Weekly Review: September 25th to October 1st

Today I’m launching a weekly link review, in which I’ll publish newspaper, magazine, and radio stories related to literature, education, psychology and neuroscience. Bear with me as I get the style down and while work out a few bugs, like how to link items in the table of contents to the full page so that you can jump right to any title that catches your fancy.

These Things Caught My Eye

Barring Books in Harvard

Citing thefts and need to inventory rare books, the books are quite literally behind bars. Without warning, Harvard installed metal bars on bookshelves in the Dunster House Library to keep the books on the shelves.

Bright Star

John Keats is one of my poet-heroes. “The Ode to a Nightingale” is one of my favorite poems and one that I intend to memorize. I am excited to see Bright Star, a movie about Fanny Brawne and her love affair with John Keats. I put Fanny Brawne first because according to Ty Burr of the Boston Globe and what I have gleaned from the trailer the story makes Fanny Brawne the focus while Keats remains somewhat mysterious.

Becoming Teachers

Although education is not President Obama’s top priority, he is not ignoring it either. Our Great Recession has encouraged many people to think about their goals and the direction of their lives, both for recent graduates and career changers.

The Wall Street Journal reports that as the outrageous monetary rewards of working on Wall Street disappeared, people who had been drawn to the money are considering jobs elsewhere in the economy and are willing to take less pay to make a difference.

NPR is starting a new series, that seems to be called “Lesson Plans”, that will spend the next year exploring education. “What is a good teacher and what goes into making one?” reads the Series Introduction, “Over the next year, NPR will examine how teachers are evaluated, rewarded and disciplined.”

The Craft of Writing and Inspiration of Mentors

Among my other goals, I aspire to be a novelist. I write when I’m not busy working my day job, commuting between home and work, writing for my blog, dancing, sailing, cooking, cleaning, socializing, reading, or studying. Which means that I don’t work on my novel as much as I should.

Lou Ureneck wrote a piece in the Boston Globe called “The writing craft, from hand to hand”. What he wrote about the differences between his freshman writing teacher and his sophomore writing teacher and mirrored what Mike Rose writes in Why School? about how to be an effective teacher who offers assessment and encouragement, who designs a curriculum around exercises that build on the ones that came before, who judges based on mastery of material and skills as opposed to grading to rank students. Mr. Ureneck writes:

“I could use this gift – this encouragement to write – to deepen my appreciation of the aspects of the world that I found remarkable or beautiful by reliving them in language. It gave me the pleasure (as the poet Robert Pinsky has put it) of attempting something difficult. It set before me the aspiration toward mastery.”

I still remember one of my middle school English teachers, Mrs. P–, who encouraged me. She was the first teacher to make me feel as though I really could be a writer, who encouraged me to continue writing. She’s the kind of teacher I aspire to be and who I thought of as I read about effective teachers.

As I am trying to return to my writing, I have been thinking of Elizabeth Gilbert’s lecture that I saw on TED, “Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity”. Recently I received a fountain pen as a gift from my mother, bought a second fountain pen that I intend to use only for writing stories. I bought a special pen holder, a little statue of a seated figure with raised arms. Thinking about what Elizabeth Gilbert says about genii and the spirits of creativity, I have decided to think of her as a Muse and call her Calliope.

Metaphors and the Way We Think

I have been interested in George Lakoff’s theory of metaphors since college. Bodily, concrete metaphors are fundamental to how we think. The brain is part of our bodies and the mind is a function of our brains.

I have not thought about this theory in a while. But I began thinking about it again this week when I read the essay in the Ideas Section of the Sunday Boston Globe called “Thinking literally” by Drake Bennett. Psychologists who have began studying just how grounded the metaphors are and if they impact behavior. One interesting study found that subjects gave more careful consideration to a set of questions when the clipboard the questioner presented the subject was heavier. A few other tests are described. This is research I would like to see in detail.

Does Education Protect Someone from Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

I saw this on Digg when I searched for “Education” the other day. Physorg.com published a short piece “Education may not affect how fast you will lose your memory”. Education does seem to postpone the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Once someone exhibits signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s, however, the level of educational achievement does not slow the degeneration of cognition according to the results of a research study published in the February 3rd, 2009 issue of Neurology, the print journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Taking Things Serially

I have seen a lot of articles and heard several radio stories over the past month — actually a little longer than that — about a convergence of research on brain function. Our brains are designed to process items serially, rather than concurrently. Translation: our brains are not built to multitask. People who think they can multitask well were shown in psychological tests to perform more poorly while multitasking than those who thought they could not multitask well.

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