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Is this a good idea?

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message 1: by Matt, e-monk (new)

Matt Comito | 386 comments Mod
"JONESBORO, Ga. — For years Lorrie McNeill loved teaching “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the Harper Lee classic that many Americans regard as a literary rite of passage.

But last fall, for the first time in 15 years, Ms. McNeill, 42, did not assign “Mockingbird” — or any novel. Instead she turned over all the decisions about which books to read to the students in her seventh- and eighth-grade English classes at Jonesboro Middle School in this south Atlanta suburb...."

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/30/boo...

(so instead of reading Harper Lee some of them choose to read Dav Pilkey's Capt Underpants? is this a good idea?)



message 2: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
I like Captain Underpants, but Diary of a Wimpy Kid is way better.

No. This is NOT a good idea.




message 3: by Martyn (new)

Martyn | 299 comments sometimes democracy can be a very stupid thing.


message 4: by Dan, deadpan man (new)

Dan | 640 comments Mod
I can understand giving kids the option for one book, maybe the last book of the year but not the entire run of novels. Maybe this idea was a unique challenge for the teacher but I believe it would be the children who are short changed.




message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

7th and 8th grade? Jeez I just read the Captain Underpants books with my 6 yr old grandson. He's going into the 2nd grade. That's not even close to grade level. How are they going to pass thier standardized tests?


message 6: by Patrick, photographic eye (new)

Patrick | 133 comments Mod
ok. i'll be the lone duck here.

no, i don't advocate trading in to kill a mockingbird for captain underpants, that's extreme crazy. but that said, i can see where offering students more choice and flexibility with what they read could help encourage & inspire more reading. more active, engaged reading.




message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Isn't it a better idea & more economical to shoot them in the back of the head now and dump the bodies in a landfill? Or perhaps recycle them in the manner of Soylent Green?


message 8: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Patrick, I think it would be fine to let the kids vote on a selection, say, once every six weeks? But a whole year... yes. The kids are shortchanged. It's a teacher's JOB to GET the kids engaged in To Kill A Mockingbird...!


message 9: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
I think that kids should read books of their own choosing AND assigned text. But not To Kill a Mockingbird.


message 10: by Patrick, The Special School Bus Rider (new)

Patrick (horrorshow) | 269 comments Mod
But that god damn bird keeps making fun of me! Just let me wring its neck and show all other stupid birds not to laugh at me.


message 11: by Ben, uneasy in a position of power; a yorkshire pudding (new)

Ben Loory | 241 comments Mod
Patty wrote: "I think that kids should read books of their own choosing AND assigned text. But not To Kill a Mockingbird. "

amen! just show 'em a picture of a kid in a ham costume and move on to bigger and better things.



message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

It's kind of out dated. The subject.


message 13: by Brian, just a child's imagination (new)

Brian (banoo) | 346 comments Mod
in 10th grade or so we had an english teacher that just told us to read 'x' number of books for the term. she had a book rack filled with about 100 books. we got to chose which of those books to read and then write reports. controlled democracy worked for me. read some classic sci-fi, some existentialism, some steinbeck. capt underpants would have been considered filth back in my day. kids should be given the opportunity to hate classics, or love it. not everyone likes to read what i like to read. damn shame.


message 14: by João (new)

João Camilo (jcamilo) | 259 comments I do not believe you people think that someone else making your options is better... Democracy is dumb as hell, but theocracy is only smart for one person.
The job of the teacher is not making one read a given text. It showing the options, teaching how to make the choice, giving familiarity with the shelves, making them search (this is the hardest thing, students are lazy, confortably waiting for a list to buy in amazon), pointing there is lower and darker corners (The given teacher still can suggest any book, the kids will have the option to read)...
It is not making kids read Moby Dick unwillingly that will make then avoid what is trent and popular, they will just hate Moby in group and pick what marketing tell them to pick when they turn 25 years and have no addult to tell them what to read, no teacher to phone call...
After all, who here does not read something crap? Who didnt willingly picked a crap comic book, a captain underpants, a watever? I am sure, back in 1984 my reading list was only filled with Dostoievisky, Dante, Poe, Melville...


message 15: by Patrick, The Special School Bus Rider (new)

Patrick (horrorshow) | 269 comments Mod
Yeah...That's what I learn in class room management, the inquiry method. And all along I thought that classroom management means potiental teachers have to learn to make the "bull horns" with our hands and grimly said, "When you mess with the bull, you get the horns." to students who are a pain in our asses.


message 16: by Matt, e-monk (last edited Sep 01, 2009 10:13AM) (new)

Matt Comito | 386 comments Mod
Oro shouldnt the teacher serve some gatekeeping or filtering function?

if a teacher selects a 'good' book and fails to inspire the students with it that is a failure to teach

but not all books are created equal and the practice described above creates no room for a conversation about what makes a good book good - and that's a systemic failure


message 17: by João (new)

João Camilo (jcamilo) | 259 comments It is not a teacher failure to inspire people to like a Single book, not all books are written for everyone at that momment. His failure will be if he does not inspire the kids to look after books and not find them something strange. I wonder how the introduction of something strange and unrelated to this, such as Harper Lee will be helpful. Kids are not at this age learning the history of literature.
Anyways, the teacher can give his suggestion, he can also reasons why some books are better or not, or simple, point similar and better books.


message 18: by Bonita (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 120 comments Maybe this is why I’m having trouble identifying with this topic about teachers and books. I can’t remember one teacher in school who inspired me to read any book of literature. I can’t remember any class (until I enrolled in junior college) that taught me the importance of literature and its history. My love for reading originated from home, from a mother who read everything from true story magazines to harlequin romances to classic poetry. To this day, I will find my mom in ‘her corner’ on the loveseat, legs propped up, cuddled with a novel and a cup of coffee each afternoon. She is my storyteller and my motivation behind reading and journaling.


message 19: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Wow. I was really lucky to have some amazing teachers.

I just found out my physics teacher from high school won a national award this year.

I had two fantastic English teachers who taught me for three years in high school.

(My math teachers were slightly less than inspiring.)

My parents read a lot... of spy novels. When I brought home Howl as a teenager I think my mom was worried.

I read a lot as a kid because there was nothing else to do. Literally.


message 20: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Wow. I was really lucky to have some amazing teachers.

I just found out my physics teacher from high school won a national award this year.

I had two fantastic English teachers who taught me for three years in high school.

(My math teachers were slightly less than inspiring.)

My parents read a lot... of spy novels. When I brought home Howl as a teenager I think my mom was worried.

I read a lot as a kid because there was nothing else to do. Literally.


message 21: by João (new)

João Camilo (jcamilo) | 259 comments I am sure those kids are not engaged because for the last 2 centuries the method of teaching have been allowing kids to choose and not choosing for them. We really need to spread the goood news! A new method has developed: Teachers must have a list of classics to make them kids read and stop the anarchy!
The bigger non-sense is trying to defend the imense failure that traditional methology is. It is not like allowing kids to choose will save the world, but the method used and that produced the generations we have now is telling them to read To Kill a Mocking Bird.
For once, the possiblity of success is mininal and picking a book is so arbitrary that is the true laziness. I will not work with kids who read poor books and those need my guidance, i will pretend that they have read classics and tell their families: I did my part!


message 22: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
I must post a retraction, per my mother.

She totally gave me a well deserved smackdown in email!

She reminded me that she read Rudyard Kipling and Carl Sandburg to me all the time. She also tried to read Tale of Two Cities and Mill on the Floss to me, apparently, which didn't go over as well.

She is, after all, the one who gave me The Good Earth when I was 14.

Mea culpa mom. Of course you were, and still are, far more of an influence on my reading habits than my teachers.


message 23: by Carol (new)

Carol (cimiller) Shel wrote: "I must post a retraction, per my mother.

She totally gave me a well deserved smackdown in email!

She reminded me that she read Rudyard Kipling and Carl Sandburg to me all the time. She also trie..."

Well, this is embarrassing. I'm still a bit of a brat and want to believe that I'm this great inspiration to you and your brother. I love it that you had wonderful teachers that encouraged you to experience a broad spectrum of literature and music. I had the same kind of teachers (once upon a time in a galaxy far far away). But, I don't suppose any academic influence would have had such an impact had my parents not instilled in me their love of words and music. Besides, I can't imagine why I would ever have enjoyed a "spy novel"... ;-)



message 24: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Isn't my mom cute, you guys? She's awesome. I wish she would post more!

Anyway. Back to the regularly scheduled programming.


message 25: by Christopher, Swanny (last edited Sep 05, 2009 08:05PM) (new)

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
A couple of things. First, some classics, as difficult as they are, ought to be introduced to students who could handle them for the most part. I didn't like "Moby-Dick" when I was assigned to read it in high school, but I realized it was a strange, powerful book. Ten years later I picked it up again and re-read it, discovering that I loved it--but I wouldn't have done that, in all likelihood, if I hadn't read it before.

That said, I had an English teacher in ninth grade who allowed us to read anything we wanted as an outside book, once every few weeks, and report on it. He wasn't always thrilled with my choices--I was big into Alistair MacLean thrillers--but I liked being able to have some choice.

Now, as a high-school English teacher, I try to do that dance between "getting the kids involved" and "but they need the classics!" One thing we're doing this year with ninth graders is actually reading FEWER books because we're going to spend a lot of time working on writing. Also, the four ninth-grade English teachers couldn't all agree on a book to teach at the end of the year, so we're each going to choose one by Christmas, based on our students' strengths and interests.

I'd also add that some teachers, no matter how good they are, will never get all of their students interested in any one book. I'd be happy if my students read anything regularly, outside of assigned texts. I see that happening less and less.


message 26: by Audra (new)

Audra (audrafreeagain) | 31 comments Personally, I can't see how anyone couldn't enjoy that book. I read it for the first time last year, loved it, and read it to my husband, who loved it. I don't feel it's outdated at all; indeed I found it to be timeless, but nostalgic at the same time...if that makes sense at all.

Let me clarify that I am anything but a wagon-jumper, but this book really impressed me. I seriously doubt that any pre-teen could appreciate it, but they should certainly be exposed to it and it's kind.

I believe Swanny's on the right path considering the increased independence levels and diagnoses of ADD in younger gen's. Keep showing them the good stuff, or else, how will they know the difference?


message 27: by Audra (new)

Audra (audrafreeagain) | 31 comments deleted user wrote: "Isn't it a better idea & more economical to shoot them in the back of the head now and dump the bodies in a landfill? Or perhaps recycle them in the manner of Soylent Green?"

SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!

(sorry...i just find that hilarious, but then....I've had a "few").


message 28: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 102 comments I remember one of my teachers in high school allowed us to pick a book from an approved list. She spent a class period telling us about each book so we could make an informed decision and pick something we were actually excited about. I ended up picking something really difficult for me, I think it was Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, but I really enjoyed it because I felt like I was invested in it.

I also think they should get to choose whatever book they want, as long as they can write a good justification for it.

I can't remember really liking any assigned reading, even though some of those assigned books, like To Kill A Mockingbird are great and I'm sure I would like it today.

One book I think should be retired from schools is The Great Gatsby. Even if you think it's a great book, you gotta admit it's a very outdated and hard to relate to for kids.


message 29: by Bonita (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 120 comments Yep. There's a big difference in attitude toward the story when it comes down to "have to" or "want to." If the students get to choose a book, will that improve what they get out of it? Maybe? On the other hand, I never would have read "A Rose for Emily," "I Want a Wife" or "Where are you going, Where have you been" if it had not been assigned. God bless our teachers. I would be a lousy one and give in too easily.


message 30: by Christopher, Swanny (last edited Jan 10, 2010 08:04AM) (new)

Christopher Swann (christopherswann) | 189 comments Mod
Choosing books for students is pretty interesting. A good teacher can make most any decent text relevant to highly-motivated students. My AP kids see the value in most everything we read, even if at first they're resistant to a particular book (like Grendel, for instance).

Your average high school student is another matter entirely. My 9th-grade girls' class (we have gender-based English classes in 9th grade) loved Speak, which made sense--female freshman narrator who gets drunk at a summer party and subsequently raped by an upperclassman. She calls the cops, who bust the party and thus ensure social pariah status for the narrator when high school starts. But the same students also read The Catcher in the Rye and had very different reactions. A third or so of the students really liked Holden and felt for him. But half of them wrote in an exam essay, given a hypothetical challenge from parents to ban the book from the curriculum, that the book should, in fact, be banned, because Holden could be a bad influence (bad choices and language) and that students couldn't relate to him today. I mean, some of them wrote, high school students don't go casually into nightclubs and order drinks. And would a 16-year-old just wander around ALONE in New York City? I don't think so. God bless them for their innocence. I actually thought about assigning them All About Lulu this spring, but I'm not sure they're ready for Will Miller.

I think giving students a list of books from which to choose is a good idea. It's creating that list that is tough.

And I'd argue against retiring The Great Gatsby. One way good literature gets perpetuated is that students are exposed to it. The trick is to be understanding with students about how a text may be difficult or hard to relate to, and so a good teacher's job is to find those connections. Teenagers can relate to fake (Daisy) or vicious (Tom) people, to the idea of constructing an identity (Gatsby), and to navigating complicated social situations (Nick). If you teach Gatsby in the context of American literature--the American dream and the reality of conspicuous consumption in the 1920s/1980s through early 2000s--students get the major themes of the book. It's like teaching Shakespeare--students immediately go "oh, this is too hard" and so the teacher's job is to demystify Shakespeare, give the students a better handle on the languages (lots of tricks available to do that) and the stage action, and then let them loose. But that's another thread...


message 31: by Ry (new)

Ry (downeyr) | 173 comments Shelby wrote: "I like Captain Underpants, but Diary of a Wimpy Kid is way better.

No. This is NOT a good idea.

"


I have to agree that this is a horrible idea. Maybe my perspective is different because I hope to be a teacher someday, but if 7th and 8th graders are allowed to read something like Captain Underpants, the idea of a teacher seems to kind of be obsolete...suddenly the nerd who runs the town comic book store could teach an 8th grade English class and thats definitely not good. The reason we have teachers is because they are the authorities (or should be the authorities) on what is taught and read in the classroom. No wonder the quality of education seems to be declining.


message 32: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 102 comments I think my other complaint about Gatsby is that I don't find it to be that worthy of "classic" status. Sure, it has perfectly chosen words and complexly layered themes (but many books do). My main complaint is that the whole story revolves around a web of coincidences whereby a certain car happens to run over a person at an opportune moment. It seems a bit contrived to me. Makes for a good story, but the action doesn't feel organic enough to me. I have something against plots that seem to be too convenient like that.


message 33: by Bonita (new)

Bonita (NMBonita) | 120 comments Actually, most detective stories are plotted out, wouldn't you say? They kind of have to be.

I think it's really okay for kids to know the difference between a plotted-classic and a literary classic.



message 34: by Matt, e-monk (last edited Jan 11, 2010 06:43AM) (new)

Matt Comito | 386 comments Mod
Jimmy wrote: "I think my other complaint about Gatsby is that I don't find it to be that worthy of "classic" status. Sure, it has perfectly chosen words and complexly layered themes (but many books do). My main..."

so a crazy peg-legged dude searching through the entirety of the world's oceans for a particular white whale with a chip on it's shoulder probably bothers you too, right?


message 35: by Ry (new)

Ry (downeyr) | 173 comments Matt wrote: "Jimmy wrote: "I think my other complaint about Gatsby is that I don't find it to be that worthy of "classic" status. Sure, it has perfectly chosen words and complexly layered themes (but many book..."

Haha, that was hilarious. Though, I must admit, Gatsby and Moby Dick are a bit different--that being said, I would suggest that both those books be taught in school.



message 36: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 102 comments haha. Yes, I admit, it's probably a personal shortcoming of mine that I can't see the classic-worthiness of The Great Gatsby. Oh well.


message 37: by Greg (last edited Jan 11, 2010 06:24PM) (new)

Greg Ippolito (gregippolito) | 52 comments GATSBY is one of my all-time favorites. That said, if I were King of Pedagogy, I'd remove it from the high school lit curriculum.

More than anything, this story is one about a bunch of thirty-somethings who've been crushed by the weight of the adult world, and who are at the tragic point where they can either transition or be doomed to lifelong misery. No way a teenager gets that. And that's not a slight on teens, nor is it an accusation that the average h.s. English lit teacher isn't prepared to help them make that connection (ahem). It's just the truth.

The decade or so that follows your 21st birthday is one of the most secretly difficult eras of your life...and transitioning out of it is a bitch. (I know quite a few peeps in their mid-30s who still haven't made it.) If you've been there and done it, GATSBY resonates with you. If you haven't (yet), it can't.

Holden Caufield is waaaay more their speed. When I was 16, Catcher blew me away. That same year, I would have agreed with Jimmy about Gatsby -- that it struck me as simplistic and convenient and far-too-well-regarded.

Why force it on those who aren't ready?

-G


message 38: by Andreea (new)

Andreea (andyyy) Jimmy wrote: "I think my other complaint about Gatsby is that I don't find it to be that worthy of "classic" status. Sure, it has perfectly chosen words and complexly layered themes (but many books do). My main complaint is that the whole story revolves around a web of coincidences whereby a certain car happens to run over a person at an opportune moment. It seems a bit contrived to me. Makes for a good story, but the action doesn't feel organic enough to me. I have something against plots that seem to be too convenient like that."
Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby like a Greek tragedy, that's why there are so many coincidences especially towards the end of the book, there simply had to be. Actually, I think comparing Oedipus Rex with The Great Gatsby would be an interesting way to teach the novel.

I'm a bit against this whole age-appropriate books policy. I read The Catcher in the Rye in middle school and liked it then, but by the time I entered high school I had moved on to other kinds of books. I know I'm probably not the average student, but then I don't think most students are the average student either. Most of them would gladly read Gatsby and relate to the characters if it were presented to them in an interesting enough light.

Also I'm in favor of teaching more short-stories instead of so many novels, they're not only easier to read and discuss, but teaching them takes less time. Even the most exciting novel gets boring after discussing it for a few weeks.


message 39: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 102 comments It's not just age appropriate selection... it's experience-appropriate selection. I'm sure a small minority of teens could appreciate Gatsby for its sentence structure and lyricism. But for that big bang, it has to resonate something deeper. It's not about craft, it's about impact. I'm not saying craft doesn't matter, but the resonance with experience/subject matter must come first, then it's up to the craft of the story (references to Oedipus Rex, etc.) to take over and really carry it home. That said, without the craft, the subject is useless as well.

Why have them read something they can't relate to based on their minimal experience? I can understand it if we only had 3 great novels. But the English language has produced thousands of masterpieces, most of them under-read and under-appreciated. Given the choice, I'd say go with something equally brilliant and strikes more of a nerve for younger people.

In response to Greg, I re-read Gatsby last year (I'm 32, I was 31 or maybe 30 when I re-read Gatsby). I definitely know what you're talking about when you talk about transitioning out of your twenties. Yes, it's a bitch. Still, I did not enjoy Gatsby. *shrug*. I can appreciate it from a very distant objective perspective, good craft, etc. But it doesn't do anything for me. Doesn't make my palms sweat or anything.


message 40: by Ry (new)

Ry (downeyr) | 173 comments Jimmy wrote: "It's not just age appropriate selection... it's experience-appropriate selection. I'm sure a small minority of teens could appreciate Gatsby for its sentence structure and lyricism. But for that ..."

It's interesting what you say about experience-appropriate selection, Jimmy. In addition to this, I think it also depends on how its taught. For example, a teacher I know was forced to teach Gatsby to a predominantly African-American class. So what she did was take the Great Gatsby and teach the kids about the Harlem Renaissance at the same time. They discussed the inequalities of race, class, wealth, and a bunch of other things through the initial lens of the Great Gatsby and it worked out great.




message 41: by Matt, e-monk (last edited Jan 12, 2010 06:12PM) (new)

Matt Comito | 386 comments Mod
re the phrase 'experience-appropriate' - I understand literature to be all about expanding what is 'appropriate' or familiar - the great books (and not so great books) introduce us to new experience when we may have no idea of what it can mean and then these works help us frame that experience with meaning - stretching and pushing is difficult and painful

that seems the point - the experience range of the average 15 year old is probably closer to Dav Pilkey than it is to Captain Ahab - the idea is to point outward and upward towards what is possible and what is beyond

seems to me


message 42: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
well said, matt.


message 43: by Ry (new)

Ry (downeyr) | 173 comments Patty wrote: "well said, matt."

Agreed.


message 44: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
I kept thinking about the "experience-appropriate" idea this morning. Even if it were a good idea, which I don't think it is, it's problematic. It assumes that at any given grade/age level, students in any given classroom will have had a similar set of experiences. I don't teach any more, but I doubt that much has changed in the last fifteen years. Unless we are talking about private schools, any given classroom will have a pretty wide variety of students with an incredibly wide variety of experiences.

It also presumes that relating to characters is of utmost importance, which I'd also have to take issue with.

w/r/t Gatsby, I hate to offend, but I think most people who think it's a great novel think so for nostalgic reasons, not because of the quality of the novel. My own main issue with assigning it to high school students is that it isn't challenging enough.


message 45: by Andreea (last edited Jan 13, 2010 10:15AM) (new)

Andreea (andyyy) Patty wrote: "w/r/t Gatsby, I hate to offend, but I think most people who think it's a great novel think so for nostalgic reasons, not because of the quality of the novel. My own main issue with assigning it to high school students is that it isn't challenging enough."

Not challenging enough from what perspective?


message 46: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy (jimmylorunning) | 102 comments 1. Agreed, students experiences are all different. But different within a range. You're probably not going to find many teens who have experienced upper middle class mid-life ennui. Just sayin!

2. Agreed, that reading should expand experience, not echo what they already know. However, there's a difference between taking what they already know, and moving it 2 steps into this unknown territory... as opposed to moving it 50 steps into unknown territory. I think it's too much of a shift, and maybe a few students would fall in love with it, but do we teach to a few or do we try to connect to a majority and try to change as many people's lives for the better as possible?

3. Relating to the characters IS of utmost importance...unless you are an experienced critical reader. At a young age, I think we should emphasize critical reading skills, but at the same time, what's wrong with a little character identification if it makes the pill easier to swallow? I don't know about you, but when I was a teenager, I wanted to read books where I could relate to the characters, so that I could personally learn about what the hell I was doing on this earth.


message 47: by Matt, e-monk (last edited Jan 26, 2010 11:17AM) (new)

Matt Comito | 386 comments Mod
Gatsby features posers, social climbers, and awkward friendships brought about by proximity and not much else - what's more highschool than that? it's like the breakfast club but with flappers


message 48: by Micha (new)

Micha (selective_narcoleptic) | 92 comments I think it could have potential, although if I were a teacher I would only do this with a one-a few assisgnments, or make it on-going, because there are some really good books out there that students would never have read on there own (like "Catcher in the Rye," for example or "Walden"). I mean I read some pretty tough books at that age for my range, but if I have to pick all my own, I would definitely have added some in that were completely untraditional, some of which would be fluffy as well.
I don't know many that would read Moby Dick, but I can think of a few who would read The Odyssey.




message 49: by Ry (new)

Ry (downeyr) | 173 comments Matt wrote: "Gatsby features posers, social climbers, and awkward friendships brought about by proximity and not much else - what's more highschool than that? it's like the breakfast club but with flappers"

Matt, you consistently come up with pithy replies that contain really good points. You've definitely convinced me that Gatsby is just all right.




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