H is for Hornbook, M is for Moses, N is for New England Primer


This was a mini-essay I wrote for one of my classes on the history of education in the United States.

New England has a tradition of valuing education, sometimes for reasons that wouldn’t be as socially acceptable to hear from administrators today. The early settlers believed that they were doing something important, and following God’s will, an ethos that influenced many of their policies for centuries. (Woodward) This meant that they kept careful records, a boon to contemporary historians, which also meant that they prized literacy and bookkeeping. A combination of the religious beliefs that the unexplored parts of the American frontier were Satan’s home, and that the devil tries to trick the ignorant into sinning, were also important. This led to the passage of the “Old Deluder Satan” act, mandating reading and writing teachers as well as Latin teachers in every town with enough families. In a New England town school, children learned from two types of texts. The younger children would memorize a sheet of parchment called a hornbook, which would teach words, syllables, sentences and the alphabet. Older students read the New England Primer.

The hornbook and the New England primer were early version of standards, as this was material every student had to learn. There weren’t grades the way we have now, as some towns couldn’t afford teachers for every age group. So it was hornbooks for the youngest students, and the primer for the older ones. A specific curriculum was difficult because of the understanding that students would have irregular schedules, due to family obligations (IE- helping out in the farm) or weather. Travelling through rural Massachusetts is difficult enough after a blizzard in the days of snowplows.


The Primer was the book, after the Bible, most studied and read in New England during a pivotal time in American history. This was a shared frame of reference for several generations of New Englanders, many of whom would rarely interact with anyone who wasn’t familiar with the primer. It is believed that two million were published, although only fifty copies remain intact, in 40 different editions. The differences between the editions are often relatively small (a 1727 and 1762 edition might have a slightly different version of a prayer about Adam’s fall.) A typo (“I pray the lord” instead of “I pray thee lord”) that appears in a 1738 edition is not corrected in a 1775 reissue.

A sample New England primer from 1777 provides prayers for children to memorize, and teaches the alphabet with biblical characters and concepts (D is for deluge, V is for Vashter, etc.) As children in different ages read the material, there are portions of increasing difficulty. There is a sense of moral certainty, with religious rationale, and clear instructions, such as “love your neighbor as yourself,” “fear God all day,” “Be you to others kind and true” and “Abhor that arrant whore of ROME, and all her blasphemies,”- a reference to Catholicism. This isn’t a document about grey areas, questioning authority, or advocating multiculturalism and tolerance of other belief systems. It was very Calvinist.

Columbia’s Teacher’s College published an edition of the New England Primer in 1962 as part of their Classics of Education series (Polishook). It had been the first printing of the pivotal work in fifty years, coming just after the Supreme Court came to a modern understanding of the separation of church and state as it applies to public schools, in contrast to a previous view where it “has never encompassed a strict cleavage between education and religion.” (74) The mix of moral and academic teaching can be efficient, as multiple lessons are reinforced at the same time, a variation of today’s interdisciplinary learning.

The hornbook and the primer have to be understood in the context of their time. Religion dominated the understanding of what children should be taught, as “Education in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was a pathway to godliness, not a search for truths and convictions which the Puritans believed were already known and established.” (73) The idea that every student should learn represents significant progress over earlier historic eras, even though we now understand the need to be more accommodating of different faiths and creeds. There was a sense of moral clarity, lost in the current era, although we would all be horrified at proposals to teach someone else’s specific beliefs on controversial topics like religion to every child in today’s society.

This does raise some interesting questions.  How do we teach morals in a skeptical and multicultural era? If the people of New England did the right thing (the emphasis on education) for the wrong reasons (the belief that the Devil has a preference for the area) can we and should we take advantage of similar misunderstandings today? While there have been many gains with the greater appreciation for diverse worldviews, what’s been lost? To consider whether something has been lost is not to claim that the tradeoff was detrimental.

Works Cited:

THE NEW ENGLAND PRIMER. (1777). Retrieved November 14, 2015, from http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/nep/1777/

The New England Primer. Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710-1775. Trent and Wells, eds. 1901. Colonial Prose and Poetry. (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2015, fromhttp://www.bartleby.com/163/304.html

Polishook, I. (1964). The New England Primer: Classics in Education, No. 13. History of Education Quarterly, 4(1), 72-74.

Woodard, C. (2011). American nations: A history of the eleven rival regional cultures of North America. New York: Viking.

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The Failure of Busing


This was something that I wrote for a class when going for my Education masters. It was on the topic of schools segregation.

After Brown V. Board of Education made one form of segregation-schools banning African American students from admission-illegal within the United States, there were still significant problems with diversity in schools. Many schools were desegregated, but not integrated, while zoned schools in majority-minority areas had few white students. A significant source of this was the aftermath of decades of racist policies like redlining, which led to African Americans living in different geographic areas than white people. Another cause was white flight, when white Americans moved to the suburbs, or sent their children to private schools.

An example of this was in Detroit after the 1967 riots. In 1971, Judge Stephen J. Roth determined that the schools were illegally segregated, but there was a problem in finding a solution. As Tanner Colby wrote for Slate…

Because so many whites had already fled the city, there weren’t enough white kids left to integrate Detroit’s schools. Roth ruled that the only way to create a meaningful racial balance in Detroit’s public schools was to include all of the surrounding suburban school districts in the proposed remedy; he mandated that the state of Michigan create a busing plan that would take thousands of black kids out into fortress suburbia and haul thousands of white kids back downtown.

This did not go over well with parents. The major sticking point was the decision to send white students to primarily black schools. Even if those schools offer a fine academic education, these would not offer “greater access to the social networks and cultural norms that govern the allocation of wealth and power” that parents had made sacrifices in order to access. Mandating genuine integration is also difficult, as that requires getting individual students to change their behavior. African-American parents also didn’t care for the replacement of one “onerous, top-down system that told them where their children could and could not go to school” for another. A 1972 Gallup poll on busing saw 77 percent opposition from white Americans, and 47 percent opposition from African-Americans.

In a response to Tanner’s article, Jamelle Bouie was more sympathetic to the bureaucrats and judges who supported busing. Considering the political environment at the time, he asked if  a majority of white Americans supported practices like redlining, why should policy makers “just wait to fix the problem of housing” rather than using every tool at their disposal? He quoted history professor Brian Dauigherty’s observation that “busing had been used for decades to promote segregation.”

In the aftermath of the controversy, the Supreme Court made it easier for suburban enclaves to “be as economically, socially, and geographically isolated from the city as it wanted to be.” (Tanner) In addition to white flight, many African-American families with the means to do so also left the cities for the suburbs, leaving “an ever-diminishing pool of lower income black kids and white kids being shuffled around the map in order for America to pretend it was solving a problem.” In Kansas City in the 1980s, there was a different kind of solution. Magnet schools were constructed with a cost twice the state average per student to draw white students, neglecting to consider that a disproportionate number of white students were already in decent schools in the suburbs. Arne Duncan, the outgoing secretary of education was asked in a recent interview what the federal government had done to promote integration, and he said the main thing was providing greater funding for magnet schools, so it remains one of the current approaches.

The problems still persist. A high percentage of African American (and also Hispanic) students are in segregated schools, and there is a significant achievement gap. Various solutions have been proposed, including bringing back a military draft as a method of integrating young adults, and replacing zoned schools with a voucher system, allowing parents more choices. Some districts have lotteries allowing some students access to top-tier schools, although this means that luck is an important part of official policy. There are also some system where minority students have to enter a lottery to be accepted into a school, while white and Asian students don’t (because the school gets higher funds if a quarter students are members of racial majorities.)

Gentrification is a complex issue that touches on this in many ways, changing the shape of neighborhoods. Many of the people who already live in the area are beneficiaries of new revenue sources, and it often comes with an increase in the quality of services. On the other hand, there can also be problems when some people are forced out. Communities are splintered, and the former residents no longer have the social support systems they relied on for decades when neighbors and family members move to new and different areas.

What do you guys think? Presumably we can’t ban private schools and homeschooling. Are there any ways in which the environment has changed, so that efforts that failed in the past might succeed? Should schools offer more in the way of networking? Should the primary focus be on providing a better education to all students? Is there another solution?

Works Cited:

Benedikt, Allison, and Dan Kois. ‘ Mom and Dad Are Fighting: The Another Obama Administration Official Edition’. Panoply. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Bouie, Jamelle. “When America Said “No” to the War on Segregation.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.

Colby, Tanner. “How the Liberal Embrace of Busing Hurt the Cause of Integration.” Slate. 3 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.


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The Best DVDs and Blu-Rays of the 21st Century


I was interested in gathering a list of the best DVDs and Blu-Rays for myself, to get leads on good films and the best ways to experience them. It also helps me keep track of this stuff if there’s a sale, and to find some good material from Netflix or my local library system. However, it’s surprisingly complicated compiling a list of DVD/ blu-ray recommendations. The format is updated so often that some of the earlier lists get a bit redundant. The best of the year lists are often a mix of recent releases, new reissues of well-known classics, and new issues of obscure older films (which get increasingly obscure when we’re getting to material that is only now being released 20+ years into the format.) Some years don’t have readily available Best Ofs for whatever reason (perhaps streaming video was seen as dominant in 2014.) The rest often leaves you to the esoteric tastes of one person, or a weird group, which can still result in some interesting leads. Differences in copyright and regions also means that some commentary from other parts of the world isn’t that relevant in the US, or may result in difficult purchases.

The website DVD Beaver has a Top 100 in alphabetical order from 8 1/2 to Woman on the Run. Thar seems to be a starting point, albeit with a bias towards the high-brow.

The Criterion collection is the gold standard, and the website Taste of Cinema has a Top 25. There’s less information available on the other prestige release outlets (IE- Kino Lorber, Flicker Alley, Eureka’s Masters of Cinema.)

C-Net has an updated list of top 40 Blu-rays. It highlights a slight issue I have with best blu ray lists now, as there’s an emphasis on technical specs that isn’t as relevant to me as the quality of the film or the extras. DVD Journal had a Top 25. 

Beyond that is an assortment of the various year-end roundups.

Slant Magazine had a Top 20 for 2016, with only seven Criterion films. DVD Beaver’s survey splits the DVD and Blu-Ray categories. One effect is that the DVDs tend to be more obscure; the material that hasn’t been collected by now isn’t as well-known. This year the top DVD results were the tenth volume of Warners Brothers’ Forbidden Hollywood box-set, followed closely by two films of Czech New Wave director Vera Chytilová, and the debut film of Romanian director Cristi Puiu. Their favorite Blu Rays were new releases of the acclaimed mini-series Dekalog and the meticulously restored silent classic Napoleon.  Indiewire had a selection of the Top 10 Criterion releases of the year, with their release of Dekalog in first place.


Slant had a similar list for 2015, topped by Criterion’s release of the Apu trilogy. That was also DVD Beaver’s choice for the year.

2014 had a year-end roundup by Nerdist, with unranked choices for their favorite Blu-Rays. DVD Beaver’s lists were topped by Warners’ The Lusty Men and BFI’s Werner Herzog collectionTechradar has a top ten, dominated by box sets (Miyazaki and Kubrick) and recent films, including a recent Transformers, an indication to take their advice with a grain of salt.

PopMatters had a ranking of the 25 best dvds/ blu rays of 2013, topped by Kino Lorber’s Nosferatu restoration. There was also the standard DVD Beaver list, topped by criterion collections for the Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi  and the Roberto Rosselli/ Ingrid Bergman collaborations.

PopMatters had a 40 best blu-rays and DVDs of 2012 list with Trilogy of Life in first place. And there was the DVD Beaver list topped by French director Jean Gremillon ‘s occupation films, and the Masters of Cinema release of The Passion of Joan of Arc.


Pop Matters had a 40 best dvds of 2011 list with the 70th Anniversary collection of Citizen Kane in first place. Touch of Evil was DVD Beaver’s Top Blu ray of the year, suggesting a good year for Orson Welles aficionados.

In 2010, Pop Matters had a roundup topped by Criterion’s BBS Productions Box Set. DVD Beaver’s list was topped by a collection of silent films by Sternberg and a Criterion release of Night of the Hunter.

In 2009, Pop Matters’ list was topped by a collection of the British TV series Life on Mars. DVD Beaver’s was topped by a collection of Fritz Lang’s Mabuse films, and a Blu Ray release of Murnau’s Sunrise.

In 2008, the AV Club had a list topped by a collection of the films of Budd Boetticher, who I hadn’t heard of until I saw the article. DVD Beaver’s list was topped by Fox’s collection of the works of Murnau and Borzange, another guy I’m not familiar with. Their favorite Blu Ray was the Copolla restoration of The Godfather trilogy, a reminder that Blu-Ray was a new enough format that there would be some very well-known releases.

In 2007, the AV Club list was unranked. Pop Matters’ Top 30 was topped by a release of Killer of Sheep. DVD Beaver’s top choice was a John Ford at Fox box set. There was no Blu Ray ranking since the Blu Ray/ HD DVD fight hadn’t been settled yet (although there were some early recommendations.)


In 2006, the Criterion collection release of the silent classic Pandora’s Box was #1 on the Pop Matters list. DVD Beaver’s top choice was a box set of Eric Rohmer’s six morality tales.

In 2005, Popmatters‘ list was only a top ten, with the DVD release of the then-recent Pixar film The Incredibles in first place. The AV Club had an unranked roundup of recent releases, classics and box sets. DVD Beaver‘s top choice was the Criterion release of Ugetsu.

For earlier years, the main thing I have to go on is a website called DVD Movie Guide. Their favorite collection of 2004 was the extended cut of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Their choice in 2003 was Lord of the same version of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Their top release in 2002 was the extended version of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (you may be sensing a pattern here).  And in 2001, it was a release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, barely beating out Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Having the worst Star Wars movie ever in second place serves as its own kind of cultural time capsule.

There doesn’t seem to be much point in going back further, since DVD was so new that many of those versions have been rereleased, in versions that likely made one of the other lists.

One interesting detail is how often silent films top the lists. Some of the films required restoration work, so it took some time to release it.  I’d imagine there was more interest in the French New Wave or the Golden Age of Hollywood, so that some of the silent classics were released in years where these wouldn’t be overshadowed.

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This is Great

Fantastic English TV listing from the Sunday Herald.


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Interesting Lists


The following are interesting lists that I’ve found on the internet over the last few weeks. Part of the reason for the post is to make it easier to find this stuff later.

Paste Magazine gave a list of the 44 best political tv shows of all time. What’s surprising for something so specialized is that most of it is quite good. It also provides some interesting leads like the BBC mini-series State of Play, German Cold War espionage drama Deutschland 83, in addition to more reason to watch shows I’ve heard great things about like Parks and Recreation, Show Me A Hero, and The Thick of It.

Complex.com ranked the 25 best movie critics of all time, which provided a good lead for anyone looking for intelligent writing on film.

New York Magazine had a list of the 33 best movies over 3 hours long.

This was a companion to a list of the 53 best movies under 90 minutes long.

Scott Adams made a case for Donald Trump’s “talent stack,” suggesting he won the presidency not by being the best in the world at anything, but by being good enough at many things.


Vox ranked various meats in terms of versatility, taste and texture. This does provide inspiration to come some new dishes. I’m now more interested in cooking rabbit and duck. Poor Bugs and Daffy.

Because I obviously have too much free time, the Atlantic provided a Top 50 podcasts of 2016 list. Thinkprogress’s Best Culture Writing of 2016 is another likely timesuck.

In terms of stuff I liked in Middle School, Comicbook.com had the top ten issues of Savage Dragon. They also had a bottom five Dragon Ball sagas. And a top five.

The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association has provided a list of the top ten actresses of all time. There are two odd choices: Isabella Huppert, and Viola Davis, neither of whom have the body of film work of Audrey Hepburn, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz or even Judy Garland (perhaps the group was wary of being stereotyped) ; five actresses who weren’t included. Both are getting Oscar buzz this year, and both add a form of diversity (Viola Davis  prevents it from being a list of white actresses; Huppert is the only actress whose primary work isn’t in English) so there may be other facets there.

Rolling Stone has a Top 50 Horror Movies for the 21st Century.


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Trudeau VS Trump

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is justly criticized for his fawning eulogy for Fidel Castro.

It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.

Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.

While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.

I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.

On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.

I much prefer Trump’s statement. I know it’s probably written by a staffer, but at least he approved it.

Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.

While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.

Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.

Being happy with Trump is a relatively rare development for me.

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Carl Barks’ Favorite Duck Story


Years ago,was given as a birthday present, The A-List: The National Society of Film Critics’ 100 Essential Films, a collection of essays on 100 great films. It doubled as intelligent writing on various aspects of film, as well as a collection of leads (Ashes and Diamonds,  Les Vampires, Winchester ’73.) I’ve always thought something like that would be great for comics.

Yesterday, I was trying to google lists of the best Carl Barks comics, to see which of the many stories he wrote and illustrated were the best-regarded. That led me to a review of “Lost in the Andes,” the famed square egg saga. It seems like the type of thing that would be in an A-list style collection of essays on great comic books.

Lost in the Andes (1949) is widely regarded as Carl Barks’ finest story, was his personal favorite, and the one he felt was his most technically perfect. Visually, it is an astonishing piece, taking us from cramped ship’s quarters to the open sky above the mountains, through fog and bright sunlight, each panel masterfully rendered for maximum effect. As a story it is equally remarkable, personifying what critic Michael Barrier said of the auteur: “Barks was a writer first and an artist second, and his drawings have life because they are in the service of characters and ideas.” This writing shines in “Lost in the Andes,” taking us from a stuffy museum in Burbank, over a turbulent ocean to South America, up mountains, across plains, down valleys, and into a fog-shrouded land with strange people who speak like Southern Gentlemen from Alabama, with a heroic and curious Donald and brave and intelligent nephews who end up saving themselves from a life sentence in prison. For once, Donald is not motivated by greed or heroics, but curiosity and a taste for adventure. It is a morality play about happiness and a neat character study of the Ducks. Critics such as Thomas Andrae have examined “Lost in the Andes” and argued, quite effectively, that it possesses acidic criticisms of the capitalist system, that it deftly skewers the “myth of the explorer” and colonialism, while also managing to hold a mirror up to the closemindedness of preindustrial cultures, albeit ones that have been essentially colonialized. Like any masterpiece, “Lost in the Andes” means many things to many critics, each one finding something new with every reading.

But it is also a story about eggs.

Carl Barks was once an egg farmer, and this profession appears to have influenced more of his stories than any of his other failed efforts. Here, as in “The Magic Hourglass” (and a story not mentioned here, “Omelet,” worth seeking out), eggs get things rolling. Even though these eggs don’t roll.

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