Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The real story behind Memorial Day

It's seems only appropriate that for the holiday that commemorates war dead and valiant veterans we should remember who had the idea in the first place. I asked a bunch of well educated friends if they knew the origins of Memorial Day and virtually everyone said, "yeah, it started right after World War I." I can only surmise that Memorial Day and Veterans Day have become one in the minds of most of us.

The true origins of Memorial Day, I now know, thanks to Jim Downs and his explanation on History News Network a few days ago (http://hnn.us/articles/who-invented-memorial-dayhttp://hnn.us/articles/who-invented-memorial-day), is freed men and women in Charleston toward the end of the Civil War.  These freedmen gathered to honor the Union soldiers who had fought (whether they intended to or not) to free them.  Three years later, General John Logan ordered that May 30 that year be observed as Decoration Day.

General John Logan Statue, Grant ParkIt also seems appropriate to remember the origins of Memorial Day now when parts of the nation are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The photo at the right is of the statue of General Logan  in Grant Park, Chicago.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

End-of-semester musing

Final grades went in to the registrar last night and now I have time to reflect upon my performance this academic year as well as the academic performance of my students. Winning a teaching award this year was very gratifying--recognition from colleagues and administration means a great deal to me, but what my students have learned (and more importantly will remember) is the true test of whether I've succeeded this year.

So I welcome constructive criticism and comments from my students. I'm always harping on "the big picture" and "turning points" of history. Will my students remember these ten years from now? That's the real test of teaching and learning.

As to students' knowledge of grammar, punctuation (oy) and capitalization, I continue to be amazed at what they apparently have never learned. I know that secondary teachers have too much pressure these days and too little support, but why not teach punctuation? It's not that hard.

So, students and former students: if you want to set yourself apart from the others in your job cover letters or in your academic writing, here's what to do. Take a few minutes each day and learn how to use commas properly. You may think this is not important, but remember that most of the people who will read your cover letters are not your peers or your peers' age or, for that matter, even close to your peers' age. They are older and chances are good that someone taught them how to use commas in their school years. They're so used to seeing badly written, choppy drivel without any semblance of punctuation or proper capitalization that when they see your cover letter, it will stand out. And that's definitely what you want.

I encourage all my former students to stay in touch--and if you want to talk about punctuation and cover letters, I'll be glad to assist.

Happy summer, y'all!