During a recent Inlandia event I sat with a couple and we talked about National Poetry month and the L.A. Times Book Festival. Unfortunately, I am not good at remembering names but what of the many things I remember is the person telling me that she met Robert Pinsky. The poet laureate Robert Pinsky of the famed Favorite Poem Project Favorite Poem Project. From this conversation I decided to do the Favorite Poem project with my high school students and in the workshop I facilitate. Usually, when I give an assignment I also do it as well. Choose your favorite poem – share it – explain what it means to you. I added the component of writing about it, or using it as a template for your own poem, or allowing it to springboard into a creative spark for a poem. It has been delightful hearing the choices people have shared.
For my favorite poem I didn't necessarily choose my favorite poem because - is there really such a thing? I have favorite poems for different moods, experiences, and seasons. The poem I decided to choose this year is my joy poem. I memorized it not because I sat around looking for poems to memorize but I used to watch the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and my favorite segment was Bullwinkle's Poetry Corner and my favorite poem was The Swing from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. Between the rhythm and music of the poem, the imagery, and the frequent reruns of the show, memorizing it was as easy as learning the lyrics of a song from the radio. When I still remember going out to the swings at recess and reciting the poem to myself.
By Robert Louis Stevenson
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
My First Time
my favorite poem
is not a poem
a memory of where
the tilting edge
slicing its way
into my jaw
nerves across my arms
an itch of breeze
do it again
do it again
one more time
The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, is an encouragement to as well as a salute to powerful journalism in the face of what appears to be a Goliath opposition. In this day and age - I don't have to provide examples or descriptors - The Post is a timely vehicle for edutainment (entertainment that is also educational). The PG-13 film is a great tool for a research project for high schoolers. There are a myriad of topics presented in the film that could be researched for a deeper understanding. I imagine a week would be good to do a group research project paper via Google docs. The project would include some other technology component to present the research data and information in addition to the paper.
Some Possible Topics:
1.Casualties of the Vietnam War - Students would gather information on deaths and injuries from the war: physical, psychological and social a longitudinal study. This would be a comparative with other wars the United States had been involved in prior to this war, including the Korean War.
2. The Vietnam War and The Draft - This research project would look at the draft, again with a longitudinal study, but also an analysis of social class. The research paper project would explore what constitutes the different social classes in regards to income and property etc. and provide definitions for the class structure: wealthy, rich, upper, middle, lower, underclass. It would then look at the statistics of young people drafted from the different social classes. The study would take into account exemptions from the war that a person could claim and the number of people who were punished (imprisoned) or who left the country.
For the rest of the topics I will simply provide a one sentence explanation. If anyone is interested in more details, please contact me through the website Contact page and I will be more than happy to share the rest of the ideas with you.
3. Conscientious Objectors to the War with a focus on Cassius Clay aka Mohamed Ali.
4. Nightly TV Reports of the War: time allotted, anchors, visuals. This would be compared with our more recent conflicts and how the news informed citizens on casualties and progress or setbacks.
5. Newspaper Reports on the War. Headlines and presentation of information - samples from previous wars and more recent wars.
6. Reported reasons for the War - justifications and the public's perception of those justifications. This would look at initial involvement to the end of the war.
7. War Atrocities: - Many of us know about Abu Ghraib - students would research the human rights violations that occurred during this war, prior wars and current conflicts. Outcomes of investigations would be included.
8. Presidents and Justifications for the war and the possible real reasons for the war.
9. The effect of the war on families back home.
10. Journalism and Financial Support as a business.
***Students would also be allowed to explore a topic that may not be presented and they would be allowed to choose a topic that they have the most interest in exploring.
What a rich move. Almost all of these topics are touched upon and excerpts from the film could be referred to...
For quite some time our society has been talking about helicopter parents. Our children, rightfully so, are precious and we want to protect and love them. There have been children abducted and missing and we would do almost anything to prevent harm and heartache, but how far is too far is another question we have been passionately arguing.
In episode 2 of season 4 of Black Mirror, technology presents what seems to be a solution for our worries on how to maintain parental control on social media, entertainment, disturbing real life visuals and peer pressure, with the invention of Arkangel.
Value of the Episode: Without giving away too much of the plot - it is a lesson in communication, trust and the value of life experiences, not just for the child but for the parent. There is another level of conversation about the value and cost of innocence that would make for great reflection on ethics and peer pressure. In legally, ethically, and psychologically exploring technology: cell phones, cameras, gps tracking, social media and parental controls that already exist, it would be awesome to follow up with the hypothetical sci-fi technology in the Arkangel episode.
Content warning: There are some scenes near the end of the episode that will need to be edited, but they are not excessive and the engaging conversation would be well worth the classroom experience.
Popularity and Interest: In an after school credit recovery program I have shown a few episodes from seasons 1 and 3 of Dark Mirror and students who weren't enrolled in the credit recovery program showed up just to watch and participate in the discussion. Students raised their hands while the episode was playing to ask for clarification of the events, characters and plot and then posed analytical questions on the human condition explored.
Literary Terms and Thoughtful Engagement in the learning process: Archangel is tailor made for student engagement. As the seasons progress the writers are including motifs and allusions, now more popularly referred to as "easter eggs." A variety of other literary devices are prime for identification,s such as hyperbole, symbolism, metaphors and similes. But most important is the opportunity to get students to actively engage in thought-provoking discussion.
Physics and Philosophy: Season 4, episode 4 Hang the DJ, which requires quite a bit of editing due sexual content, has young people discussing summation theory and Rene Descartes - cogito ergo sum, aka je pense doc je suit aka I think therefore I am. This is sci-fi at its best..
Free money for college and all you have to do is write a brief essay on what you have done to create a positive impact on the environment. Every year an announcement is made and a handful of students apply. I have been one of the volunteer essay readers and look forward to the submissions. Some students simply talk about composting as a family and being sure to recycle. Others write about adopting a tree project throughout the city. The scholarship amount is small, a few hundred dollars, but its free money.
For the past several years (maybe 7), a teacher at our high school has offered this scholarship a month before graduation. Throughout the school year, at the end of the day, he goes to classrooms that participate and he collects plastic bottles from the recycle bins. From time to time he lugs huge bags filled with crushed plastic bottles out to his car. This is the means for the scholarship funds and each year the monetary amount has grown.
A few months into 2017, second semester, and the announcement is made for the essay submission. Reminders are issued. Desert dry - no submissions this year. The climate has changed, just that easy - just that quick. No one wrote an essay - no one claimed the scholarship funds for college so it will be included in next year’s scholarship.
It seems like a stretch to draw a line from Washington D.C. to a high school in California, but that is the power of the position and the unspoken persuasion in that power. January 2017 our 45th President eliminated the phrase “climate change” from the official White House website whitehouse.gov. The omission of those two words are seeds planted in the minds of this generation. Whether we agree or disagree with what a leader does - does not change the fact that he/she is in a position of power and influence.
Hopefully I am connecting dots that are not there. Students ran out of time to care about a small scholarship and free money? I am sure (not really) there will not be such a huge swing throughout the country.
Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King standup comedy routine on Netflix is funny, creative, and relevant. Dreams, disappointments, successes and prejudice are explored, but not in the offensive broad strokes that many comedians use. They mimmic stereotypical dialects and body gestures to make fun of and sometimes perpetuate stereotypes. Another strategy used by a variety of comedians is to point out how stupid the racists are. These techniques serve as a release valve for dealing with or not being able to deal with the inhumanity of prejudice and the differences between cultures.
However, what makes Hasan Minhaj's routine unique is how he plugs into the personal narrative with disarming, authentic, vulnerability and humor, which is effective and irresistible. Minhaj unfolds a multi-faceted view on prejudice as he describes his personal experiences of being a brown person in a white America. Metaphorically and symbolically he includes poignant commentary on blacks and hispanic. He takes it a step further as he also explores the topic of white guilt. How do we own shameful acts past and present and work through them on an individual level?
Hassan Minhaj's Netflix routine unfolds like a Ted Talk with background visuals of (friends and family, texts and FB posts) to highlight his coming of age narrative. Homecoming King is not only a refreshing stand up routine but it would work well for a high school lesson. Actually, a part of his narrative reminds me of the short story American History by Judith Ortiz Cofer and could be used in conjunction with that story for a broader perspective.
Now, as I talk about Minhaj's Netflix standup as possibly being used in a classroom - I don't want to give the impression that it is didactic or preachy. It is not. But my teacher radar is always searching for relevant material to bring into the classroom because most of what we currently teach in public school classrooms is usually dated, black and white, heavy-handed, and loaded with platitudes. Very seldom, if ever, do we use humor to address the more weighty issues that we must confront in this millennium. It is a PG13 routine, in my opinion, sprinkled with a few curse words; I wasn't counting because I was enjoying what counts.
Check him out and let me know what you think.
I am more than excited on too many levels. I don't want to admit how many hours it took to create this website... but I am slowly moving into the 21st century and that feels awesome. For the past four months I have been writing poems on the absolute frustration I have been experiencing with technology.
Part of the challenge is what I call techno-flight. I created this term (I don't know if anyone else has used it before or not) from a phenomenon in real estate known as white flight. I think everyone knows what it is, but in case you don't, I will briefly explain. There is a very nice neighborhood in the suburbs that is either all white or predominantly white, (racial concept - that's another story). A black family moves in and the browning of the neighborhood begins. Pretty soon there are 'For Sale' signs everywhere. White families leave in droves and in a very short amount of time there are only a couple of white families remaining and most of the families are black.
Well, the same thing is occurring with technology. First came MySpace in 2003 and parents were still figuring out how to monitor their children's profiles and friends on MySpace when Facebook was created in 2004. By the time parents figured out Myspace, Facebook was predominantly populated by young people. Just like a parent spying on a teenager at the prom - it was more than a little embarrassing when parents began friending their children. So there was techno-flight; where by the time adults get comfortable in the new social media neighborhood their children have moved on to Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and...and...and... parents/adults always seem to be a social media or two behind.
As a teacher it is becoming more and more difficult to stay relevant. I was right up there with Myspace and the shift to Facebook was a challenge because I like to decorate and there were minimal options for making your Facebook page look unique. Slowly I got over the idea of interior decorating on social media. It's about communicating and staying in touch. Now there is Twitter @what? and @why? I have to admit that I am still trying to figure that out and the only thing I can come up with is, because that's what young people prefer. I am on it though and I allow it to gobble up 15 minutes of my time once a week, but I am sure that will increase about the time that Twitter is no longer the right neighborhood, or has that already happened?
I said all this to say - I have my own website now! I am ecstatic. I don't know how relevant it is - but it feels great. I even got to decorate and learned quite a bit as I have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with 'how do I do this?' I haven't even officially informed anyone on social media sites yet... I am still 'decorating' or uploading stuff - but I am here.
(learning from my students) Birdman won four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Directing - Alejandro Inarritu, Best Cinematography and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. I went on a campaign to get all of my friends to see it. As an English teacher, this film was more than golden. First it is a great movie in which to teach the ideas of magical realism, symbolism and dark comedy. Next we have the literary allusion to Macbeth with his famous soliloquy, Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow... Then there is the meta-cinema concept to be explored using Raymond Carver's short story Beginners in the collection titled What do We Talk About When we Talk About Love.
Then there is the very real topic of generation gaps highlighted by a remarkable monologue delivered by Emma Stone. Other topics for discussion are on mental health, art versus pulp, authenticity - what is real or even reality for that matter: A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing. Students read Carver's short story, Beginners and watched the delivery of Macbeth's speech and get a synopsis of the play to understand its importance in the movie.
Yet this year is the last year we will study this film. I have become quite adept at showing films and knowing where to skip over the "inappropriate" aka "sex" scenes, so that is not the reason I am not showing it anymore. I am ashamed to say that it has to do with the offensive portrayal of Asians in the film that I wasn't aware of until this year, even though the film was released three years ago and I have watched it numerous times.
What roused this awareness? At the beginning of the school year I give my students the writing prompt: When was the first time you realized racism existed? I ask for great detail in describing the event and the impact it had on them. A Korean student shared a couple of horrible experiences that made me want to cry. So, near the beginning of the film, as Sam's daughter is fussing and complaining and snarls, "I hate the smell of kimchi" and treats the shop owner like an annoying fly - I immediately looked at the student who shared her experience with prejudice in the writing prompt.
The next scene is with reporters. The white male is speaking philosophically with the main character, Riggan. The white woman reporter is talking gibberish about pig semen and youth to create silly non news - she is obviously the stereotypical vapid woman in the entertainment industry and then there is the Japanese man speaking broken English as though all he understands is the superhero presentation of the actor, in other words, he is talking like a tourist with limited command of the English language. Although there is commentary to be made about the presentation of the stereotypes, there is not enough to justify its placement.
I asked to talk with the student after class and I apologized. I thanked her for her honesty in responding to the writing prompt I gave at the beginning of the year and told her it was because of her willingness to be so honest and open that I realized how offensive the portrayals are. She thanked me for understanding and admitted that when they presented themselves in the movie her first thought was, "here we go again."
No matter how brief the scene or line - it is in the film and it changes the experience. I couldn't enjoy it like I had before. As an African American educator I am painfully aware of what it feels like to be marginalized for the sake of presenting an idea. So, I am clipping the wings of Birdman and putting what used to be one of my favorite films in the never to be watched again piles.
October 14th, San Bernardino Valley College (SBVC) had a 90th Anniversary Gala Event. As a graduate from the community college, I was invited to be one of the 90. What an awesome honor! What an honor to be included in such a wonderful celebration. Part of the celebration was a dinner to help raise scholarship money for students.
Although this is a once in a lifetime event, family comes first and there was a schedule conflict that prohibited me from attending the Gala. A week later, I was on the campus with a friend and much to my amazement there was a huge banner of the 90 alumni being celebrated. I was so stunned. Following is a photo of the banner.
Thank you SBVC for making education affordable. Attending community college allowed me to complete freshman and sophomore years without accumulating debt. It was a safe environment for me to explore options, learn my strengths and weaknesses, and find encouragement while working towards an attainable goal. What it provided for me then, it continues to do the same for its current students.
As a high school teacher, I see many young people fighting to get into Ivy League institutions, as well as colleges and universities that cost thousands upon hundreds of thousands of dollars. While the names are impressive, the cost of prestige can be daunting. Unless a student has parents who have a substantial college fund and can afford the cost, or a full ride scholarship, or substantial grants - a community college makes the most financial sense. SBVC is a great segue between high school and a four-year college/university, and it is an opportunity for a young person to have time to explore career and education options. It is an invaluable bridge to a successful future.
I feel like a chihuahua staring into a lion's mouth. This is how one of the freshmen students described how it feels to present a speech in front of the class. That line was one of the best things that happened to me today. I have been toting that image around with me, seeing the horrifying yawn of demise...phrased so beautiful. As you might imagine, the student's speech and delivery were impeccable.
Days like this, I am grateful to be a teacher and honored that students participate in the creative process of learning.
Posts are brainstorms for lessons and presentations;
reflections on lesson presentations; and
trends in society that impact education and scholarly climate.
Posts in the "On the Write Side" blog are personal observations regarding the craft of writing and presentation, and the venues and writing community experiences.