Sunday, March 31, 2013

Facing Facebook

This is bad.  This is really bad to admit.
The other day I opened Facebook. I rarely, rarely open Facebook. I was happy I remembered which email and password I used. I don't even know how it opened to the page it did but there were two Friend requests which I confirmed and then, and then there was an endless scroll of people people people and MORE people.  

People I knew from high school, work, the neighborhood.  

People who knew people that I knew.  

People who were the friends of my kids and friends of their friends and relatives.  Relatives I knew, and relatives that were relatives of relatives.  

My mother-in-law's sister's second husband's grown children.  I had heard of them but never seen them and here they were.  

People I truly did not know and didn't even know the connection.  My brother-in-law's daughter's acting contacts.  Clients of my nephew's girlfriend.   

After seven minutes I stopped scrolling because whenever I thought I'd gotten to the end of the list, the computer would re-calibrate and more faces and more faces would appear.  

Where would it end?  What was I to do with all these people?

It scared me.

I'm starting my own business and I should welcome all these contacts.  I should post some status on Facebook that declares to the world (or at least the world that exists on Facebook which happens to be quite a lot of world) that I am an independent contractor seeking work.  

I’m the Jill-of-all-trades you’re looking for to figure out how to 
     market that product, 
     facilitate that board retreat, 
     consensually craft that mission statement, 
     rewrite that newsletter.  I’m your gal! 

I should be on Linked In.  And Twitter and Tumblr and — 

I should. I should. I should.  And — and — and — 

I’m dreading it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Common Sense Approach to Education

Two 11-year olds, Simon and Alice, come back from recess and see their teacher hanging from a pipe in their classroom.  Really.

Monsieur Lazhar is a poignantly fabulous little film about "an Algerian immigrant seeking asylum in Montreal who replaces an elementary school teacher who committed suicide and helps the kids deal with their loss."  

The film transits how various adults in authority keep wanting to push the tragedy away and move on, while Bachir Lazhar — who has talked his way into being their substitute — desperately wants to allow the class to express what they're feeling.

I won't summarize the plot because as beautifully written and thought-provoking as it was, my focus was on something the film portrayed: How restrictive and rule-driven our educational system has become.   In trying to make sense of what he's supposed to teach, Monsieur Lazhar asks himself "...cross-curricular competencies ...what's that?"

When did we lose the common sense approach to teaching?

When did we stop trusting teachers to simply ask and assess if a student could: 
  • read, comprehend, intelligently discuss, extrapolate and apply information?
  • write an accurate, cohesive, succinct, and persuasive report?
  • manage money and be financially literate?
  • treat others with respect and compassion and act with integrity?
I know that isn't everything that kids should learn but we're so busy spelling out every single step that teachers can and CANNOT take that we've lost the essence of what teaching does when it's at its best:  guide kids to become happy, healthy, caring and contributing citizens of their local and global communities.

Monsieur Lazhar is instructed, cautioned, and later warned not to have any physical contact with the students.  He says he feels as if he needs to "treat kids like they're radioactive waste and keep hands off."  Though he doesn't even realize he's swatted a boy on the back of his head, throughout the film you can see the ache on his face when he longs to give a reassuring touch or a hug to these children who have been traumatized beyond what anyone could imagine.  

Instead of being able to use what's occurring in their young lives and address their emotional well-being, he must stick to the lesson plans and ignore the teachable moments that offer an opportunity to deal with their grief and loss.  Granted suicide is an extreme, but in the real lives of all our students someone dies, parents get divorced, jobs change, families move away. Shouldn't these be the things teachers also teach about in their classrooms? 

I am the product of many, many wonderful teachers who took a personal interest and nurtured me when that was absent in my home life.  When things were chaotic in my family (which was pretty often) I could always count on the stability and comfort of the classroom with my teacher.  

Were there exceptions and teachers who disappointed?  Yes.

Will every teacher reach every student?  No.

Will every teacher be a great teacher?  No, but what profession can boast 100% excellence?

And while we're at it, what other profession is constantly judged, regulated, and monitored by those outside the profession?  
Just because you've had a teacher doesn't mean you know how to be one.

I say put teaching back in the hands of teachers. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Blind Date with The Stones

It was an odd situation.  I was headed out on a blind date arranged by my ex-boyfriend Jack.  

Though Jack and I were no longer dating, we'd remained friends and I trusted that Jack had my best interests at heart.  Still, a blind date?

"He's a really nice guy and he's Armenian!" was his pitch, so I said the guy could call me and when he did, he was so, so excited to tell me he had tickets to see the Rolling Stones at the recently renovated Madison Square Garden in New York. 

Being a Beatles girl, I wasn't so enthused.  Plus, it was on Thanksgiving, he'd have to pick me up from my Aunt Maddy & Uncle Johnny's house, and — it was a blind date.
"So this guy, this blind date, he's taking me to see The Rolling Stones," I complained to my friends as I slammed my locker door the next morning at school.  

                              "The Stones?  Are you kidding me?"
                            "GEEZ, you're COMPLAINING?  A blind date that's taking you to the Stones?!"

"I don't like the Rolling Stones," I continued to complain, "and it's on Thanksgiving night.  This guy is gonna have to pick me up from my Aunt's house and I'm gonna have to meet him with about 30 relatives looking on — isn't that AWFUL?" I complained hoping for sympathy.
"You better stop whining," cautioned one of my friends looking at me as if I were a complete lunatic — "YOU are getting to see THE ROLLING STONES!  Are you CRAZY?  You are SO LUCKY!"
Though I still felt cranky, I guessed I could bear it.

After a gargantuan Thanksgiving meal, I was upstairs getting ready for the big date with help from my sister and my cousin Linda.  Before he even rang the doorbell, I already felt sorry for Bob.  As far as the family was concerned, he was walking in the door with two strikes against him:

     1.  What kind of an Armenian was he?  His family name had been shortened so that it didn't have the signature "ian" at the end of it that signaled it was Armenian ("ian" means "son of"...son of the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker).

     2.  It was Thanksgiving.  What was he doing leaving HIS family?  What kind of an Armenian was he?  

I tried to hurry along but was having trouble with my hair. Downstairs I could faintly hear this poor guy being grilled: Where was he from? What did his father do?  What was he studying in college?  Then I heard my uncle ask if he'd ever gotten a traffic ticket. I figured next he'd be asking if he ever used drugs, so I thought I better break up the interrogation.

As I came down the stairs, immediately I thought — strike three.   Bob had long hair, cut in a Beatles-bob shag with very long bangs.  Oh boy, he didn't stand a chance in this crowd.  Still, he was nice looking, in an Armenian-way, but he was squirming uncomfortably.   Every male relative in the room was staring in wait for Bob's answers to the endless stream of questions my cousin Bobby continued shooting at him.  Seeing the sweat beading down my date's face, I took pity and hustled us out of there and into the safe haven of his car.    

Madison Square Garden had unveiled its new look just a year before...the tiered brightly color-coded-by-level seating could accommodate close to 20,000 people.  We were on the side of the first tier...not bad seats compared to the rows and rows and rows above us.  It was a massive place.  As we took our seats, I was surprised that everyone around us was smoking.  Soon I realized it wasn't all tobacco.

The first act was someone I'd never heard of, Terry Reid, but he got the night off to a good start.  Next up, BB King.  Yes, BB KIng was a warm-up act for the Stones and to put it mildly, he was incredible — seated on his chair pulled close to the front of the stage with his cheek on his guitar he sang his blues and got people clapping and tapping their feet.  I was really starting to feel the music.

Then BB exited stage left and filling the stage with their pulsating "hard-driving, funked-up hybrid of soul and rock" came Ike and Tina Turner.  I kid you not.  As they skyrocketed into their set, the audience of thousands were jumpin', dancing and rockin' with a joy that soon escalated into a frenzy.  And just when you couldn't imagine it could get any better, out from somewhere in the seats down on the floor runs someone to join Tina Turner on stage and — ladies and gentlemen get ready — it is none other than in the flesh — Janis Joplin

Handed a mike, Janis and Tina burst into "Combination of the Two" ("Who-o-o-a, whoa, whoa, whoa-yeah! Whoa-yeah! WHOA-yeah!") which brought everyone to their feet.  I hadn't smoked nor had Bob, but there was so much smoke all around us, you couldn't help but inhale the fumes.  I realized I was experiencing what people called a "contact high."  After the high energy rendition of that song, Janis and Tina slid into "Piece of My Heart," a heart-breaking ballad of pain ("Didn't I make you feel like you were the only man - yeah!  An' didn't I give you nearly everything that a woman possibly can ? I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it, take another little piece a' my heart now baby...") that every female in the audience identified with.  THEY were unreal — the date was unreal — and we hadn't even gotten to the Stones!

This is the generic poster from their 1969 tour, the bottom would be filled in with venue details.  
Somewhere buried in my attic is the program from the November 27 concert I attended on my blind date.

When the Stones finally came on stage, everyone in the arena was on their feet.  Madison Square Garden was a writhing mass of humanity.  To be honest, I don't remember much about what they sang or even how they sounded.  What I do remember is Mick Jagger shirtless, strutting around the stage like a preening peacock who was being showered by screaming adoring girls (lots of girls) throwing their bras on stage — literally.   As a pretty naive 11th-grader who hid in the corner of the locker room to change clothes when it was time for gym, this act of sheer abandon, coupled with the communal consumption of dope, were startling to me.

Bob Brooke may not have lasted long in my dating life, but the impact of that date sure did.  From that exhilarating, mind-blowing-first-rock-concert-ever, came a passion for live music and — from that night on — a singular focus on saving every penny I worked for to buy tickets to Fillmore East and other music venues in Manhattan for the rest of my high school days. I would see, among others, Jethro Tull (3 times!), John Mayall, Ten Years After, BB King, The Doors, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

So here's a shout-out to "Telephone-Jack" (as my uncles used to call him because our communication was largely via pay phones) for introducing me to my ticket to a slam-bang unbelievable night that rocked me into rock music — and was the rock concert of an era.