Reading: 13-20 January 2013 (ZiR)

Reading 13-19 January 2013 (ZiR)

Fritz Tucker, Zeteo Assistant Editor

[One in an ongoing series of posts. For the full series see Zeteo is Reading.]

13 January 2013

As a (possibly) soon-to-be adjunct professor, I have been keeping an eye out for any sociological critiques of pop-culture to lure my unsuspecting (hypothetical) students into criticizing about the world around them. I came across this article about The Berenstain Bears in The New York Observer‘s Scooter Magazine. It turned out to be mostly literary criticism, which can be some of the most enjoyable and sociological profound literature in the world, especially if it is written by Orwell or Lukacs. The article, however, turned out to not be a thinly veiled criticism of Stalin, but rather a rant about how awful the Berenstain Bears books are. My favorite quotes are:
Since you are not an imbecile, you are initially put off by the hideous cover.Not a hint of charm or whimsy or technique redeems any of the art. The bears are devoid of wit.

Reading the book will reveal that the story is—unbelievably—worse than the art. The art merely betrayed lack of thoughtfulness. But the story is to thought as a black hole is to starlight. Where the art lacked action, the plot is grindingly dull. Where the drawings lacked whimsy, the text reads as if it were written under rigid orders to avoid creativity.

The incessant moral hectoring makes the dullness ever more excruciating. Each plot is organized around the relentless pursuit of a life lesson: Don’t be mean to your brother, mind your parents, wear your helmet and kneepads while skateboarding, don’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Fine enough advice, except for the weird turkey thing…”

Except for the bears’ uncannily ugly noses, I remember nothing about reading these books as a child. They were merely there, and kept me busy a dozen or so times. I guess I’ll try to save my (hypothetical) children from these unredeemable bears.

14 January 2013

I’m reading Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society in order to learn how to better understand how to involve my hypothetical students in their education. Illich claims:

Most high-school teachers of Spanish or French do not speak the language as correctly as their pupils might after half a year of competent drills. Experiments conducted by Angel Quintero in Puerto Rico suggest that many young teen-agers, if given the proper incentives, programs, and access to tools, are better than most schoolteachers at introducing their peers to the scientific exploration of plants, stars, and matter, and to the discovery of how and why a motor or a radio functions.
As somebody who learned most of what I know from independent study, this resonates with me deeply. I’m glad to see people are inventing alternatives. I slept and chatted through approximately 180 hours of physics lessons my junior year of high school; my friend Gabe, however, took less than five minutes to teach me the concept of the speed of light and how approaching it slows down time.  I also felt righteous indignation when I learned–shortly after the invasion of Iraq–that over half of U.S. school-children didn’t know where Iraq was on a map; then I looked at a map and realized I didn’t know where Iraq was. In the following four years I taught myself where over 90% of the world’s nations are. When Senator Ted Stevens said that the internet was “a series of tubes” I laughed along with everybody else while secretly admitting to myself that that’s how I thought it worked.

18 January 2013

I’m not sure whether this merely emphasizes the need for American Ebonics to be taught to all professional writers, or whether this calls into question the very viability of the English alphabet; but either way, I sure do get a kick out of white sports writers reporting that the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis played his final home game and did his famous squirrel dance to Nelly’s “hot in herre.” Some writers have even gone so far as to use three ‘r’s, as in “hot in herrre.” The same author, in an article last August used four ‘r’s, but that’s just rubbing it in.

Now that I’ve revealed myself as a giant football nerd, I must also reveal that I am a giant phonetics nerd who has created his own phonetic English alphabet. This all basically comes down to the English language’s dogmatic vowel rules, or at least its non-recognizance of r, l, m, and n as vowels. A a New York WASP, I say “here” like “beer” or “fear,” all of which should be spelled with a simple ‘y’ as the middle letter, thus making it “hot in hyr.” Nelly, on the other hand, is an African-American from St. Louis, and thus says “here” like “cur,” “myrrh,” “sir,” “learn,” or “Burr.” Because English is a language based on precedents, Nelly’s “here” should be spelled “hur” so as to not mistake it with “her.” The insistance of the white establishment to spell it “herre” must simply be an attempt at exorcizing Southern grammar, for when I see that I read “herre” to rhyme with “today” and “hooray.”  All of this could be avoided by acknowledging the shortcomings of our five and a half vowels and simply spelling “herre” how it is actually pronounced: “hr.”

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