Into the Woods & All Wet

January 2, 2015

January 2, 2015

Hola, amigos. I’m back.

Today’s topic: the new movie Into the Woods.

Seen it? Whaddaya think?

I wanted to like this film. Love Meryl Streep. Like Emily Blunt a lot. Have an old-lady thing for Chris Pine. Stephen Sondheim knows his music. Must be a winner, right?

Not so much. And it took me a while to figure out why it didn’t work. Spoiler alert: I’m half-revealing some endings further along.

Let’s zig-zag here a bit. I’m flashing back to a dinner party many years ago. Most of us were having a fine time exchanging lines from Seinfeld. That sitcom did more to add canny catch phrases to the American vernacular than any show since Laugh-in (Well, the ‘old-lady thing’ about Chris Pine already tipped you to my generation, didn’t it?).

Only one guest was mum until finally someone thoughtfully attempted to include her in the conversation.

“I think they’re all despicable people,” she said emphatically.

Well, duh.

The comedy of Seinfeld hinged on that very despicable-ness. What made it funny was that their neuroses, shallowness, superficiality, self-consciousness and fears so uncomfortably mirrored our own. They put a face on human failings. We laughed because we realized, deep down, that we’re all flawed, in ways we really would prefer that no one else saw. And yes, the fact that Jerry, George, Elaine & Kramer were so much more (comically) flawed than the rest of us made us laugh not just out of identification but …relief.

So. Into the Woods.

Not exactly a children’s look at fairy tales, but then, the Original Grimm’s Fairy Tales were scary, dark and weird.

In this newest version (not entirely new, of course, it originated on Broadway), characters are motivated by fear, greed, escapism, fantasy, illusion, shallowness. Mean for the sake of Mean. Neither Good nor Bad comes off pure.

Although the lyrics are stunningly deft.

Really, they’re all despicable people. But not in a good way.

We know these stories: Jack & the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, etc. We know Wicked Witches, though Meryl, as always makes hers the New Definitive of Wicked Witches. Take any of these stories individually, it has a clear, if dark, plot. Lessons are either learned (happy endings) or not learned (bad things happen). But mashing so many fairy tales into one, you end up with a cast of familiar characters all running around, bouncing from noble to cravenly, heroic to inept, and frankly, by the end, the only death you care about was the one that served no moral or plot purpose. That death cued up the small band of survivors at the end, none of whom has shown a) initial strength or b) any positive transformation. It’s the bleak conclusion that we’re simply sneaking out of the theater to avoid watching their further mishaps.

We watched Seinfeld to see the gang struggle (and generally fail) as they navigated a wide range of awkward social situations. We saw the consequences coming from a mile off – even when someone astonishingly managed to sidestep getting what they deserved.

In Into the Woods, people do stuff, stuff happens to them, or doesn’t, then does again, Love doesn’t triumph, and I can’t even remember now where that baby came from. And yeah, sometimes people die, it’s always tough in Fairy Tale Land, but there’s generally some cause and effect in play. That’s the purpose of fairy tales.

Not so in this Woods. Even Meryl, bless her heart: She’s Bad. Then she’s kinda good. Then she loses the bad & gets gorgeous. Then, for some reason she gets to throw a last Bad Hissy Fit. Stupendous performance. But someone tell me again…. Why?

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Fear & Loathing in the Teachers’ Lounge

April 15, 2013

            http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/13/opinion/teachers-will-we-ever-learn.html?ref=education

 An opinion piece in yesterday’s NYT reminded me of something:  after 40 years, talk of teacher education makes me want to scream.

  So I think I will.

 Full disclosure:  I was a “teacher educator”.  Before that, I was a teacher.

 It may not be any coincidence that I am now a recovering academic, writer and composer.  But that’s another essay.

 Jal Mehta, the opinionator of the NYT article, is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which, in the arena of academia makes his voice much louder than mine.  In this case, I agree with him, and was happy to see his words in such a large forum.

 Here’s the quote that grabbed me:

            “…In the nations that lead the international rankings — Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Finland, Canada — teachers are drawn from the top third of college graduates, rather than the bottom 60 percent as is the case in the United States.”

  I remember when I first became a teacher.  I had visions of the Teachers’ Lounge, that mysterious and elite preserve, visions of  stimulating discussions about wide-ranging issues of the day, intellectual concepts discoursed upon, shared confessions of personal aspirations beyond the classroom.

 Instead, amidst the sticky, half-empty Dr. Pepper cans, and the lingering cigarette fumes, there lay a cloud of fatigue, frustration, and cynicism.  This wasn’t everyone of course, and the more awake of us learned which break times to avoid, those times when the hard-core, hard-boiled tended to gather and take over our dreary little retreat.

The turf was particularly disputed, of course, in schools where the only air conditioners were in the lounge or the front offices, leaving both students and teachers to sit listlessly in stifling, sweaty, South Texas classrooms.  Guerilla tactics were often used to secure floor fans.  There were days when my students and I were most synchronized in purpose watching huge bumblebees swoop loopily across the classroom.

 Ah, the good old days.

  But I digress.  As usual.

  Ever optimistic, I thought the answer lay in higher education, and I went back to school for my Masters’.  I worked as a graduate assistant for a professor who one day decided to treat me to coffee in the Faculty Club.

 Wow.  Faculty Club at a small but prestigious university.  Now that was surely where I would find the intellectual stimulation I so yearned for.  All those brilliant profs I’d admired while slouching in the anonymous center regions of crowded lecture halls – they would be there, wittily holding forth on all sorts of philosophical matters.

 The topic of the day turned out to be crabgrass.

And I was ejected (and my hosting prof chastised) for polluting the sacred grounds with a mere grad student.

 I have known some absolutely brilliant teachers.  One or two I taught with.  A few I had the privilege of preparing for their teaching careers.  Along the way, I swear to you, there were dozens of decent, hard-working craftsmen and –women.  The couple of weirdos and possible-pervs tended to stand out, but they were the minute minority.  I suspect the statistical breakdown is about the same in any group, and can be represented by the bell curve.

 So, here begins my rant for the day.  Teaching conditions – for most teachers – have greatly improved since I walked into my first classroom in the ‘70’s.  Air conditioning.  Telephones.

But – and Professor Mehta’s article reinforces me here – teaching is hard damn work, done in conditions that are still too often taxing, uncomfortable, and unpleasant. 

Not to mention that now, in addition to spending all those years acquiring mastery of academic disciplines, and the combined survival skills of psychiatry, diplomacy, long-distance running, mind-reading, sanitation, nurse and time management, now we seem to be trending toward the expectation that teachers should also come fully armed and prepared to blow away little Johnny, with cold, keen-eyed aim, if push comes to shove.  All in a day’s work.

Because little Johnny still can’t read, but he has easy access to automatic weapons. 

So where are our best and brightest?  Maybe they’re too smart to go for that crap.

 I tried, very hard, to push my teacher-education students, to get them to expand their imaginations, to breed curiosity into decent, well-meaning young (and not so young) people, who, for the most part, sincerely wanted to dedicate their lives to a helping profession.

But too many were themselves already products of a system that rewards plodders.  I used to tell my students, if you want your own students to learn, you have to model what it is to be a learner.  You have to constantly demonstrate curiosity about the world around you.

I also warned them: if you teach your students to question, the first thing they will question is… you. 

 That is the scary and exhilarating part of teaching.  For me it was the whole point: to pry open young minds, if only an inch at a time, to watch the thrilling and challenging spectacle of dormant minds sputtering or leaping into action.   It’s what kept me in the biz for 30 years.  It’s the only thing I miss.

Far easier to follow the curriculum guides and teach to the test. That’s what gets teachers rewarded these days.

Not hard to see why the best and brightest would be bright enough to flee from a career like that, where not only will they be overworked and poorly paid, but will be drowned in a sea of negative expectations and bureaucratic hamstringing from all sides.

 I loved teaching, loved prodding students out of their intellectual comfort zones, loved connecting with them, helping them understand complex concepts or develop the skills to work through problems in their lives.  My years at the college level in teacher education were the most enjoyable of a long career.   But my college students used to ask me, “don’t you ever think about going back into public school teaching?”

I (diplomatically) never answered them honestly back then, but my response hasn’t changed after many years out of the biz:  

 Hell, no.

 

 

As always, I invite my readers to visit my website  and my Youtube channel.

What Are Men Good For?

March 31, 2013

I’ll tell you this much, and of course I speak only for myself.  If you’ve got yourself a dead possum, a good man will pick up the deceased by its tail and drop him into the trash bag.  For this reason alone, I would plead the case for the masculine gender in any court in the land.

I had such good intentions.  I went out to survey the situation.  I located the proper tools for removal.   I had a very nice conversation with the huge turkey vulture whose lunch I was determined to steal away, apologizing for my intended rudeness.

There’s nothing like confronting a dead critter to remind you just where your personal limits lie.  I’m sure there are many women who are tougher about these things than I.  Come to think of it, I know several.   And I would be the last to want to fall back on old stereotypes.  I’m sure there are many men who would be at least as squeamish as I in such a situation.

But really, there’s toughness and there’s toughness, and sometimes those distinctions fall out along gender lines.

There’s been so much written lately about the ragged frontiers between the sexes, especially with the Steubenville case in the news drawing attention (regrettably, yet again) to rape and the skewed attitudes some boys apparently have toward it.

A very brief but fabulous video has apparently gone viral, the gist of which is: What do you do with a girl who’s passed out drunk?  You make her comfortable and cover her up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eZxv5WCWivM

There are a lot of points I could make here.  Girls, drinking yourself into a stupor is a bad idea.  Boys, wherever you got the idea that the weak or defenseless are fair game (no matter how poor their judgment), you’ve been wrongly advised.  Some of the people you’re listening to have betrayed your trust.

At a time when equality is advancing in so many ways, kids are still flailing around under the influence of a culture that perpetuates the weird idea that human beings come in only one gender – yours, whichever that may be.   All those other alien-but-attractive creatures out there belong to some “not quite really human” category, easy targets to be exploited, manipulated, or otherwise treated as if they exist solely as props in our own little play.

Here’s a newsflash: the hormones that can drive you to despicable, harmful actions, can also propel you toward humanity, even nobility.  The payoff’s better, and longer lasting.   And no messy consequences, like jail time.

So, I’m rooting for the men, and hoping the boys among us will find some better guides and guidance; that someone will take the time to personally illustrate to them that we really are all human.   And I’m aspiring to man up a little myself, the very next possum that comes along.

Relativity Tango

March 25, 2013

When I was in grad school, I stumbled onto an article about Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle. In case you’ve forgotten, Heisenberg was pointing out this sticky little physics problem: in trying to measure quantum particles, the presence of the observer (or more precisely his/her tools and procedures) affects the particle being observed.  In other words, it’s (so far) impossible to measure position and velocity of those little buggers because the observer’s presence will cause those qualities to be something different than they would be (we think) if the observer wasn’t there, observing.

The article, as I recall, was densely technical, but they started out with an emphatic statement as to how they were talking sub-atomic realities which had nothing to do with normal humans and no such comparisons, literal or metaphoric, should be drawn.

Now, I’m no physicist, only a mere social scientist, but I understood what they meant, which I might (very) loosely characterize as, “Now don’t all you regular folk get all excited and think that the whole quantum dance stops what it’s doing just because you showed up.  Stupid non-physicist humans, always thinking you’re so special…”

At first I was properly chastised, but on further thought, I decided those Heisenberg proponents were possibly a bit shortsighted themselves.   It certainly seems commonsensical, from a human point of view, that the presence of an observer affects those things being observed, whether those “things” are, so to speak, animal, vegetable or mineral.   And even though we’re talking here about sub-atomic particles, it’s also true, to the best of my understanding, anyway, that those particles aren’t dancing in some galaxy far, far away, but right here, inside me, inside you, inside everything around us.

Like all spectrums (spectra?), this one has two extremes: those huffy Heisenberg proponents on one end saying, “it’s sub-atomic particles, people.  Don’t you dare try to misappropriate our pure physics for some mushy, touchy-feely conclusions.”  On the other end, we have people like the author of “The Secret”, representing exactly that “human application”, the theory that we all have some vast power to command the forces of the universe with our very attention.  Such advocates claim that “it” is all within our grasp and if you’re not rolling in the dough (or the hay?) as much as you’d would like, you just haven’t believed hard enough.  So just practice those affirmations more, and oh, by the way, buy my book!

Is there any bridge between these polarities, some way of resolving or integrating these two extremes: the grumpy pure scientists who say the sub-atomic world can’t be said to affect us regular mortals, and the blindly chipper new-agers, with their equally emphatic mind-over-matter mantras?

Here’s my modest theory as to what might link those apparently non-overlapping circles, the funky quantum realms and our much more recalcitrant, uncooperative day-to-day world; one word –  discipline.

Sorry.  Not what you wanted to hear?

Yeah.  Discipline.  Commitment to the quest.  The development of a serious skill set that starts with actually opening the eyes rather than squinting them closed and constantly muttering, “I believe, I believe, I believe…”

Not to say we haven’t all been in that white-knuckled hanging-on-for-dear-life state from time to time.  Bless your heart if that’s where you are right now.

I’m just saying there really IS more ‘out there’ than meets the eye (you may take that cliché literally), which we all kind of know, because even the most unbelieving among us have had those moments you might brand as ‘numinous’, which means, according to Webster, “supernatural or mysterious”.

Which in turn really just means ‘not understandable, given our current observational and measurement capabilities’.   Think about it.  Magic has a limited shelf life.  Take my iPad.  A century ago it would have been totally magic.  Quite likely you would have been burned at the stake, just for checking your Twitter account.

Come to think of it, would that be so wrong?

But I digress.

These days Magic doesn’t so much go stale on the shelf, as it gets re-branded and re-packaged as Science Fiction.  Think of Captain Kirk in the ‘60’s with his super-cool flip-top communicator.

So pre-iPhone.  Thus Magic morphs into Science Fiction, which itself eventually becomes The New Reality, and the cycle starts all over again, in some other direction.

Back to my point.  Practitioners of any serious endeavor – yoga or meditation or tennis or cupcake baking – will tell you the real secret: the more you do anything, the better you get at it.

And the other piece of the puzzle is the willingness to get better; the –  how shall I put this? – humility to actually study and hold yourself up to some relatively universal standards that have stood the test of time.  Grumpy scientists take note: yes, that sounds a lot like the “scientific method”.

If there is a way for humans to tune in more closely to that quantum boogaloo, we have to start by admitting just how vast and numinous it really is.  There’s no aisle for this at Walgreens.

There are those out there who feel like wisdom really ought to be free, that it ought to fall in one’s lap, or maybe they’ll find someone who’ll just give it to them, if they ask.

A wise man knows what he knows – and how he came to know it.  A wise man also knows there’s always much, much more to know; that there’s always another horizon to move toward.

Only an idiot believes you really ought be able to see with your eyes closed, just because it’s just too darned much work to open them.

Laws of physics, man.  Laws of karma.  There may just be a point in the universe where everything simply is, all of it, all at the same time, some “place” we can – someday – get to, where there is no place, no time.  Quantum mechanics gives us a nice little hint of that ultimately mind-blowing “mystery”.

But from where we are now, shakily poised in our own weird era of impending mayhem and miracles, it’s still a step-by-step journey.  All you metaphysical couch potatoes out there: yep, the cosmic music actually is playing, but what’s it for, if you’re not ready to dance?

 

As always, I invite you to visit my website and my YouTube channel.

 

 

Can You Smell Me Now?

March 18, 2013

Unless I’m greatly mistaken, you can’t smell me, though at the moment I’m much more fragrant than I was after an hour of vigorous exercise earlier in the day.

Technology does not yet allow you olfactory access to random bloggers.

Does that matter?

Let’s put aside, for the moment, some of the creepier implications and talk about what we’re doing to the kids.  That’s the topic Pamela Paul raises in today’s NYT, in an opinion piece titled, “Reading, Writing and Video Games”.   Ms. Paul makes a point I agree with.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that she agrees with me; I’ve been making the point since I was in grad school studying instructional technology and she was a kid playing video games.

And no, I’m not going to yield to the temptation to wax geezerly (geezerish?) about the good old days of growing up with no video games, although –  argh! –  it’s so darned hard to resist.

Nevertheless.

The point – and I salute Ms. Paul for making it – is that there is a large contingent of folks pushing ever harder to integrate computers into schools for ever younger kids.  The computer contingent holds the opinion that computer-based learning is both better (than more traditional kinds, one assumes) and downright necessary, even for kindergarteners.

As best I can tell, there are two groups pushing to raise a new generation of iTots.  The first is, of course, the computer /software/ technology industry (I’m talking to you, Bill Gates).  No big surprise there.  What do you expect them to say?

The second – and I have some compassion for this group – is the parents, who, having found something that actually keeps the kids engaged, pretty much have to hope like hell that it actually IS good for them, because the alternative is just too unthinkable.

In the opposing camp, we have the overwhelming majority of people who actually know something about learning – the teaching community – and an equally overwhelming body of research about child development.  The topic is not new.  The facts have not changed.

But let’s not bog down in facts for the moment.  Let’s get sensory.

Humans still have five senses.  In case you’ve forgotten, these are: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.   These faculties come in really, really handy for living in the actual world.

I know, I know, virtual reality, smell-o-vision, all these technologies with their splashy promises and truly astounding advances.  I’m as dazzled as the rest of you, really, I am.

But let me put this to you in human terms.  Circuitry is not chemistry.   Your computer screen doesn’t hear the collective heartbeats of other people around you.  The best simulations in the world can’t factor in the infinite range of stimuli we all encounter every day:  the way your hands feel, clasped around a cold glass on a hot afternoon; how, even though they stopped making Twinkies, and you stopped eating them after the age of 10, you can still taste that impossibly spongy cake with that so-called “crème” filling, just reading these words, so much so you can still smell the school cafeteria that sold that delicious crap.

Or what about the woman who steps into the elevator and fills the closed space with her perfume, so that the scent lingers on your sleeve all day long?  Will that scent haunt you all day, distracting you with amorous imaginings so that you blow the big presentation?  Or will it make you annoyed and sneezy?

I remember something I learned a long time ago.  In education classes we used to talk about poor kids who were raised in so-called “deprived” environments, but a wise professor pointed this out:  all natural environments are rich with sensory stimuli.   The only deprivation lies with kids whose adults don’t take the time to point out the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touchability of the real world around them.  If no one draws attention to those rich objects and inputs, children’s perceptions never get a chance to develop.  Their very intelligence is stunted by a lack of sensory stimulation.

And now we’re saying, “Oh, never mind, everything you need is on this little screen”?

Maybe one day soon there’ll be a scratch-and-sniff app for us bloggers.  Not only will you be able to smell me, but I can market my new perfume, a potent fragrance I’m concocting to capture the essence of what I’m feeling about all this.

I’m thinking of calling it “Appalled”.

Read Pamela Paul’s article HERE

As always, I invite you to visit my website and my YouTube channel.

Look, Girls! A Million Men, Boldly Going…

March 10, 2013

 

Jean Luc Picard.  Gotta love him.

In honor of International Women’s Month, I’d like to give a shout out to the men.

For those of you who don’t know Jean Luc, intrepid Captain of one of the many iterations of the Starship Enterprise, he is more properly addressed these days as the actor Sir Patrick Stewart, and worthy of our praise.

This week, Sir Patrick launched a new project called “Ring the Bell”, a global campaign to get one million men to “make one million concrete, actionable promises” to help end violence against women.  He speaks from the heart in his advocacy: he has vivid memories of trying to intervene, as a small boy, when his own father beat his mother.

Other notable men have already stepped up, Sir Richard Branson among them.  Another, former NFL quarterback “and feminist”  (!) Don McPherson, made a comment I think is worth repeating, “We don’t raise boys to be men,” he said. “We raise them not to be women, or gay men.”

Let’s face it, the past 5-6 decades have been tough in the gender-role department.  First, women fought their way into a new visibility in the 60’s and 70’s, leaving a lot of men wondering, “where does that leave us?”

Since then, new generations have come along whose concepts of the world are so different that many young women today think of “feminism” as an outmoded, unappealing, and unnecessary idea.  In the meantime, young men develop and exercise their manhood by trying on electronic personas that pump up the artificial violence, with nary a Yoda – or a Jean Luc Picard – in sight.   Feel free, as President Obama did this week, to mix all the Star Trek and Star Wars metaphors you want.  We’ve been running low on Wise Men lately.  We may need to cobble some together from spare parts.

Lots of the macho stuff everywhere – although a Mexican man I know still insists that the older – and truer –  understanding of “macho” is more along the lines of “doing those things that are right for a man to do”, like providing for and protecting his loved ones.  Isn’t that a far healthier understanding than the swagger and bellicosity of those video-game “heroes”, all rippling muscles and six-pack abs and indiscriminate guns a-blaze?  Can’t we reclaim some constructive channels for all the natural testosterone of our young men?

Another obscure term I stumbled across offers a definition of manliness I love:  Sankoch is a Sanskrit word, referring to the embodiment of all the good qualities of a man, and what is called “enlightened restraint”.   According to this definition, a Sankochi is “a man full of grace”.

 A man full of grace.   How fabulous is that?  How strong, how sexy, how… needed.   Now, be it known, we women are more than capable of stepping up to our own challenges.  We don’t need to passively sit waiting to be rescued.  But neither should we assume there’s no more work to be done.

And just like the dirty dishes and the laundry, changing the world has always been a task best served by a productive gender partnership.  Men, you have no idea how totally we will welcome that man full of grace.

And now the eminently graceful Sir Patrick Stewart is calling for a million more to join him.

I can’t wait to see who shows up.

 

Read more about Ring the Bell at:    http://www.inquisitr.com/563999/sir-patrick-stewart-calls-on-one-million-men-to-end-violence-against-women/#liEh71PjQCdy2iJ7.99

 

And for more of my words and music, please visit my website:   www.cecebox.com

and my YouTube channel:     http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCYsCZlN-V0gOj7EQaO9TVEw?feature=watch

 

 

More, and in More Directions

March 3, 2013

 

 

I was born under the sign of the crab, astrologically speaking.  The best description of us crabs I ever read said that anyone observing us would see that we are constantly sidling sideways, to all appearances aimless and with no particular end in sight – and yet, sooner or later we end up where we knew we were headed all along.

 

After a concerted blogging effort for a couple of years, I sidled off, first into poetry and then into a novel and then into another novel that became some strange literary mutation that has kept me engaged for the past year.

 

Along the way I finally decided to get my on-line act together, so that you can now find me – should you care to – at my main oh, so cleverly named website:   www.cecebox.com

 

From there, you can listen to music, watch videos and check out that mutant literary effort which has taken up residence at its own website:   www.hanisstory.com   I’ll be blogging about that creative process soon.

 

As for this site, look for weekly comments on the state of the culture.  Thanks for finding me here.

Life. Death. Life.

January 29, 2011

(Originally published December 1, 2010, in my MySpace blog)

Dear Friends,

I haven’t been in touch for a few weeks.  There’s enough blather in the worlds these days.  I decline to add empty words, devoid of real passion.   I find myself thus challenged to be honest with you.

Someone I know died on Sunday.  Not “immediate” family, but still close.  He was younger than I by a couple of years, and left two kids just entering their teens, and a very frail and elderly mother who has to say goodbye to her youngest son.

How do we carry grief?  This kind of sorrow sits in our bodies like lead in the belly.  It spreads through our brain, our thoughts, in every direction.  We are our own flood-ravaged landscape, no part of our psyche escapes the touch of that tide, even the parts that remained above the flood line are enveloped in the wafting scent of loss.

Beyond this landscape, we can, occasionally, become aware of the great wheel turning, the world spinning, life and death unending, like the proverbial snake eating its own tail, no beginning, no end.  When we walk a path with our eyes glued to the ground, terrified of the inevitable stumbling blocks in our way, all we can see is the dirt that takes us all.

But we can also stop, right now.  Don’t take another step.  Be grounded, look up to where the sun is shining, and see its procession across the sky.  The sun’s progress is our own.  Day by day we rise, work our way across an expanse of sky, and retire at night, to some place below the horizon, unseen.  Life – every little bit of it – marches along the same path; we have our time in the sun, and then we retire into that good night, until it is time to begin again, fresh, full of new promise.  This is Life, and we are all part of the parade, during the sunlit and the obscure times.  The journey does not end.

So I sit with the sadness, share memories with other loved ones, and let this season be what it must be.   Be well, my friends.

The DREAM ACT and the American Dream

January 29, 2011

The following was originally posted November 18, 2010, on my MySpace blog:

 

I’m venturing in a slightly different direction this week. If you care to join me, come on along.

Let’s start with some song lyrics:

There was a rose
It didn’t choose where it was planted
So it goes
It only wants to bloom and grow.
And though we’re told
Permission never was quite granted,
Roots go low
‘Cause it’s the only home it knows.

There was a rose
It didn’t choose where it should be
As much a gift
As if it grew here from a seed.
But there are those, who only see it as a weed,
And a weed must be chopped down.

But there’s a DREAM
just to bloom where you’re plante
d
DREAM just to live and to grow.
DREAM, asking no extra chances
Just let this rose, let this rose stay home.

Let this rose, let this rose stay home.

There are young people in the U.S. who were brought here as young children by families who, yes, came here illegally. This is not a debate about the actions of the parents.  Minors are not responsible for the actions of their parents.  These kids grew up as Americans, finishing school, in many cases going on to college, or to serve in the military, but they have no path to legal residency or citizenship. If they are discovered, through even something as minor as making a rolling stop at a stop sign, they risk being “sent back”, – in many cases, to a country they don’t even remember and where they know no one.

The DREAM ACT would provide such a path for young people caught in this trap through no fault of their own. They could earn the right to formally belong in the only land they know.

This seems both fair to them and beneficial for the U.S., to nurture the resources that are already here.  I know it’s controversial.  I don’t encourage you to agree with me, but I encourage you to inform yourself and, if you are so inclined, to call your Congress person – you’re free to weigh in on either side, of course.  This IS America, after all.  I just like to think of America as a place where we don’t punish the innocent.

The DREAM ACT is currently before Congress, and the odds are slim that it will pass before the end of this session.  Odds are even slimmer that it will pass in the next.

The link before is just a starting place to get an understanding of the debate.  If you are interested there is a lot of info in the Web, much of it coming from college students.

http://www.propublica.org/article/rocky-road-ahead-for-dream-act

Face time, NOT Facebook!

November 8, 2010

This weekend there was a lengthy article in the New York Times about an academic study that was recently done.  It turns out that many college students, even while living on campus, choose to “attend” their courses via the internet.

I’ve been saying for about 20 years now, to anyone who would listen that what we used to call “distance education” has some inherent flaws.  The thing is, it’s been astounding all along to me, the extent to which almost everyone has drunk the KoolAid about the total, perfect wonderfulness of computerized learning.

Stop the Madness!

Stop it, I say!

So, the study in question actually got around to comparing students who live on campus, who either show up physically in class, versus those who also attend class, but do so by sitting in their dorm rooms, watching on a screen.

Everyone was so very, very sure that there would be no difference in the performance of either group.  After all, the computer is beyond questioning, right?  All that convenience, that connectivity?

Wrong.

Turns out that people who actually show up in the physical classroom get better grades in the course.

I’m not even going to apologize for saying I told you so.

Now, I’m not talking here about those of you who are using the computer to get an education because you live far from a college campus, or because you are a working adult who can only fit in an education at odd hours.  To those people, I say, more power to you.  Computer-based education is clearly a decent alternative for those who have such constraints in their lives, and those who have the maturity and self-discipline to stick with it.

The reality is most 18-22 year olds haven’t yet arrived at this point.   Bless your hearts.  Note to 18-22 year olds here:  perpetual youth has become so worshiped in our society, I like to remind you of some of the qualities of maturity that are worth wanting to shoot for.

But I remember, years ago, when this sort of computer teaching & learning was just coming into vogue, one of the math professors on my campus dove in and started a calculus class on-line.

The drop-out rate was… 85%.

My point here is this, my young friends.  There is nothing like face to face interaction.  If I am teaching a course, I stand before you, challenged in every moment by your questions, your attention, your eyes, your body language.  If I am experienced, I know immediately, without anything other than non-verbal feedback, whether I’ve made my point, or just confused you.

The real human contact was always the whole thrill of teaching to me (and I was a professor of instructional technology, so I do know both sides of this.)  Sure there are benefits to computer based learning, for both students and teachers, and I know professors who are excellent in using technology – not to mention the fact that a girlfriend of mine was able to accompany me on an extended vacation once because she could continue teaching her class no matter what country she was in!

But oh, my young friends, the glories of human contact are still the best thing going!  Even in a formal setting, between teacher and student, incredible things can happen.  There is an amazing energy that happens in a setting that is created for, and driven by, curiosity and the thirst for knowledge.

And you don’t have to tell me that the classroom isn’t always like that, that sometimes, maybe too often, the classroom is presided over by bored or reluctant or uninspiring profs, and filled with students who are likewise, all dozing or texting or otherwise zoning out.

But that just shows the reality of how the group creates energy.

So here’s my little manifesto for today: go forth into the world! Put your pants on and plant yourself in that seminar seat, and give your prof a shot at opening new doors.  If he or she isn’t quite lighting things up enough, YOU be the spark.  Bring your full force of curiosity, wonder, enthusiasm, into the room.  You could mutter and complain and slouch out silently, but you can also stir the pot with a positive love of learning.  It can’t help but be infectious, in ways that will never, ever happen while you “participate” from your bedroom, all alone in the e-void.

Really, can you picture the great Socrates telling his young students, “no biggie, guys, you can just phone it in”?