Laura Walhof
Glenbrook South High School
Glenview, Illinois

The course and students

High school regular level students using the ACS published ChemCom course. I used the book during unit 6 on air to tie together ideas that we had discussed throughout the year on resources and their use by people.

Why Ishmael?

Ishmael presents a rather unpopular view among suburban teenagers in a way which makes them start to think about how they use and use up different resources.

Class activity

We kept a journal throughout the time we were reading, and at the end, we combined our journal entries to make a letter to a fictitious company president who had just finished Ishmael and was hoping to change some of the company policies to be more in line with Ishmael’s teachings. Then, the students had to answer their own letter as the company president.

These were the questions they could write about:

Ishmael Journal Questions

Chapter 1

  • How are people like severed fingers from a hand?
  • How are people not like severed fingers from a hand?
  • What does it mean for a teacher to fail?
  • How is being a captive similar to being lied to?
  • Why is it important that Ishmael’s student have no one he considers a friend?

Chapter 2

  • How are you held captive?
  • What vocabulary, maps, and definitions would you pack in a bag to tell your story?
  • In your own words, tell the story (or myth) that our culture believes which integrates man, the world, and the gods.

Chapter 3

  • If the earth is made for humans, what does that mean about how or how much of the earth’s resources humans are free to use?
  • How and why does the creation myth change by assuming there is a divine agency?

Chapter 4

  • Why is the student frozen up inside? What does that mean? Why is Ishmael sorry for him? Is there evidence to suggest that he is or is not actually “frozen up inside”?
  • In what ways do people act like enemies of the world? In what ways do people NOT act as enemies of the world?

Chapter 5

  • What do you think makes people mess up the planet on which they live? Is there a fundamental human flaw? If so, what is it?
  • What does Ishmael mean when he says, “the world of thought is coterminous with your culture”?

Chapter 6

  • The student says nothing when Ishmael asserts that there is a knowledge to be gained about how we ought to live. What would you say?
  • Ishmael and the student talk about organizing things on a macroscopic level and on a biological level. What do they mean, and how are the two ways of organizing things related?
  • If you were a survivor of the crash at the end of the “Taker Thunderbolt’s” free fall flight, what aspects of this civilization would you keep?

Chapter 7

  • How is the society of A’s, B’s, and C’s like our own? How is it like a Leaver society?
  • What questions do you have for Ishmael?

Chapter 8

  • Is there reason to believe that we are causing our civilization to fail and our species to become extinct, but that the Earth’s other species will go on or not?
  • How is the Taker story fundamentally “unhealthy and unsatisfying” as Ishmael says? What does it promote among Takers?

Chapter 9

  • What is the relationship between the Takers being rulers of the world, the knowledge of who shall live and who shall die, the knowledge of good and evil, and the agricultural revolution?
  • What benefits to us or to the world does the agricultural lifestyle have over the hunter/gatherer lifestyle?

Chapter 10

  • What are the motivations for the student to find Ishmael and not become failure #5? What are the motivations for Ishmael?
  • Why does Ishmael not care to explore the field of studies of gorillas?
  • What evidence do you see in our culture that we value knowledge about what works well for things rather than knowledge about what works well for people? Which kind of knowledge does Ishmael call wisdom? What do you think?

Chapter 11

  • What are some of the least detestable aspects of Leaver society?
  • How would you answer Ishmael when he asks, “Well, are we making progress”?

Chapter 12

  • Describe the world if humans adopt a new story as the student sees it starting where he left off.

Chapter 13

  • How does this book apply to us? our lives? our class? your life in particular?


Ishmael Journal Assignment

When you hand in your Ishmael paper, hand in this sheet with it. For the paper, you should have written 14 journals. The first was on the sheet of paper you used in the Math Lab when you did the world wide web activity on Ishmael. The other 13 you wrote for each chapter. For this assignment, choose 10 of these responses, and combine them in any order to write a letter to a chemical company president about the company’s environmental practices. You may assume the company president has read the book, and is trying to find ways to implement some of Ishmael¹s ideas into the company policy. Some of your paragraphs will have direct suggestions for the president, and some will have reasoning for why the company should do what you say. You may wish to combine some of your paragraphs to make the paper more readable. You also may want to revise some of your original ideas as you put them together. Make up a company name and a president’s name. Think carefully about what names you use, just as Daniel Quinn thought carefully about the names he used in the book.

Criterion Points
greeting/closing 0 2 4 6 8 10
introduction/conclusion 0 2 4 6 8 10
includes 10 journal questions 0 2 4 6 8 10
includes suggestions for company 0 2 4 6 8 10
writes grammatically/spells correctly 0 2 4 6 8 10
information accurate 0 2 4 6 8 10
references specific items in book 0 2 4 6 8 10
logical order of information 0 2 4 6 8 10
includes personal thoughts/opinions 0 2 4 6 8 10

Total Grade ___________/100

Student response

Students either liked the book or didn’t like it. Very few thought that it was inappropriate for a chemistry class. All said that they learned something from it. Many were surprised at the large vocabulary of a gorilla.

Other Information

Here is the www activity which I use to start the whole project.

World Wide Web Sites: Intro to Ishmael

In order to search very current information and opinions, we will use the World Wide Web to gather news about the next book we will read together, called Ishmael.

Please start where this worksheet directs you, but feel free to move about to find new information. You will run into places where you can post your opinion. Please do not do so. You are not authorized to send anything across the internet except search words.

  1. First, you will need to open Netscape by double clicking on the icon. This is the software program that allows us to sit at GBS and “surf” the web all over the world.
  2. Now, you should see a “Welcome to Netscape” screen. The first thing you will probably want to do is pull down the File menu to “Open Location”. This allows you to type in a URL, or address, you would like to look at. Use these addresses first, then do your own search, or follow the leads that you find on these pages. Your goal should be to answer the questions on the bottom of this page.
  3. Ishmael runs a newspaper ad which says: TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person. How would you answer?
  4. How would you summarize your main ideas in a single sentence? What is your basic belief? How does it compare to Ishmael¹s?
  5. What do you think of the phrase, “If the student is ready, a teacher will appear”?