered the educational vocabulary.  Encouraging students to write about advocacy in a “literature and writing” class highlights that you don’t just write papers in an English class and talk about society in social studies, you can mix them!

It’s also important to note that writing is not just about the motor skills of writing letters and sentence structure.  Why should we waste students’ precious time writing about insignificant things like, “The sky is blue.  I like puppies,” when they are capable of so much more?  Many students have already grasped these basic verbal concepts by the 1st grade, thus, we are wasting their time by re-teaching the same concept with only adding the motor skill of writing.  We end up hindering the grow of their mental skills; and when their brain isn’t stimulated, students get bored, which can directly lead to learning, “nothing” all day and hating school.

The commentators project their adult understanding and definition of “advocacy” and cannot fathom that a 6-year-old can advocate for anything.  The concept of “advocacy” can be complicated or boiled down to a very simple basic element: standing up for what you think is right.  Isn’t that the exact same message behind the anti-bullying campaigns in elementary schools right now?  The commentators laugh and one says sarcastically, “Yeah, my six-year-old does that all the time.  She looks at what is wrong in the world and says how do I organize my people and my community to fix these social problems?”  By six years old, kids are able to identify things that are right and wrong as well as come up with ideas on how to change the status quo.  Why tell a six-year-old, “no, you’re only six, you have nothing positive to contribute to your family/house, neighborhood, your school, or your city”?  We’re not talking about six-year-olds organizing and starting a national revolution, but they can see that there are people who are starving and that creating a community garden and donating the food to a local food bank can help.  It’s also fathomable that 1st graders could organize a school-wide blanket drive to donate blankets to the American Red Cross for the upcoming winter.

The commentators ignore the intended audience of the curriculum guidebook that they mock.  The guidebook is written for a college-educated educator.  The voice and style of the paragraphs is written such that it will not be an insult to the intelligence of an elementary school teacher.  The educator is able to translate the broad concept of “call to action” into simpler words that each individual student will understand.  The concept of “call to action” really isn’t difficult to understand at all.  A six-year old definitely understands, “the sentence that says ‘I want you to clean your room.’ is a call to action because ‘clean’ is a verb, and a verb is an action, right?”  Why are we insulting the intelligence of six-year-olds?  If they are capable of understanding the concept, willing to learn it, and desiring more out of their education, then we should be teaching them.  It is the role of an educated, effective teacher to translate concepts from complex to simple.  Teacher guidebooks are written for the teacher, not the student.

The commentators have ignored the basic principles of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos.  Logos ethos, and pathos are Greek words that used to describe the three types of appeal that are used to convince people in an argument.  They are essentially logical appeal, credibility appeal, and emotional appeal.  These are very complex subjects that are repeatedly studied throughout middle school, high school, and college.  However, the commentators do not understand that the fundamental understanding of these complex concepts must begin early.  Since the commentators do not seem to have an education background, they have not experienced the problems that occur later when this ground work is not laid.  An effective elementary teacher is able to teach a very basic understanding of these concepts.

The commentators have ignored the value of recognizing how someone is manipulating you in favor of focusing on the fact that we are equipping 1st graders with tools to manipulate.  A six-year-old has already experienced manipulation using all three types of appeal: in video and/or print advertisements, in overhearing an argument between their parents or other adults, or by engaging in an argument themselves.  It is imperative that students begin to understand how peer pressure works (usually a combination of all three, but typically lots of logical and emotional appeal) and how to avoid failing prey to it.

The commentators take issue with the example of arguing with their parents.  My gut instinct is that the reason parents were chosen is that they were looking for an authority figure that a child may feel comfortable arguing with, and it’s pretty safe to assume that each child has at least one parent (or guardian).  But I think the bigger problem is if you are worried that we are teaching six-year-olds how to argue back to their parents instead of simply obeying and doing as their told without incident…perhaps you need to re-evaluate your parenting style.  I mean..if you can be outsmarted or outargued by a six-year-old…then you probably have not taught your kids WHY you want them to do something, which is just as important as the WHAT.  Why don’t we want to equip our children as early as we can with the weapon of words instead of the weapon of fists?  Why do we want to enforce blind obedience, but then wonder why kids aren’t thinking for themselves?

The commentators fall victim to the exact “problems” they criticize in the teacher’s guidebook.  The commentators emphasize and pause on certain words to elicit an emotional response from the viewer.  They are trying to convince the viewers that this guidebook is indoctrinating students by using their “authority” as a parent of a six year old, emphasizing emotional words, and trying to insert sarcastic commentary as part of their emotional appeal.  The end goal of this video was not to objectively review the Common Core approved, curriculum guidebook for 1st grade in the state of Utah, but it was to stir up emotions and fuel rage-filled comments.

Access to Textbooks

The internet, digital media, and mobile devices has made access to knowledge far easier than it used to be.  I’m going to use 10-15 years ago as a rough estimate.  I was in middle and high school during those years.  While we had the internet, PowerPoint, and laptops…it wasn’t the same.  I still needed “at least one book source” for most major papers.  Even more of a problem…I had to lug those big giant textbooks home every day.

It boggled my teenage brain why I had to lug 20 pounds of printed material on my shoulders home to look at…maybe…20 pages?  There was usually a short story in my literature textbook, a chapter in my science book, a chapter in my history book, a page for 20 math problems, etc.  I usually forgot all of it by the time I got back to school the next day because I couldn’t write in the book (I still have trouble writing in books!  Workbooks, no problem, but textbooks?  Nope, instinct is still to get out notebook paper).

Why did I have to lug them home every night?  Because I couldn’t go out and buy my own.  Elements of Literature wasn’t not something shelved at the local Barnes and Noble.  So much has changed now.  Parents can buy their children home copies of textbooks on Amazon for pennies or a few dollars.  Eventually, all the books I’ll need I can carry around on my iPad!  Paper and glue not required.

Today, I was at my local library and on Fridays and Sundays there is a used bookstore in the basement of the library that is open.  The books come from donations or have been taken out of circulation by the library.  I was perusing it, looking for a good,used copy of The Crucible since buying it for my Kindle will cost $12 (I’ll be teaching it soon).  I found one for $0.50.  As I was slowly making my way towards the counter I saw two literature textbooks: Elements of Literature: Fifth Course (2000) and World Literature (1993).  Both were in excellent condition.  In fact, when I looked on the inside front cover, Elements only had one name written in it.  World Literature only had two!  Both originally were $50-$100 brand new when they were just published.  I got them for $1!  EACH!  $2 for two large English textbooks?  I’ll get that investment back in using just one story from either book in any of my classes.  I don’t know what resources I’ll have as teacher, but I just could not pass up $1 like-new condition of literature textbooks.

Perhaps its the teacher in me, or just a sign of the times…but I’m still taken aback by all-access pass students nowadays have to textbooks.  They aren’t these giant books that only schools can buy.  Everyone can buy any book.  So why go to school?  The teacher.  It’s the TEACHER that makes the difference and not the books, the technology, or the lack of either books or technology.  A great teacher can teach with whatever resources he or she has.  Resources are needed because more students learn with a deeper understanding when they are given as many resources as possible.

WARNING: The use of may make you smarter and help eliminate hunger at the same time.

In case you haven’t heard about (it’s been around since 2007), it is a “non-profit website that is owned by and supports the United Nations World Food Programme.”

The website has two simple goals:
1. “Provide an education to everyone for free”
2. “Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free”

Sound too good to be true?  It’s not.  I know what you’re thinking, someone has to pay something, somewhere, somehow.  Sponsors pay—not you/users.  All you have to do is go to the website and “play a game”.  Every time you answer the question correctly, 10 grains of rice are added to your bowl.  Miniscule amounts, yes, but your 10 plus the 10 of a few thousand users equals a hefty amount of rice.

The default “game” is English vocabulary.  There are 60 levels of English vocabulary and I haven’t made it past 40.  Suffice to say you’ll be adequately challenged.  The game is simple, a word is shown on the screen and four possible “definitions” (more like synonyms) are listed.  You pick the correct one.  If you are right, 10 grains are added to your bowl.  If you are wrong, the correct answer is shown and you are knocked down a level.  It will take a few correct answers in a row to advance back to where you previously were.  Words will repeat.  Some answers are obvious, others are not.

But what if English vocabulary isn’t your thing?  There’s also English grammar, SAT preparation, basic math, chemistry, art, literature, famous quotes, four different categories of geography, human anatomy, and five foreign languages (Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Latin).

You can play the game anonymously or you can create a user account to track your statistics like your highest level for each subject or how many grains of rice you have donated.  You can also log in using your Facebook account. helps people learn and expand their knowledge.  Then, through the assistance of sponsors, the website helps donate rice to those in need of food through the United Nations World Food Programme.  You may feel like you’re just playing a game—but actually helping the world become a better place.


Google Lit Trips

I like Google Lit Trips.  It helps visually orient readers to locations in a book that can be somewhat confusing.  As Google Earth’s capabilities grow, I hope the current trips will be updated to include even more detail.  I also plan to periodically check the site for new Google Lit Trips for other books that I am either teaching or reading.

I’ve created a video using Camtasia screen recording software to explain Google Lit Trips and demonstrate it. This software was quite a challenge for me, but I’ll leave that review for another post.

The video has been uploaded to my educational YouTube channel.

The video is copyrighted using Creative Commons.