Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Classy Movie About Education: No, Not That Superman Film

The Class is one of the best movies I have ever seen about school. No heroic teacher fighting against a stupid principal or evil colleague; no dramatic turning points or tragic deaths or standing ovations. Instead, we see one young but experienced teacher doing his best, day in and day out, with a group of adolescents, urban kids who are all “French” but whose families come from all over the world (including Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean). We see normal assignments and class activities: conjugating verbs, listing vocabulary words from the text, reading The Diary of Anne Frank aloud in class, writing self-portraits. A few of the students are quiet, hard-working teacher- and parent-pleasers; a few are surly and rebellious; others spar with the teacher and their classmates but know when to pull back and avoid the most severe penalties. In the teachers’ lounge, we see quiet conversations about troubled students; we witness a teacher melt down from frustration while everyone quietly listens and watches, empathizing and knowing that could be them (and the teacher recovers and keeps on teaching); we see teachers exchange ideas. We see faculty meetings and disciplinary board meetings and calm but serious conversations with the principal. And this principal, by the way, is neither a bold idealist nor a power-hungry authoritarian. He quietly goes about his job, mediating among his staff and between teachers and students. The film has a documentary feel, yet is artistically made.

Because of all these virtues, the film has many telling moments that could fuel important discussions among teachers, students, and both supporters and critics of modern schools. Those aware of the tremendous language and cultural diversity in our modern schools would find many emblematic scenes: the Chinese boy who does well in school and earns all the teachers’ respect, but whose French is still weak; the students who argue with their teacher about what to them seem overly formal, archaic speech forms—and it is difficult not to sympathize with them even while understanding the teacher’s rather vague explanation about different registers and knowing intuitively when to use which language form. The students argue with the teacher and among themselves about their cultural identity: are they French? Are their loyalties primarily to their home countries? And why do their teachers seem so culturally and linguistically different from them? Will that change in the near future, or will there always be a cultural gap between educators and their students, especially in tough urban (and rural) schools?

We empathize with the teacher, Mr. Marin; we respect his firm authority in the classroom but also his willingness to engage in dialogue with his students, not as an equal but as a fairly open-minded elder. Yet we also see his weaknesses, which may result from his strengths. In his back-and-forth with the students he sometimes slips and crosses the line into unprofessional teasing, sarcasm, even insult. He occasionally hurts, perhaps even humiliates a student, but among other faculty tries to stand up for students with even the most challenging behavior problems.
The final classroom scene will amuse, provoke, and sadden anyone who has ever taught, and anyone who ponders the dilemma of schooling. (SPOILER ALERT) Mr. Marin asks the students what they have learned in school that year. One student says, “Nothing,” and speaks scornfully of the school curriculum. When Mr. Marin challenges her, saying that surely she learned something from her personal reading, she admits she has, and he asks for an example of something she read on her own. “The Republic,” she answers. It was a book her older sister had from college, and she read it. When all the other students have left, however, one quiet young woman approaches Marin’s desk. “I didn’t learn anything,” she says mournfully. “I don’t want to have to go to vocational school.” Nothing Marin says to reassure her convinces her—or him, or us—that she can avoid that fate, or that we can feel good about her sense of abandonment and failure.

Go see this film, and then talk about it with others. And find out what you can do to change things for young people where you live.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Change We Can't Believe In

I voted for Barack Obama, and I think many of those who criticize him are guilty of slander, distortion, hyperbole, and utter stupidity. He is not a socialist or a "leftist," and he was born in the U.S. (and even if he wasn't, I don't care). But as a "progressive" myself, one who believes in the full implications of the Bill of Rights and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, I cannot help but be disappointed by President Obama and his administration. Perhaps he is a lot like Pres. Lincoln, who frustrated the radical abolitionists (among others). Will he finally rise to the occasion and issue an Emancipation Proclamation to the people chained to Big Money and Big War? Will he free us from Big Insurance and Big Medicine? What about Big Pollution and Big Waste? We are in so many ways--if not enslaved, then bound by indentured servitude.

So no, I don't see the great changes we were promised. The Democrats' chant seems to be "No we can't," and the Republicans' chant is "No you won't." (Disclaimer: I belong to the Green Party; a pox on both the major parties' houses.) Republicans (who really are a disgrace to Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and even Dwight Eisenhower) lambaste "judicial activists." Fine, let judges carefully weigh the merits of each case and rule by the law. But for the system to work, someone has to be an activist!! So can we have some congressional activists, please? What's their excuse? (We won't be representing our district. Nonsense: you don't really know what most people think or need. We won't get re-elected. Try standing up for the common people and telling the truth for a change, and see what happens. If you lose the next election, at least you won't lose your integrity and self-respect.)

And what's wrong with we the people? Are we really going to fall for all this Tea Party nonsense? The original tea party was about taxation without representation, wasn't it? But nowadays, tea partiers seem to despise taxation with representation; they don't just oppose an oppressive colonial government, they oppose any kind of government. But please, don't stop sending my Social Security checks, or paying my Medicare bills. And I would like my roads paved and potholes filled, and I would like the bus to stop near my house. And I'd like the police to protect me, and the firefighters to protect me from those dangers. I want free public schools (that includes charter schools, by the way, which depend on tax money, too).

I just don't want to pay for any of it.

Let's save that topic for tomorrow's post.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Desperation on the Campaign Trail

McCain and Palin have resorted to the most outlandish accusations, baseless and absurd. Their true believers go along with this circus, but I hope no independent, thinking person buys this garbage. A couple of years ago, John McCain and Barack Obama could easily have cooperated on certain pieces of legislation, or at least had a civil disagreement. Now McCain accuses Obama of "socialism," as though we were living in the 1950s, afraid of the Red bogeyman. Obama is about as socialist as Alan Greenspan! His rhetoric, his proposals, his record are all mainstream, moderate, and no more "socialist" than anything or anyone else in the US. Is Medicare or Medicaid socialist? Are farm subsidies socialist? Is the bailout socialist? Is McCain's proposal to buy up bad mortgages and refinance them for the homeowners socialist? Is Social Security socialist? Come on, Sen. McCain.

Many right-wing radio hosts and Republican operatives (including some in this state) accuse Obama of being the "most liberal" Presidential candidate in this country's history. That is a patent lie, and no one who knows the slightest bit of history could say that with a straight face. These people don't even believe it themselves, trust me: they simply hope that throwing around these labels will scare people. They don't have a leg to stand on. Their party is bankrupt. George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Republican administration in general have finally exposed the GOP as the Greedy Oligarchic Party, the party of utter corporate buyouts and sleaze, the party of aggressive wars on false pretexts. (And yes, there have been Democratic Presidents and legislators guilty of those same sins. But the Democratic Party still has enough true believers, enough true progressives, to not be entirely coated with those stains.)

Now we have Sarah Palin accusing Obama of "palling around with terrorists." Why doesn't she accuse George Bush of palling around with terrorist financiers (his buddies in Saudia Arabia)? Why doesn't she accuse John McCain of palling around with lobbyists (he does and has) and beer heiresses? It's all about as relevant and true, maybe more so in fact. Who cares that Obama served on a board with Bill Ayers or had a conversation with him? Bill Ayers, like many former 60s radicals, is nowadays a fully-integrated member of mainstream American society.

And Palin is even more absurd when she speaks of being in "pro American states" and says that in this campaign, Christianity and religion have been mocked. Again, Obama has far more evidence of being an observant, dedicated Christian church-goer than McCain, and he's more in the mainstream of US religious thought and practice than Gov. Palin.

Tell me now, anyone who is still undecided about whom to vote for this November: would you really go to bed confident and secure knowing that Sarah Palin was a heartbeat away from the Presidency? This candidate has little relevant experience, a record of erratic and somewhat fringe behavior, and no demonstrated ability to speak or think for herself on any of the major issues that we face as a nation and a world. If she is informed or intelligent, she is doing a good job of disguising it. After all, her declared constituency is labelled by her as a beer-swizzling ignoramus who probably argues loudly about politics at the bar or the tailgate party and then half the time doesn't even remember to vote. Joe Six Pack is not what our Founding Fathers envisioned as the noble American citizen. Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt or Franklin Roosevelt or Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy or Dwight Eisenhower addressing "Joe Sixpack"?

If McCain-Palin win this election, I will wash my hands of this American experiment and begin looking for jobs in Canada, Europe . . . or perhaps China, the biggest bank of them all.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bailout? Yes, we're bailing.

So here we are in the absurdist theatre called 2008. House Republicans who worship the "free market" capitalism that we never had join forces with House Democrats who are skeptical of the Bush Presidency and its support of wealthy malefactors--and both groups are listening to their angry constituents. Finally! Haven't those constituents been trying to tell them for a couple of years now that they disapprove of a foolish, wasteful war; that they want health insurance; that they want politicians to quit meddling with their private lives; that they want everyday people to receive as much attention from their government as millionaires?

Now I wonder if those angry people on the phones will vote out the representatives with their tin ears, those fawning servants of the powerful and wealthy? Will there finally be a mass rejection of incumbents? But in how many districts will there be a good choice? You know my inclination: open up our electoral system to third parties. Create a truly democratic process. For now, all I can suggest is for voters to look past flag pins, fear-mongering, and slick advertising and to examine what candidates say about real issues. Good luck finding a candidate who understands those issues and offers fresh ideas or shows a willingness to stand up for all of us, and for our planet. Whomever we elect, we'd better keep watching them come January. Don't wait for the next crisis to get on the phone or write those letters, or stand in those protest lines.

After eight years of incompetent, secretive, arrogant, corrupt government, don't expect overnight change. It may take another eight years to begin undoing the damage wreaked not only by the Bush administration and four foolish Congresses, but also by the Clinton and Gingrich administration, and Poppa Bush, and the Republican wolf-in-saint's-clothing Ronald Reagan. Remember those flawed but intelligent and principled leaders we once had, including the much-maligned Jimmy Carter (who gets smarter and more courageous every year, unlike John McCain), the tragic Lyndon Johnson (still a better President overall than anyone we've seen lately), the promising John F. Kennedy, the cautious but insightful Dwight Eisenhower, the fiery Harry S. Truman, and the Happy Warrior, FDR, God bless him?

I don't agree with many things that those Presidents did, and our country made many serious missteps during all those decades. But we also established programs for the poor, the middle class, the workers and the farmers; we slowly but surely established rights for all citizens (a basis for such rights in the law, at least); and we struggled to realize the meaning of responsible freedom and to support freedom-loving people around the world. (Usually that support came from non-governmental groups and individuals, not from our fumbling government with its tendency to crawl into bed with dictators.)

The best way to celebrate the values enshrined in our Constitution and to realize the highest potential of humanity is to investigate our history and our present situation with skeptical, critical minds. We must stop letting powerful people and corporations manipulate us. We must stop being Pavlov's dogs, salivating at the sound of the national anthem, blindly saluting those who wear the flag without honoring it, snarling in fear when demagogues wave bloody hunks of meat in front of our noses, telling us "sic 'em!" and pointing at scapegoats. All of us who work hard, believe in honesty and fair play, love our families and our country AND our world must band together. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, humanists, Wiccans, and agnostics; Democrats, Republicans, liberarians, Greens, socialists; men and women; black, white, brown, tan, and beige; urban, suburban, exurban, rural; North, South, East, and West. We are one nation, under the Constitution, dedicated to liberty and justice for all.

So, as we bail out our sinking ship of state and race to plug all the holes, let's not be intimidated into putting dishonest, selfish speculators into the lifeboats. Let's call speculation what it is: gambling with other people's money. Let's call excessive interest what it is: usury. Let's call "surges" and "security measures" and "Operation Freedom" what they are: aggression, naked and unprincipled wars. Let's try steering this ship of state together rather than entrusting it to fools and fearmongers and greedy plutocrats.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Internet Lies About Obama

People are spreading absurd nonsense about Obama all over the Internet, and it crops up in some people's conversations and letters to the editor. We must fight this at every step of the way, no matter who we intend to vote for. It debases our political process and poisons people's minds. Fortunately, I think most folks sniff out this stuff for what it is, but people's fears and prejudices can open them up to all kinds of propaganda.

http://www.factcheck.org/mobile/article.php?id=702

Dr. John Tisdale is a dangerous demagogue, clearly. (Below is an email that quotes him and is part of an Internet chain mail. I hesitate to even reprint it but I think we have to expose vermin to the light of day.) To call Obama a "Muslim" is an absurd lie. To misquote him is also devious. This Dr. Tisdale is no follower of Jesus Christ, but rather of the deceiver (also known as Satan). Anyone who talks about Revelation in those terms is nutty. Such interpretations of the Bible have been around forever, and they always point to some great Fear of the interpreter. They are no more reliable than National Enquirer stories on Nostradamus.

Obama is quite right. The U.S. is not "just" a Christian nation. So what? And what's so terrible about Canada or France? The nations in the most turmoil are nations where one religion is too powerful, where religion has political and governmental power. The U.S. is a secular nation, with freedom of religion, and that is what the Founders intended. The right wing Christian fundamentalists who have tried to take over this country (using the foolish Republican Party that has forgotten its roots in Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower) are as dangerous as radical Muslims are to their countries, and radical Hindus to India and Sri Lanka. Our coins say "In God We Trust," not "In Jesus we trust" or "In Christianity we trust."

This shows how desperate people are to defeat Obama. They were also desperate to defeat John Kerry and slimed him with that Swift Boat nonsense. John McCain would not stoop to this level, I'm sure--but some of his supporters probably wink at it, knowing that in a fair and honest contest, he has little chance of winning.

BELOW IS FROM AN EMAIL. PLEASE NOTE THAT IT IS TOTALLY AND UTTERLY BASELESS, DISTORTED, ABSURD. I WILL PUT DISCLAIMERS BELOW EVERY SO OFTEN BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO GIVE THIS ANY CREDENCE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

You have to ask yourself, why would Barack Obama make the statement that
"We are no longer a Christian Nation?" What would be the underlining reasoning
or purpose in making such a proclaimation? Are people asleep?? Did he happen
to forget about all those Christian church steeples out there?

Isn't this an interesting choice of words and an unbelievably bold declaration in
a country and time whose blessings and beliefs were born from Biblical teachings?

What happens when you begin diluting a nation with different languages, different
beliefs, and different ideologies? You get a country that is torn apart and a country
that is divided among itself. In other words: Chaos! Don't be lieve it? Look at Canada.
Look at France. Look at any people that ever promoted more than one language, one belief
system, or one ideology. Read your history books. If people want change from what we have
now, they better think twice!! A divided Republic is a Republic in turmoil!

Do Obama supporters question or even fathom one bit the seriousness of what he is
truly standing for in America? Do they know what kind of "change" he is talking about?

Does anyone know about or understand what kind of martial-law power that a President
has in the event of a major national emergency? Do we want to hand that kind of power
over to a LIBERAL MUSLIM with a questionable record and an extremely liberal and limited
past? A man whose very economic advisors are the red-faced liberal misfits causing
major corporations to fail and leaving taxpayers with the burden to bail them all out?
HELLO, ANYBODY OUT THERE WITH THEIR EYES OPEN?

My head doesn't stop shaking in disbelief at these facts!! It's incredible!

NOTE: THE EMAIL YOU ARE READING IS BY A CRANK, A FANATIC, A DECEPTIVE DISTORTER OF THE TRUTH. I AM NOT ENDORSING IT BUT EXPOSING IT.

Does he want change? Yes, he wants change alright. And we are going to get it if we don't
wake up and start praying.

They say a Democracy goes through a series of "phases" and one day, eventually dies out.
In my country, I don't know about you, but I'm not quite ready to let it go just yet.

Please read below:

AGAIN, READ THIS IN THE CONTEXT OF WHAT I SAID AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS POST AND READ THE FACT CHECK WEBSITE, LINK ABOVE.

Subject: Message From: Dr. John Tisdale


This will make you re-think: A Trivia question in Sunday School:
How long is the beast allowed to have authority in Revelations?

Revelations Chapter 13 tells us it is2042 months, and you know what that is.
Almost a four-year term of a Presidency.

All I can say is 'Lord, Have mercy on us!'

According to The Book of Revelations the anti-Christ is: The anti-Christ will
be a man, in his 40's, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with
persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal....the prophecy says
that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace,
and when he is in power, will destroy everything..

Do we recognize this description??

I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to post this as many times as
you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media outlet..do it!
I refuse to take a chance on this unknown candidate who came out of nowhere.

From: Dr. John Tisdale
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
As I was listening to a news program last night, I watched in horror as Barack Obama made the statement with pride. . .'we are no longer a Christian nation; we are now a nation of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, . . .' As with so many other statements I've heard him (and his wife) make, I never thought I'd see the day that I'd hear20something like that from a presidential candidate in this nation. To think our forefathers fought and died for the right for our nation to be a Christian nation--and to have this man say with pride that we are no longer that. How far this nation has come from what our founding fathers intended it to be.

I hope that each of you will do what I'm doing now--send your concerns, written simply and sincerely, to the Christians on your email list. With God's help, and He is still in control of this nation and all else, we can show this man and the world in November that we are, indeed, still a Christian nation!
Please pray for our nation!

YES, PRAY FOR ANY NATION THAT WOULD LET SUCH LIES AND INSINUATIONS DETERMINE THEIR CHOICE OF A LEADER. AGAIN, DO NOT SPREAD THE ABOVE NONSENSE, BUT WHEN IT REARS ITS UGLY HEAD, EXPOSE IT FOR WHAT IT IS.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Local Hate Radio

What motivates broadcasters like local attorney Greg Garrison, whose Radio Rants air on WIBC radio, now on 93.1 FM? And what motivates me to tune him in for a few minutes every week--do I really need anything else to raise my blood pressure? Am I naive to think that news/talk radio hosts ought to enlighten public opinion? That they should be fair, calm, reasonable people? That they should seek out informed, smart people who will illuminate complex issues? That they should not be afraid of diverse perspectives, no matter what their personal opinions? That they should focus on helping people understand issues rather than inflaming bigotry? Listen to NPR, to hosts like Diane Rehm (weekdays on 90.1, I think 10-12), to see what's possible with talk radio.

Garrison conducts his show like the prosecuting attorney he is: attack, use evidence selectively, aim for one goal, proving that he and his favorites are RIGHT. (In more than one sense of that word, of course.) When he talks about "Barack Hussein Obama" in that grating voice of his, I want to go on the air myself and start my own radio talk show. But the people who listen to Greg Garrison and believe they are learning something, who think he is skewering the enemies of freedom and democracy, would never listen to someone like me, or Diane Rehm. Those people, sadly, would be suspicious of network news. They are the descendants of 1950s and 60s followers of Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society. Yeah, they are the truly "bitter" folks whom the 21st century--in fact, most of the 20th century--left behind.

Can WIBC's owners and producers sleep well at night, knowing that they put Greg Garrison and Rush Limbaugh on the air? I'm sure they do, counting their money like sheep. To them, politics is like sports (another big focus of theirs), just a game. Rabid fans make for loyal listeners.

Welcome to My Blog

OK, I'll explore the blogosphere. As a 21st century writing teacher, I owe it to my students to become familiar with new forms of literacy. An occupation I have wondered about is newspaper or magazine columnist, so this may be my only way to do that. I do have ideas about politics (I'm progressive, Green, independent); education (again progressive, constructivist, sometimes radical); religion (skeptical, agnostic); writing and reading. Whether anyone is interested in reading my views or has time to read them remains to be seen. At least I can read them!

So let's start with a few random observations:
  • Why are we stuck with this obsolete two-party system in the United States? At least we need new parties. Why don't the Democrats and Republicans split up into at least four new parties so that voters actually have meaningful choices and politicians can choose a party that actually represents their values? That would require politicians to think about values for a change and not just self-preservation.
  • Would it be foolish to vote for Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader for President? We end up making a devil's bargain every four years. Vote for Al Gore or John Kerrey or Barack Obama as the lesser of two evils. We can't bear another four years of Bush; we can't imagine four years of McCain, even if he shifts a bit with the wind and likes to call himself a maverick. But what are we getting in return? Four years of frustrated hopes, endless compromises, stalemated government, and a deteriorating planet, world, and society.
  • Why is it so difficult to change the way schools work? High schools in particular don't work well for students or teachers. They are so obsolete, dysfunctional, boring, and ineffective that if they were a business, they would have gone bankrupt decades ago. And I'm not a fan of business models of education, by the way; that's just a metaphor.
  • Why don't we take care of our planet? Why do we choose ugly concrete buildings, ugly concrete highways, destructive cars, weapons, and mounds of useless junk over the amazing beauty and variety of life? Are we like squirrels in cages, unable to see that the cage door is open, and we could walk outside into the forest and live freely--not without danger and risks, true, but why keep living behind wire bars and going nowhere fast?
I'm sure I can be more focused in future posts, but this is my first tentative step into a new way of communicating.