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Mr. Gleich jumps departments for new Sci-Fi Literature class

Mr. Gleich writes...

My own interest in science fiction was cultivated early on by reading Jules Verne as an adolescent, and by watching science fiction movies and serials on television.  Growing up in the Sputnik era with a space race and the Cold War provided me with ample fodder for thought of the “what if” variety.  What if we had a nuclear war?  What if aliens visited us from space?  What if time travel were possible?  It was the “what ifs” that stimulated plenty of conjecture to spice up the mundane world I actually lived in.  Clearly by this time, science fiction was intermingled with science fantasy to the point where I could not tell where one ended and another began.

Required reading in high school and college seldom allowed me to pursue this reading avocation, so it lay dormant for a long time.  Sometime in the mid 80’s I came across an invitation from the National Science Foundation to propose a topic for a series of new grants they were funding.  These grants were known as Sci-Mat Fellowships and were intended to bridge science with the humanities, since the National Endowment for the Humanities was also involved in the funding.  I proposed to research and write a lengthy paper on “Science Fiction as Existential Literature.”  To my surprise my topic was accepted and funded. 

I selected Mr. Cavanaugh, English department chair, as my mentor (science teachers needed to have a humanities mentor) and together we created a syllabus that had me reading 24 books that summer.  I read morning, noon and night. I read on the beach, on airplanes and I read on long drives in the car.  That was the fun part.  The hard part was writing my paper and accepting the editing from Mr. Cavanaugh.  Tending towards verbosity, I had the challenge of paring down the dozens of single spaced pages I was writing.  In the end, after much wise and careful direction from Mr. Cavanaugh, I was able to submit a final copy that was 25 pages in length, single-spaced.  Fortunately it was well received.

This paper became the backdrop under which I was encouraged to develop a senior spring trimester English elective.  I team-taught the course with Mr. Cavanaugh for a couple of years, then I became so busy with other assignments that I was forced to abandon the course.  That was, until I happened to mention to Mr. Mohrmann a couple of years ago that I was stepping down from administrative work to move full-time back into teaching and coaching.  One thing led to another and I decided to say ‘yes’ to his request to resurrect the course I had once offered.  Accepting the fact that almost three additional decades of science fiction writing had happened since that glorious summer, I decided to develop a new course loosely based on some of the books I had used, yet augmenting it with others from the past three decades.  What evolved were two courses—winter and spring English electives—with some overlapping texts sprinkled with a number of short stories.  Here is the short synopsis of what I wrote about these courses for the English curriculum guide.

Students come to science fiction and science fantasy for the familiar and the unfamiliar.  It allows them to enjoy a world not their own, yet to live an alien life tangentially and vicariously.  While science fiction initially allows them to escape and be entertained, it also informs them, provides them with new ideas, and instills a sense of optimism and inspiration.  Discussions will play a vital role in revealing understanding of the literature, but students will also write papers and take tests over content.

These courses will pursue science fiction in novel and short story form, bridging science fiction from the past seven decades.  Novels will be chosen from:  Dune, Frank Herbert; Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Phillip K. Dick; Hyperion, Dan Simmons and A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller.  Short stories will include:  Sandkings, George K. K. Martin; Out of All Them Bright Stars, Nancy Kress; and Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Prologue, 1

“This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”

Prologue, 1

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”

Prologue, 4

“If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. (Ps 33[34]:13)”

Prologue, 17

“Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12).”

Prologue, 21

“If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds.”

Prologue, 22

“What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.”

Prologue, 41

“Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.”

Prologue, 45

“The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”

Prologue, 47

“The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.”

Chapter 3, 3

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.”

Chapter 4, 20-21

“Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” –Chapter 4, 25-26

“Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”

Chapter 4, 27-28

“Place your hope in God alone.”

Chapter 4, 41

“Respect the elders and love the young.”

Chapter 4, 70-71

“Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. “

Chapter 4, 72

“If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.”

Chapter 4, 73

“The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.”

Chapter 5, 1-2

“Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.”

Chapter 6, 6

“The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (PS 35[36]:2) and never forgets it.”

Chapter 7, 10

“Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

Chapter 19, 6-7

“On arising for the Work of God, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.”

Chapter 22, 8

“Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment.”

Chapter 30, 1

“Above all, let him be humble. If goods are not available to meet a request, he will offer a kind word in reply, for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift (Sir 18:17).”

Chapter 31, 13-14

“Let all the rest serve one another in love.”

Chapter 35, 6

“Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”

Chapter 43, 3

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Chapter 48, 1

“The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”

Chapter 49, 1

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).”

Chapter 53, 1

“Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.”

Chapter 53, 2

“(B)ecause wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King.”

Chapter 61, 10

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10).”

Chapter 63, 17

“We wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.”

Chapter 66, 8

“Trusting in God’s help, he must in love obey.”

Chapter 68, 5

Never to do another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16).”

Chapter 70, 7

“No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.”

Chapter 72, 7

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”

Chapter 72, 11-12

“What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?”

Chapter 73, 3

“What book of the holy catholic Fathers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator?”

Chapter 73, 4


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