17th Century New England, with special emphasis on the Salem Witchcraft Trials

Fan Mail from Teachers

I have been very gratified to hear from teachers who have taken the time to write to me about my site, and now that I have a fair number of these emails, I thought I'd post a few here, especially so students can read what their teachers have to say about my Fact & Fiction page and my infamous FAQ. I will only identify the writers here by initials and state (if I know it). I love these emails!

Thank you for a great, informative article about the accuracy and inaccuracy of The Crucible. So much of what comes with our textbooks heralds the play as historically accurate, etc. The textbook our county has adopted for next year has actually moved The Crucible to the section of the book with Puritan writing (Houghton Miflin Harcourt).

--L.S., Alabama

I just wanted to take a moment to tell you that I think you must be a delightful person: erudite, puckish, and unwilling to suffer fools gladly. I assigned the aforementioned Web page to my students as homework (with proper attribution!), and I think they'll really enjoy reading about the striking discrepancies between history as revealed through primary sources and Miller's literary work. I anticipate some lively discussions on a number of the questions you raise.

I teach both English and history, so I feel like I have dogs in both hunts, so to speak; and I think you draw useful distinctions between historical truth and its literary cousin. Please don't let the Internet's slavering, illiterate hordes tell you any different.


--J.D., New Jersey

First, let me thank you for your comprehensive site. It greatly helped me educate my students about historical fiction by demonstrating the elements of The Crucible that Arthur Miller based on real events/people and those he changed or embellished for literary purposes.

Second, I'm not sure if you are aware of this, but a blatantly plagiarized version of your fact and fiction page is hosted by [school name withheld] Senior High School in [state withheld]: [url withheld]. One of my students found it while doing research for the paper he wrote for my class and wanted me to share that information with you. I practice a strict "no plagiarism" policy in my classroom, and I am troubled to see that [school name withheld] doesn't even bother to give you credit (let alone that they copied your words verbatim)!

Thank you, again, for providing such a valuable resource for me and my students.

P.S. [name withheld] (cc:) is listed as the principal of [school name withheld] on the school's Web site.

--K.G., California

I just finished reading your FAQ page and was deeply saddened, but not surprised, by the kinds of comments you have received. I'm very alarmed by the anti-intellectual meme that seems to be replicating among the populace. I'm currently near the end of teaching my first complete unit of The Crucible as a student teacher and I found your list of historical inaccuracies illuminating. In the interest of the story, I think Miller made the correct choices, though I share your concern about how Hollywoodized history affects people's perceptions. I just wanted to let you know that you've helped me teach a better unit to my junior classes. Thank you.

--S.S., Nebraska

I just wanted to drop you a line to say thanks for the great information on your site. Well, I actually want to thank you for being very blunt and honest about the need for kids to do their own work and realize that you are an historian and not a literary critic.

It's so bizarre that even though you say not to probably 15 times on your "Picky, Picky, Picky" page, these people still email you about Arthur Miller. I suppose I found myself relating to you rather well, because your FAQ page had me practically in tears; it was SO funny. Especially that last bit with the hate mail in it. You get to say all the things I wish we HS teachers could say. If we hurt their feelings, we get lynched. <sigh>

I wish you all the best and continued success in your career. Thanks again for the great info. I find the historical background/truth behind the literature to be so important for helping the kids understand why authors do what they do.

--M.B., Virginia

I wouldn't be surprised if you never read this, but I wanted to thank you for your Fact & Fiction Page. First, it is refreshing to read a web site that has good, solid, historically accurate information. Second, I laughed and laughed and laughed at your FAQ's. As an English teacher of high school honor students, I support you, encourage you, admire you, and am, again, grateful for such honesty! I will recommend my colleagues read your page, not just for the laughs, but for the information. While most of this is available at other sites, yours puts it all together for us (who are preparing our students to do literary criticism and see the differences between fact and fiction in literature).

Thanks again

--B.D., Maryland

I would just like to say thank you for taking a stand against plagiarism and student laziness. As a teacher of Junior English, and thus The Crucible (which for the record, I personally think is an awesome drama), I felt like cheering as I read your repeated admonitions of students seeking to copy your work or have someone else do the work for them. I will continue to use your site in my classes for its succinct factual info, as well as for your unapologetic refusal to help students cheat.

--L.B., Tennessee

As a high school teacher of American Literature, I wanted to write you a quick email to say thank you for being on the teacher's side! Your website is informative and has just made it onto a list of resources for my students who are beginning "The Crucible" this week. I'm also stealing some of your lesson plans. I really, really appreciate your goal of encouraging students to find their own answers. (Sometimes I want to whack them on the back of the head with the spoon they expect me to use to feed them what they should be learning on their own.) Thanks for keeping your site up-to-date and chock-full of good information!

Thanks again!

P.S. You're right...the "flames" on your FAQ were a hoot. Should any of my students have the nerve to write, I hope to high heaven they don't sound like such idiots.

--J.S., unknown

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the site. OK--I got there via The Crucible, but forgive me for bringing that up. I'm a high school English teacher who has taught the play many times, and recently I was asked by a colleague who is directing our students in a production to be the "dramaturg" and come to talk to them about, among many other things, the background to the play. Realizing I hadn't read any historical background since 1989, I thought I'd google to find some sources to check and presto!, there you were.

I love your devotion to your work, your humor, your sense of honor. I'm glad you're telling the truth about reading, analyzing literature, studying, avoiding plagiarism, and all the other important truths we teachers try to communicate day by day. Your answers are witty and uncompromising in the FAQ section. The questions you raise at the end of your list of inaccuracies are thoughtful and worth pondering. You are one smart cookie, and a credit to the profession of professing. I await the publication of your novel eagerly.

Once again thanks.

--P.H., New Jersey

Thank you for your website and the bit about teachers knowing when they have plagiarized. I also LOVE the questions at the bottom of the page. They show that you truly know who your audience is (HS juniors) and what they are looking for. These are truly thought provoking questions.

--J.B., Michigan

I just wanted to give you a quick thank-you for letting me use your (much detested?) fact/fiction page as a handout (you give your name on the page, and I reproduce it with headers and footers so the address, title, and date are distributed as well). It is so hard to make my students aware of the wide chasm between history and entertainment (T.V. says so...must be true...);your page provides the necessary information in a very concise format. Thanks again.

p.s. Your sarcasm is humorous and necessary.

p.p.s. Your first example from the mailbag strikes me with a disturbing mix of awe, humor, and fright.

--J.L., California

As a school teacher and former New Englander, I found your site fascinating. I think you are witty. People who have never lived in Massachusetts don't understand that you are not sarcastic. We just don't have patience for the illiterate. Don't stop trying to inform the youth of America. Some of them are listening.

--A.M., unknown

I love your site! And, of course, because I'm, hmm, how shall I put this, older and wiser, I don't find the tone of your FAQ arrogant at all. In fact, I'm extremely disappointed that so many young people today have the nerve to expect academic and intellectual success handed to them on a silver platter.

I will be using your Fact & Fiction page as a handout tomorrow so that we can delve deeper into the "why" and "where" of Arthur Miller's artistic license.

Thanks for the valuable work

--A.B., Florida

This is the second year I've used your site as a reference for my American Literature students, and I'm *very* appreciative of the insights you've provided. It's a brilliant work! I love trolling around the site and connecting to the links, which are amazingly extensive. I can't begin to imagine the hours of work put into this. it's quite a monument to your dedication and intelligence that you're willing to put this all at peoples' fingertips. I sincerely thank you!

Speaking of your willingness to share, it's a shame that your generosity with years of work is viewed so cavalierly, or even insultingly. I actually wish I weren't amused by the mailbag comments. It's blindingly obvious what your point is, yet even my students, who are supposed to be very bright (everyone *tells* them that they are... and indeed, some of them are) failed to miss the humor and the vindication in your responses. I guess I really need to have them revisit the literary concept of *tone*. I thought you were marvelously mild with those fools....

Best of luck to you in your studies and book writing. Again, much appreciation for all your hard work!

With warmest collegial regards,

--J.N., unknown

You are one brave woman. I have been sitting here chuckling at your responses to desperate students, nodding my head at your advice to do their own work, and reading the various bits of advice about the limits of the web in doing research, and thinking, YES. I teach American Lit at a little high school (190 kids grade 10-12) where we have no actual library, but the kids do have access to the city library. The students persist in relying on the web for almost everything they need to find out, and I am at my wits' end to get them to look in a book.. I do require real books as some of the resources in our research papers, and some kids do go to the library. I know of none of them who have ever tried to contact experts in the field - do you think high school kids actually attempt to contact real experts for material? They really do not have much time, I suppose, but your advice was right on. I did not see your responses as arrogant, just as expressive of irritation at being asked the same stupid questions repeatedly. I enjoyed the tone of your responses, but I like Ben Franklin's little essay about exporting felons to the new world, Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" and Dave Barry when he criticizes others. I also read your essay about the differences between Miller's play and the historical facts, and I thank you for putting so much material on the web. I have more of your pages to look at, but I thank you now before the impulse dies away.

--C.B., unknown

Thanks for posting your research on the historical accuracy (or inaccuracy) of The Crucible. As a high school English teacher, I am finding it helpful in my classroom. Thanks also for posting the crazy emails you have gotten on your FAQ page. They were hilarious! It is hard to take a critique seriously when it is written in IM format (cos), misspelled and without any punctuation. I noticed that most of them spelled their curse words correctly though (sigh!) At least it is a sign of my job security (good, bad, and unsavory!). Thank you also for the stand you make on plagiarism, it is a well needed lesson for students today.

Thanks again and have a great day!

--S.S., Texas

Thank you so much for your website! I am an English teacher and this year I taught The Crucible for the first time. Your site is not only informative but also user-friendly. I was wondering if I may reproduce the Fact & Fiction page in the form of a handout for my students, provided that I credit you and your site as the source in the form of MLA documentation on the handout. I have had problems with students plagiarizing and I do my best to demonstrate to them how to properly use and credit the work of others.

Thank you again!

--K.C., New York

Thanks for creating such a comprehensive and sound website. It is a great help to me now, since I'm a new high school English teacher. We're studying The Crucible, and until I found your site, I was really wishing I had some of the info you provide on the real stories and facts. Your info will provide the truthful balance I was hoping to present to my students. Since I'm not a big fan of this play's biases and political motivations, I feel relieved to have some facts to offer the students.

--S.L., California

I've been teaching The Crucible, and I'd just like to thank you for your web pages on the Miller play and your FAQs - fun and interesting to read. Your questions at the end of Picky picky picky were particularly useful and thought-provoking. Please don't be deterred by the nutters.

Best Wishes

--Z.C., Belgium

I see that you have plenty of teacher fan mail already, but I thought I'd add a little bit anyway. I came across your page while searching for project ideas for my juniors, and I got wrapped up in your history lesson and then your FAQ's. I can't wait to put your facts to use in my classroom and send my kids out researching away their Winter Break. Even though I can't get away with all of your snappy comebacks (at least not publicly), I can put them to work and force them to do a little thinking for themselves. Thanks for the inspiration, and keep up the good work.

BTW - I love the critiquing of language and mechanics in your hate mail. As a yearbook adviser, it makes my day to see someone else who notices those things :-)

All the best,

--L.F., Florida

Many thanks for taking the time to share your work with us. Reading the replies to your efforts confirms in me once more that civilization as we know it may be coming to an end with a whimper.

Searching for the truth with an open mind is now equated with arrogance. But, then, I guess Socrates discovered that many centuries ago.


--K.F., New York

Wow! I am a English teacher in Los Angeles and I have been using your site to help teach the difference between factual history and dramatic interpretations of history. It is a wonderful site - thank you for all of your hard work in putting it together and maintaining it. Just the other day, I began reading the comments people had sent in. I had to laugh at (and sympathize with you about) the pathetic e-mails from people insulting you. I have been reading them to my students to show just how silly and stupid (ooh, there's that word teachers are not supposed to use) people can be. I think the favorite one was from the actor who said you didn't help him at all. My students couldn't believe he would write it given that you say repeatedly on your site how you're a historian. Thanks for posting.

I just wanted to write and say thank you. Your site was a huge time-saver for me. As you so eloquently pointed out, everything you documented can be found with a little research. But as a public school teacher trying to find new ways to relate to his students, who always has the time. I was able to use your site as a resource, a guide and a great starting point for my students to do their own research. (Funny note - you mention in the FAQs how to cite you. I had an identical handout that I had given my students - but only after seeing your site did they believe me.)

So here's one more for your collection of e-mails from teachers who love the site. Much thanks,

--R.L., California

I am an American Lit. teacher who has been teaching The Crucible for many years. I have already taught it this school year, but while my students are in the ELA lab this week I have been surfing the net for new and fresher ideas. I came upon your site again and decided to read the FAQs. They are hilarious! They remind me so much of my students. It is always interesting to note that most times the honor, advanced, and AP students are the ones looking for something to be done for them or given to them. It is as though they do not understand the concept of using resources or finding resources to use. They make me feel as though I am the only resource available to them. Thanks again for the laughs! Continued success on your quest for fact and truth.

--P.C., Louisiana

Once again, thank you for updating this site and keeping it on the web.  It's been very useful for me as a teacher in knowing where to begin pointing out to my students the difference between history and historical fiction.

Best Regards,

--L.W., Kansas


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This page was last updated 04/08/13 by Margo Burns, My email address.