What We Did Today — MP 4

Thursday, May 21:  We reviewed a summary of the achievements of the three most famous philosophers of ancient Greece: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.socrates

Socrates’ ideas were considered a threat to Greek tradition because he was perpetually questioning and examining aspects of life (the Socratic Method). The results of his inquiries challenged and sometimes disproved existing traditions and beliefs and thus threatened Greek traditions (e.g., the concept that democracy is not the best form of government).

We also focused on Socrates’ position that to acquire wisdom you must have understanding. Too often in school, our focus on acquiring wisdom can rest on rote memorization. But Socrates believed that to have true knowledge of a subject, one cannot obtain it through memorization (“… what one memorizes, one forgets”), nor by simply developing intellectual skills. One can only develop wisdom by acquiring understanding. And understanding is obtained when searching for the truth of the matter – usually through discussion with others. (“You do not forget that which you understand.”)

The example we used in class was that — while we know the Pythagorean theorem and know how to apply it to find a side of a right triangle — most of us do not understand the theorem. We do not know why a2 plus b2 equals c2 and so we do not have true wisdom on the subject. If you’d like to understand the Pythagorean theorem, click here.

Gadfly cartoon

We also noted Plato’s contributions to political philosophy. Plato distrusted democracy after the execution of Socrates (as it was that democratic institution of an Athenian jury that sentenced Socrates to death).  Plato believed that man would naturally do what is good if he knows what is right. Unfortunately, many are ignorant, and so they engage in bad or evil actions. Our bad decisions are based on IGNORANCE.

Playdoh Plato

Yes, it’s a Play-Doh Plato!

According to Plato, the ideal form of gov’t is one where the state regulates every aspect of its citizens’ lives to provide for their best interests. Society would be divided into 3 classes: workers that produce the necessities of life, soldiers who defend the state, and philosophers who would rule. A philosopher-king would have ultimate authority.

We also reviewed a few facts about Aristotle, Plato’s student and Alexander the Great’s tutor. Aristotle also feared that democracy could lead to mob rule; he favored rule by a benevolent king.

In addition to being a philosopher, Aristotle had knowledge about many different subjects (breadth) and his knowledge of these subjects was quite extensive (depth). He wrote influential works on biology, physics, astronomy, mathematics, psychology, and literary criticism.  He set up a school, the Lyceum, where one could receive instruction in all branches of knowledge: the precursor to today’s university.

Aristotle also addressed the question of how people out to live. He believed people should pursue the Golden Mean: a moderate course between two extremes. Similar to Buddhism’s the Middle Path, it is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.

We also watched a short informative video on Plato. Students who missed class today should view it on Classroom.

Next week, students will be introduced to one of the most popular branches of philosophy: ethics. Made popular by Socrates, ethics deals with values relating to human conduct: the examination of right and wrong of certain actions and the motives and ends of such actions.

Students should attend our class Google Meet when we return from our Memorial Day long weekend and should be prepared to participate and contribute with cameras  and mikes on!

Domus Opus:  See Wednesday below.


Wednesday, May 20: Today we played Kahoot! to see how much we’ve learned about ancient Greek art and architecture.

Domus Opus: Complete the worksheet A Legacy of Ancient Greece: Western Philosophy, posted on Classroom, by listening to a 9-minute excerpt of a podcast and then reading a short textbook excerpt that appears at the end of the worksheet — due Tuesday, May 26. Students who were not in class for their docent presentation these past five school days, should contact me about presenting during office hours next week (Mon – Wed and Fri between 1 PM and 2 PM). If I do not hear from you by Monday, I will be emailing you a designated time period to present.


Tuesday, May 19:  Students who were absent earlier presented their topics.

The last presentation in most classes was on a more contemporary piece, Jacques Louis David’s The Death of Socrates. 

This painting is an excellent example of the subtle way that David was able to call for the democratic ideals of the Enlightenment. Painted on the eve of the French Revolution, this picture served as a trumpet call to duty and resistance to unjust authority. Thomas Jefferson was present at its unveiling and admired it immensely.

The painting depicts an event that occurred as the great democracy of Athens just started its decline; it had lost the Peloponnesian War against Sparta. Socrates himself had fought for Athens and was a loyal patriot. But he also challenged the status quo of its society and

The Death of Socrates

wanted more progress. Plus Socrates had a large following of younger men and often met with them in more or less secret places to discuss their ideas. So it was suggested that Socrates was corrupting Athens’ youth and he should therefore be punished. Judged by 500 of his fellow citizens, Socrates was found guilty 280 to 220.

His execution was a sad affair. Socrates refused to flee the city and accepted his fate, stating that a citizen must obey the state, just as a son must obey his father. As Plato later noted, democracy is not a protection against acts of stupidity and uneducated destruction of brainpower.

 Observations about the painting included the following:

Use of color – light and dark:  David chose vivid colors with contrast of light and dark. Socrates is the central figure in white, and the only figure fully illuminated; he is erect and noble in terms of his bearing and body surrounded by twelve figures (followers in the foreground; his family retreating up the stairs in the back. Two figures wear white: Plato and Socrates. This suggests that they share a relationship: that of master and student.

Figure of Socrates:  David depicts Socrates as a martyr, accepting a kylix (clay cup) of poison hemlock even as he expresses his faith in his search for truth (note the upward motion of his left hand). His teaching was to think for themselves and to question everything. He’s teaching to the very end, demonstrating his indifference to death.

The guard in the doorway:  The guard can’t bear to watch Socrates accept the cup of poison. The city-state understands it is doing wrong.

The other figures in the room:  The emotions of each figure are expressed through a dizzying variety of gestures. Crito (in orange) seems to be at his side and closest to him, suggesting friendship. Plato is the seated figure at the foot of the bed; he alone is calmly accepting his teacher’s fate. He seems to be the only person to understand and be at peace with Socrates’ decision. Plato’s slumping shoulders suggests that he is saddened by the coming loss of his master, but also that he feels the weight of the responsibility of keeping alive the teachings of Socrates for humanity (which he does by writing his dialogues – perhaps represented by the scroll near his feet).

 The shackles on the floor:  Socrates’ shackles have been loosened by his decision to martyr himself. He has maintained his independence and will not let the state shackle his convictions/ beliefs. Stand by what one believes even in the face of being condemned by the state. His decision to accept his execution is of his own free will.

The lyre on the bed:  A lyre (musical instrument) is next to him on the bed – it is not being used (no celebration here).

The light near his bed:  The light is out near his bed. The light of Athens is extinguished.

Domus Opus: Complete the worksheet A Legacy of Ancient Greece: Western Philosophy, posted on Classroom, by listening to a 9-minute excerpt of a podcast and then reading a short textbook excerpt that appears at the end of the worksheet — due Tuesday, May 26.

Tomorrow join us to play Kahoot! In recognition of Sleepy Sloths, Kahoot! games will be played during Period 2 (beginning 8:25); Period 5 (beginning 9:40); and Period 9 (beginning 11:05). Please attend one of these sessions, and see what you’ve learned about the art and architecture of ancient Greece. Looking forward to seeing you!


Monday, May 18:  In most classes we turned to some important examples of ancient Greek architecture, architectural sculpture, and its related vocabulary.

An architectural order describes a style of building. In classical architecture each order is easily identifiable by its proportions, profiles, and  various aesthetic details. The style of column used serves as a useful index of the style of the structure. The three major classical orders—labeled Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian—do not merely serve as descriptors for the remains of ancient buildings, but are seen in our contemporary architecture as well.

The three orders of columns learned in class were the:

  • Doric order = bulky columns, no base, plain capital.
  • Ionic order = more slender columns, simple base, pair of scrolls for capital.
  • Corinthian order = most lavish, a multi-tiered base, fluted shafts, and a highly decorated capital (usually has two rows of acanthus leaves and four scrolls).

We also learned the story of the inspiration behind the Corinthian capital. Designed by the architect Callimachus in the 5th century BCE, the idea behind the design of theCorinthian basket capital came to Callimachus during a walk through a graveyard in the city-state of Corinth.

He had spotted a basket placed on a young girl’s grave by her grieving nurse. Inside the basket, the nurse had placed the girl’s favorite goblets. To prevent it from blowing away, she covered the top of the basket with a marble slab. In the spring, an acanthus plant rooted underneath the woven basket began to spread its leaves through the basket’s sides. The sight of the basket and sprouting plant on the grave inspired him to design the Corinthian column (see the graphic to the right).

We were also introduced to the famous ancient Theater at Epidaurus and the Parthenon. We learned about the parts of a theater (the Theatron, the Orchestra, and the Skene) and the parts of a temple (the pediment, the cornice, the frieze, the capital and the shaft— see graphic below).

Greek theaterLast, we learned about the history of and controversy behind the Elgin Marbles. Named after Lord Elgin, a Scottish nobleman and British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, these architectural sculptures were removed by Elgin (with the permission of the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Greece at the time) reportedly to protect the sculptures from vandalism and decay. Lord Elgin removed boatloads of the 5th century BC sculptures from the Parthenon and had them shipped to Britain.

Historians write that Lord Elgin was concerned that the local population was using the Parthenon as a quarry. A good deal of the original sculpture, as well as the plain building blocks, were reused in local housing or ground down for cement. Also, increasing numbers of travelers and antiquarians from northern Europe were helping themselves to anything they could remove from the Parthenon and other structures on the

Elgin Marbles

Greece and Britain are battling it out as to who should  possess the Elgin Marbles.

Acropolis. However, even Lord Elgin’s agents, in prying off some of the pieces that still remained in place, inevitably inflicted further damage on the fragile ruin.

Greece for decades has sought to repatriate the marbles (sculptures). To repatriate means to restore or return a person or object to the country of origin, allegiance, or citizenship. Greece argues that Lord Elgin’s removal of the sculptures was not legal and that he did so for personal gain, not out of any real interest in preserving the sculptures.

The ultimate question is who owns great works of art? Do great monuments like the Parthenon and its sculptures belong to the world? Is there more than one place that can legitimately call itself “home” to the Elgin Marbles? Is it better to have them scattered through the world? Or should they remain in the place where they were first made?

Domus Opus: See Thursday below — if you have not as yet presented, you will be presenting tomorrow.


parts of a Greek temple



Friday, May 15:  In most classes we got through most, if not all, of the Hellenistic period pieces.

Hellenistic sculptures were designed and carved to cause an emotional response from the viewer. The style behind sculptures of this period emphasized a new heightened level of motion and emotion.

New compositions and states of mind were explored in Hellenistic sculptures including old age, drunkenness, sleep, agony, and despair. Sculpture became more and more

Eros Sleeping

In addition to catching up on your sleep this weekend, don’t forget to appreciate the art that surrounds you. 🙂

naturalistic. Common people, women, children, animals and domestic scenes became acceptable subjects for sculpture, which was commissioned by wealthy families for the adornment of their homes and gardens.

The notes summarizing Hellenistic art, including the defined terms, are as follows:

  • Hellenism = The term Hellenistic literally means to ‘imitate Greeks,’ and the Hellenistic period refers to a period of time dominated by a fusion of Greek language and customs with the culture of the Near East. The actual era of the Hellenistic societies began with the life and death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.E. and ended with Rome’s conquest of Egypt in 30 B.C.E.
  • rarity of bronzes = Of thousands of bronzes that once adorned Hellenistic cities, little more than 200 are known today. They met various fates. Bronze was subject to corrosion because it was cast from alloys of copper, tin, and lead. Statues in poor condition and those of leaders who fell from favor as pagan deities in a Christian world, would have been melted down and bronze reused to make coins, weapons, tools, household implements, or new works of art. Other sculptures were lost in transport, the casualties of shipwrecks. Bronze is a valuable metal, and easily repurposed.
  •  humanism = A respect for the dignity of individuals regardless of their shortcomings; subjects are portrayed as flawed.
  • complex drapery = clothing depicted on a statue which is particularly detailed and skillfully carved (e.g., with the thicker folds of the tunic visible beneath the thinner mantle that envelops the body)
  • pathos = where the expression of the sculpture’s face and body elicit an emotional response. The sculptures are full of emotion and drama and no longer focus on the ideal.
  • naturalism = aims at accuracy and objectivity and cultivates realistic and even sordid portrayals of people and their environment.

Domus Opus:  See Thursday below — if you did not as yet present, assume you will on Monday;  be sure to update your notes using the definitions posted on this blog.


Thursday, May 14:  In most classes today, we completed presentations on the Archaic and part of the Classical periods.


Look how handsome the Charioteer of Delphi is with his long eyelashes!

During the Archaic period, Greek artists made increasingly naturalistic representations of the human figure, usually as grave markers. Two types of freestanding, large-scale sculptures were prevalent: the male kouros, a standing nude youth with one foot forward, and the female kore, a draped maiden standing with feet together. The Archaic smile and stiff symmetry of Archaic sculpture gradually gave way to realism of human anatomy and posture. The only significant medium that had not yet evolved was monumental stone and bronze sculpture.

The defined terms for the Archaic and Classical periods included:

  • Kouros = standing youth (male) arms beside body; fists clenched; one leg often in front of the other; stiff, not expressive, symmetry.
  • Kore = standing draped maiden.
  • funerary statue = often used as funerary monuments (such as the kouros).
  • krater = mixing bowl with wide mouth used to mix wine and water.
  • realism = figures show growing attention to human proportion.
  • symmetry = one side balances out or mirrors the other.
  • Archaic smile = mouth shaped in a strange closed smile; typical of Archaic period.
  • black‐figure ware = black figures of animals and humans on clay red background.
  • red-figure ware = clay red figures of animals and humans on black background.

During the Classical Age (ca. 500-330 BC) — viewed as the apex of Greek cultural achievement — the preferred subject of sculptors was deities and athletes. The Archaic smile and stiff symmetry of Archaic sculpture gave way to realism of human

Artemisian Zeus or Poseidon

This classical sculpture, Artemisian Zeus or Poseidon (c. 460 BCE), was found in 1926 at the bottom of the sea at the site of a shipwreck.

anatomy and posture, as well as realistic drapery (loose fabric). One common quality of the lifelike Classical statues is contrapposto, in which the figure’s weight is supported mainly by one leg, causing the torso to rotate slightly.

The defined terms for the Classical period included:

  • Early Classical period (Severe style) = About the time of the Battle of Marathon, in 490 BC, Greek sculptors began to work in a new style, called the Severe style. Replacing the Archaic style, sculptors began to make statues more true to life, and with more feeling in their faces and their movements. Instead of all being standing straight up and looking sacred or peaceful, now statues began to do things: e.g., drive a chariot or throw a spear.
  • the lost wax bronze casting method was invented by the Greeks to make bronze sculpture. The process involves making a clay sculpture, which is then coated in wax. The wax-coated sculpture is then surrounded with another layer of clay. The entire piece is heated so that the wax melts and is poured out of an opening in the outer layer of the clay; molten bronze is then poured in. Once hardened, the outer clay shell is removed, leaving a bronze sculpture.
  • contrapposto = when most of figure’s weight is on one foot so shoulders and arms are not lined up with hip and legs; counterbalance or “s-curve” stance; slight twist of torso.
  • low and high relief = reliefs are sculptural elements on top of flat surfaces. In low relief, figures barely stand out from the flat background. In high relief, usually more than half of the natural circumference of the sculpted object projects or disengages from the background surface.
  • balance = not much movement or emotion portrayed.
  • idealism = portrayed perfection; not natural; portrayed idealized human body.
  • arête = excellence; to reach one’s highest potential; to “be the best that you can be.”

Domus Opus:  If you did not present today, assume you will tomorrow. (In addition to those who missed their presentations today, the remainder of the Classical period will present tomorrow as well as most, if not all, of the Hellenistic period.) If needed, please supplement the notes you took in class today with the defined terms and their definitions posted above. Students should make EVERY effort to attend a Google Meet to hear the presentations of their classmates. 🙂


Wednesday, May 13: Today was the first day of our docent presentations. Learning about art from the past – whether sculpture, vase art, architectural details, or paintings –

Seated harp player

What can we learn about the ancient Greeks from the MMA’s Seated Harp Player of the Cycladic period (2800-2700 BCE)?

helps us learn more about the society that produced it.  Art is an important vehicle for communication and provides us a visual account of the history of humankind.

We heard presentations about the different characteristics of sculpture and vase art from the Cycladic and Geometric periods. The Geometric phase came after Cycladic (about ca. 900 to 700 B.C.), during a time of dramatic transformation (after the Dark Age of Greece). It led to the establishment of the Greek city-state (polis), the development of the Greek alphabet, and new opportunities for trade and colonization.

Small bronze figurines became popular—votive offerings associated with sanctuaries. The armed warrior, the chariot, and the horse are the most familiar symbols of the Geometric period.

The defined terms from these two periods covered today included the following:

  • the Bronze Age = followed the Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages (the Old Stone Age and New Stone Age) and came before the Iron Age. It was the first period in history when metal was used (for tools, weapons, and sculpture). Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin; it is stronger but scarcer than iron, which is why iron was favored.
  • minimalistic  = figures were minimalistic, as in simple lines, little detail.
  • proportional = figures were also proportional, similar to real body proportions.
  • sculpture-in-the-round = a type of sculpture which is 3-dimensional and free-standing (though it may have a base); the sculpture is not attached to a flat background.
  • the Dark Age = time between fall of Mycenaean civilization and the first signs of Greek poleis and writing. The Geometric Age came after the Dark Age.
  • monumental krater = large vases used during Geometric period to mark graves.
  • funerary amphora = two-handled pottery buried in tomb or used as grave marker.
  • horror vacui = Latin for “fear of empty space;” filling entire surface of a space with artwork.
  • meander = decorative border made with winding lines (aka “Greek key design”); named after the winding Meander River in Anatolia (present-day Turkey).

In one period, we also completed presentations on the Archaic period. Information on the Archaic period will be posted tomorrow.

Domus Opus:  If you did not present today, assume you will tomorrow or Friday (after the Archaic period, we will learn about Classical sculpture, Hellenistic sculpture, ancient Greek architecture, and Ingres’s The Death of Socrates. If needed, please supplement the notes you took in class today with the defined terms and their definitions posted above. These notes will help you review for our coming assessment on the art and architecture of ancient Greece. 🙂


The Dipylon Krater depicts a funeral scene. Note the horror vacuii (fear of empty space) used by the vase painter.


Tuesday, May 12: We had a fun game of Kahoot! to review what we learned about Aesop and Aesop’s Fables as well as to review some of the many legacies of ancient Greece. A legacy is something handed down by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from a past civilization.

The legacies of ancient Greece are numerous: the Olympics (we were reminded that the Olympic flame symbolizes Prometheus’s gift of fire to man); the marathon (the 26.2 mile race run in cities all over the world, commemorating Pheidippides’ run from


We are looking forward to tomorrow’s docent presentations! These 5th century BCE eyes — made of bronze, quartz, marble, glass paste, and obsidian — once belonged to an ancient Greek  bronze statue.

Marathon to Athens during the Persian Wars); mathematical theorems (such as the Pythagorean theorem); contributions to science (the heliocentric model of our planetary system, the classification of living things, and the scientific method); democracy (Athens was a direct democracy; the United States is an  a representative democracy); the Socratic method (Socrates’ constant questioning to seek the truth and self-knowledge); drama (tragedy, comedy, and satire); sculpture and architecture; and philosophy (including ethics), to name a few.

I hope you’re all looking forward to tomorrow’s docent presentations! (Students will be heard but not seen, unless they want to turn their camera on while presenting.)

If you are presenting a piece from the Cycladic or Geometric period, you should expect to present tomorrow (Wednesday) during your class period. It is also possible that the Archaic period pieces will begin tomorrow.

If you are not presenting tomorrow, you should nonetheless make EVERY effort to attend the Google Meet for YOUR PERIOD. If you miss your period, it should be because you have a conflicting class, a scheduled appointment, or a family obligation. In that event, you should attend another class: Per 1 at 8:00 AM; Per 2 at 8:25 AM; Per 5 at 9:40 AM; Per 8 at 10:30 AM; and Per 9 at 11:05 AM.

As docents, you should draw your fellow students into the piece you are presenting. Bring us “up close and personal” to your vase, sculpture, or architectural sculpture so that we appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship before us.

Remember, you may use your docent notes when you present. Just be sure not to sound like you are reading from your notes. You should sound like a docent! Show interest and enthusiasm in the piece you are sharing with us.

All students should be sure to be prepared to take notes about the various artworks and architectural pieces that will be presented to us. (Remember to use your note-taking skills to take quality notes.)

Please do NOT use a cellphone to view the presentations. You will appreciate and understand the pieces much better if viewed on a larger screen.

Docent notes (which include the relevant defined terms you will be sharing about your piece) are due today at 8PM.

Domus Opus:  Practice, practice, practice for your docent presentation. As noted above, you can make use of your notes, but should NOT read from them. You should draw us into the piece you are presenting — make us interested in and intrigued by the sculpture, vase, artwork, or ancient ruin we are looking at.

Feeling like you need some tips to boost your confidence? Here’s a good TED-Ed video!


Monday, May 11:  No work originally written in Greek is more widespread and better known — with the exception of the New Testament — than Aesop’s Fables. The stories inAesop's Fable Book Aesop’s Fables are among our oldest; for more than 2,500 years they have been teaching lessons to people of all ages, and from all social classes, on how to make smart decisions and the likely consequences of misbehaving.

Legend has it that Aesop was originally from the African kingdom of Ethiopia, born in 620 B.C., and was enslaved on the island of Samos.  It is said that he had a hunched back, was originally mute, but was later blessed with a quick wit and tongue.

Understanding that these stories were created at a time when free speech was dangerous for the lowly, Aesop’s Fables are especially meaningful. As one social scientist explained, it’s believed they contained messages for the enslaved on “how to successfully survive in a world that’s stacked against you.”

For example, in “The Lion and the Mouse,” a ferocious lion decides to free a mouse he has captured because of the meek mouse’s laughable promise to someday help the lion. Surprisingly, that promise is fulfilled when the mouse gnaws through ropes after the lion is captured in a hunter’s net. Here too, we can imagine one who is enslaved “trying to subtly suggest to his master that sometimes the lowly should be listened to and can assist their betters” and this point is most easily made “in a completely inoffensive and oblique way, by means of animals.”

Like Homer and his the Iliad and the Odyssey, Aesop did not write his stories. Instead, it’s said he wandered about the countryside narrating his short morality tales. The fables Aesop told were shared from person to person, as much for entertainment purposes as for teaching a moral or lesson.

Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 6.13.55 PMWe actually do not know for a fact that Aesop ever existed, but Aesop’s Fables do and have for more than 2,500 years. They were recorded about 800 years after his reported death. We learned today how fables differ from myths. Fables are very short, traditional tales that teach a lesson, known as the moral of the story. The characters in fables are most often animals, and they are anthropomorphic – they speak and act like humans.

Myths on the other hand, are longer stories of exploits of gods and heroes of an ancient culture. They attempt to explain the world: the mysteries of nature and the creation of universe and its people.

Aesop’s Fables have also originated several well-known phrases and adages, including:

  • No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted
  • Look before you leap
  • One is known by the company one keeps
  • Appearances are deceiving
  • Sour grapes
  • Little friends may prove great friends
  • Please all, and you will please none
  • Gratitude is the sign of noble souls
  • Prepare today for wants of tomorrow
  • The hero is brave in deeds as well as in words
  • It is easy to be brave from a safe distance
  • A liar is not to be believed, even when he tells the truth
  • Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg
  • He that is hard to please, may get nothing in the end
  • Slow and steady wins the race

The Library of Congress has an excellent interactive website containing many of Aesop’s Fables. Check it out!

Domus Opus: See Wednesday’s post below. Your docent notes are due tomorrow at 8 PM.

We are also looking forward to the docent presentations which will begin on Wednesday. Students are reminded to draw us into the piece they are presenting. Share with your classmates your interest and enthusiasm in the piece we are looking at. Bring us “up close and personal” to the vase, the sculpture, or the architectural sculpture so that we appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship before us.

Docents should also be sure to include the relevant defined terms in a manner that is understood by their classmates.

You will be able to use your docent notes during your presentation. 🙂  The slide(s) of your topic will be shared on the screen as you present. Just remember that it should not sound like you are reading your notes to us. Instead, it should sound like you are a docent at the museum we are visiting, eager to share with us your knowledge and expertise!


Friday, May 8:  Students spent today’s class time and independent practice learning about their docent topic and creating a set of presentation notes that they will use to teach us about their topic later next week.

Domus Opus: See Wednesday’s post below.


Thursday, May 7:   Students who did not check in with me today to pick a topic were assigned a topic and received word via email. If you did not receive your topic, pleasenarsisyphus contact me.

Students who did not attend a Google Meet yesterday should check yesterday’s post on Classroom for a recording of a presentation on the “Learn from the Docent!” project. It reviews all of the resources available to complete this project. The Google Doc for the presentation notes you will be submitting is posted on Classroom along with the project description. Also available on the Google Doc is the rubric for the docent presentation notes as well as a model set of notes.

Links to all resources students need are under “Learn from the Docent” on this blog’s “Helpful Links” page. There is NO need for outside research:


Students with questions should contact me during my office hours between 1 and 2 PM. Please try me there first before sending an email. It’s the best way to answer questions you may have.

Domus Opus: See Wednesday’s post below.

Wednesday, May 6:  Students met today to select their topics for the Learn from the Docent! project. We reviewed the resources they should use to complete their Hypnospresentation notes. Students who missed any of the seven sessions held today to pick their topic should view the recorded presentation posted on Classroom.

If you did not select a topic today, you will be receiving an email from Ms. Sweeney by tomorrow with your assigned topic. Everything you need is posted on this class blog on the Learn from the Docent! page under the “Helpful Links” tab. The recorded presentation will explain how you can make best use of the resources provided to you.

Domus Opus:  Using the resources provided to you on the Learn from the Docent! page under the “Helpful Links” tab, complete your research on your selected topic and put together a quality set of presentation notes — turn it in on Google Classroom by Tuesday, May 12 at 8PM. We will be presenting beginning on Wednesday, May 13.


Tuesday, May 5: As an introduction to our next project, students were asked to consider “Why look at art?” After listing examples of how art can enhance our lives (and viewing examples of favorite art pieces of our students), we watched a short Khan Academy what is art forSmarthistory video where that same question was posed to museum professionals. Students who missed class today can view the video here.

We next viewed a second Khan Academy Smarthistory video in which two art historians introduced us to the Lady of Auxerre. Our first impression of her may have been “what’s up with her face?” or “she’s messed up, I’m not going to bother with her.” Hopefully, after listening to the docent presentation about this special sculpture, we are tuned into a more sophisticated response as we learn more about ancient works of art.

lady of Auxerre

While our first impression of Lady of Auxerre may be “what’s up with her face?,” hopefully we will obtain a more sophisticated response as we learn more about ancient Greek sculpture.

The Lady of Auxerre is a 7th century BCE limestone sculpture believed to be from the Greek island of Crete and was discovered in a basement storeroom in Auxerre, France, a little more than 100 years ago. In a reflection sheet that’s due tomorrow, we made observations about what we noticed about The Lady of Auxerre and what we wondered about the sculpture.

The art historian/docents encourage us to go beyond our first impression of a work of art. Their presentation gave us an idea of the “breadth and depth” of knowledge that a docent shares when presenting a work of art. We should keep in mind the information and interest in the work that they shared when we share about our pieces in class next week.

Students learned that a docent is a person who acts as a guide — typically on a voluntary basis, in a museum, art gallery, or zoo.  (We, obviously, will act as guides in a museum for purposes of this project, not guides at a zoo.) 🙂

Students were shown what is available on the Learn from the Docent! page under the “Helpful Links” tab. It has NUMEROUS resources to help them research their work(s) of art. ALL students should use the links posted on the Learn from the Docent! page to work on the project; as we noted in class, one would be a fool NOT to use the resources posted there. Tomorrow students will be assigned the topic they will be presenting. If they do not attend a Google Meet tomorrow or get in touch with me via email, a topic will be assigned to them by Thursday.

Hopefully, our Learn from the Docent! project will instill in us a better understanding of and appreciation for the sculpture and architecture of ancient Greece. We’ll aim to heighten our visual acumen, to help us see beyond first impressions and our predetermined notions of what is meaningful and beautiful – skills we can apply to other areas of our lives. (As we noted in class, when viewing ancient Greek sculpture and architecture, it is important to focus not on how the piece is damaged but instead focus on the beauty and emotion it portrays.) 

Students should spend time tomorrow and Friday as well as the beginning of next week to collect the information they want to present on their piece. Those who are working with others can coordinate their presentation with each other. Students who missed class today should also view Smarthistory’s Lady of Auxerre video posted below.

Domus Opus:  1) Complete the Reflection Sheet, “Why Look at Art,” now that we have viewed the two Smarthistory videos in class today.

2) Complete the 20 multiple choice questions on The Greeks at War! — due 8 PM today.

3) Be ready to select your topics in a Google Meet tomorrow or during tomorrow’s office hours. 🙂


Monday, May 4: Students were shown the reflection sheet, Reflection: Why Look at Art?, that was posted yesterday on Google Classroom. They should spend just a few minutes answering questions 1-4 in preparation for tomorrow’s class. (Do NOT submit the reflection sheet yet.)

We spent our class time looking at a few videos, beginning with one on how new Army cadets who have been accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point begin their first day of training. Just as the Spartan hoplites and their phalanx formation, the West Point cadets “want to be part of a team that’s bigger themselves.”

As renewed interest in the ancient Spartans occurred after the release of the 2006 fc90734f55f3806d99c6f774b3ef579bHollywood blockbuster 300 (which was based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel by the same name), we viewed a few interesting excerpts of that feature film — including the “PG trailer.” 🙂

While 300 is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, and the movie was panned by critics, the movie’s script does capture several of the famous lines that were first revealed by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus: “Come back with your shield … or on it. …” and “Then we shall have our fight in the shade.”

We also saw the scene where the Persian messenger asks King Leonidas for “earth and water.” The Persians sought earth and water as a symbol of ceding control over the

scene from Homer's Iliad

land and the resources of the polis they were about to attack. According to Herodotus, the Persians demanded it from all city-states as a sign of surrender. It is said that the Spartans pushed the messenger into a well, and the Athenians threw the Persian messenger who visited them into a gorge, saying “Let him dig it out himself.”

Classes viewed an interesting comparison between how Hollywood portrayed the  “then we shall have our fight in the shade” scene in the drama The 300 Spartans (1962) and the fantasy action film 300, filmed more than 40 years later.

We did not have time to view another revealing scene from the movie 300, “Raise Your Shield, Ephialtes!”  Herodotus also wrote of Ephialtes, who hoped to get a large reward from Xerxes for revealing the pass by which they could attack Leonidas and his men from the opposite side.

In the movie 300, Ephialtes is depicted as a severely deformed Spartan exile whose parents fled Sparta to protect him from the infanticide Ephialtes would have surely otherwise suffered as a disfigured infant and, therefore, unfit warrior. Ephialtes returns as an adult hopeful hoplite, seeking to join the Spartan phalanx. But, since he is unable to fight in formation, he is relegated to noncombatant duties. Having no sense of belonging, he defects to the Persians.

Ephialtes is used in Greek as a synonym for traitor.  However, the direct translation from Greek means “nightmare.”

Nota bene: I do not recommend that 8th graders watch the 300 movie. It is an R-rated film.

We will next learn about ancient Greek art and architecture. The project description will be posted on classroom Monday afternoon.

Domus Opus:  Spend a few minutes before tomorrow’s class to answer questions 1-4 of the Reflection Sheet, “Why Look at Art,” which is posted on Google Classroom.  Do NOT turn it in; we will complete it together tomorrow.

Also, see Classroom for the study guide for Tuesday’s quiz (and a Kahoot! to help you review) and for the assignment (posted last Tuesday) that’s due later today: The (Misunderstood) Story of NATO. 


Friday, May 1:  We had a Kahoot! review session for Tuesday’s quiz on “The Greeks at War.” Students who missed the review session can take the Kahoot! on Classroom.

Domus Opus:  See Classroom for the study guide for Tuesday’s quiz (and a Kahoot! to help you review) and for the assignment due Monday: The (Misunderstood) Story of NATO. 

Sisyphus and Atlas cartoon

Do you recognize these two characters from Greek mythology?


Thursday, April 30:  We concluded watching excerpts of the History Channel’s The Last Stand of the 300.

The Spartans believed they were the strongest, toughest soldiers in all of Greece. Despite the likelihood that they would lose against the Persian forces that vastly outnumbered


This adage can be connected to two of today’s vocab words: spartan and laconic.

them, that would not keep the Spartans from defending the Greek city-states against the Persians. (Remember: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”) While the Spartans were eventually defeated, they won valuable time for Athens. Its residents had time to flee Athens before the Persian invasion.

Today we viewed excerpts of the documentary that explained the military formation used by the Greeks and Persians. Spartans fought in platoons of 8 men across and 4 men deep, shoulder to shoulder, creating a shield wall in front. This was called the phalanx. Each soldier held a heavy concave bronze and wood shield called a Hoplon. Greek heavy infantry were therefore called Hoplites. 

We learned about additional offensive weapons the Greeks carried into battle as well as protective gear, like their 10-lb. helmets. Persian forces, on the other hand, wore cloths over their heads, carried shields made of wicker, and had armor no thicker than a playing card: no match for the Greek hoplites and their 6-9 foot spears and their 2-3 foot long double-edged swords.

Their superior technology and military prowess couldn’t eliminate tthier disadvantage of being outnumbered 50 to one. All 300 Spartans fought to their deaths. Even though Persia won the battle, they lost the war, and the Spartan sacrifice at Thermopylae is considered one of history’s great moments of valor.

We viewed some more slides on the Persian Wars which summarized the aftermath. We also learned the definition of three great vocabulary words relating to ancient Sparta. Students should learn/recognize the meaning of each of the following:

  • spartan = (adj.) marked by strict self-discipline or self-denial; marked by simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort (e.g., a spartan room);
  • laconic = (adj.) using or involving the use of a minimum of words; concise to the point of seeming rude or mysterious (the immediate area around the city-state of Sparta was generally referred to as Laconia; the Athenians viewed the Spartans as being men of very few words); and
  • phalanx = (n.) a body of people or objects in close array; a number of individuals, especially persons united for a common purpose.
Spartan room

A spartan room, wouldn’t you say?

Students who missed class today can watch the following excerpts (see yesterday’s blogpost to access the documentary):

  • from 41:50 to the 48:10 minute mark;
  • from 1:03:50 to the 1:22:40 min mark; and
  • from 1:27:21 to the 1:30:10 min mark.
  • from 19:40 to the 25:05 min mark;
  • from 29:25 to the 32:30 min mark (on the Battle at Marathon); and
  • from 37:45 to the 41:50 min mark.

Domus Opus:  See Classroom for study guide for Tuesday’s quiz and assignment due Monday: The (Misunderstood) Story of NATO. An announcement about our upcoming Kahoot! review session will also be posted on Classroom.

Greek Persian duel

Which is the Persian warrior? It’s not hard to tell!


Wednesday, April 29: I’ve decided to resurrect the blog as it’s a friendlier and more readable format to share additional information. The purpose, as always, is 1) to assist students who did not attend school (or, as we are doing now, missed a scheduled Google Meet session) to keep them informed and 2) to provide students who were present at the Google Meet with a way to review what we covered.Sisyphus works from home

This entry will review what we have covered since the beginning of the week.

We viewed some slides on the events leading up to the Persian War. Those slides will be posted on Classroom at the end of the week.

We also have been watching excerpts from the History Channel documentary The Last Stand of the 300 Spartans, which focuses on the differences between the Persian empire and the Greek city-states and on history’s account of the famous Battle of Thermopylae.

The epic battle at Thermopylae was fought between 300 Spartan warriors – led by their king, Leonidas (with help from more than 6,500 troops from other city-states) – and the massive Persian army.

At the narrow pass at Thermopylae, superior numbers mattered less. The pass allowed Leonidas’s 7,000 troops to keep back a much larger army (estimated at anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000) because the front was much narrower. The phalanx shoulder-to-shoulder formation allowed the Spartans to keep the larger Persian army stuck in the narrow pass for several days.

We focused on the significance of the statement “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” At the time, Greece was not yet a unified country, and the largest two city-states – Athens and Sparta – were rivals. The Spartans believed that the attack on Athens by Persia’s King Xerxes was merely a precursor to his decision to occupy all of Greece. Thus Sparta must help its enemy Athens to defeat their mutual enemy, Persia. The eminent threat of the Persian invasion threw the Greek city-states into an alliance, though many were technically at war with each other.


Earlier we also noted the state’s role in family life in Sparta. The first act of the state was already at birth. An elder of the society would determine whether or not a newborn was fit to be allowed to live in a Spartan society.  A weak link was not to be a part of this hardcore warrior society. A baby deemed weak would be taken to a sacred site of a mountain and left to die.

Childbirth and child rearing were considered a matter of the state. The state also had a unique military training program. Boys were removed from the home at seven years of age and educated and trained to be a warrior – intense training to learn to be tough (not to cry; to conceal pain, etc.) and learn military skills. They also learned how to steal in order to survive.

A male would enter the army at age 18 and remain until at least 30. It is said that the parting cry of mothers to their sons was “With your shield or on it.” Mothers whose sons died in battle openly rejoiced, mothers whose sons survived, having lost their shield hung their heads in shame. Asked why it was dishonorable to return without a shield and not without a helmet, the Spartan king, Demaratos is said to have replied: “Because the latter they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of all.”

The documentary noted the importance of the gods to the Spartans. King Leonidas consulted the Oracle at Delphi before agreeing to join Athens in battle. The Oracle’s prophecy and his inadequate forces convinced him that he would not survive the battle. According to Herodotus, Leonidas believed that he was a descendant of Herakles (Hercules) and that the gods had chosen him to battle Persia and sacrifice his life.

While Sparta agreed to allow Leonidas to bring his men into battle, the Persian attack coincided with a Spartan festival when all military activity is forbidden, so the Spartan council sent fewer men: a troop of 300. (A similar incident occurred during the Battle of Marathon, when Sparta decided to send no troops to help the Athenians fight the Persians at the Battle of Marathon.)

We are aware of the events of the Persian War because of the works of the Greek historian Herodotus. He compiled a detailed account of the 5th century BCE battles. In The Histories, Herodotus wrote that the Spartans were warned by another Greek that they should be prepared to die, given the vast numbers of Persian troops. The most famous line — perhaps in all of ancient military history — was in response to the claim that when the Persians “shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude.” Dienekes, a lieutenant under Leonidas, made light of the threatened numbers and answered that if the Persians “darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade.”

Students who missed class yesterday and today can watch the following excerpts:

  • from the start to the 13:30 minute mark;
  • from 17:00 to the 18:14 min mark;
  • from 19:40 to the 25:05 min mark;
  • from 29:25 to the 32:30 min mark (on the Battle at Marathon); and
  • from 37:45 to the 41:50 min mark.

We will watch a final excerpt tomorrow.

Domus Opus: See Classroom for study guide for Tuesday’s quiz and assignment due Monday: The (Misunderstood) Story of NATO. 


Friday, March 13:  This afternoon we learned that schools will be closed until further notice due to coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns. Sisyphus cartoon

As you were informed yesterday, the Social Studies Department has prepared lessons for students to complete at home during this period. These lessons will be posted on our Google Classroom. According to our guidelines, you should be spending about 15 minutes a day on social studies.

Students who requested paper copies of the assignments received them today. The completed assignments should be brought to school when we return OR should be completed online in the next two weeks.

In the meantime, if you did not do so at the beginning of the year, please sign up for our class Remind notifications.

Both before and after we learned of the school closings, we talked in class about the importance of “social distancing” and of taking steps aimed toward “flattening the curve.” Below is a short video which does a good job of explaining both concepts. (While the video shows keeping a distance of 3 feet or more away from others who may be sick, I have seen the recommendation of keeping a distance of 6 feet.)

I will be posting additional information and resources that I’m hoping you find of interest while we are not in school. As I mentioned to most of my classes, this time of practicing social distancing is also a good time to learn new things.

You will likely have more time on your hands in the coming weeks. Please be conscientious of how you are spending that time. As Dr. Dumaresq wrote in her letter to Park families, our youth “spend


an exorbitant amount of time on their devices and looking at screens.”  And as you know from some of our assignments in the past, this has also been a serious concern of mine.

So take this opportunity of having more free time at home and find ways to broaden your horizons beyond staring at a screen: 

  • What have you always wanted to learn, but never found the time for? Would you like to perfect a sports move? Learn to knit? Learn the letters of the Greek alphabet? Write a short story? Practice Tai Chi? Do more Square Word Calligraphy?
  • How about going for a walk in your neighborhood and taking a photo of something that appears mundane but is in fact quite beautiful. (Remember that white plastic bag blowing in the wind against the red brick wall?)
  • Pull out a board game or card game to play at home. (Rummikub, Boggle, and Settlers of Catan have been the most popular board games in my home for teens and adults. And Wizard and SET were our favorite card games when my sons were your age. Check out these games — or recommend some others.)
  • Find a great read. (If you have not as yet read the Harry Potter series, you are missing out!) I just took out three library books: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; Mark Sullivan’s Beneath a Scarlet Sky; and Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. 🙂

Back to what we did in class today. … With the exception of a couple of students who were absent from school, we completed our It’s Greek to Me! presentations. Words and expressions from the Greek myths reviewed in most classes included Sisyphus, Pan, Narcissus, the Oracle of Delphi, Pandora, Tantalus, and Alcyone.

Those students who missed class today should record the basic facts on each of the Greek mythological characters and the definition of the related English vocabulary word or phrase noted above by finding the information in the It’s Greek to Me! slides available on the Ancient Greece page under the Helpful Links tab (topics appear in alphabetical order). The slides appear in alphabetical order.

Domus Opus: Please check our Google Classroom for assignments that you can begin to work on this Monday. If you want to receive the online assignments prior to Sunday night, please send me an email.

Also the “It’s Greek to Me!” multiple choice WS — originally due this coming Monday — is now due on the day we return from school. (See Thursday below for details on this assignment.)


Thursday, March 12:  Our It’s Greek to Me! presentations continued today. Words and expressions from the Greek myths reviewed in most classes included aegis,Oedipus and the Sphynx Cassandra, Amazon, Herculean, odyssey, siren, siren song, mentor, labyrinthine, Gordian knot, the Midas Touch, and Oedipus complex

Students who did not present today should expect to present tomorrow. Also, those students who missed class today should record the basic facts on each of the Greek mythological characters and the definition of the related English vocabulary word or phrase noted above by finding the information in the It’s Greek to Me! slides available on the Ancient Greece page under the Helpful Links tab (topics appear in alphabetical order).

If you’d like to hear more about the painting to the right at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, entitled Oedipus and the Sphynx, click here.

Domus Opus: 1) See how many English vocab words you have learned that are derived from Greek mythology by trying your hand at the “It’s Greek to Me!” multiple choice WS — due Monday. If you need some help completing the worksheet, you are welcome to use the handout distributed today in class, Some English Words and Phrases from Greek Mythology . (You are authorized to use this handout to aid you in completing this assignment, along with your notes.)


Tuesday, March 10:  Greek mythology has contributed many of the words, phrases, and expressions in the English language. Today students gave short presentations on a


The best known sculpture in NYC is Prometheus in Rockefeller Center. He’s holding the gift of fire he gave to man. (You can read more about NYC’s most famous sculpture — shown to the right — the 18-foot tall Prometheus, here.)

character from Greek mythology and the English word or expression derived from that character.

Students took notes during the presentations, hopefully using good note-taking skills (avoiding sentences, only recording relevant info, using abbreviations, underlining key terms, and skipping a line between topics).

Vocabulary reviewed yesterday and today in most classes included:

  • titans and  titanic (the Titans, a powerful race of immortals that ruled the world before the Olympians);
  • atlas (Atlas, a Titan condemned to hold up the celestial heavens for eternity);
  • mnemonic (Mnemosyne, also a Titan, the goddess of memory, who gave birth to the nine Muses, goddesses who ruled over the arts and sciences);
  • Promethean (Prometheus, also a Titan, who created humankind out of clay and stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humans; to punish Prometheus, Zeus had him chained to a mountainside and sent an eagle to peck out Prometheus’ liver each night — the liver would then grow back during the day);
  • aphrodisiac (Aphrodite, Greek goddess associated with love, beauty, passion, and fertility — known for her romances with Aries and Adonis); 
  • Adonis (Adonis, the Greek god of beauty and desire);
  • nemesis (Nemesis, goddess of divine retribution — known for the punishments she meted out to those who deserved them);
  • hector (Hector, a prince of Troy and bravest of the Trojan warriors; as told in Homer’s Iliad, after Hector killed Achilles’ friend Patroclus in battle, he was himself brutally slain by Achilles, who proceeded to tie his dead body to a chariot and drag it about); and
  •  Achilles heel (Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior in the Trojan War; to make her son immortal, Achilles’ mother plunged Achilles headfirst into the River Styx, holding onto his heel. This undipped spot – the Achilles heel – left him vulnerable and mortal. He died in the Trojan War when an arrow hit his vulnerable heel).

Students who did not present today should be ready to present Thursday. Also, those students who missed class today should record the basic facts on each of the Greek Achilles heel vase artmythological characters and the definition of the related English vocabulary word or phrase by finding the information in the It’s Greek to Me! slides available on the Ancient Greece page under the Helpful Links tab (topics appear in alphabetical order) or by recording the information above into their notes.

Domus Opus:  1) Read pages 114-117 on the textbook (about the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, the Trojan War, and Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey. Take notes summarizing the information on page 116 of the textbook.  Your notes may be handwritten. Remember to record the most important information, recording main ideas and supporting details; avoid sentences; and avoid such words as “the” and forms of the word “to be.”

2) If you have not presented, be ready to present on Thursday (no school tomorrow).


Monday, March 9:  After our end-of-unit quiz on China, our “It’s Greek to Me!” presentations began.

Domus Opus: Nolo Domus Opus — but if you missed class today, please arrange to take the China quiz before or after school on the day you return (or during STAR). If you did not present today, be prepared to present tomorrow.


Friday, March 6:  With so many students absent from class for the Spanish field trip, we had a day to finish up our Square Word Calligraphy designs. We also briefly discussed

Success is yours

Success is yours on Monday’s quiz if you spend enough time reviewing the completed study guide provided below.

reviewing for the China quiz. On Tuesday students received a study guide to help them review. Hopefully, they filled in answers to the study guide. Students who want to check the accuracy of their answers to their study guide can view a completed study guide for the China quiz here.  The BEST way to review for the quiz is to use the completed study guide; it’s also posted on Google Classroom. (All the questions on the quiz are multiple choice — so students need only recognize the correct answer).

Last, students who know they want to present on Monday should send me an email by Sunday afternoon. I will try to accommodate requests I receive.

Domus Opus:  1) Study for Monday’s end-of-unit China quiz. Use the completed study posted above.  2) “It’s Greek to Me!” presentations will begin on Monday, March 9, just after the China quiz.


Thursday, March 5:  Graded work was returned to students at the beginning of the period. We are halfway through the 3rd marking period, which means we are well more than halfway through the school year.

Minoan art

The Minoans were a thriving, peaceful culture that lived on the island of Crete.

To begin our unit on Ancient Greece, we watched the beginning of a video on the history of Ancient Greece.

It would be wrong to regard Ancient Greece as an empire or nation-state at this time.  It was actually a collection of different city-states, all of which were independent and which were at time rivals of each other.

The city-state — or polis (poleis in the plural), as it was called — wasn’t just an area inside a city wall, it was the whole area that the city-state controlled.  Most were restricted in size by the amount of arable, grain-growing land that they had.

The very mountainous terrain of Greece, along with its long coastline along the mainland on the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Ionian seas plus its many islands, encouraged the development of independent city-states.  And it’s said that the competition between the many poleis helped Ancient Greece achieve greatness in so many fields: art, story-telling, philosophy, theater, military arts, architecture, etc.

We took notes on the following

The early Minoan civilization on Crete:

  • Dating back to 3000 BCE
  • 3-story palaces, no defensive walls, colorful artwork, bullfighting
  • It’s downfall
    • Greatest volcanic eruption in European history; tsunami
  • Crete never recovered
  • Invaders (Mycenaeans) swarmed in


  • City-state of Mycenae (Greeks) conquered Crete and the seas
  • Turned Mediterranean into a war zone
  • Claimed Crete’s culture as their own
  • In conquering Crete, they conquered the seas
    • Marine trade brought riches
    • All writing was financial accounts
  • Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey

The Dark Ages (1100 BCE – 800 BCE)

  • Literacy fell into oblivion during this period
  • Homer: blind poet of the Iliad and the Odyssey
  • Kings were illiterate
  • Dorians destroyed the Mycenaeans
    • Only left the sailing ship and potter’s wheel
    • Greeks in Ionia borrowed a new alphabet from the Phoenicians

The Archaic Period (800 BCE – 500 BCE)

  • Here we begin to recognize ancient Greece we know
  • Multitude of distinct, independent cities
  • Grain had to be imported; great colonization began
  • Coins appeared for trading purpose


Domus Opus:  See Wednesday below. Students who missed class today can watch the first 8 minutes of the video posted below.


Wednesday, March 4:  We had fun working on our culminating activity for our Imperial China unit: creating our seals or inspirational words or adages using Square Word Calligraphy.

Inhale Exhale

Your “It’s Greek to Me!” presentations are coming up on Monday. Remember to practice between now and then — and inhale, exhale. 🙂

As noted a few weeks ago, Square Word Calligraphy is a new way of writing designed by internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Xu Bing. He devised a unique method to write English words that, at first glance, appear to be Chinese characters.  In fact, it is simply a new way of arranging the letters of English words to mimic Chinese calligraphy.

The idea of inventing this new form of writing came to Xu Bing when he observed the interest non-Asians showed in regard to Chinese writing. Intrigued, he sought to create a work that would demystify Chinese calligraphy and reward the Westerner’s engagement. In Square Word Calligraphy, Xu Bing designed a system whereby the slightly altered letters of English words are written in the format of a square, so as to resemble Chinese characters, yet they remain legible to the English reader.

For some students, we will finish up the work we began in class on Friday, as a number of students will miss class due to the Spanish field trip.


Square Word Calligraphy 2018

Can you read the Square Word Calligraphy messages done in previous years?

Domus Opus:  1) Study for Monday’s end-of-unit China quiz. Use the study guide provided to you — and posted on the blog — yesterday.

2) “It’s Greek to Me!” presentations will begin on Monday, March 9, just after the China quiz.


Tuesday, March 3: We completed learning about the art of Imperial China.

The Chinese way of appreciating a painting is often expressed by the words du hua, “to read a painting.”  Chinese art was frequently an integration of calligraphy, poetry, and painting:  scholar-artists combined these “Three Perfections” in a single work of art.

“Night-Shining White” by Han Gan, a leading horse painter of the Tang dynasty (618–906 CE)

Also, because the format for paintings was most often handscrolls or double-leaf albums, du hua also suggests a physical connection to the work by the act of unrolling a scroll or leafing through an album.

Almost all early writing systems began with scrolls: e.g., the papyrus rolls of Egypt, which continued to be used during Roman times, and the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, were written on scrolls. Early materials used for writing, such as papyrus, could not be folded into book form but had to be rolled.  The same was true in China. In earlier periods the Chinese used woven silk or strips of bamboo tied together as a writing surface, and the most efficient way to mount these surfaces was as long rolls. So the scroll format long preceded the use of the codex, or book. And in China the scroll persisted as the format of choice for artists who wanted to create long, narrative pieces, and long, landscape scenes.

In short, students learned that the Chinese displayed and viewed a painting differently than Westerners typically do. While Western paintings are hung on walls, continuously visible to the eye, most Chinese paintings are not meant to be on constant view but are brought out to be seen only from time to time. This occasional viewing has everything to do with the Chinese format: the scroll.  Hanging scrolls might be brought out for special occasions; they might reflect the marking of a season or a special event. After the passing of such an event, however, the scroll would be put away. Also, because works on silk and paper are light sensitive, they should not be kept out for long periods of time. As a result, the viewing of Chinese landscape paintings was always a special occasion.

Southern Inspection Tour

Here nature gives way to a busy Chinese city (dated 1770). This is a scene from a 65-foot long handscroll!

As noted yesterday, a distinctive feature of Chinese collecting of art is the placement of seals and inscriptions added to the painting and its borders by later owners. The addition of seals and comments was meant to show the viewer’s appreciation for the painting and served to record a work’s transmission and offered vivid testimony of an artwork’s continuing impact on later generations.

Thus, a painting was not finalized when an artist set down his brush, but it would continue to evolve as later owners and admirers appended their own inscriptions or seals. Most such inscriptions take the form of colophons placed on the borders of a painting or on the endpapers of a handscroll or album; others might be added directly on to the painting.

The act of ownership entailed the responsibility of not only caring for the work properly, but to a certain extent also recording one’s response to it.  (Nota bene: Night-Shining White (shown above) was embellished with a record of its transmission that spans more than a thousand years – no wonder it has so many stamps and inscriptions!)

Last, we briefly looked at other examples of the arts in China, including portraiture, porcelain, and fine silk.

Domus Opus: 1) Your typed set of notes on your “It’s Greek to Me!” character is due tomorrow.  Remember to follow the rubric and the model notes provided (both on the back of the project description) to ensure your notes are completed correctly.

2) Study for Monday’s end-of-unit China quiz. Use the study guide provided.

3) Be ready to create your Square Word Calligraphy characters in class tomorrow.  We will be painting with watercolor, so please wear appropriate clothing.

4) Due to the Spanish field trip, “It’s Greek to Me!” presentations will begin on Monday, March 9, just after the China quiz.


Monday, March 2:  We began class noting two important current events. The first is that tomorrow is Super Tuesday, when 14 states (including California, North Carolina, Super TuesdayVirginia, and Texas), the U.S. territory of American Samoa, and U.S. citizens living abroad are voting for the Democratic nominee for president. It is the biggest day of the Democratic primary campaign.

To date, fewer than 4% of the delegates have been allocated. On Tuesday, there are an additional 1,357 delegates at stake, about a third of all delegates. Super Tuesday may very well determine who will square off this fall against the likely Republican nominee President Trump. To see an under 3-minute video explaining the importance of Super Tuesday, check out Politico’s “The Stakes Behind Super Tuesday.

We also noted that Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. And since classes ended, we’ve learned that Amy Klobuchar also suspended her campaign.

The second current we discussed was the increasing concern over the coronavirus outbreak. We watched a CNN 10 video on the coronavirus and our nation’s response to dealing with containing the virus, which has been detected in at least 67 other countries.

In addition to China, sustained local transmission of the virus has been reported in South Korea, Japan, Italy and Iran, raising fears of a global pandemic. The World Health Organization (the WHO) has referred to the outbreak as an “epidemic” as opposed to a “pandemic.” We noted the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. The U.S. agency with oversight, the Centers for Disease Control (the CDC), calls an epidemic “an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected” in that area. It identifies a pandemic as “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”

To date, neither the WHO nor the CDC has identified the spread of the coronavirus as a pandemic. The general risk remains low (especially for children), and standard precautions apply: just like with other coronaviruses that cause the common cold, you should wash your hands regularly and keep your hands out of your face, away from the eyes, nose, and mouth.

For the remainder of the period, we returned to looking at Chinese landscape art.

As we noted, a significant difference between Eastern and Western painting lies in the format. Unlike Western paintings, which are hung on walls and continuously visible to the eye, most Chinese paintings are not meant to be on constant view but are brought out to be seen only from time to time. As a result, the viewing of paintings was always a special occasion. 

This occasional viewing has everything to do with the Chinese format: the scroll.  Hanging scrolls might be brought out for special occasions; they might reflect the marking of a season or a special event. After the passing of such an event, however, the scroll would be put away. Also, because works on silk and paper are light sensitive, they should not be kept out for long periods of time.

Early Spring

The Chinese express the concept of landscape with the term “shan shui” (in English, “mountain-water”). While humans are present in Imperial Chinese landscapes, they are inconsequential.

And the act of handling and viewing the hand scroll makes for a very intimate encounter with the work of art. To view a landscape painting on a hand scroll, the scroll had to be removed from a box and a protective covering. Handling the scroll, one was entering the world the painting portrayed. Viewers were encouraged to “travel” from one point to the next as they made their way through the scroll. As a result, the viewing of Chinese landscape paintings was always a special occasion. Students should watch the video below to better understand how one views a hand scroll.

Another interesting example of what distinguishes early Chinese landscapes from Western art — as shown in the video  below — was the practice of the various owners of a painting to add their own reactions to the work, often in the form of poetry written in calligraphy on the artist’s work. An owner would also stamp the work with his personal seal to show ownership. It was believed to enrich the painting.

The Daoist influence is easily seen in early Chinese landscapes. Mountain peaks and waterfalls are complementary and contrasting. Like yin & yang, water and mountains are in constant play with each other and make up much of Chinese landscape painting. In fact, the most common term for Chinese landscapes is shan shui (pronounced “shahn shway” – in English, “mountain-water”). The artist’s goal was not only to capture the outer appearance of the subject but its inner essence as well—its energy, life force, spirit.

People seeking to understand the power of nature, the Dao, often contemplate landscape paintings when they cannot go to the countryside and view an actual mountain or waterfall. In many landscape paintings, humans have a place. They are participants in the natural scene, but they do not dominate it.

Domus Opus: See Friday below. The typed notes on your “It’s Greek to Me!” character are due Wednesday, March 4. Students were reminded to use the rubric they received (on the back of the project description) for preparing their notes and to use the rubric posted on Friday to prepare for their presentation.


Friday, Feb. 28:  We began class checking in with each student about how far along they were with their research on their Greek mythological character. A few students had notChineasy as yet begun their research. It is very important that they turn to it over the weekend.

To get us interested in our Square Word Calligraphy class and to discover some of  the symbolism behind Chinese characters, we viewed a short TED video on how to recognize the ideas behind some Chinese characters and their meaning and how one can build from a few simple forms (radicals) to more complex concepts. The TED video is posted below. If you would like to learn more Chinese characters, watch Lesson One of ShaoLan’s Chineasy video.

We then turned back to our lesson on Chinese landscape art. Some additional observations made about Chinese landscapes include:

  • calligraphy was the original art form from which landscape painting evolved;
  • great emphasis was placed on nature, showing Daoism’s influence;
  • scenes were painted from memory in the studio, not in the open air;
  • large areas were purposely left unpainted to depict air, water, mist, and clouds;
  • the medium was usually black ink on silk or paper, as color was regarded as a distraction; and
  • it included a wide range of scale – from small fans to 65-foot long hand scrolls.

Almost all early writing systems began with scrolls: e.g., the papyrus rolls of Egypt, which continued to be used during Roman times, and the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, were written on scrolls. Early materials used for writing, such as papyrus, could not be folded into book form but had to be rolled.  The same was true in China. In earlier periods the Chinese used woven silk or strips of bamboo tied together as a writing surface, and the most efficient way to mount these surfaces was as long rolls. So the scroll format long preceded the use of the book. And in China the scroll persisted as the format of choice for artists who wanted to create long, narrative pieces, and long, landscape scenes. 

Waiting for the ferry

Unidentified Artist Waiting for the Ferry, early 13th century China, Song dynasty (960–1279) Fan mounted as an album leaf; ink on silk

While viewing an early 13th century landscape painting (see above), we read an excerpt from Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, which illustrates :

Tao Te Ching, Chapter 11

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

We observed that the central part of the wheel (pun intended) is the hole in the middle, where there is nothing. When clay is shaped into a bowl, we may notice and admire the beauty of the form, but it is the emptiness inside the bowl that makes the bowl useful. What is not there is as important as what is there.

Similarly, in a Chinese landscape painting, while empty space depicts absence, the emptiness also reveals presence. The empty spaces of landscape above — the blank background or pale wash of the paper or raw silk — reveals water, sky, mist, and snow on the mountains.

Domus Opus:  Continue researching and working on the outline on your character from Greek mythology. Remember, you must learn the correct pronunciation of your Greek character and the definition of the English vocabulary word that is derived from your character. You must also compose a current event sentence using your English vocabulary word.

Bulleted notes for your It’s Greek to Me! presentation are due Wednesday, March 4. Presentations will begin that day. If you did not receive a topic today in class, please contact me with your selection using the list below. The project description (which includes the rubric for the notes and a model set of bulleted notes) was posted on Feb. 26.

  • Available topics for Period 1: Adonis, Mnesmosyne, and Oedipus.
  • Available topics for Period 2: Adonis, Aegis, Amazon, Labyrinth, Mentor, Mnesmosyne, Nemesis, and Titans.
  • Available topics for Period 5: Aegis, Mnesomyne, Nemesis, and Sirens.
  • Available topics for Period 8: Alcyone, Amazon, Mnesomyne, and Oedipus.
  • Available topics for Period 9:  Adonis, Amazon, Hector, Labyrinth, Mnesmosyne, Nemesis, and Titans.

While practicing your presentation, be sure to follow the “It’s Greek to Me!” Presentation Rubric.



Thursday, Feb. 27:   At the beginning of class, we completed assigning topics for the “It’s Greek to Me!” project. The bulleted notes of the presentation are due next WednesdayChimera (see HW below). If you were absent from class, please contact me about which topics are still available in your period (see the topics listed for your period under HW).

Students were also given a demonstration of an ugly and then a much improved “It’s Greek to Me!” presentation:  a short review of the Greek mythological beast the Chimera. A fire-breathing female monster (part lion and part goat, with a serpent for a tail), it would regularly appear before disasters, such as shipwrecks or volcanic eruptions.

The English word derived from this beast is the adjective “chimerical,” meaning “highly unrealistic” or “produced by a wildly fanciful imagination” (much like the mythological figure). 🙂

As was shown in class, it is important that students not only present correct information on the story behind their mythological character, but they should also ensure that they pronounce its Greek name – as well as the English word derived from the Greek – correctly. They also should ensure that the information that is shared enables their classmates to understand HOW the mythological figure connects to the English vocabulary word or phrase. 

We also looked at an ugly set of notes and a solid set of notes. The ugly notes are just sentences separated by bullet points that have been copied onto paper without any real sense of organization. Your notes should be easy for a classmate to use and present in your place. Please be sure you refer to the rubric on the back of the It’s Greek to Me! project description.

If you want to see the bulleted notes I put together for this assignment (which also appear on the back of the project description), check out these Chimera model notes.

Bruegel the Elder The HarvestersTo wrap up our China unit,  we began exploring landscape painting of Imperial China.

We first focused on how Chinese art differs from Western art. The class looked at two pieces of art from the same period of time and made comparisons between the two. In the example of Western art (see Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Harvesters, above), people — whether they are working or resting or are in the foreground or background — dominate the pastoral scene. In the Ming era landscape (below), while humans have a place, they are merely participants in the natural scene. They are inconspicuous.

landscape in the style of Wen Boren

Domus Opus:  All students should begin their research today on their It’s Greek to Me! topic. Check the links posted on the Ancient Greece page under the Helpful Links tab to begin your research. Be ready to show me your research to date tomorrow in class.

If you feel you want a different topic, contact me ASAP. (Topics that remain available in each period are posted below.)  Bulleted notes for your It’s Greek to Me! presentation are due Wednesday, March 4. Presentations will begin that day. If you did not receive a topic today in class, please contact me with your selection using the list below. The project description (which includes the rubric for the notes and a model set of bulleted notes) was posted on Feb. 26.

  • Available topics for Period 1: Adonis, Mnesmosyne, and Oedipus.
  • Available topics for Period 2: Adonis, Aegis, Amazon, Labyrinth, Mentor, Mnesmosyne, Nemesis and Titans.
  • Available topics for Period 5: Aegis, Mnesomyne, Nemesis, and Sirens.
  • Available topics for Period 8: Alcyone, Amazon, Mnesomyne, Oedipus, and Tantalus
  • Available topics for Period 9:  Adonis, Amazon, Atlas, Hector, Labyrinth, Mnesmosyne, Nemesis and Titans.

Be ready to present your “It’s Greek to Me!” topic beginning next Wednesday. While practicing your presentation, be sure to follow the “It’s Greek to Me!” Presentation Rubric.


Wednesday, Feb. 26:  Students were introduced to our next project, a part of the upcoming unit on ancient Greece, “It’s Greek to Me!” This assignment will require:

  • some outside research on your Greek mythological figure;
  • the creation of a set of notes (notes in bullet format is fine) that are detailed enough that would allow anyone to present your assigned topic on your behalf in your absence;
  • an oral presentation on your Greek mythological figure (that will be given without the use of notes); and
  • the reading of a current event sentence you have created that uses the English vocabulary word  that is derived from your Greek myth.

In most classes we watched a short news video on the impact of the coronavirus on the global economy (see the video posted below). Students learned that China is the second trade warlargest economy in the world, responsible for more than 1/10th of global trade. The coronavirus outbreak has created a huge disruption in the global supply chain of goods being manufactured in the China due to factory stoppages and the many people who are not out purchasing goods and services.

Sectors hurt by it include the airline industry, tourism, and any company that sells to China or buys raw materials or goods or services from China (e.g., Apple, Nike, Walt Disney, United Airlines, etc.).

The tourism industry has especially suffered. Flights from and within China are down 80% this year compared to last. China is “the world’s largest tourist;” 150 million tourists head abroad each year. They spend three times as much as the average visitor.

China plays a major role as a supplier of parts to the world. It provides 8% of car parts in the world and up to 50% of consumer electronics and electrical components. The world is already experiencing shortages. Prices have increased due to the disruption of supply chains and the shortages.

In most classes, we completed our discussion on the U.S. – China Trade War. President Trump has placed extensive tariffs (a tax on imports), while encouraging U.S. companies

Little Bo Peep

Can you read the lines from this nursery rhyme? Use this example from Xu Bing’s Square Word Calligraphy to help you design your own Square Word artwork.

hurt by tariffs to move production — and jobs — back home. The U.S. importer pays the tariff when the product lands in the country. The importer typically passes the cost of the tariff along to the wholesaler, who passes it on to a retailer, who then will likely raise the price for consumers. Thus, in most cases, the American consumer pays.

In some instances, Chinese companies absorb the cost.  The Chinese producer might cut factory prices to make up for the tariffs, or shift production outside China to avoid them. In such cases, the economic pain would be felt in China. At the conclusion of class, we viewed a New York Times interactive on the tariffs on imported goods put in place by the Trump administration and the response by other nations. The interactive shows the tit for tat, as one country responds to another’s “attack” by putting more tariffs on goods of the other country.

Domus Opus:  1) Be ready to select your topic for “It’s Greek to Me!”– Vocabulary & Expressions from Greek Myths — remember, “the early bird catches the worm.” See me before school or before class, if possible, to pick your topic. Otherwise, one will be assigned to you in class. If you’d like to explore a topic further, check the links posted on the Ancient Greece page under the Helpful Links tab.


Tuesday, Feb. 25:  We completed reviewing the events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and the more recent Black Lives Matter Movement.

voter-id-stats from DNC

An example of a current barrier to voting.

To understand the barriers to voting that were in place in this country a little less than 60 years ago, we started class listening to an excerpt from Robert Caro’s book Master of the Senate, in which he shares the experience of one African-American woman, Margaret Frost, in her attempt to register to vote in her county in Alabama. She entered the Registrar’s Office with two other people seeking to register to vote:

When she asked Stokes [the chairman of the Registrar’s Office] for an application, he said, “There’s twelve questions you have to answer before we give you an application.” He asked just two. Mrs. Frost answered them both correctly, as did one of the other applicants. But the third applicant answered the second question incorrectly, and Stokes told them that therefore they had all failed. “You all go home and study a little more,” he said.

Caro shared shocking numbers which showed the success of literacy tests, poll taxes, and threats and intimidation that prevented blacks from exercising their right to vote in the county where Margaret Frost lived:

[T]here were approximately equal numbers of black Americans and white Americans, out of 7,158 blacks of voting age in 1957, exactly 200—one out of thirty-five—had the right to vote, while 6,521 whites had that right. In Alabama as a whole, out of 516,336 blacks who were eligible to vote, only 52,336—little more than one out of ten—had managed to register.

John Lewis beaten

John Lewis’s skull was fractured during the Bloody Sunday Civil Rights March.

To better understand John Lewis’s role in the Civil Rights movement that fought for desegregation and the right of African Americans to vote, we watched a short Note to Self video (see below). He spoke about the moral obligation one has to speak up and speak out when one sees injustice and unfairness. He was arrested more than 45 times in his lifetime for speaking out. His earliest experience was taking part in sit ins to protest segregation in public facilities. (He mentioned being spat upon during these protests in the 60s; a little more than 50 years later, he was spat upon again while heading to work at the Capitol Building by an anti-Obamacare protestor.)

Students learned that the phrase “Black Lives Matter” entered the lexicon in 2013, after the acquittal of a 28-year-old neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, for the shooting death of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a gated housing community in Florida.

We discussed what an advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement would say to

fire hoses

Very few students could identify this photo as one taken at a civil rights protest.

someone who responds that “all lives matter.”  As Black Lives Matter proponents explain, when some people rejoin with “all lives matter,” they misunderstand the problem. By responding  “all lives matter,” it suggests that there is no racial disparity in America — while sadly, our society has a long history of treating people of color as less valued than others.

As President Obama explained in the video assigned for homework:  “I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase “black lives matter” was not because they were suggesting nobody else’s lives matter. … What they were suggesting was, there is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address.”

Mr. Obama also noted that some interpret that Black Lives Matter movement as a reverse racist or anti-police social media movement. As he explained, we need to understand that our nation has had a history of racial disparity since the institution of slavery. In short, it’s not that only black lives matter, it’s that black lives matter too.

In his remarks, he also observed that there are socioeconomic inequities and inequities in the justice system that this nation need to address. And we also need to recognize the very difficult job that law enforcement has in this country.

In any time remaining, we turned back to the U.S. – China trade war. We will complete that discussion tomorrow.

Domus Opus:  See Monday below.


Monday, Feb. 24:  We took a brief detour today from the U.S. – China trade war to review our next assignment on Square Word Calligraphy.

Little Bo Peep Square Word Calligraphy

Can you read this famous nursery rhyme written in Square Word Calligraphy?

Students were introduced to examples of Square Word Calligraphy, which we will have fun trying our hand at toward the end of our China unit.  Square Word Calligraphy is a new kind of writing, really more of an art form, designed by internationally acclaimed Chinese artist Xu Bing. He devised a unique method to write English words that, at first glance, appear to be Chinese characters.  In fact, it is simply a new way of arranging the
letters of an English word within the format of a square to resemble a Chinese character in calligraphy yet remain legible to the English reader.

Before reviewing our responses to the Black Lives Matter editorial, we began class reviewing theop-ed difference between an editorial and an op-ed, what each looks like, where they are located in a newspaper, and the various authors that write op-eds.

The name “op-ed” is derived from “opposite the editorial page.” The op-ed page of a newspaper features opinion pieces written by outside contributors and the newspaper’s own team of columnists.

Editorials, on the other hand, are written by individual editorial board members of the newspaper in consultation with their colleagues and editors and reflect the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board.

We next reviewed the two major pieces of legislation that came out of the Civil Rights Era and what each law sought to accomplish.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It required equal access to public places and employment, including the desegregation of schools – which the Supreme Court had called for 10 years earlier in Brown v. Board of Education.

Black Lives MatterThe Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment, which was ratified back in 1870, almost 100 years earlier. In the century following Reconstruction, African Americans in the South faced overwhelming obstacles to voting. Despite the 15th and 19th Amendments – which enfranchised black men and women – Southern voter registration boards used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other bureaucratic impediments to deny African Americans their legal rights. (In 1960 in Mississippi, for example, while 45% of the population was black, only five percent of eligible blacks were registered to vote.) This piece of legislation banned racially discriminatory voting practices that had effectively prevented African Americans from voting at the local, state, and federal level.

We also briefly discussed the role of John Lewis in the Civil Rights movement:

  • He helped form and became chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was largely responsible for organizing student activism in the Civil Rights Movement, including sit-ins and other activities.
  • By the age of 23, he became a nationally recognized civil rights leader; dubbed one of the Big Six leaders of Civil Rights Movement, he was an architect of and keynote speaker at March on Washington in August 1963.
  • The following year, Lewis led over 600 peaceful, orderly protestors across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state.  The event became known “Bloody Sunday,” as the marchers were brutally attacked by Alabama state troopers. News broadcasts and photos revealing the cruelty of the segregated South helped hasten the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • More recently, Lewis was elected to Congress in November 1986 and has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since then.
  • He is the co-author of the graphic novel trilogy March, which retells the story of the Civil Rights Movement through his perspective and experience.

We will complete discussing what we learned from the assignment The Truth of Black Lives Matter tomorrow.

Domus Opus:  Read and complete the Chinese Seals — Design Your Own Using Square Word Calligraphy worksheet.  Be sure to complete the directions on the front and back of the worksheet, which includes making a seal you can use of your first or last name. Then, using Square Word calligraphy, write out a word or short saying or phrase that resonates with you — perhaps one that you want to live your life by.  Due Wednesday, February 26.  If you want to read about a newer version of Square Word Calligraphy, check out this page on Omniglot.com.


Friday, Feb. 21:  We reviewed in class again the difference between U.S. debt and the U.S. deficit. When the federal government spends more money than it collects, it has a deficit. And when it collects more money than it spends (i.e. when it has more revenue than expenses in a given year), it has a surplus. Our government almost always has a deficit each fiscal year. US-China-trade-war-containers

We learned that due to the large trade deficit the U.S. has with China, the Chinese use U.S. dollars from the sale of Chinese imports to buy U.S. debt. China has a significant interest in the economic success of the United States, as it wants its U.S. assets to maintain or gain value, not lose value.

If  China were to sell off a large share of its U.S. debt, it would disrupt markets.  If China were to unload its U.S. debt, it would lower the value of the U.S. dollar and increase the value of China’s currency. Thus, anything made in China would become more expensive in the United States. As a result, Americans would buy fewer Chinese products, and China would experience higher unemployment as its industries are forced to cutback. (The video we viewed again in class was posted yesterday.)

We next turned to the subject of the U.S. – China trade war. Students learned that free trade has been promoted by the United States since the end of World War II. Free trade is trade that is conducted without barriers of any kind. Governments lower barriers to trade in order to allow international trade without restrictions.

Goods and services that are exchanged between nations are described as either imports or exports:

  • Imports = Foreign goods and services purchased from sellers in other countries.
  • Exports =  Domestic goods and services sold to buyers in other countries.

In 2017, imports from China to the U.S. exceeded the value of U.S. exports to China by $375 billion — meaning that the U.S. imported $375 billion more from China than it exported to China. This difference is called a trade deficit, the amount by which a country’s imports exceeds the value of its exports.

The opposite of free trade is “protectionism,” an economic strategy to limit trade. Governments construct “barriers” to restrict trade in order to help protect

Tarriff man

Is this political cartoon in favor of or opposed to U.S. tariffs on imports?

domestic businesses. Examples include embargoes, quotas, and the more recently popular tariffs.

President Trump, who calls himself “Tariff Man,” has maintained that China and other trading partners have long taken advantage of the U.S. (an argument that enjoys bipartisan support in Washington). He points to the trade deficit (this difference between imports and exports) as evidence of a hollowing out of U.S. manufacturing and the loss of American might.

Over the last couple of years, he has responded with extensive tariffs (a tax on imports), while encouraging U.S. companies hurt by tariffs to move production — and jobs — back home. We will complete our review of the U.S. – China trade war on Monday. See the video posted below for background information on the trade war.

Domus Opus: The Truth of Black Lives Matter — due Monday. See Tuesday, Feb. 18, for details.


Thursday, February 20: We completed yesterday’s worksheet on the dynastic cycle, also listing those circumstances that would lead a citizen to decide to vote to reelect a president. In one example, we noted that some citizens worry about either overspending in federal programs, increasing taxes above current levels, or seeing our nation take on significant deficits from year to year.

Countries that Own the Most U.S. Debt

Countries that own the most U.S. debt.

We took that opportunity to note that many American are concerned about how much debt America owes its creditors for overspending over the years.

First we noted the difference between the U.S. debt and a U.S. deficit. Generally speaking, the U.S. deficit is the amount of money the federal government overspends in a given year. When the federal government spends more money than it collects, a deficit occurs.(The last time the federal government did NOT have a deficit — and enjoyed a surplus — was during the last years of the Clinton administration.)

As an intro, in most classes, we viewed part of a short CNBC video entitled, “Does U.S. Debt Matter?”

So these deficits from year to year add up to our nation’s debt, the total amount our government owes. The deficit for the coming year has been forecasted to reach $1 trillion — primarily due to the tax cuts passed in 2017. And this means that we can expect the U.S. debt to increase from $23 trillion to $24 trillion in a single year.

The U.S. government pays for its debt in several ways, including the sales of Treasury bills, notes and bonds, and savings bonds. These are known as promissory notes; they have predetermined payment due dates, and our nation is very good about paying back its debts on time.

A wide range of people and entities buy these notes. About two-thirds of U.S. debt is owned by Americans — local and state governments, institutional investors like banks, and individual investors. The remaining debit is owned by foreign governments and investors.

Many politicians are concerned about the huge amount of debt that the U.S. government owes (currently more than $23 trillion), including the debt it owes to Chinese lenders. The Chinese do own a lot of U.S. debt — $1.1 trillion as of October 2019 (though notably lower than the $1.2 trillion it owed the end of 2017).

The U.S. debt to China is about 5.1% of the total U.S. $23 trillion debt. China and Japan together own almost 10% of the U.S. debt. (Japanese-owned debt doesn’t receive nearly as much negative attention as Chinese-owned debt, probably because Japan is seen as a friendlier nation). In total, foreign governments own about a third of the U.S. debt.

Why are we not concerned that China will want to give up its role as America’s biggest foreign banker and demand that we pay them back?

Students viewed an ABC News segment to find out why economists believe we should not be worried about the large debt we owe to China. The video is posted below. We will finish discussing the video tomorrow.

Domus Opus:  1) Read and annotate The U.S. – China War Over Trade and Tariffs, Explained for tomorrow’s class.

2) Read the NYT editorial “The Truth of Black Lives Matter” and complete the accompanying worksheet — due Monday, Feb. 25.  See Tuesday below for details.



Wednesday, February 19: We began class admiring our Snow on the River illustrations. Later this week, we will view a few examples of how Taoist concepts are reflected in imperial China’s artwork and poetry. Snow on the River 19-20

We spent most of the period identifying events during the rule of various Chinese dynasties that caused its subjects to believe that the dynasty either possessed the Mandate of Heaven or lost the Mandate of Heaven. For example, improving border security (building the Great Wall); opening up of trade routes (expanding the Silk Road, building the Grand Canal, and expanding maritime trade); and improving and protecting food surpluses (through building of irrigation systems, using iron tools, promoting terraced farming, and building granaries to store surplus food) led subjects to believe that their emperor had the Mandate of Heaven.

However, a weak central government, high taxes, constant warfare, infrastructure in disrepair, extravagant spending, and a decrease in trade are all examples of events that led citizens to believe their dynasty lost the Mandate of Heaven.

Last, we began noting reasons why a citizen would want to reelect the president and why they would oppose reelection.  We will complete listing reasons tomorrow.

Domus Opus:  Read the NYT editorial “The Truth of Black Lives Matter” and complete the accompanying worksheet — due Monday, Feb. 25.  See Tuesday below for details.


Tuesday, Feb. 18:   Today we heard some “emperors” boast about their successes and some “rebel leaders” attack failing dynasties. We had fun cheering on dynasties during theirThis Is what democracy looks like successes (“Tell me what a dynasty looks like! This is what a dynasty looks like!”) and jeering at dynasties that had fallen on hard times (“Hey, Hey! Ho, Ho! The Han Dynasty has got to go!”).

For centuries China was almost completely isolated from the other centers of civilization by mountains to the south and east, deserts to the north, and seas to the west. This


King Wen Zhou justified his overthrow of the Shang Dynasty by claiming the Shangs had lost the Mandate of Heaven by their misrule.

isolation helps explain the great originality of China’s culture. It also created problems of political unity. At the same time, the great river valleys of the Yangtze and Huang He facilitated the spread of a homogeneous culture over a greater land area than any other civilization in the world.

It is in this western region that China’s dynasties ruled. Like all rulers, China’s dynastic emperors during the Shang dynasty (one of the earliest dynasties) came upon hard times. The Zhou people, a western frontier tribe, overthrew their Shang ruler, claiming that he had failed to rule fairly and benevolently. The Zhou leader of the rebellion announced that Heaven (Tien) had given him a mandate (a command or instruction from a higher authority) to replace the Shang.

The Zhou introduced a new aspect of Chinese thought: the Mandate of Heaven. An impersonal and all-powerful heaven, sits in judgment over the human ruler. Heaven ultimately decided who was to rule and who was not.  When Heaven sent its support, the dynasty had peace and prosperity.  But a displeased Heaven could as easily withdraw that support, causing China to fall into chaos.

When the reigning emperor could not protect his people from barbarian raids, when flooding rivers destroyed crops, or when Chinese clans and their leaders fought each


When a new dynasty rises to power, it claims to have the Mandate of Heaven. When a dynasty is in decline or becomes corrupt and cannot deal with disasters, invasions, and/or revolts, its subjects believe the dynasty has lost the Mandate of Heaven and should be overthrown and replaced with a new dynasty.

other, the failure of an emperor to hold the peace and security of China was an indication to the Chinese that the emperor had lost the Mandate of Heaven.  This was the signal for the various clans to try to secure the imperial title by a show of superiority in battle with the other clans. The victor established the new ruling dynasty, showing that he had won the Mandate of Heaven to rule as China’s new emperor.

This cycle of the rise and fall of dynasties that obtained and then lost the Mandate of Heaven is referred to as the Dynastic Cycle.

In most classes we reviewed the steps in the Dynastic Cycle and how the concept of the Mandate of Heaven supports the overthrow of one dynasty by another. A dynasty is a ruling family. The ruler of a dynasty is the emperor. Power typically passes from one dynasty to another.

The emperor maintained control through a feudalist system. Feudalism is a system of government in which local lords governed their own lands but owed their military allegiance to the ruler. Feudal lords exercised real power and profited from the lands worked by peasants within their domains. The feudal lord was the head of a clan: a group of families that claim a common ancestor. Clans thus governed most of the land and owed service and support to the ruler of the dynasty.

The Mandate of Heaven was the divine right to rule. When rulers came into disfavor – due to any number of reasons, including corruption, an increase in taxes, a decrease in government services, attacks from invaders, natural catastrophes, etc. – the people took it as a sign that the dynasty had lost its favor from heaven. The dynasty had lost its divine right to rule. The people were then justified in rebelling against the dynasty and putting a new ruler — a new dynasty — in its place.

Vocabulary reviewed today includes dynasty, clan, feudalism, mandate, Mandate of Heaven, and Dynastic Cycle.  (See the picture below for the various stages one would find in the Dynastic Cycle.)

Tomorrow we will complete the worksheet we began in class today.

Domus Opus:  1) Complete “Snow on the River” — due tomorrow. See Thursday below for details. Be sure to use a plain piece of white paper for this assignment.

2) Read the NYT editorial “The Truth of Black Lives Matter” and complete the accompanying worksheet — due Monday, Feb. 25.

Remember, you will have to complete some outside research (on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and John Lewis). You will also have to watch three short videos to complete the worksheet. The three videos (along with Nike’s Equality print ad) are posted below and will also be posted on Google Classroom.






The day after President Trump signed an executive order barring Muslims from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days, thousands of New Yorkers flooded JFK International Airport to protest the order, chanting “this is what democracy looks like.”


Thursday, Feb. 13:  We began class celebrating the 100th anniversary this month of New Jersey’s ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. WeTiger Mother Time Cover viewed a short video on the 19th Amendment and noted it took more than 40 years from the time it was introduced in Congress in 1878.

We also discussed why the Constitution passed the 26th Amendment, which gave the right to vote to citizens 18 years and older.

Most of class was spent discussing Amy Chua’s bestselling memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in which she argues that the American parenting style is weak and coddling; she finds that parents in the U.S. typically lack authority and produce entitled children who aren’t forced to live up to their abilities.

Chua’s memoir generated lots of attention for her shock value anecdotes (e.g., she threatened to burn all of her daughter’s stuffed animals for playing poorly on the piano).

Many readers found her parenting style draconian. But in the op-ed we read for class, “Amy Chua Is a Wimp,” the New York Times columnist David Brooks argues that it is Chua who is coddling — and thus “a wimp”. By making her children rush home to hit the homework table — rather than have play dates — she is protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities, such as “managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, [and] navigating the distinction between self and group.”

See the video posted below for the interview we viewed in class.

Amy Chua summarizes the difference between Chinese parenting and Western parenting as follows:

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

If you would like to read Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal op-ed “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” click here.

We drew connections between Amy Chua’s parenting philosophy and the Eastern philosophies we have been learning about this past week in class. Like Confucianism, her parenting style requires children to have great respect for their parents and the decisions a parent makes on the child’s behalf.

Chua’s draconian measures reflect Legalism in that she threatened her daughters with harsh punishments (burning their stuffed toy animals) and berated them if they did not show their best effort.

An interesting connection to Taoism brought up in class is that there cannot be good without bad (Yin & Yang). Amy Chua’s pushing her children to the limits through what many would consider unreasonable demands and threats (bad) was done with the expectation that they would grow up to become successful and fulfilled adults (good).

On the other hand, there is much to Chua’s parenting that does not in any way resemble Taoist beliefs. Rulers — as in parents — should have as few rules as possible and support their children in achieving what they naturally desire. People should not strive for fame, power, or knowledge because nature does not strive for these things. Nature accepts what comes it way, like grass that bends in the wind.

In most classes we also noted what distinguishes a memoir from an autobiography. Memoirs are typically less formal and less encompassing. Less concerned with factual events and more focused on emotions, a memoir is typically written by the subject. Autobiographies, on the other hand, are often written by the main character along with a collaborative writer. The autobiography is more focused on facts and usually is a detailed chronology of the events surrounding the life of the subject. (If you are interested in reading or listening to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it is available at both the Fanwood and Scotch Plains Libraries.)

In the video we watched in class, we also briefly learned about a more recent book by Chua. Co-written with her husband (fellow Yale law professor, Jed Rubenfeld), The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America argues that a unique combination of three personality traits is the reason why some groups in our country are higher-achieving — and thus, more successful — than others.

The three necessary traits in this unique combination are: a belief in the superiority of one’s own group; feelings of personal insecurity; and the ability to control one’s impulses.  According to Chua and Rubenfeld, individuals who belong to cultures that emphasize these three traits tend to do better. To show proof of their theory, they look at Mormons, Jews, and recent immigrants from Nigeria, Iran, Cuba, India, East Asia, and Lebanon.

Again, Chua’s theory was met with harsh opposition, particularly from Asian Americans who objected to the perpetuation of the “model minority” stereotype — the idea that Asian Americans tend to do well because of a cultural emphasis on work ethic, family values, and conformity. As one article pointed out, “Like all stereotypes, the model minority stereotype ignores the vast diversity within the Asian American population as well as the challenges faced by many people within that group.”

Chua’s argument also received praise from critics because it raised an important question: why do some groups in the U.S., on average, tend to do better than others? Many, however, point out that the distinction is really not cultural, but psychological.

Social scientists have examined the theory and agree that the triple package’s impulse control component is a very important predictor of success, along with one’s socioeconomic background and the ability and desire to learn.

Domus Opus:  The following assignment is also posted on Google Classroom. It is due on Wednesday.

Liu Zongyuan was a Chinese writer and poet who lived during the Tang Dynasty.  He was one of the dynasty’s greatest writers of prose and poetry. His poems, fables, and essays synthesize elements of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.

One of his most famous poems is “Jiangxue” (江雪), sometimes translated into English as “Winter Snow” or “River Snow” or “Snow on the River.” For this assignment, spend 5 minutes and make an illustration to go along with Liu Zongyuan’s famous poem, as translated below. Please do not use lined or graph paper. I look forward to seeing what you have created. 🙂

Snow on the River 江雪

Over thousands of mountains, no bird flies.
Over thousands of paths there is no trail of footprints.
On a lonely boat sits an old man with bamboo hat and cape,
Fishing silently in the snowy river.

–Liu Zongyuan (773-819)

Nota bene: If you love to draw, and want to spend more time on your illustration, don’t let me stop you. But only spend more time on it because you are enjoying the assignment, not because you are worried about your grade (i.e. the artistic quality of your illustration will not impact your average in this class).


Wednesday, Feb. 12:  Students took the second part of their mid-year social studies benchmark. If you missed school on any of the two days, please contact me to make up the benchmark after school or during STAR.

Tuesday, Feb. 11:  Students took the first part of their mid-year social studies benchmark. Part two — a written response — will be given tomorrow (see HW below).

Domus Opus:   1) Amy Chua Is a Wimp — due tomorrow. See Thursday, Feb. 6, for details.

2)  If students want to be in good shape for tomorrow’s benchmark, they should review their annotated benchmarks readings for the second half of the benchmark.  In class, they will write a response to the following question: Which philosophy — Confucianism or Legalism — do you think is most effective in governing a society?  They will be asked to explain the main ideas of both Confucianism and Legalism in their response and provide evidence as to why they believe one philosophy is more effective than the other. To write their response, students should use their knowledge of social studies as well as information from the benchmark readings.

civil service exam

Even in Imperial China they had to take benchmarks. An Ancient Chinese Public Examination, facsimile of original Chinese scroll.


Monday, Feb. 10:  Students were reminded at the beginning of class that tomorrow they will be taking the first part of the social studies benchmark (multiple choice and

cram school

“Teenagers pouring out of Maotanchang High School just before 11 p.m., after a routine day of study.”

matching questions ). On Wednesday, students will complete the second part of the benchmark and write a several-paragraph response to a question on Confucianism and Taoism by using the benchmark readings to support their argument.

We also briefly debriefed Friday’s Legalism class. Some students “enjoyed” the strict discipline exerted in a Legalist society and the simple nature of the exercise. Others pointed out that the harshness of the environment made them uncomfortable, and they could not focus as well especially as they feared being “punished,” demeaned, or ridiculed.

Ms. Sweeney shared that she was told that she had “the brain of a shrunken pea” by her 6th grade teacher and how her middle school crush had been put in a closet by his teacher as punishment. How does physical or verbal punishment impact the learning environment or affect a society?

We also took a few minutes to  learn  about the difference between op-eds and editorials and where they appear in a hard copy of the newspaper. The name “op-ed” is derived from “opposite the editorial page.” The op-ed page of a newspaper features opinion pieces written by outside contributors and the newspaper’s own team of columnists.

Editorials, on the other hand, are written by individual editorial board members of the newspaper in consultation with their colleagues and editors and reflect the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board.

During most of the period, we discussed Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed “The Educated Giant,” in which the New York Times columnist compared China’s perspective on education (both schooling and teachers) to that of our own. We noted the number of hours Chinese students spend in school compared to Americans (about 400 hours a year more) as well as the up to 2 hours of homework a day Chinese students complete over summer vacation.

National Constitution Day Activities In China

According to the most recent international study, Chinese students far exceeded peers in every other country in a survey of reading, math, and science ability.

China has an enormous cultural respect for education due in part to its Confucian legacy. The op-ed noted that teachers are respected and compensated far better than in the U.S., both financially and emotionally.

We focused on Kristof’s comment that, in the U.S., we tend to believe that the students who get the highest grades are the smartest. In contrast, the Chinese believe that those who get the highest grades are the hardest workers.

As Kristof observed, “the upshot is that Chinese kids never have an excuse for mediocrity.” In other words the Chinese generally believe that if a student does not do very well in school (that is, if a student has mediocre — below or just average — grades), it is not because the student is not intelligent, it is because the student does not work hard enough on school assignments. Their belief is that those students who are not applying themselves do poorly in school simply because they are not making enough of an effort.

In most classes we also looked at some slides of one of China’s “cram high schools,” which prepares students for the gaokao, a grueling test administered over a 2-3 day period every June and is the lone criterion for admission to Chinese universities. Classes often go until 11 PM and are held on weekends. For students at these cram high schools, most of whom come from rural areas, university admission “offers the promise of a life beyond the fields and the factories, of families’ fortunes transformed by hard work and high scores.” If you would like to read the New York Times article, click here.

Domus Opus:  See Thursday below.


Friday, Feb. 7:  Today’s class examined the last of the three major Eastern philosophies, Legalism. Founded by Han Fei, a Chinese prince educated by Confucian scholars Han Feiduring the Zhou dynasty, Legalism is based on the belief that people are naturally evil and selfish and require detailed laws with severe punishments.

Instead of being devoted to conformity to the processes of nature — like Daoists — Legalists devised elaborate means for controlling people’s lives and actions through laws and a system of clear punishments and rewards.

In attempting to control every aspect of people’s lives, Legalist rulers sought to instill in peasants the discipline to work hard in the fields, and they sought to instill in their warriors the discipline to fight hard in the battlefield.

While rewards for obedience could be generous, punishments often meant mutilation or death.

Legalists believed that effective rulers should never reveal affection or charity and pea-frownshould trust no one, including family members (as that indicates the ruler can be controlled). Legalist principles were applied during the short-lived Qin dynasty, which existed for little more than 15 years because it was too strict.

During its brief tenure, however, the Qin dynasty witnessed some monumental achievements: it unified China for the first time, extending its military influence over a vast geographical area; it ordered the building of the Great Wall to defend against Mongol invaders; and it built one of the most ambitious monuments to self ever created, the Terracotta Army.

While reading a brief summary and answering questions on the history of and theory behind Legalism, class was held in accordance with Legalist tradition, which stresses the importance of strict rules and discipline and accompanying punishments.

A special thank you to all of my students who had to be “disciplined” and graciously — or not so graciously —  accepted my ridicule in class today. 🙂

Domus Opus:  See Thursday below.


Thursday, Feb. 6:   At the beginning of class, we noted that, as expected, President Trump was acquitted of charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress to aid his own re-election.  The first article — on abuse of power — fell 48 to 52, far short of thegood luck bad luck 67 (two-thirds vote) required by the Constitution for conviction. The second article — on obstruction of Congress — was rejected 47 to 53 along partisan lines.

It was the third impeachment trial of a president and the third acquittal in American history.

We viewed a portion of Senator Mitt Romney’s speech explaining his decision to vote guilty on the first article of impeachment.  Sen. Romney of Utah, the party’s 2012 presidential nominee, joined Democrats in voting to convict, the only senator to cross party lines.

Most of today’s class focused on summarizing the concepts behind the history and


Winnie-the-Pooh personifies the Daoist principles of “effortless doing” and being open to, but unburdened by, experience.

philosophy of Taoism (see Wednesday, below). We watched a modern-day rendition of the famous Taoist story The Farmer’s Luck (see below).

We also examined how Taoist and  Confucianist philosophy shows itself in present-day film excerpts (e.g., the plastic bag scene in American Beauty,  a scene from Disney’s Mulan, and a scene from Winnie the Pooh.

HW:  1)  Read and annotate the two articles and two primary sources in the Chinese Philosophies & Gov’t Benchmark Readings (distributed in class today). Don’t forget to define any unfamiliar words. Bring the annotated 3-page packet to class on Tuesday for a HW check and again next Tuesday & Wednesday, Feb. 11 &12, to use during the benchmark exam.

2)  Read the New York Times op-ed “Amy Chua Is a Wimp” and complete the Amy Chua Is a Wimp WS 19 — due Wednesday.  Enjoy doing more Tai Chi at home, if you’re so inclined. 🙂


Wednesday, Feb. 5:  Students received a 3-page packet of readings on Confucianism and Legalism which they will use when completing the social studies benchmark next Tuesday and Wednesday. Their homework between today and next Tuesday is to read and annotate the three pages.

We began class viewing highlights of last night’s very tense and partisan State of the Union Address. We viewed a short video (posted below) with highlights from the evening and noted examples of partisan bickering and attacks on both sides of the aisle.

For most of the period, though, we tried to escape the tension of the night before and learn about the second of the major Eastern philosophies that grew out of the Zhou dynasty: Taoism (also spelled Daoism).

We warmed up for the class by engaging in a Tai Chi exercise. (The video we used to do the Tai Chi exercise can be watched in full at the bottom of today’s post.)

Confucius_Laozi_Buddha 2

A Qing dynasty print showing Confucius presenting the Baby Buddha to the philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism.

Tai chi, short for t’ai chi ch’üan (taijiquan; 太极拳), is one of the major branches of the traditional Chinese martial arts, practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. Its name dates back more than 3,000 years ago to the Zhou Dynasty.

The essential principles of Tai Chi are based on the philosophy of Taoism, which stresses the natural balance in all things and the need for living in both a spiritual and physical connection with the patterns of nature. According to Taoism, everything is composed of two opposite, but entirely complementary, elements of yin and yang, which works in a relationship which is in perpetual balance. Tai Chi consists of exercises considered balanced between yin and yang.

Polar opposites, yin and yang are found in all things in life. Taoists believe that, in nature, everything tends toward a natural state of harmony. Likewise, yin and yang are always in total balance. Concepts such as dark, earthly, cold, and wet are associated with yin, while concepts such as light, heavenly, hot, and dry are associated with yang. Both yin and yang sides complement each other completely, forming a perfect whole together. Those things that are perfectly balanced and in harmony are at peace. Similarly, a perfectly harmonized person will show this balance and completeness by his or her peacefulness of mind and tranquility.yin-yang-water

After practicing some Tai Chi, we engaged in an “experiential exercise” — students read background information while following standards of behavior that reflect Taoist beliefs and practices. 

According to legend, Taoism was founded by Lao Tzu (who was also known as Laozi). He was the keeper of the archives for the imperial court of the Zhou dynasty.

Saddened and disillusioned that men were unwilling to follow the path to natural goodness, Laozi decided to leave his position (at the age of 80, no less) and set out for the western border of China, toward present-day Tibet.

At the border, a guard recognized the famous sage and asked Laozi to record his teachings before he left China. It is said that Lao Tzu then composed in 5,000 characters the Tao Te Ching (The Way and Its Power), the seminal Taoist text.

Students read about the Taoist belief that people should become one with nature — known as the Dao (the Way) — to gain peace and happiness.

Just as nature does not strive for fame, power or knowledge, people too should simply accept what comes their way, and governments should do little to control people. Rather, government should support people in achieving what they naturally desire.

Taoism and Confucianism, seen side-by-side, were two very different responses to the social, political and philosophical conditions of life in China thousands of years ago.  Confucianism is greatly concerned with social relations, hierarchy, conduct, and human society.  Taoism, on the other hand, has a much more individualistic and mystical character, greatly influenced by nature.

We will complete our in-class worksheet on Taoism and make comparisons between Confucianism and Taoism tomorrow.

Domus Opus:  Read and annotate the two articles and two primary sources in the Chinese Philosophies & Gov’t Benchmark Readings (distributed in class today). Don’t forget to define any unfamiliar words. Bring the annotated 3-page packet to class on Tuesday for a HW check and again next Tuesday & Wednesday, Feb. 11 &12, to use during the benchmark exam.



Tuesday, Feb. 4:   At the beginning of class, students were reminded that the State of the Union address is on tonight at 9PM. Students were encouraged to watch the beginning of


Confucius believed that a ruler should demonstrate benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness. Do those who rule over you reflect those virtues?  Do they meet Confucian standards?

the SOTU to get a sense of its significance. They also have an assignment due tomorrow on the SOTU’s history and what they think the president will say tonight.

We also briefly discussed the latest on who won the Iowa caucus; namely, nobody knows! As reported in The New York Times, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party said he expects to report caucus results “later today.” The results have been delayed because of “inconsistencies” in the reporting of the results.

Students were introduced to the first of three Eastern philosophies we will be exploring: Confucianism.

Around 1100 BCE, a group of people living in northwest China, called the Zhou, overthrew the Shang dynasty. Tired of paying tribute to Shang rulers, they justified their actions by claiming they had been given the “Mandate of Heaven,” or the divine right to rule. (We will look at the Mandate of Heaven more closely in the coming days.)

The Zhou dynasty lasted for more than 800 years during which time feudal lords became powerful regional leaders, and Zhou rulers became little more than figureheads.

 The last approximately 250 years of Zhou rule was a period of political instability as these feudal lords declared themselves leaders of independent states of the Zhou dynasty and engaged in battle with each other to obtain wealth and consolidate territory. Known as the “Warring States Period,” huge armies battled both opposing troops and non-combatants for control of a unified China. Several dominant states emerged, and over time, the leader of the Qin state, Qin Shihuangdi prevailed and unified the warring states led by the Qin dynasty.

Zhou rulers sought advice from advisors, scholars, and military strategists on how to expand their power while controlling their people. As various masters came into favor, their philosophies were compiled, recorded, and circulated. Among the most important schools of thought, or philosophies, that grew out of the Zhou dynasty were Confucianism and Taoism.

Under Confucianism, citizens followed rules according to their position and rank in society (as determined by the citizen’s status, gender, or age) and were expected to follow standards of behavior reflecting Confucian beliefs and practices. Students were introduced to Kong Fuzi (as spelled in Pinyin, a transcription of Chinese into the Roman alphabet — the Anglicized, or Westernized, version of his title and name is Confucius).

Kong Fuzi believed that if everyone followed li – proper behavior — society would be ordered and peaceful. According to Confucius, all of society was built on five key relationships:

  • ruler & subject
  • parent & child
  • spouse & spouse
  • older sibling & younger sibling (or elder & younger)
  • friend & friend

Relationships were primarily based on status, age, and gender. The first four relationships are hierarchical relationships (ranked according to status or authority). The superior must show benevolence (show kindness, as in have a desire to show goodwill) toward the inferior and be a good role model. The inferior must respect and obey the superior.

The Analects (meaning “conversation” in Chinese) was the most single important work on Confucian thought. It focused on interpersonal relationships and the relationship of the role of rulers to the conduct of government.  According to Confucius, those in superior positions should demonstrate to their inferiors the virtues of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and trustworthiness.

Domus Opus: 1) Read and complete The State of the Union: Important Dates and The State of the Union WS – due tomorrow.  You must complete questions 1-8 of the worksheet. If you watch some (or all) of tomorrow’s SOTU, then try your hand at question 9 as well. 🙂

2) Do try to watch at least the beginning of the SOTU. I know it’s past most of my students’ bedtimes — it begins at 9PM — but it’s worth staying up an extra 10-15 minutes to get a sense of what this night is all about. Also, who is the designated survivor?

3) Watch the video below about Confucianism which sums up what we learned today in class.


Monday, Feb. 3:  Student work was returned for students to review the comments they received on their outlines and presentations (and current event homework on impeachment) and then collected again. We also reviewed the answers to the Islam quiz (except Period 2, which attended the assembly on high school electives; their graded work will be collected tomorrow).

Most of the period was focused on two current events that will dominate much of this week’s news cycle (besides Wednesday’s verdict in the impeachment trial): tonight’s Iowa caucus and tomorrow’s State of the Union address.

The Iowa Caucus (tonight):

With today marking the official beginning of the presidential election season, we watched part of a video explaining the Iowa caucus. We focused on the causes behindIowa Caucus the low voter turnout (the limitation of the caucus to evening hours, when some have work or family obligations; the length of time of the voting process; the requirement that one attend the caucus in person; the lack of privacy in voting, which means social pressure could skew results (for Democrats); and the inability to vote by absentee ballot).

Voters that cannot participate include those currently serving overseas, citizens who work at night, and those who cannot devote the length of time it takes to attend. (The Republican caucus lasts approximately one hour; the Democratic caucus can go for 2-4 hours.)

We noted why the Iowa caucuses have so much influence. The media and voters in other states pay more attention to the candidates that win or come in a close second or third in the Iowa caucus – it gives the winning candidates momentum and even greater name recognition.

We noted arguments against allowing Iowa to go first: 1) Iowa’s population is unrepresentative of the country as a whole — the state is much more white, more rural, has fewer people of color, and has fewer immigrants compared to the nation as a whole.  2) Because Iowans vote in a caucus, voter turnout is typically quite low; the vast majority of voters don’t turn up. 3) Iowa has a population of approximately 3 million people; it’s a small state with an even smaller number of participating voters to get that much recognition. It sends 41 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, a tiny fraction of the 1,991 delegates needed to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

In some classes we also noted reasons why Iowa enjoys being the opening act for the presidential race: the many people working on the various presidential campaigns (both staff and volunteers) and the many members of the media covering the caucus means a lot of revenue for the state: hotel rooms, meals, clothing, rental cars, etc. Those running for office are also more likely to support policies that help Iowa’s economy (like ethanol subsidies that help support the state’s corn industry). Whoever wins in Iowa, it’s a win-win for Iowans.

Vocabulary reviewed included caucus (a meeting at which local members of a political party register their preference among candidates running for office or select delegates to attend a convention) and viable (having a reasonable chance of succeeding).

The State of the Union Address (tomorrow night):

Tomorrow President Trump will deliver his 3rd State of the Union address (SOTU). We viewed a short video (posted below) on how easy it is to distinguish Republicans from

State of the Union edit

An excerpt from President Obama’s edit of the 2012 State of the Union Address.

Democrats during the SOTU. It is a partisan event, so the Republicans tend to applaud and stand up for the policies the President Trump advances during his address, while Democrats tend to stay seated and sit on their hands. The video also showed how Supreme Court justices and the nation’s highest ranking military officials rarely applaud – a sign of the impartiality required of their position.

We also viewed part of an excellent short White House video (also posted below) on the process of writing the State of the Union Address.  Students saw how President Obama did serious editing of multiple drafts of his SOTU address.

In most classes, we marveled over the difference between beginning a sentence with the word “but” versus beginning a sentence with the phrase “of course.” It is this attention to detail that can make all the difference in a paper or a presentation. Students were encouraged to spend time editing their work – whether it is a paper for school or a speech before the class.

“A week to tweak” — which the White House does in preparing the State of the Union address — is a great motto!

Domus Opus:  1) Read and complete The State of the Union: Important Dates and The State of the Union WS – due Wednesday.  You must complete questions 1-8 of the worksheet. If you watch some (or all) of tomorrow’s SOTU, then try your hand at question 9 as well. 🙂