Movies You Should See: Arranged

This hidden gem of a movie is the story of two single women school teachers in New York. One is Jewish and the other is Muslim.  Through their friendship you get to see the challenges of bringing together their two cultures.  But you also see the similar ground they both stand on particularly as they both stand up for their similar morals and values together.  It also shows them both struggle together as they search for a husband that they can fall in love with, that will please their parents and that shares their same values and beliefs which is at times humorous.  A great movie to watch to discuss ideas of cultural expectations, faith, standing up for values and looking for the beautiful in all people and cultures.

Arranged was produced in 2007 by Cicala Filmworks and is distributed by Film Movement.

Available streaming on Netflix.


Think Tank: Reality Check

I read an article recently on the news about this new wave of discoveries about teachers who help their students cheat.  I’m sure you’ve heard about this if you’ve been keeping an eye on the news lately.  Basically, the government and school districts have learned lately that there is a huge wave of teachers in specific states like Georgia (though I doubt it’s that limited) who will help point out answers to their students on state tests so that the school can meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and stay open without as much government interference.  (Thanks, No Child Left Behind.)

The articles I’ve read on this topic have been varied in response.  Some are shocked at the lack of integrity shown by teachers who will do anything to keep a job.  Some are sympathetic to teachers who are backed into a corner and aren’t given much of a choice.  Some are just confused about how we got here in the first place.

One person isn’t confused.  At the end of the article, the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan insists that standardized tests are the only way to adequately ensure that schools are teaching students.  So, according to the leaders in government, at least, it’s onward ho and more standardized testing for you.  Whoopie!

This baffles me for a number of reasons.  The government is not ignorant to the fact that test scores have not gone up.  Getting a high school or college diploma is not a guarantee of a job any longer.  Compared to other nations, the US is still well behind.  Persisting with a system that everyone acknowledges as inefficient is ridiculous.  It’s the educational equivalent of a doctor watching a patient with a cut bleed through bandaid after band-aid and just laugh and say: “Well, we’ve tried the Johnson and Johnson’s clear variety and the cloth variety, maybe we should try the water proof variety this time and THAT will work-“.  In the mean time, the patient (or, in this case, the student/school), is continuing to bleed and no matter what form or brand the band-aid (or standardized test) takes, it won’t do any good to solve the current problem.

Everyone seems to know this except the higher ups in government.  As a teacher, I’ve had dozens of people (administrators and professors alike) tell me that I’m not supposed to teach to a test.  But I am supposed to teach everything that’s on the test so that students pass.  But that’s not teaching to the test.  . . . or something.  I think I would rather – and I think you would rather – everyone start calling the system out for what it is.

But what does this mean for you?  What’s the application?  Many students take this as a chance to win a free period by filling in random blanks or clicking random answers just to finish because they don’t care.  This isn’t the solution.  You as a person should have more honor than that.  What you do – you should do well.  (Even if the “do” is, in this case, frustrating.)  I think the application for you goes beyond the hours you spend filling in circles, because the web of influence standardized tests has expands beyond a few days a year.

Remember the last Think Tank post Greg made about the ridiculous processes teachers go through to become teachers?  This process, as I’m sure you are aware, often leads to teachers who are bored of their jobs and have no encouragement to be creative or inspiring to you.  It means that the responsibility of your education is on you.  It means that you need to actively seek out the mentors who will help take you where you need to go.  It means that whatever you do – whether it’s reading good books, watching good movies, participating in sports or learning a craft – should be done with purpose and care.

The world is set up right now to allow you to be mediocre and bored.  The way most people talk about teenagers assumes that the only thing you are interested in is texting and video games and socializing – but if you’re here, and you’re still reading, then that can’t be true.  So your reality check for the day is this: If you are going to be something, become someone, or gain skills – it’s going to be up to you.


Dance You Should Watch: This Woman’s Work

This dance from the fifth season of So You Think You Can Dance is a perfect example of the way that dance can express the inexpressible.  “This Woman’s Work” is a story similar to the last dance we posted (they won’t all be sad!) – the story of a woman fighting cancer.  The thing I love about this dance is the way Melissa fights so hard to come to terms with the challenges she’s facing, but how she can only be truly strong with the help of another.  Watch this dance for the story it’s telling, but also for the way it can relate to you and your role of helping those who need help, and those who help you when you need help.


Things You Should Read: Your Refined Heavenly Home

“Your Refined Heavenly Home” was an article that was suggested to me by my mother several years ago that I utterly devoured.  Douglas Callister’s perspective on refinement and self mastery is wonderful.  This article supports very much the ideas found in Hugh Nibley’s article “The Goods of First and Second Intent” that we suggested earlier.  Although this speech was directed to a Latter-Day Saint (Mormon) audience, this article gives a good perspective particularly on the way we use language to present ourselves.  As an English teacher and writer, I definitely approve.  What do you think of Callister’s ideas?


Think Tank: Join the 21st Century

As you get to know me you’ll know that one of my big peeves is bureaucracy. Bureaucracy, almost of any kind, makes me want to both laugh out loud at its ridiculousness and scream furiously at its ignorant inefficiencies.

Now as a school teacher I get the privilege of working with one of the most notorious bureaucracies on a regular basis: the state.  The irony of one these interactions was so perfect I have to share.

One day, as I sat at my two screen computer with both a typing keyboard and a musical one, I was working on interactive, Flash based interfaces for the movies and lessons of our online classes.  To get an accurate picture you have to imagine that on one screen the internet programming window was open. Behind that was the graphic design program.  On the other screen there was a video editing program running and the browser where I was testing the program that was a result of all these other programs working together.

Since I’m pretty good at all this multimedia stuff and do it as profession, the school I teach at wanted me to teach some multimedia classes.  Sounds great.  There’s only one big problem (are you ready for this) . . . . I have never taken a multimedia class in college!!! Please, take a moment to recover from the shock.  I mean, how could I know anything if I didn’t take a college class about it, right?

Well the state apparently agrees that I, in fact, must know nothing and the only way I could learn was to go back to college — because while I was sitting there at my computer I got an email from my school telling me all the required college courses I would have to take in order to be allowed to teach multimedia starting with the most beginning level classes.  I just about threw the computer screen at the wall.

Now lest you think I am an isolated case let me tell you about another good friend of mine.  He is literally a world-renown artist.  He has painted for around 30 years at the professional level and has done work all over the world.  Many of you reading this would recognize some of his pieces.  On top of that he is a gifted teacher that is able to help his students develop the skills to create great pieces or art.  He’s recently decided that he wanted to get into teaching at a public school.  He loves it and his students are doing remarkably well.

What’s the problem?  He does not have a college degree.  Instead of learning in the educational world he decided to learn in the professional world which does not award credits or degrees.  But, believe me, he is no less educated.  The state has decided that if he is going to continue to teach he will have to go back to college.  So this master artist and master teacher is now spending his time in beginning art classes at a local university so he can continue to do the thing he loves and the thing he is wonderfully good at.

Now why am I telling all you this?  Just so I can whine about stupid bureaucracies?  Of course not . . . OK, well maybe a little.  But really I want to point out that, even though there are many (including state bureaucracies) who think the only effective way to learn something is in your high school or college classes, the reality is that you live in the 21st century and there are a myriad of resources literally at your finger tips to help you gain the education you want.

There is nothing stopping you from taking the steps to become expert in whatever area of knowledge you would like.  Whether you want to study the literature and life of Charles Dickens, the principles of chemistry or Hollywood costume design, there are the tools available to you to help you become an expert without ever stepping into a college class.  Imagine what scholars from the past would do if they had something as basic as Wikipedia available to them.  I learned most of my multimedia skills from for $25 a month — tons cheaper, faster and more effective than college classes!  Apple has iTunesU where classes and lectures from leading universities like Oxford and Harvard are available for FREE!  And remember, there’s still the good old public library, a luxury not many people in the history of the world have enjoyed.

Now don’t get me wrong — this is not an excuse to neglect high school or college.  They are still as important as they always were and a great place to learn.  But they are no longer the only place to learn.  Choose something you’re interested in and embark to search out what you can learn.  Use the tools you have to better yourself, not just to pass the time.  Create a personal culture and habit of learning and growth wherever you are, not just in classes.  In short — join the 21st century.  It’s moving fast and is offering to take you along.

– Greg

Books You Should Read: The Giver

There used to be a time when young adult literature was only based on very long series books or silly romances – books that were fluff, fun, non-thinking sorts of books.  Like cotton candy.  But the young adult literature world has changed in the last twenty years, and Lois Lowry’s The Giver was one of the first books to prove that young adult literature can be just as smart – if not smarter – than “adult” fiction.

Giver is set in a fictional, unnamed community where everything is supposed to be perfect – people don’t get sick, they all have jobs that they enjoy and families that get along.  There is unity and no war or vandalism or many of the insecurities that we face in our world.  But when Jonas becomes a twelve and is given his job assignment, he starts to think that maybe living in a perfect world without any problems in it isn’t the best way to live after all.

Giver is a perfect book to read with friends and family.  It showcases the values of choices, even when the freedom to make choices sometimes comes with price.

The Giver was written by Lois Lowry, and can be purchased at any bookstore.


Movies You Should See: North and South

North and South is not the story of the American Civil War, but it is about a war of sorts- a battle of wills between Margaret Hale, a girl from the countryside of Southern England used to a quiet, peaceful, easy life; and John Thornton, a mill owner during the industrial age of Northern England – who is just as likely to read Plato as beat a worker who smokes in his mill.

What follows is recognizable as the basic storyline of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. (boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other, boy loves girl, girl thinks boy is crazy, etc.)  Only this time the story matters more.  North and South takes the basic story of Pride and Prejudice and expands it into the world of business, religion, class struggles and mystery.  This is not just a story of people falling in love – it is a story of a whole group of people growing and learning from the different views of people around them.  It’s a story anyone can enjoy.

North and South was produced in 2004 by the BBC in four one-hour episodes.  It stars Daniela Denby-Ashe as Margaret and Richard Armitage as John Thornton.

Available streaming on Netflix