Back from a GREAT national history conference

I returned from a 3-4 day AALSH conference in St. Paul, Minnesota the other day. Featured as one of the guest speakers was Garrison Keillor. There were 1,035 participants at the conference. Keillor revealed that this is the 40th anniversary of Prairie Home Companion, his famous radio show on NPR radio. Keillor has written 19 books of fiction.

GK started talking about Wabasha, a Sioux chief. He told the Europeans not to cross the Mississippi. Apparently the river was not wide enough, they crossed over. He was promised land and then a large sum of money for that land. There was the 1862 Sioux uprising and to him it was a great travesty. He went to Nebraska and died around the time of Little Big Horn. There is now a street named after him but GK thinks the Indian chief would have preferred the money.

GK said that Minnesotans try to be hospitable but people from St. Paul use a “preemptive sense of superiority” just in case people from else where don’t like them. He was asked by the AALSH to speak and at age 72 he believed he was old enough to be asked by a history conference to speak on history. He claimed that history IS local. He said there were other things going on during the rock and roll era of the 1950s, it was not just Elvis. The 1960s was the age of protests but not everyone was protesting. He said that the 50s and 60s was a large boom for education. It boosted people into the middle class.

GK looked back to the beginning of St. Paul and claimed that Pig’s Eye Lake was a half a mile away from where we sat listening to him. The man Pig’s Eye was really named Pierre Parrant and the French name sounds better but for ten years this area of St. Paul was called Pig’s Eye. He sold whiskey to soldiers at Fort Snelling in 1819. He was actually a French Canadian here before the Anglos came. There were other businessmen and they went up and down the trail in the RRV up to Pembina and back. The soldiers were innocent aliens from back East.

Mendota operated a still but they were kicked out and Fountain Cave was up river which operated a tavern. In 1840 a chapel was built and it was named after Apostle Paul. Then there was Frank B. Kellogg (not the corn flakes guy) who was a self-taught lawyer. He became Calvin Coolidge’s Secretary of State and he negotiated the Kellogg-Preon Pact which was signed by 62 countries in 1928 to not go into war again. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in Paris. He lived in a house on Fairmont Ave. People don’t honor Kellogg now, they don’t know about him but they remember Pig’s Eye even though he was a public nuisance with his whiskey. The Kellogg house is on Crocus Hill.

Now there was also the renowned John Dillenger in 1934 who showed up in St. Paul and holed up for safety with his girlfriend Evelyn. He got into a gun fight with the FBI on Lexington Ave. but was here only one month. Of course there was Mark Twain who showed up but he went everywhere. There was also Thoreau who came in 1861 and he took copious notes around the lakes but he only lasted a year, died in 1862 back in Concord.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in st. Paul in 1896 on Laurel Avenue. He was honored at the Fitzgerald Theater Rice Park with a statue and since he was only 5 foot 7 inches tall, he was given five more inches so people could look him in the eye. He was on Summit Avenue at a townhouse in 1911 and left St. Paul when his book was accepted by Scribners. He married Zelda in New York and Scott and Zelda were quite the sensation. He would get $4,000 a story for the Saturday Evening Post. Zelda became a psycho and in the 1930s and 40s ended up in Asheville, NC. Scott wanted to regain his prominence in Hollywood but died of a heart attack in 1940 at the age of 44.

People of St. Paul still remembered the scandalous stories of Scott and Zelda. He came back to St. Paul in 1921 with Zelda pregnant. They rented a place on Goodridge Avenue and he wrote “Winter Dreams” there only in one year. Apparently one Christmas Eve he came to St. John’s cathedral completely drunk and asked where he was during the service. Scandalous! The second hand memories are fading as the story tellers die. Scott was an amazing stylist and authors words live on.

James J. Hill house lived in his house on Summit Ave. for 25 year years, he died in 1916. The headquarters for Great Northern had been St. Paul until it moved to Fort Worth, TX. GK thinks that James J. Hill house is bare and dark. One time GK ran into a Great Northern janitor who showed him the old headquarters on 5th Street and Kellogg Blvd. it had been abandoned and left as is from 1910. The high draftsman tables were still there with stools, it showed the GN RR office for JJHill, a modest place above facing the street. It was a lonely piece of history.

Ernest Hemingway came in 1961 and had electric shock to treat his depression. He died in 1962 in Idaho. There was also Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot. The Houdini came through and Gorgeous George. But Minnesota has its famous native from 1941, Robert Zimmerman who goes by Bob Dillon. In 1960 he left Hibbing, MN and went to NY and told stories of being from a migrant worker background. Actually his father was an appliance store owner.
Actually for GK, history IS local. His ancestor was in Rhode Island is John Crandall and another famous one was Prudence Crandall who was kicked out of some organization in 1833 because she believed in helping the black slaves.

Then GK talked about a book “Discovering Whota Heritage.” A 16 year old heard his mother was on a South Dakota reservation, he had never known his mother knew Lakota. Kids had been sent to mission schools to get education. She left her tribal family and married a Swede. This son had written a book and was giving a talk where GK went to listen, he was sympathetic to authors. During the Q&A time Clyde Bellcourt stood up and thought he was in a powwow, he talked on and on about something that was close to his heart from an Indian perspective. The young man who had written the book about Indians was blonde and white featured, he was not really speaking from an Indian viewpoint though he was empathetic because of his mother’s roots.

Yes, history is local for GK, the loyalists moved north to Canada in 1777 and that is where GK’s ancestors ended up. GK’s grandfather James Keillor went to New Brunswick and in 1880 came to Anoka to help his sister whose husband had died and left her with three small children. He stayed on until they were all grown up and then he married Dora Powell. They had eight children together. That is when GK quoted and sang part of the hymn “And Thou whose presence takes delight…My comfort by day, my salvation” His grandmother was 30 and his grandfather was 65. Their house burned down and the grandfather was raking through the ashes looking for photos. There was a sense of citizenship for GK, “My ancestors had come and stayed. They came in 1880 to Anoka.” He has visited his grandfather’s grave in the Anoka cemetery. He has also gotten a hold of love letters written by his parents. He had always thought of his father as taciturn but after reading these letters he thinks otherwise. There was poetry in them despite the common everyday things he wrote on like manure spreaders and crops on their 160 acre plot of land.

GK spoke about the Diary of Anne Frank when she lived on 6th street in Amsterdam at the age of 14. This is one person’s story over a mass of statistics. A girl’s diary which discussed many things that happened. She wrote about hearing the school bell that rang every day which was 100 yards away. GK said that he would like a biographer to write an emotionally generous piece on him. What he learned from a person who is at the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam that he was a student there while Anne was hiding so close by.

GK has 1970s cassettes of his early shows and he wants them destroyed, so many mistakes. He also has gone through his scrap books to find a very angry LONG letter to the newspaper publisher in St. Paul that made it into print. GK said that if you are going to write an angry letter keep it short, it was embarrassing to him that he wrote so much. He quoted from the hymn “Abide with me fast falls the even tide, the darkness deepens Lord with me abide.” A Friend of his was dying and those were the words he clung to, they had substance such as “change and decay.” That is the human element that is a real life experience. “Abide with me.” Is what we need, words with meat in them.

GK goes to colleges and high schools and the kids these days don’t know the words by heart of songs we take for granted like Battle Hymn of the Republic or Julia Ward’s hymns, “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, they have trampled….” They get their smart phones out and read the text from that. Kids these days do NOT know the words to beautiful poetry.

GK was being honored at his h.s. alma mater in Anoka and he was around 400 kids who were happy and cheering to chants he remembers. They did not know who he was, he liked being anonymous in this crowd. He ended his talk with Robert Frost’s favorite quote about life that can be summed up in three words, “It goes on.”

That was the last of what Garrison Keillor spoke on, that life DOES go on despite whatever we do or say. I have not followed Keillor for years but I actually liked what he had to say, he seemed to be historically accurate. The better keynote speaker was Marilyn Carlson Nelson, I’ll write about her in my next post.

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Finished FULL week of classes

Yesterday marked the end of the third week of teaching composition I classes to my 85 plus students. The two earlier weeks were only four days long because we started on a Tuesday and then we had Labor Day Monday off. So, this was a tolerable week because my last class had about five football players missing (they sit in the front rows) and some of my farmers (they sit towards the back) who are hauling sugar beets. This one class I have at 1:00 p.m. every MWF is a puzzling one. I have 20 students with only four girls and then the athletes and farmers. What a strange mix. They are compliant and dutifully follow my instructions but I have to keep on top of them constantly. It’s the girls that have been the quirky ones lately. The one woman from Somalia or Liberia is probably my best student. Otherwise, all the rest are from here except the football players who are from California, Florida and Texas.

I actually feel sorry for these football players because we have a really bad team competing in Division II, we should be back in Division III because we are just a small university. Don’t know what they were thinking when they moved on up to compete against really tough players from bigger schools that have the backing. Some of my players are quick and good, they get it. Others are here for the full ride scholarship and are NOT academic at all. It was said that once the season is over, they high tale it out of Minnesota and back to the warmth of their former states. We shall see how many last in MY class.

The students are learning about logical fallacies, thesis statements, in-text citations, research databases and a host of other things related to APA formatting style. They have already done one essay for me about their grandparents and I had to ask a second time in their revision paper for FIVE descriptive adjectives about their grandparents. Out of the 85 essays I got with their rough drafts, I only got about 3-4 concrete descriptions. Did they think I was kidding? I had a scoring rubric that read on the top “Follow Instructions Well.” They will know that everything I ask of them, I mean it.

Now I have assigned Paper #2 which is titled “Words Matter” and they have written a persuasive essay on one of the following words like: competition, cooperation, resistance to corruption, patriotism, persistence, trustworthiness, thrift…I can’t remember the other three. These are values we talked about earlier and these were the ones that rose to the top as most important to them out of a list of 40 cultural values. THEN they also have to include in this paper an antonym to the word they choose. So, even though some would like to do “resistance to corruption” it will be difficult to find a journal article that would support corruption. We shall see what they will come up with for essays of 1,000 words.

I was pleased with some of the first essays that I saw with Paper #1. I had started to read one in my first 10:00 a.m. class yesterday and got emotional when I read about a set of grandparents (described very well) who were at the deathbed of the grandpa. They had been married 62 years and the author was able to capture the moment of their loving eyes towards each other during that poignant scene of his departing. She wrote that you could FEEL the love in that hospital room. Oh my, I couldn’t get through it without tearing up and getting emotional. My students looked at me kind of funny but it made my point. I told them, I don’t even KNOW this elderly couple but the power of words is important. Before moving on, I said that an author has the ability of making emotion come alive in others.

Okay, enough written, back to grading papers!

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Too much of too many people

Yesterday I met with five of my six classes. I just have ONE class today and I need to fill one hour and 15 minutes with activities to keep the time moving. Their Tuesday and Thursday schedule covers the same thing I do in my three 50 minutes classes on Mon. Wed. and Friday. Oy, there is much to learn and DO with kids who don’t want to be taking this class in the first place. That is especially true in my Comp LAB class which is a catch-all place for those students who did not do well in their writing classes in high school. The problem is that I have to have new material for them because I have some of my same students in that LAB that I have in my Comp I class. They don’t want to have things repeated but the repetition would do them some good.

I have one small class of eight students at the very end of my Monday and Wednesday classes. That is where I have one student who from Day One made it clear that she thought she was too good for this lab class. Yesterday she made a “suggestion” that I should NOT say my motto of “everyone to class early, we start early and end early.” She had her reasons and then I told her to talk to those few students who always show up right on time to tell them to get to class earlier. She told me that would be like bullying which is a bad thing to do to other students. I told her that there is a nice and polite way to encourage them to be early or at least on time to class. Here this little 18 year old is letting me know what I should or shouldn’t do and letting me know what is wrong with my teaching while at the same time she rolls her eyes about what I teach and does her passive aggressive act.

Well, the way I can fix that is to keep giving her and the rest of this particular class grammar quizzes. I also suspect that she lifted her first paper and she clearly did not follow instructions. So, I will also give this class a quiz on the syllabus that I put together, clearly she and a few others in this small class have not read it. She has also not gone on Moodle for about a week so that means she has either printed out the syllabus or she doesn’t care to know about it.

I figured out that I have been around too many people with Sunday being filled with my standing behind the booth at the museum. That was our Pioneer Day and I was selling my two history books and one booklet. People mostly came to listen to the old time music but I talked to many people then. So the way I figure it, I have seen and talked to too many people. I need to chill out at home and be away from all this. Maybe it is better to write and not make much money than to teach and make a bit more money as an adjunct teacher. I am invisible to most everyone on campus when they make faculty assembly lists anyway. I guess I am getting the catch-all classes that other comp teachers who are permanent don’t want to teach.

Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself right now. I need to read the revisions of my 85 papers and maybe I will feel better, especially if there are some improvements to what they wrote earlier.

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One week down and 15 more to go

I have just finished teaching one week worth of classes to college freshmen. I have six classes and all together almost 90 students. At least they are not the difficult Kazakh names that I had when I was teaching in Almaty and had 100 students and five composition classes. THAT was difficult and I think I mastered their names by the end of the semester, just first names though.

I think I have some good students and because I have so many, I am making sure that they follow instructions right off the bat. Last week, first class I gave them a writing assignment where the Comp Lab students had to submit a 500 word essay to me by Moodle on Friday so that meant I was grading all 45 of them on Saturday. Then I had given an assignment to my three comp I classes of 750 words each to about 50 students so I was reading them all day Monday and today. I have their critique scoring grid filled out and ready to hand back to my five classes tomorrow.

Hopefully I will get some good revisions next Monday and Tuesday. I want them to give more examples about who their grandparent is and the particulars about their lives. They were giving me a narrative about their own experiences and I told the first class today that I want to know more about their grandparents. Perhaps that is odd for young ears to hear that, the students these days think that everything revolves around them. They come from small families and they have doting parents and grandparents. No wonder they think they are so special. Anyway, I hope to see more details about their hardworking grandparents. Some have given me good stories so far, others are full of fluff and vacant cliches.

Well, I accomplished one week so far and have about 15 more weeks to go which means the farther we get into the semester, the more difficult it will get. Well, I hope to make the instructions easy for the students so they know what I expect. Writing in APA style and using a thesis statement is foreign to some of these students. In fact, I have a class with 20 students and four are girls, the rest are football players and farmers. What a combination. That will be my most challenging class I think.

My first post for September 2014. Let’s hope I have more to write this month!

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First Day back to CLASS!

In about three hours I will be in front of 19 students in my first writing class. Tomorrow I will have FIVE classes back to back and by the end of the week, I will have met most all of my 90 students. I would say that is a LOT to deal with. I’ve done it before when I lived in Almaty, Kazakhstan when I had FIVE classes with 100 students. Those were ALL very difficult names to pronounce. By the end of the semester, I had mastered saying all of their first names and knowing one from the other. My secret was to take pictures of each class and then the next session I passed the pictures around for them to identify themselves.

Fortunately, I can go on the web and see their photo that goes with their name. I have one class where half the students are from my home town, it is my smallest class. Another class must be a LOT of football players because they are from Florida, California, one from Georgia. They will need extra help because they are on a team that doesn’t win much. As freshmen they will not be playing but tough to practice day in and day out and then lose every weekend. I knew one school in the Twin Cities that boasted about their losses and purported to be more interested in studies. One game score was really lopsided at about 96 to 4 or something outrageous like that. I think the visiting team would probably have more fans than the home team in that case. I don’t know if they still have such a bad team but their emphasis is on preparing their students for law school.

I look forward to meeting all my students, it is a different kind of student than the ones I taught ten years ago. I also won’t be having them submit their first story about their grandparents for publication as I usually do. Too much red tape regarding the consent forms that I have used for YEARS! Times are a-changing. Well, I will find the best stories and try to highlight them in some other way. Some are so very endearing and the newspaper reading audience in our town needs something lighthearted and fun to read. We are reading too many headlines these days that threaten war, outrage, lawsuits, etc. I KNOW people want to read the good things and I am used to providing that.

With so many classes and students, I won’t be writing any newspaper articles until about January of 2015. I’ll miss the positive feedback I get from people. I do all pro bono and I know it helps me sell books about my hometown. I have had some good conversations with people about things I have uncovered from the past. I hope that my students, some of them will be interested in history as well.

Better sign off to get ready for my first class of the semester. I have my big office all ready with plants and much color. Things from Ukraine, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It has my mark on it since I am borrowing it for the semester from another person who has another office elsewhere.

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Back again to WRITING…and teaching writing!

It has been a very busy month in August and now I am looking at the end of this month on the calendar and realizing that I have some catch up to do.  I have said “yes” to teaching 12 credits of composition I classes so that may mean that I won’t be able to write as much for the local newspaper every week.  However, what I should do is document all that I go through as a teacher in dealing with freshmen students who do not want to be in their respective writing classes.  I will have to convince them that writing is GOOD for them like taking your medicine everyday to feel better.

Somehow I have to persuade these postmodern products that it IS about them but that they have to know their audience in order to be “listened to.”  I have come to learn that postmodernism is more about what the person who is reading a script what it does to them, it is all about them.  Whereas before, like a century ago, it was more about trying to figure out what the writer meant and what his or her intentions were.  We certainly have it backwards now because you can interpret any message any way you want to, never mind what the main point of the author’s is.  

I am not sure when the swing back to the way I grew up will take place. If I am teaching my students to find their own “voice” and then to declare a message they are passionate about, how can I get them to also think that they have to do a sales job in getting their readers to buy into what they have to promote or what they care passionately about?  I haven’t had to think about this for a couple of years but I was re-visiting all my powerpoints from when I taught a comp class and I was struck with how much work I had done every week to teach my students the rudimentary principles they need to keep in mind to write an academic essay.

Must I tell my students every time that they CAN write?  Do I need to remind them that they can think and they can verbalize so all they have to do is put that down on paper.  If I can encourage them to write using ethos, pathos and logos, then I will have won half the battle.  Some will come crippled with a grammar problem because they did not get proper training in school as a young person.  Some students will repeat things they have heard and I cringe when I hear irregular verbs improperly used.  I’ve heard it with teachers I work with, those who should know better.  I suppose it is no different from those in Texas who might say, “I’m fixing to…”  When northerners might say, “I plan to…or I intend to…”  I have to keep in mind that I know what they mean.  I had caught my Texas friend who had just come back from a trip to Texas from Ukraine saying that phrase “I’m fixing to…”  I ribbed her about it because ordinarily I would not hear her say that while we lived in Ukraine.

I have lived in so many different countries and early on I learned that you do not use the question “How come…” with internationals who only know the way to ask is “Why?”  Where did the “How come” configuration come about?  When I come back from living overseas I also do not use expressions we take for granted and feel clumsy using them when with Americans again.  Things like “fit to be tied” or “six of one, half dozen of another” or “the whole nine yards.”  That would be too complex for my foreign students to understand and then without hearing these kinds of phrases or using them for years on end, I find I mix up these common place phrases.

Well, I hope that I can work back into my teaching writing routine without feeling like a fish out of water. Ha!  Yes, looking through the textbook thoroughly and re-doing the two different syllabi that I am working with will help get me back in the groove.  I’ve been working on getting two books out and selling them this past year, I am a bit out of sync with how to get back in the classroom with my heavy load of teaching again.  Indeed, it will all come back to me once I am in front of the fresh, expectant faces of my composition students.


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Eventful week at the home base

When it rains, it pours…as they say. Actually, we could use some rain because the roads are really dusty and the crops could enjoy more moisture. However, I believe this expression fits my living circumstance this past week because both of my parents ended up in the ER on the same day. It was two separate events but it kept us hopping getting one out and admitting another one in. The ER people seemed to not mind the business because the day goes faster when there is activity.

Apparently one guy escaped the police from his emergency room berth while my Mom was in her adjoining room at the hospital. Fortunately, she was discovered earlier by a neighbor in her back yard. She was not feeling well and the neighbor thankfully called the emergency room right away. My mom was zipped off by ambulance to the hospital which is only 5-6 blocks away.

Later that evening, my dad was loading a lawn mower into his van and the board slipped which meant that the mower landed on him and he broke four of his rips. The neighbors saw the aftermath of this accident and immediately went to help him out. That’s my 84 year old dad, he always sees the bright side of things, forever the optimist and so he believes he stands straighter now after having this injury to his ribs. He is also currently on some very powerful meds and so he may not see this as a good thing once he eases off of that and feels the pain again.

The day before her spell, my Mom had carpal tunnel surgery on her right hand. She is so active and such a doer that for her to NOT be doing something is agonizing. She was out picking beans from her vegetable garden and doing general puttering. I have to remind her NOT to use her right hand, at least she doesn’t have the ice pack on anymore.

That is life at our locale, I wish for the humdrum after all this excitment but am glad to be alive. I’m glad my folks are alive as well. It was a good day for my dad…and mom. I’m thankful for my sister who came up with the traveling exhibit load that my Dad and I had intended to get which was four hours away. How good to have a big family. We just celebrated my Mom’s 80th birthday last weekend. They are both going strong still except for this minor bump in the road.

I’m glad they are still alive!

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