Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 4)

The Sacred-Secular Divide

Are you or anyone you know, suffering from Christian Dualism?

Symptoms include:

  • You don’t listen to “secular” music.
  • You use the term “worship” as a synonym for church singing.
  • Feeling a lot of guilt because you haven’t given God enough of your life.

Fact, Truth, and Poetry

I know of a Christian science teacher, not at my school of course, who told their students that English class is important because you learn the practical skill writing, but the stories and poetry that they teach is a waste of time.

If this is your view of literature, how do you expect to read 74% of the Bible? Like it was an encyclopedia?

The Scourge of Sentimentalism

Sentimentality is emotion for emotion’s sake. And that’s bad. Good art, a good story or book or song or movie will offer an experience that engages us as a whole person. When Christians are sentimental we are compromising the Gospel.

Nothing is innocent because of the Fall, and our return to innocence comes at a significant cost. Christian author Flannery O’Connor says that Christian sentimentality is a result of separating Nature and Grace, and when we do this, Grace is degraded to pious cliché, and Nature becomes either sentimental or obscene.

We can avoid sentimentalism and pious cliché by seeing the physical world everywhere infused with the transcendent and the so-called spiritual things as grounded in the stuff of life.

But it’s so hard to do this in our culture—we’ve been brought up with the separation.


Tom Sawyer’s Heroic Journey

There are those who argue that Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is merely a loose compilation of autobiographical material, and while some evidence supports this claim, most scholars agree there is deliberate manipulation and arrangement of these episodes by the author to emphasize various themes—often related to Tom’s growth toward maturity (Hill 385).

Oh, there’s a deliberate arrangement of the episodes, but this arrangement is not just about growth toward maturity.  Tom Sawyer is on a journey–a hero’s journey that is rooted in Mark Twain’s own identity which “depended heavily upon values embedded in home and hearth” (Kiskis 15).  It is this domestic identity that is developed in Tom in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell claims a “marvelously constant story” (3) is present in the world’s great myths and, indeed, in all human stories.  At the heart of these stories is a hero on a journey in search of something.  Campbell calls this universal pattern the monomyth—and, regardless of the objective, a by-product of this journey is the constitution of the hero’s identity.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer contains the elements of the monomyth: the world of the common day, the call to adventure, the refusal of the call, and the road of trials.  On the road, Tom endures the characteristic trials: the encounter with the temptress, the brother battle, and the battle with the dragon.  And the journey ends with what Campbell calls the atonement with the father.

Through tests and trials, consistent with the stages in the hero’s journey as articulated by Campbell, Tom eventually abandons the lure of complete independence and instead, accepts the idea of “home, the boundaries of home, and the freedom gained by belonging (Kiskis 15).

In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell articulates the recurrent pattern found in the world’s hero myths.  The hero’s story begins with a character living in the ordinary world, or “the world of common day.”  The hero’s journey is set in motion by means of a supernatural event, which pushes or pulls the hero toward a goal: this is “the call to adventure.”  At this point, the individual is presented with a choice: to either accept or refuse the call.  Those who choose to accept it begin the journey and once it is underway, the hero faces many tests on “the road of trials,” which stand between him and the ultimate goal.

Campbell identifies specific kinds of tests the hero often faces which produce a change in the hero.  Among them are the “woman as temptress,” the “brother-battle” and the “battle with the dragon.”  These tests are not always physical; they may also be mental, emotional, or spiritual.  The hero is said to be in “the belly of the whale” when he experiences a symbolic death and resurrection and through this ordeal, he is transformed.  This transformation results in the “atonement with the father.”  Those who are able to pass the tests of the journey itself are rewarded with what Campbell called the “ultimate boon.”  More important than achieving the ultimate boon is the ability to return to the community from which the journey began and communicate what has been learned.  If he is able to understand the meaning of the experience and communicate the benefits of the journey to the community, then the hero’s journey is complete.

The hero’s journey begins in the world of the common day.  This world is the context from which the hero will sally forth on his adventures, and it establishes a point of comparison between itself and the special world into which the hero moves.  In the world of the common day, we see Tom caught between his need for a stable home environment and personal independence.  On the one side are the forces that would socialize Tom—Aunt Polly in the home; the church and school do so as representatives of the larger community.  At the center of the rules and regulations that govern the community of St. Petersburg is the Judge (N. Campbell 128).  Opposed to these forces is the lure of freedom and independence—exemplified by the life of Huck Finn.  It is in the tension between these two forces that we find Tom in his world of the common day.

Tom, clearly caught between these opposing forces, is not yet able to commit to one or the other.  Placing Tom in the home of his aunt rather than his parents weakens the lure of home and hearth.  In the first chapter, we find Tom chafing against the restrictions of home life, but he does so in the context of the stable home Aunt Polly provides.  His rebellion manifested in the pilfering of homemade jam, and the revelation that he has skipped school discovered at family dinner shows that Tom is caught between the two worlds of complete freedom and social restriction.  Later in the first chapter, he fights the well-dressed stranger whose dainty cap and necktie “ate into Tom’s vitals” (Twain 6).  The real confrontation is symbolic of the battle against the alternate image of boyhood that the opponent represents (N. Campbell 130) for this child’s clothing reflects his acceptance of community standard.  This fight shows Tom rejects the expectations of society but his rebellion is not complete.  He is not transgressive, but only digressive (N. Campbell  131) meaning Tom works within boundaries as he tests them.  The famous fence-painting scene illustrates this superbly: Tom does not transgress in that the fence is ultimately painted, but he does digress by not doing the work himself.  In a similar way Tom chafes under the socializing forces imposed by the Church and School.

The Church and School are community institutions dedicated to socialization of the young—teaching them “to do right and be good” and here too we see Tom caught between the restrictions of community and the lure of freedom.  In Sunday school they must sit “straight and pretty … the way good little boys and girls should do” (Twain 33).  One little girl is chastised for looking out the window—a symbol of the domain of freedom.  The learning of memory verses is a part of the process of socialization and with the help of Mary, Tom attempts to learn his verses, but without success.  Still, through his own cleverness, he is able to secure a Bible (the reward for memorization) and he receives commendation, under false pretenses, from the Judge—the symbolic centre of the community.

In Tom’s ordinary world we find the process of socialization juxtaposed with the alternate impulse “toward the transgressive and to all that exists outside the disciplined and controlled precincts of St. Petersburg” (N. Campbell 129).  In the church service, Tom is made to sit furthest away from the window and the “seductive outside” (Twain 40).  Tom being drawn toward the “seductive outside” functions throughout the novel as the archetypical Temptress of the hero’s journey as it attempts to lure the hero away from his ultimate goal.  This “tension is vital to the novel, for it indicates the precise position of Tom, caught between the pull to the outside and the comforting controls of supervision from community” (N. Campbell 129).  This is the world of the common day for Tom Sawyer.

This ordinary world is static, but it is by no means stable (Vogler 99) and into this unstable world a new force appears.  Joseph Campbell calls this unsettling force the “herald.”  Its presence no longer allows the hero to maintain the status quo because it brings crisis that requires a decision.  The crisis that results from its appearance is the call to adventure.  The call “rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth… the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand” (J. Campbell 51).  For Tom Sawyer, it is the appearance of Becky Thatcher that brings about this crisis—she invites Tom to cross the threshold.  Becky takes on supernatural importance to Tom when he first lays eyes on the “lovely little blue-eyed creature with yellow hair.”  The language Twain uses for this encounter gives it religious significance—“[h]e worshipped this new angel” (Twain 20).  For Tom, the call to adventure is an invitation toward resolution of the tension that exists in his ordinary world—to accept domesticity and the security found within community.

Because the journey is fraught with danger, the hero does not always accept the call, at least not immediately.  Tom does not accept the call to embrace community immediately because he is spurned by two important representatives of domesticity.  Aunt Polly falsely accuses Tom for breaking the sugar bowl—when Sid dropped the bowl Tom was in “ecstasies” in anticipation of the punishment that Sid would receive, but instead Polly assumed that Tom was responsible and the “potent palm” fell upon him (Twain 23).  Following this domestic injustice, Tom leaves in a sulk and finds himself near Becky’s home and he wonders if “the sacred presence” is there.  As he waits by the window, Tom’s “holy calm” is “profaned” by the voice of a maidservant and he is deluged with washing water.  Then at school, he declares his love for Becky and even receives a kiss.  However, he blunders in referring to his previous engagement to Amy Lawrence and Becky cries.  He tries to offer her his most prized possession, “a brass knob from the top of an andiron,” (94) but she refuses the gift.  This is the last straw and Tom leaves, not only the school but the community altogether.  Immediately after he receives the call to adventure to commit to home, he is spurned by its representatives and so he balks at the call and flees.

Flight is an option for all heroes, but it is a particular characteristic of the American hero.  “The presence of escape, or flight, in the modern American novel has long reflected a dominant mood in American life” (Bluefarb 3). Tom’s escape to Jackson’s Island, his refusal of the call, is an attempt to resolve the conflict between domesticity and freedom in favour of freedom.  On Jackson’s Island, the first stop on the road of trials, the conflict is intensified as Tom learns the joys, but also the significant drawbacks of freedom from community.  Tom and his friend Joe Harper and Huck escape the confines of society and go to Jackson’s Island where they plan to “lead a life of crime” (Twain 108)—they will be pirates.  As Tom wakes up the first morning he peacefully observes an inchworm, then ants hauling dead spiders, and later a ladybug, images showing how natural and serene complete independence is compared to the rigid rules imposed by society.  Symbolic of their rebellion, Huck teaches Tom and Joe how to smoke, but they become violently ill—symbolic of the excesses of freedom.  Further, Tom “could not keep back thoughts of certain persons at home” (Twain 123); so, unable to completely ignore the draw of home, Tom secretly returns and spies on the grieving Polly and he was “touched by his aunt’s grief” (Twain 128).  He returns to the island only because he has plans for a more dramatic return home.  That night the island has become less hospitable; at midnight “there was a brooding oppressiveness” (Twain 139).  The ensuing storm was violent; it was “a wild night for homeless young heads to be out in” (italics mine)(Twain 141).  According to Hamelin, it was Twain’s plan to have Tom leave Jackson’s Island and embark on adventures in many lands, only to return years later.  This adventure he saved for Huckleberry Finn because Tom was not the right character for such an adventure (387-9).  Twain realized that Tom, as this first test on the road of trials shows, could not ignore the security, in spite of its restrictions, that human society affords (N. Campbell 131-132).  The boys’ return to the community is during their own funeral service symbolizing a resurrection.  Mythically, a transformation occurs through rebirth/resurrection, and in his case, it is Tom’s acceptance of the call.  Although he is not yet aware of it, the boon at the end of his journey will be the acceptance of domesticity and incorporation into community.

Once the hero accepts the call he “undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness by descending … into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures (J. Campbell 101): the temptress, the brother, the dragon.

The role of temptress is filled by the “seductive outside”—the appeal of independence—which pulls Tom in the world of the common day.  This force is present in each of the encounters on the road of trials.

The conflict between Tom and Huckleberry Finn represents Joseph Campbell’s brother-battle and in this battle, Tom struggles against his desire for the independence that Huck represents.  Huck shares a love for freedom and adventure with Tom, but lives outside of the community.  Huck is the “juvenile pariah of the village” and Tom envied “his gaudy outcast condition” (Twain 51).  Since he is the son of the rarely seen town drunkard, not only is Huck independent of any parental restriction, he also remains free from the towns socializing institutions, School, and the Church.  “In one way, [Tom] vicariously realizes this dream [to freedom] through his friendship with Huck, for the latter’s enviable freedom largely arises out of an irrevocably lost homelife” (Grove 389).

The relationship between Tom and Huck changes gradually over the course of the novel, however, as Tom progresses further on his journey toward accepting community.  Initially, Tom looks up to Huck with admiration and “uses this friendship to make his own life seem more rebellious and less domestic” (Grove 389) but through the brother battle the relationship between the boys is inverted and Tom becomes leader and Huck the follower.  One day the “raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure” (Twain 194) comes upon Tom and he seeks Huck to assist.  On this quest, Tom is clearly the leader and the source of all the knowledge regarding the nature and location of buried treasure.   His leadership continues as the boys plot to secure the treasure they hear that Injun Joe has hidden away.  The shift in the relationship between the two boys shows Tom’s progression toward community and away from the independence that Huck represents.  When Tom decides to testify in court regarding the death of Dr. Robinson, he follows his conscience to uphold the law and justice.  Tom testifies to Muff Potter’s innocence and declares Injun Joe’s guilt, but in doing so he breaks the vow of silence he makes with Huck indicating a split between the two (N. Campbell 132).  In his decision to testify, Tom declares his loyalty to community, rather than the independence that Huck demonstrates by his willingness to remain silent.

One of the more significant trials the hero must undergo is the slaying of the dragon—often a symbol of the hero’s own suppressed internal monsters and in overcoming the dragon, the hero is cleansed of the monstrous within him.  Where Huck represents a marginal transgression of community rule and security, Injun Joe is symbolic of the “limitless capacity for violation” (N. Campbell 132) of community and the law—thus, Injun Joe represents what Campbell calls the dragon.  Injun Joe “lives forever beyond the margins of the community” (N. Campbell 132) as is illustrated in his temporary occupation as body snatcher and in his violence and murder of the doctor, an important person in the community.  When Tom makes his appearance in court and tells the truth about Injun Joe’s guilt, he chooses the side of justice and the restrictions of freedom found in society.  The latter escapes from the court through a window, still representing the “seductive outside.”  From that point on the shadow of Injun Joe begins to ‘infest… all [Tom’s] dreams’ (Twain 192) and the inevitable confrontation between Tom and this dragon builds throughout the novel to the extent that in one heightened instance he almost stepped on Injun Joe’s hand (Twain 220).  The final confrontation with the shadow occurs in what Campbell calls the belly of the whale.

For Campbell, the belly of the whale experience represents a symbolic entry and rebirth from the “worldwide womb”; the hero “is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died” (J. Campbell 90).  This is not always a literal death, but symbolically a hero must die so that he can be reborn (Vogler 159).  McDougal’s cave is “a psychological space wherein the seductive outside has been made tangible for Tom” (N. Campbell 133).   It is “a vast labyrinth of crooked isles that … led nowhere” (Twain 225).  Tom’s journey with Becky into McDougal’s cave is a symbolic death where he is taken completely out of the community. Tom faces not only his own death, but more importantly that of Becky;  he “was appalled with the idea that she might die” (247-8).  When they tried to comfort each other, “they talked of home, and the friends there, and the comfortable beds, and above all, the light!” (Twain 248).  Tom’s concern for Becky’s life and the comfort they find in domestic images illustrates the extent of his transformation and is augmented as they chare their “wedding cake” (250) and share a kiss (254).  While in the cave separated from community, Tom intensely experiences that which he values—Becky and the security of home that she represents.

Tom’s story parallels that of Injun Joe as the narrative alternates between their stories.  While Tom worries about Becky, reflects on the security of domestic life, and eats wedding cake, Injun Joe plans an attack on the Widow Douglas.  Here we see his most severe transgression of all social standards.  He plans to “slit her nostrils” and “notch her ears” then “tie her to the bed” (Twain 229).   His plans clearly have “undertones of deadly rape, for he plans to violate and deform two of her bodily orifices, her nose and her ears, then watch her bleed to death in the bedroom” (Aspiz 148).  “Overt rape, of course, was hardly suitable stuff for a nineteenth-century boy’s book” (Aspiz 148), but this assault on the kind and helpless old woman is symbolic of Injun Joe’s disregard for community, and the extremes to which his expressions of “freedom” extend.  Later the parallel between Tom and Injun Joe is strengthened when Tom sees Injun Joe in the cave.  Tom emerges; Injun Joe does not.  Symbolically, in the death of Injun Joe, the lure of complete freedom from society has also died within Tom.  Through the ordeal Tom has died, and been reborn; through this rebirth, he has been transformed.  The extreme transgression of community values that Injun Joe represents is dead and “the urge for security out of the indisciplined moment of crisis in the cave mark Tom’s final incorporation into the community” (N. Campbell 135).

After the ordeal in the cave, a significant moment in the hero’s journey is made possible—atonement with the father.  Initially, in some symbolic way, the son sees the father as a rival; the father is alienated from the son as either a monster—a thing to be feared, or a god—something to be revered.  The alienation from his father is emphasized in that Tom is an orphan, and atonement is achieved with his symbolic father—Judge Thatcher.  Neil Campbell says, “Tom is enclosed in the world of Judge Thatcher” (135).  Indeed the Judge, as its highest authority, represents the community into which Tom is being called.  The relationship between Tom and Judge Thatcher is one of alienation.  The Judge inspires awe when he visits the Sunday School—he was “altogether the most august creation [the] children had ever looked upon, and they wondered what kind of material he was made of, and they half wanted to hear him roar, and were half afraid he might too” (Twain 35).  This description shows that to the children, the judge is both god and monster.  Tom treats to the Judge as a rival and with a spirit of “showing off,” produces enough tickets to receive a Bible-prize.  Tom is “elevated… to the judicial one’s altitude, and the school had two marvels to gaze upon in place of one” (Twain 36).  In this scene, Tom sees the Judge as an adversary.

“Atonement (at-one-ment) happens when a hero abandons notions of the father as dragon-thought-to-be-God and dragon-thought-to-be-sin” (Campbell 130).  Then father becomes “the initiating priest through whom the young being passes on into the larger world” (136).         After Tom and Becky’s safe return from the cave, the Judge “conceived a great opinion of Tom” (Twain 277).  When told of Tom’s lie which spared Becky a whipping at school, Thatcher transforms Tom’s “mighty lie” into one that is “noble … generous … magnanimous.”  He goes so far as to compare Tom with George Washington—“Tom, through the interjection of the Judge’s discourse of communal and judicial law, has become akin to the Father of his Country, the very figure of America’s sense of honesty, truth and goodness” (N. Campbell 135).  Thatcher continues to lay out Tom’s future; he will be “a great lawyer or a great soldier” (277).  It is the future of any properly socialized individual in that it “conforms to the expectations of respectable, institutional professions and confirms Tom’s position in the group” (N. Campbell 136).  By achieving atonement with this father figure, Tom achieves symbolic oneness with his community and he begins to live out of a new transformed identity.  For the “ultimate aim of each son is to regain his identity, which is initially the identity conferred upon him by being his particular father’s son” (Stahl 209).  It is his symbolic father that confers this identity on Tom.

Following the atonement, the son fills the fatherly “role of the initiator, the guide” (J. Campbell 137).  The final stage in the hero’s journey is his return with the “ultimate boon” or “elixir” (J. Campbell 181).  As a result of his journey, the hero has gained possession of a boon that is of benefit to others.  Bringing back the elixir is the final test of the hero on his journey.  It proves he has defeated death, and through his rebirth he has been transformed (Vogler 227).  As through the entire novel, Tom’s position is finally contrasted to that of Huck Finn.  Where Tom has been fully incorporated into the community by the words of Judge Thatcher, Huck experiences social control as “the bars and shackles of civilization [that] shut him in and bound him hand and foot” (Twain 278).  “The enclosure that Tom accepts willingly, Huck resists” (N. Campbell 136).  “[W]ealth … protection … society” threatens his need to live outside the community and he has to be ‘dragged … [and] hurled … into it’ (Twain 277).  Symbolic of the elixir he carries, Tom becomes an advocate for the restrictions imposed by society for he sees also benefits of the security one finds in community.  “To emphasize Tom’s total and overt conformity it is he who takes on the policing parent role with Huck, who tries to escape the new regime or order” (N. Campbell 136). “The rules of the community are internalized in Tom and find expression in his desire to control the waywardness of Huck who cannot accept ‘tem ways’ because they smother him with control” (N. Campbell 137).  So Tom fills the father role as he attempts to initiate Huck into the community.  At the end of the hero’s journey, Tom’s identity has been constituted as he accepts “home, the boundaries of home, and the freedom gained by belonging (Kiskis 15).

Tom Sawyer’s adventures are not merely a collection of Twain’s recollections from his childhood.  They are events that taken en masse depict Tom’s heroic journey from a world in which he is caught in the tension between community expectation and individual independence.  Through a series of tests and trials, he endures symbolic battles which test him.  Through the climactic ordeal in the cave he dies and is “reborn out of the dark, womb-like cave into the masculinized world of his new father” (N. Campbell 137), after which he exhibits the transformation of his identity as he functions as representative of the community and the security of home.


Works Cited

Aspiz, Harold. “Tom Sawyer’s Games of Death.” Studies in the Novel  27 (1995): 141-153.

Bluefarb, Sam. The Escape Motif in the American Novel.  Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press. 1972.

Campbell, Joseph.  The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York: Pantheon Books. 1949.

Campbell, Neil. “The ‘Seductive Outside” and the ‘Sacred Precincts’: Boundaries and Transgressions in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.Children’s Literature in Education. 25 (1984): 125-138.

Grove, James.  “Mark Twain and the Endangered Family.”  American Literature 57  (1985) : 377-394.

Hill, Hamlin L.. “The Composition and the Structure of Tom Sawyer.American Literature 61 (1989): 379-392.

Kiskis, Michael J. “Mark Twain and the Tradition of Literary Domesticity.”  Constructing Mark Twain: New Directions in Scholarship.  Eds. Laura E. Skandera Trombley and Michael J. Kiskis.  Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001. 13-27.

Stahl, John Daniel. “American Myth in European Disguise: Fathers and Sons in The Prince and the Pauper.American Literature 58 (1986): 203-216.

Twain, Mark.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.  London: Puffin Books, 1994.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey. Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions, 1992.


Postmodernism and the Image of God

postmodern identity is not given to an individual by God or nature or tradition—in postmodernism, we create ourselves—through consumption.  Often the consumption of images.  The identity made up of images is fragile, and so it is in constant need of reinforcement.  Consequently, it is easily influenced by entertainment and advertisements, and social media. And because of this, identities can be in continuous flux.

Young people spend a lot of time on their phones,  They might be desperately trying to create and curate their very identity and the meaning of their life.

 Yikes.  I wish they were just wasting time. 

Postmodernism 2: The Flattening of Reality and Ourselves

One of the characteristics of Cultural Postmodernism is “depthlessness.” We experience the world through our phones as flat images. We plunder the past and other cultures for images to empty and then use to curate our identities. What happens to the self in this context? The Bible describes human beings as images too, but it means something very different.

The Importance of Routines (In the Time of Pandemic)

Wokandapix / Pixabay

I have had students tell me that they are not feeling all that motivated to do school.  Some of these students are “attending” their classes from their beds.

My carefully edited response to this is, “Don’t do that.”

Get up.  Shower even.  Get dressed.  Have a work place.  And get to work.

I have found routines to be very helpful in getting my work done–and not just school work.  Routines during the time of the pandemic are essential.

I think we are made for routines–throughout human history, our lives have been patterned by the seasons.   We picked berries in summer and killed salmon in the fall.  Then we planted in the spring and harvested in the early autumn and killed pigs in the winter.  We had festivals and ceremonies to commemorate these annual occurrences.  In the Old Testament, God established a pattern of worship that celebrated his providence and holiness and the Christian Church established a calendar that would teach the people the story of God’s faithfulness.

Things are different today, at least before the pandemic; we can get berries, salmon and pork year-round.  Air conditioners and furnaces keep us at a steady 21 degrees Celsius through all seasons.   And the pattern of our worship calendar is down to, basically, two annual events–Christmas and Easter.

We were made for daily patterns too.  Wake up, shower, eat a quick breakfast, go to school, class-break-class-lunch-class-break-class-home, watch something, eat dinner, homework, friends, bed.  Or something like that.

Then came the coronavirus.  Covid-19 with its social distancing and quarantines has messed up our annual patterns–we didn’t go anyplace for Spring Break.  It messes up Airband and Sportsday, and Grad.  This is very disappointing, but the effect of the disruption of our daily patterns can be even more significant.

We sleep and when we wake up we spend our time on a screen, either for school or for fun.  Without a more robust routine, the day can devolve into a featureless morass of sedentary listlessness.

Wake up when you wake up–lay around in bed until you feel like getting up–grab a granola bar as you walk past the kitchen to the couch–watch three screens at the same time till you don’t feel like it anymore–then do it some more because there is nothing else to do–heat and eat a frozen thing–return to screens and maybe fall asleep–take 5 minutes do something your mother asked you to do–back to the screens…

This can mess you up bad.

Creating a daily routine can have important mental health benefits, and by creating one, you can make room for the important things in life.  I found that having to create a new routine has helped me refocus.

Here are my suggestions for routines:

  1. Set an alarm, or at least get up when you wake up.
  2. Sit still, without a screen, while you drink the hot beverage of your choice.
  3. Be deliberate about all your meals.  Fry an egg or make a sandwich.
  4. Do devotions.
  5. Set aside time to produce something–don’t just consume.
  6. Set aside time where you do something your mom or dad wants you to do–and give it the time it needs to do it well.  Inform your parents of this plan so they don’t randomly ask you to do little things all day.  But be open to helping whenever needed of course.
  7. Do something physical every day–I go hiking up “My Mountain.”
  8. Don’t fill up your free time with screens–read a book!!

Some students have a difficult time with school under the current circumstances.  Motivation is only one of the struggles they are experiencing, but it’s a big one.  This is something akin to what many experience when they move out of the house or start their first year of university.  The motivation doesn’t come from employers or professors.  It’s got to come from within.

For grade 12s, this is a lesson that was going to have to be learned in September.  You’ve just got a jump on it compared to other years.

Teaching in the Pandemic (3)

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

We’ve just completed the first week of school in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It went very well.  I think that the majority of students were ready for it and are happy to be connected to the school again. That’s my first observation.

A Few Observations

  1. I’m putting in just as much time I would have during normal school.   In order to have effective online schooling one needs to communicate with students and their parents.  Every Friday, we post the general outline of the objectives and activities for each of our classes.  This is very helpful for both parents and students, but it takes time to create it.  Most of my communication with individual students during normal operations would be a quick conversation before or after class.  Now I have to compose an email or a message.  Then there is the production of learning materials–I’m making videos and creating documents that would not be necessary if we were in the presence of each other.  A lot of this work is important, even when there isn’t a pandemic–now it’s essential.
  2. Students are, by and large, happy to be at school.  They’ve told me so.  They like having something to do besides watch TV, play video games and argue with their siblings.  The felt like they wanted to be “doing something productive.”  They like the connection to, not just friends, but acquaintances and even teachers.  I don’t think they necessarily appreciated what they have at school, despite the homework.
  3. We’ve shifted from content to competencies.   This is the direction that the government has been moving education so it might accelerate some teachers’ shift to the new paradigm. You can’t lecture very well in this mode of teaching; you can’t expect students to sit passively and learn content for a test, if for no other reason than the test is no longer secure.  In this learning environment, students can be more active, doing the work of learning, while the teachers provide feedback on their work and create resources for the next steps in developing essential competencies.  Active students learn more than passive students.
  4. Speaking of competencies.  Students are having to become more competent at producing, revising, communicating and collaborating in digital environments.  It’s amazing what kids have had to learn out of necessity.   Many of these skills will be necessary for future learning and careers.
  5. Students are learning more self-discipline.  At least, if they aren’t learning it, the effects will be significant.  I can tell when a student has arrived into the digital classroom, but once they are there, I can’t tell very well if they are engaged, or even if they are in the room.  I can assign work and tell them I expect them to be working on this for the next 30 minutes, but I can’t tell that they are.  If they need to knuckle down, it’s just their knuckles.  It’s up to them. Until now, many have been reliant on others to do that work.  I think this is great. Some have told me that this is hard–to be self-disciplined.
  6. From where I am sitting, student learning has not been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic at all.


Teaching in the Time of Pandemic (2)

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more relaxing spring break than this year.  We didn’t go anywhere, or do anything.  We left the house once a week trips to the grocery store. That’s it.  Consequently, it was the longest spring break I’ve ever experienced.  By the end, I was so relaxed.

Then came the week just past.

Teachers got the marching orders.  We got schedules for classes and the list of expectations.  We went to work researching, planning and creating resources.

I loved what I was doing.  One of my favourite things about being a teacher is linking content to students to skills, in other words, I like planning.  And then trying to figure out how to optimize the technology to do it.  So I happily dug into the work.

By Friday, I could barely stand.  My back was seized up from my hips to my neck.

I hadn’t really paid any attention to my body–my mind was completely engaged, and it expected the body to do it’s bit; it just couldn’t keep up.

Reflecting on it, it was a combination of stress and too much sitting at the computer.

But I have sat at the computer for days without these effects.  Just two weeks ago, my gaming buddies and I met online for our bi-annual Game Weekend LAN Party.  It was supposed to be in Seattle, but we cancelled of course–so we worked out a four-day schedule of gaming, and went at it.  By the end of it all, my back was the same as when we started–it was like jelly.

So I figure it’s not just sitting.  It must also be the stress.

And when I teach in “real life” there is some stress as well, but then I walk and stand all day long.  All last week, I just sat.

It would have been a good idea to get away from the computer this weekend, but that wasn’t possible.  So I sat in front of the computer for two more days.  I got up every once and a while and I think that helped.  I’ve been stretching some.  So it’s not as bad as it was.

Here I am, sitting at the computer, awaiting my first virtual class.

If you have any suggestions as to how to get the back loosened up, and then keep it that way.  Let me know.


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