Archive for March, 2007

On Props and Performance

Just read: CNN Education News feature on an 88-year-old AP English teacher who “still fires up her students.” Mrs. Rose “Mama G’ Gilbert teaches in a suburban Los Angeles public school and gets attention by using props–putting a fire-hat on her head when reading from 1984, and a slip over her clothing when teaching Freudian slips. Hmmmm.

This reminds me that I have used props in class before, too. I have an alien doll in my office I like to call Desi (named for the Richard Olen Butler character alien who lands here one night and falls for an Earthling in a Wal-Mart parking lot). I haven’t brought Desi to class in a long time. Perhaps I should dust him off for my Comp I classes next week. When talking about audience assumptions, I prop Desi up on a student desk at the front of the room, and tell students to write an introduction to their paper that DESI will read. He doesn’t know anything about your subject..what do you need to tell him in order for him to understand? Then, we can take those introductions and retool them toward an earthly audience.

I’ve chatted over many a lunch with colleagues about teaching as performance (Did some Neil Postman reading on this over break…more on that later). Props are a way to connect through the use of concepts. Making the classroom experience entertaining seems to be an important part of creating teacher persona in an Aristotilian way–they enjoy the performance, they believe my arguments and ideas.

Slow Days

I’ve always loved Snow Days because they force us to slow down. I’m almost always moving at a breakneck pace, and don’t really have a chance to do nothing…Being trapped in the house with no committments, no meetings, no running to do, no dropping off and picking up kids, gives me no choice but to stay put.

I admit to being more conscious of not taking time out from the running around after talking to my dad a years ago. A few weeks before his death, I was sitting on the edge of his bed at the nursing home and running through my list of all I had to do at the time. Though the trach-tube kept him from talking, he looked at me and mouthed a whisper,”Slow Down.” I could see his eyes, and in the force that he put behind the words, that he was worried about me.

I promised I would. I sometimes see my dad as he tried to speak those words when I am dashing the kids to school in the morning, or trying to fit one more thing in that someone has asked me to do. I’ve had a few rushed and crazy weeks–if not months–and have found myself always trying to catch up…so, I am always moving. After a difficult weekend juggling and running, I vowed that I was taking it easier and pacing myself more.

These two SNOW DAYS have certainly helped. I spent some snow-day downtime snapping photos out back. All were taken with a polorizing filter, but this one has more of a bluish tint because the area was shaded from the sun.

Freedom from Speech

Speaking of speech and the freedom of it… I’d like some freedom FROM speech. I’m getting old–I am growing annoyed with all of the talking that people of all ages are doing on their cell phones.

Friday, March 2: 7:40 am: Driving kids to school, I spot three drivers, cell phones pressed to their ears, as they navigate.

8:02 am, The Gym, locker room: A woman sitting on a bench ties her shoes as she talks on her phone. Another applies eye-makeup with one hand, holds her phone to her ear with the other. Yack yack.

9:30 am : Target. Main aisle-One man, walks and talks his way through the store. A woman takes a call in the cereal aisle. Another makes a call near me while I pick up some office supplies.

11:45 Applebees: THREE people at tables with others are busy conversing with someone else via their cell phones.

When I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s, six of us shared access to a single phone–no call waiting or three-way calling (gasp!). Ten minutes was the limit for the four kids–and we were certain to alert a parent if someone was “hogging” the phone. Looking back, I think I probably could have talked longer. but I am sure glad I didn’t. In the time I would have been yammering away on the phone, I read, wrote parodies, cleaned my room, listened (really listened) to music, daydreamed, watched Gilligan’s Island, played street baseball or hockey with the other kids in the neighborhood.

Most of all, I think I enjoyed having some time to myself.I know that I enjoy that precious time to myself now. Don’t you think we NEED it? A few years ago, I was present when a friend of mine–a priest–was asked HOW to PRAY.

His answer was immediate: “You can pray anytime and anywhere; you just need to find quiet so that you can think.” He explained his concern that we are all so busy and distracted that we have no time to ourselves to find ourselves and connect with our roots, which is really what prayer is all about. Whether you have any form of faith, you need time alone to find yourself, to relax, and maybe to notice the world you are walking through with a cellphone hermetically sealed to your ear.

Think about someone like H.D. Thoreau. He spent a lot of solitary time reflecting and observing. What if he had had a cell phone? HA! I should write that scenario…perhaps I will.

Freedom of Speech

If Americans have any one belief in common, it is that we all have a right to “free speech.” Of course, it is our First Amendment right, and I argue, probably the only two words from the Constitution that the majority of Americans can recite.

Those words are oft mis-interpreted and re-interpreted to fit the times–the Supreme Court has made alterations to deal with obscure definitions of obscene speech, and more recently, to regulate or legislate hate speech.These two related stories were in yesterday’s news:

Santa Rosa, CA: A high-school freshman responds casually to taunts: “That’s so gay!” Four years later, she is in court, testifyingagainst the school system that disciplined her and permanently recorded a “hate-speech” violation in her academic file. The young lady told the court that she meant no harm, and wasn’t even refering to homosexuality, but instead used the phrase as is commonly accepted in our culture, to mean “That’s so stupid, that’s so silly, that’s so dumb.”

New York City: New York City Council has passed legislation banning the use of the N-word.

Every semester, some student labels something as “gay,” giving me the opportunity to start a class discussion on how the use of that term relates to and deviates from the use of other derogatory terms. And we discuss whether this is hate speech, or part of our culture.