Sunday, September 18, 2016

Education for the New Century

This little item will probably mean more to teachers at highly 'progressive' schools than to laymen.

A reminder: 1517 was the year that Martin Luther nailed up those 95 Theses. 
Siena Superior Merit School
                                                  Siena, Italy

                                   Prospectus for the Year 1517

Parents and students who wish to embrace the future and who realize that the traditional dull, stultifying rote learning of the Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) do not prepare young people for the exciting world of the future should consider enrollment in Italy’s most innovative and creative educational institution, the Siena Superior Merit School.

At Siena, we strive to equip our scholars with SIXTEENTH CENTURY SKILLS, the skills they will need to succeed in the exciting modern era of the new century, a century that is so different from all preceding centuries that entirely novel educational methods are required.

We have instituted CENTRI DI ECCELLENZA (CdEs) to allow students to pursue their passions in areas of great importance for this dynamic new century:
ü The ASTROLOGY CdE:  Advances in the highest celestial art make traditional astronomical studies all but obsolete. As sure knowledge of this science progresses, those who grasp it fully are assured of profitable employment. Why study the past when you can predict the future?

ü The ALCHEMICAL CdE:  What young man would not thrill to the exciting pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone? Turn lead into gold! Experiments in our newly-completed, ultra-modern facility  (a gift from an alumnus most successful in the manufacture of gunpowder), will not be without some danger, but the survivors graduates of this CdE will be fully equipped to lead the way in further advances in Alchemy, the Science of the Future.

ü The THEOLOGY CdE:  Those students whose passion is for truth and certainty will surely thrill to the careful exegesis of sacred texts and close study of Canon Law. What can be more certain than that, as the Holy Catholic Church enters its 1,500th year of existence, its eternal truths assure its unchallengeable domination of our continent, and eventually the world? We plan to open a branch school in Wittenberg, Germany, under the direction of Father Johann Tetzel, Europe’s foremost expert on indulgences.
We have also instituted CLASSI MISCELATI (“Classes that are Blended”) to give students adequate time to pursue their passions. These classes meet just twice per week. By a magical process that has to be experienced to be understood, students will learn just as much as before, even though they meet 60% less than before, in those rather obsolescent areas—such as Italian, History, and Foreign Languages—that are really no longer as relevant in the dynamic Sixteenth Century as they were in the benighted twenty centuries that preceeded our new, exciting age. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Writing Across the Curriculum

At the start of each school year the Administration of most schools announces some great innovation or 'improvement' as the annual obsession. Naturally, this new program will make little work for the people who are mandating it, i.e. administrators, but much work for those expected to implement it, i.e., teachers. One such program is "Writing Across the Curriculum". If this brainstorm is your school's current hobgoblin, academic departments will need a large number of highfalutin expressions for use in various forms, tables, Moodle applications, etc. to assure their masters that they are accomplishing this integration.
Here, for your convenience, is the Writing Across the Curriculum Phrase Finder (WACPhraF). Simply choose one word from Column A or B and one from Column C—or, if an especially impressive effect is needed, one from each column—to get the desired level of pretentiousness. For an interesting random effect, just pick three numbers, e.g. 612, and write down the result. "Extended Comprehensive Discourses" sounds as good as anything, doesn't it?
Type 1/2/3/4/ or 5
You will make a much better impression on the higher reaches of the pedagogical bureaucracy if, instead of saying something as jejune as “students will write essays” or “in the second term, we will practice descriptive writing,” you sonorously declare that “all Physics examinations will make use of Expository Free-form Dissertations” or “Collins Comprehensive Compositions form the basis of instruction in Algebra II.”
Having made the required genuflection to this year’s fetish by larding your required documentation with enough gobbledygook to placate the bees in administrators’ bonnets, you may resume teaching your courses as before.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Chain of Command At Work

This is my rendition of an old military joke. The original may date from Roman times...

The Colonel to the Major: 

At 0900 tomorrow there will be an eclipse of the sun, something that does not happen every day. Parade the men in the company street in fatigues so they will be able to see this rare phenomenon. If it rains we will not be able to see anything, so march the men to the gym.

The Major to the Captain:
By order of the colonel, tomorrow at 0900 there will be an eclipse of the sun in the company street. If it rains, which does not happen every day, we will not be able to see it, so march the men in fatigues to the gym.

 The Captain to the Lieutenant:
By order of the colonel, tomorrow at 0900 the eclipse of the sun will take place in the company street. We will march to the gym if it rains in fatigues, something that does not happen every day.

 The Lieutenant to the Sergeant:
Tomorrow at 0900 in fatigues, the colonel will eclipse the sun in the company street, which does not happen every day. If it rains, march to the gym.

 The Sergeant to the Troops:
Tomorrow at 0900 the eclipse of the colonel in fatigues will take place by cause of the sun. If it rains in the gym, which doesn’t happen every day, march to the company street.

 Comments Among the Privates:
At 0900 tomorrow, if it rains in the gym, it looks as if the sun will march to the company street in fatigues and eclipse the colonel. It’s a shame this doesn’t happen every day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


I have at last laid down the dry-erase marker, turned off the overhead projector, stopped making Power Points, and archived my lecture notes. After 38 years of pedagogy at an independent boarding school, I am leaving the teaching of European History to others and have moved off campus--only about a thousand yards--to a decent apartment.

It all seems very strange to be in the much-touted ‘real world’. I just paid my first electric bill. I must pay for food and prepare it myself. My life will no longer be regulated by the ringing of bells and the decrees of various administrators. Such things will take getting used to.

However, I am not retiring from writing. I hope to post more regularly here. I will be making efforts to publicize my books--which is one purpose of this blog--in any way I can devise. What span of years is yet allotted to me I do not know, but it is my hope to use them partly to encourage the reading of the Mercenaries series and of And Gladly Teach and Hodgepodge. I hope indeed to write more books, if sales of those already out increase substantially. Perhaps some YouTube videos about history?

If you have not sampled my books, why not start today?

And here is “Libby’s Last Lecture”:     

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Wondrous Thing

Socrates, when visiting the agora, the great marketplace of Athens, and seeing all the things offered for sale, once exclaimed, “How many things there are that I can do without!”  I feel much the same when receiving a Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue, as I did today. And this item is perhaps the one I can do without the most. When I first looked at the picture, which fails to convey any sense of scale, I thought it a strange vehicle running on two wheels. I find, however, that it is a special kind of hat. As for what it is alleged to do, I wonder that buyers—if any there be—are not also furnished with some bottles of snake oil and a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge. And the price… But I suppose it is good for our economy that there exist mechanisms for separating some money from foolish millionaires.   

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Remembrance of Essays Past

I regret that I have not posted anything for a long time. The state of the world, perhaps, has somewhat dried up my comic muse, and one or two new articles on education should await a time when I am no longer connected with the profession on a salaried basis. Here, however, is a comic sketch I published on this blog in July, 2011. It occurs to me that some visitors to this blog may not have taken time to review many earlier posts, so, if you have not seen this, here it is. Several other such essays await those who boldly delve into the many items easily accessible via the chronological menus on the left side of this page.

And, of course, a Happy Thanksgiving to all!

    A Modest Proposal    by B.A. Libby, B.A., M.A., etc.


Teaching history to kinesthetic high-schoolers is challenging because history is usually studied by reading and listening; to learn history has heretofore meant using books, or hearing about events from savants who, having devoted their lives to such study, can highlight, and simplify complex matters for easy reception by tender minds.1 Now, however, with students who find it difficult to learn by such antique methods, modern pedagogues must develop new rubrics, new praxis, new epistemologies.2

We present here an exemplary project that we hope will stimulate many other educational professionals (“teachers”) to develop and expand innovative methodologies.

                                PROJECT 1812


One of the most dramatic and important events of the early 19th Century was the French invasion of Russia. Project 1812 focuses on the catastrophic dénouement of this, the largest military operation before World War I, which set in motion the downfall of the First Empire and the victory of the reactionary regimes of the Age of Metternich (1815-1848).

The retreat from Moscow has often been described--e.g. Tolstoy’s magnificent treatment in War and Peace--but how can one bring the reality of what happened to people who cannot readily comprehend the written or the spoken word? We think we have found a way.


Most Modern European History courses will reach the second half of the Napoleonic Era in December or early January, which is the perfect--indeed, the only--time when this Project can be properly conducted.

-  On a very cold day with high wind chill, all the kinesthetic learners will be driven to a mall, or other public location, about five miles from campus. They may wear only light summer clothing, such as T-shirts, shorts, cotton slacks, and sandals. Each will receive a sandwich, a pint of bottled water, and a knapsack containing about fifty pounds of hockey pucks.

Rationale:  The flimsy clothing and scanty food simulate the dress and rations of most French soldiers during the retreat from Moscow. The knapsacks simulate the vast assortment of loot that the French took from the ruined city, confident that they could bring it back to France.

 - The students will be told they will get $1 for each hockey puck they bring to campus.

 Rationale:  Students will have the opportunity to experience the common dilemma of greed vs. reason, in that they must decide whether, and when, to lighten or discard the valuable but heavy knapsacks in order to have a better chance of reaching home.

 -  The students will walk back to campus.

 -  It is highly desirable that, as a part of our Community Relations, a number of local people take part in the Project. Their job is to follow the students, and, when any fall behind the main body by more than fifty yards, to pelt them with stones, throw them into ponds, or beat them with clubs.

 Rationale:  The citizens simulate the Russian peasants and Cossacks who followed the French army from a safe distance but attacked stragglers.

 -  A teacher will ride beside the students in a chauffeur-driven car, calling out encouragement to his “troops” and composing bombastic “official bulletins” announcing that the campaign is going very well. (To assist with the bulletins, he may be accompanied by a “chief of staff” provided by the Office of Institutional Advancement.) When his limousine is half a mile from the school, he will wave encouragingly to the freezing remains of his “army” and be driven quickly back to campus, leaving his men to finish the trek on their own.

 Rationale: The teacher simulates Napoleon, who departed the army in a swift coach on December 5, two weeks before the epic retreat ended.

 - Those students who reach campus will be given a cup of hot chocolate and sent to the hospital. The others will be buried.

The 1812 Project gives haptic learners a “hands-on” experience like no other. Instead of merely looking at artifacts in a museum or using colored markers to occupy their fidgety fingers, they will feel they have actually participated in an important historical event. It is an experience they will remember to the ends of their lives. (This is especially true for those who do not reach campus, since their lives and the Project will end simultaneously.) At least half of the survivors will have permanent “memory triggers” right on their bodies (such as the stumps of frostbitten fingers and toes after amputation at the hospital).3 No need for hard-to-read books or boring lectures to teach them what happened!


Hardy kinesthetics who insist on remaining at the school after Project 1812 will take part in Project 1941, “Hitler’s Retreat From Moscow” (which is very similar to Project 1812 except that the local people may use rifles).

Schools in warm climates may obtain satisfactory results from Project 1917 (The Project to End Projects), a simulation of Passchendaele (3rd Ypres). It takes place in soft, muddy ground in early spring or late autumn. (Project 1917 provides a fine opportunity for some cross-disciplinary activity: for added realism, the Science Department can manufacture phosgene and mustard gas for use as the kinesthetics slog through the knee-deep mud towards distant, unattainable objectives.)
1  Kinesthetic (or “haptic”) learners (for the benefit of nonprofessionals who might not know) are those who, we are told, cannot learn much from reading or listening, but who learn best by doing things with their hands and the movement of their bodies. Some laymen, ignorant of current pedagogical “best practice,” might think that such students would not be enrolled in preparatory schools or aspire to college diplomas, but would instead be directed into shop classes, vo-techs, the lower enlisted ranks of the armed forces, and similar places where they could use their talents to best advantage without cluttering up the halls of academe; but that is not the case today.

 2  I do not really know what these last words mean, but I have noticed that the most esteemed educational experts and holders of Doctorates of Education use them quite a bit. I thought I should use them too, so I will be taken seriously.

 3  For these, the “hands-on” experience can also be a “hands-off” experience!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Books, Anyone?

My abilities are as a writer, however humble, certainly exceed my ablities as a businessman. I have been urging folks to buy my books but have not for a long time posted information on their prices if ordered from me. (You may of course get them from So here is a list for anyone who would like to order signed copies from the author. (Prices include postage).
       Brian Libby / 200 Heritage Place / Apt. 220 / Faribault, MN 55021  
Storm Approaching - $17
Gold and Glory - $20
Resolution - $20
The Free Lands - $23

And Gladly Teach - $15
Hodgepodge - $10

I encourage you to browse this blog for information on, and excerpts from, the books. There is, for example, an informative flyer at March, 2014.