Sunday, February 11, 2018

Brat Pack movies & Gen X Nostalgia

And then out of the blue, the Facebook page was created and the invitations and comments started coming - I just turned forty-eight and thus am approaching the 30th anniversary of my high school graduation. Ah, Generation X, how far we've come. While I probably won't make it home for my class reunion, I've been entertained by the nostalgia of classmates who have been planning an 80s theme for the weekend. Inevitably the references to songs and movies come along, and it's no surprise that John Hughes references are aplenty, for, in many ways, he raised us.

Coincidentally, I have been making my way through writer Jason Diamond's poignant and nostalgic memoir Searching for John Hughes: or Everything I thought I needed to know I learned from watching 80s movies. The book came out a couple years ago, and it's been sitting on my shelf with other pieces of Gen X commentary and criticism. But I picked it up recently and have been reflecting on my own John Hughes obsession as Diamond explains the origins of the book as his plan to kickstart a writing career by composing a biography of John Hughes.While Diamond is almost a decade younger than I, and his experience with the Hughes canon was on DVDs, rather than the theater, I appreciate the spirit with which he acknowledges the Hughesian influence and insight on his coming-of-age.

The nostalgia that comes through revisiting the pop culture of our youth is particularly strong for Gen Xers who can arguably be considered the first pop culture kids. Artists like Hughes - a Baby Boomer himself - were attuned to the powerful presence that media, film, and music had on the identities of young people in the 80s. And Diamond's book is an admirable contribution to the growing canon of Hughes/80s studies. One of my next reads is a reflection on Hughes' film settings, notably the suburban North Shore of Chicago. Gen X writer and book/film critic Kevin Smokler published Brat Pack America: a Love Letter to 80s Teen Movies last year, and I'm looking forward to his take on the genre as well.

Other 80s film commentary and criticism that I've enjoyed, or plan to read, includes:

Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from 80s movies and ....

You Couldn't Ignore Me if You Tried: The Brat Pack, John Hughes, and Their Impact on a Generation

Don't You Forget about Me: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes

John Hughes: a Life in Film - the Genius Behind Ferris Bueller, the Breakfast Club, and more

Monday, February 5, 2018

Micro-credentials – Professional Development That Matters

Let’s be clear: quality professional development is one of the greatest demands and a high priority for people in the teaching profession. However, finding meaningful PD is one of our profession’s biggest challenges, leading to plenty of frustration. I’ll be honest. Like many teachers I shamelessly attend education conferences looking to “steal stuff.” Educators are always on the prowl for new and innovative ways to engage students and craft quality learning experiences. But is one lesson or learning experience worth a conference worth of time? Not always. But now, with the increased presence of professional learning communities (PLCs) in schools, many teachers are realizing that quality professional growth can be just down the hall.

Professional development – an idea that should intrigue, excite, and inspire educators – often elicits groans and eye-rolling as simply another set of hoops to jump through before they can get back to the job of educating young people. Micro-credentials may just be the key to help “salvage teacher PD.” In the Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin, teachers are coming together to create their own PD that is timely and specifically relevant to the actual kids sitting in their classrooms. For example, one group of teachers formed a book study on a necessary skill like close reading. They exchanged ideas, collaborated on lessons, implemented strategies, and documented the results on student learning. Then after submitting their work for review, they were able to earn a college-backed micro-credential, which can be tied to evaluations and salary, and even licensing. The goal is to make professional development more accessible and practical.  

The key for success in the Kettle Moraine district is that teachers were able to access professional development specifically relevant and tailored to the kids in their classrooms, and they were able to tailor their own growth, lesson planning, and instruction to the diverse learning styles of their students. As an educator and administrator who works closely with varied student populations, an attention to differentiation and unique learning styles is of primary importance to me. As a Gifted & Talented Coordinator (and GT parent), I am attentive to the unique needs of advanced learners, including when those needs include challenges with skills such as executive functioningTo organize lessons and instruction without knowledge of specific students' strengths, challenges, and interests is to be dismissive of the entire learning process. Yet, the challenge of differentiating for varied learners can be daunting. PD opportunities that support teachers' efforts to personalize learning are a long overdue development in education. As I work with students developing advanced learning plans, I can tailor discussions of affective programming by acknowledging the emotional intelligence and mindfulness that is often a far greater indicator of potential than simple standardized grades.

I am also a coordinator for professional development around the goals of equity and pedagogy, and in that regard I know that one of the most valuable components of inclusive excellence and culturally responsive instruction is a teacher's commitment to building relationships and a positive classroom culture. As a colleague recently noted, we simply can't keep doing what we've always done and expect students to adjust. The goal of the educator is engagement in meaningful instruction, and anyone with knowledge of rhetoric knows that effective speakers pay careful attention to their audience, adjusting for who is sitting in front of them. By paying attention to specific qualities and needs of students such as   I see so many opportunities in the micro-credential world that are specifically relevant to the work I am doing. From the important challenge of cultivating digital citizenship to the value of honoring unique student potential through the growthmindset, I see much potential in this new model of PD.

Education truly is an institution in flux, and an intriguing development of professional development is the emergence of micro-credentials as a new, refined, and effective way of providing professional development on a small and focused scale of personalized instruction and competency-based learning.  Organizations like Digital Promise are now offering an extensive platform of PD opportunities in the form of micro-credentials. Digital Promise is a non-profit “authorized by Congress to spur innovation in education and improve the opportunity to learn for all through technology and research.” To earn a micro-credential, educators simply “select a specific skill or area in which they want to develop and demonstrate competency, or an area or skill they already possess competence in. Collect the required evidence as articulated in the micro-credential (e.g. videos, audio, writing samples, samples of student work, reflections from students and/or teachers etc.) Submit their evidence through the online platform.  Assessors then review the evidence against the scoring guide and rubric. If educators successfully demonstrate competence, they receive the micro-credential in the form of a digital badge. Helping to establish the platform and make the opportunities accessible and established is the BloomBoard organization, providing structure to an emerging field.

When a teacher considers how he can “remain current” in his field – an expectation for many professional evaluation rubrics – he’s often faced with the tired and mundane list of professional development offerings that may not fit what he’s actually doing in the classroom. In the spirit of the online credentialing movement, educators now have increased opportunities for micro-credentials which are relevant to and reflect what they are actually doing in the classroom. The greatest benefit of micro-credential is that it honors and relies on the content-area expertise of the classroom teacher, as opposed to relying on an ambiguous, top-down mandate that may come from people far removed from the classroom. Some have explained how the concept of micro-credentials works a bit “like merit badges” in scouting.  

So-called “micro-credentials” work a lot like scouting badges. Teachers complete a specific activity to develop a critical competency for their role, and earn a micro-credential based on showing mastery of the skill. They can collect micro-credentials to document growing expertise and share their accomplishments in the classroom. Proponents of teacher micro-credentials … aim to shift teacher PD to a competency-based system with personalized development opportunities that match teachers’ and schools’ specific needs. Such a system could allow teachers to drive their own development, signal their true areas of expertise to school and district administrators, and advance in their careers according to their skills. If it gains traction, micro-credentialing could help transform how K–12 teachers are prepared, hired, developed, and assigned teaching responsibilities.

As the education world continues to innovate, moving away from a one-size-fits-all system, one of the best things schools can do is to provide opportunities for professional growth that are individualized and competency-based. Relying on the ability of teachers to be content experts and also advocates for the specific learning needs of their students is an effective way of improving instruction and best meeting the needs of all students. Teachers and their students are hungry for quality meaningful instruction that improves outcomes for all kids. The concept of micro-credentials and the establishment of groups like Digital Promise and BloomBoard are innovations that can provide this opportunity.

Ultimately, as I've grown as an educator, I've grown to understand the value of "teaching them where they are, as opposed to where I expect them to be." The value of personalized learning and individualized instruction cannot be understated, and PD that allows, encourages, and supports teachers efforts in this area is professional development worth pursuing.

*sponsored post

Friday, February 2, 2018

Groundhog Day @ 25 - An Existential Treat for the New Year

Groundhog Day: An Existential Treat for the New Year

As many people do, I’ve occasionally used January 1 as a time to re-set, start over, and finally begin to live, in the words of Thoreau, “the life I have imagined.” But as February approaches, and desks become re-cluttered and gym attendance begins to wane, I’m realizing perhaps a month later is a better fresh start date. Specifically, the second of February becomes my target for rebirth, just like it was a quarter-century ago for a weatherman named Phi Connors. Groundhog Day, which has become as well known for a subtly ingenious romantic comedy starring Bill Murray as it has for the odd folk practice of celebrating a weather-forecasting rodent, is another option for mid-winter self-reflection and reinvention.

On the twentieth-anniversary of the quirky Harold Ramis-Danny Rubin hit, it’s worth looking back at the film for all the existential wisdom and advice it offers, especially in a year when people are increasingly divided and confounded in their search for meaning and understanding amidst a world gone somewhat crazy. In a year ripe for self-reflection and reinvention, Phil Connor’s existential journey to a better self is a reminder of our ability to bring meaning to our lives in world that often appears to be nothing short of absurd.

2018 seems like an apropos time for a shift toward existentialism, what with divisive politics tearing at the fabric of society as a pop-culture President toys with nuclear annihilation over whose button is bigger. It’s hard to believe it’s been a quarter century since a pretentious, snide, and self-absorbed weatherman named Phil Connors begrudgingly made his way to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the nation’s strange little tradition of waiting for an over-sized gopher to predict the weather when seeing his shadow. The absurdity of the tradition is matched in the film by the absurdity of Phil’s unique dilemma, as he ends up stuck in small town Pennsylvania, reliving the same day again and again. Groundhog’s Day itself is a bizarre little folk tradition, and Phil’s monotonous waking up to an outdated and random but annoyingly catchy tune – “I’ve Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher – matches the inane circumstances that force Phil to re-evaluate everything he knows and does.

Obviously, the idea of living the same day over and over again – especially while stuck in a small town you despise – could be seen as a curse, and Phil certainly spends years believing that about his fate. But the idea of reinvention and getting a second chance – or unlimited chances – for a do-over to finally “get it right” is actually quite appealing. Phil’s initial reaction to his bizarre predicament is predictably to use his newfound power to indulge his basest fantasies. Given such freedom and power, who wouldn’t abuse it? He truly indulges in life with a string of hilarious scenes of Phil smoking indiscriminately, gulping coffee and pastries, manipulating women (“Nancy? Nancy Taylor?”), and even robbing an armored car. Of course, ultimately the freedom and power he truly achieves is freedom from and power over those Neanderthal-like urges. For even unrestricted access to endless hedonism and debauchery apparently becomes boring after a while.

Groundhog Day is truly a message film and the existential theme is clear – you will awake tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow as the same you in the same situation for no clear reason. Everyone lives through years, if not decades, in the same spot, doing the same job, with the same people in an endless loop. And the only way that situation will change or mean anything is if you change it, and you define the meaning. It’s never been a truer example that, as Dr. Phil once told audiences, “you create your own experience.” The issue of control in our lives is a central tenet to the philosophy and the film – our world is a creation of our own making. Yet, in many ways, the only thing we truly have control over is our choices, our reactions, and our interpretation. The issue of judgment is also relevant for Phil’s growth, for there is no correlation or causation between his actions and his circumstance. Whether he’s good – helping the homeless man – or bad – robbing the truck – his situation always remains the same. There is only one way out of the prison of our own existence – and that’s to not see it as a prison.  

Not entirely existential because the resolution of the film seemingly rewards him for making “good choices,” there is a value judgment bias in the film. At the beginning of the film Phil is narcissistic and egocentric, and that’s the point. Everyone is. He begins the film as a TV personality who declares “I make the weather.” Later, he shares a more melancholy realization that he’s a deity – “Well, I’m a god, I’m not the God. I think.” It even takes on a sweet innocence as he speculates, “Maybe God isn’t omnipotent. Maybe he’s just been around soo long, he knows everything.” Phil appears to have achieved immortality – but is that a blessing? He conquers death, but only because he literally tries to die out of exhaustion and despair. He ultimately becomes what Fitzgerald once called the “Platonic conception of himself,” or Jung just called the fully realized individual and self. He becomes what he is meant to be – the fully actualized self. The ideal.

The film has become more than just an entertaining rom-com, as critics, writers, and teachers have used the story as an avenue into the philosophy of existentialism. It first occurred to me about ten years ago while teaching a class called Intro to College Literature, a standard unit of which included Camus’ The Stranger, as well as his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.” Clearly, the existential premise has occurred to numerous educators and writers, for this is no shortage of articles about the existentialist brilliance of Groundhog Day. The most obvious philosophical components of the film and story are the absurdist nature of existence, the idea of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence, and Camus imagining Sisyphus happy. Camus saw the story of Sisyphus as the perfect metaphor for the human condition – stuck in a repetitive cycle which would seem absurd to the outsider. When he “imagines Sisyphus happy,” he shifts the paradigm from judgment and punishment to liberation and empowerment. Both Sisyphus and Phil transition through the act of acceptance – accepting and embracing their inescapable dilemma.

Once Phil accepts his fate, he is ironically freed from it. Life in Punxsutawney is no longer a prison, but an opportunity. He learns to play piano, becomes an expert ice sculptor, develops deep genuine knowledge of the people around him, and appreciates the woman he loves for all her simple goodness. The process takes time, and time is the one thing he has. One enterprising film fan, Simon Gallagher, once calculated the number of days Phil is stuck – 12,403, or approximately 33 years. That stretch of time is basically the length of adulthood when people come into their own, finish their education, develop careers, enter long term relationships, have kids, and look toward retirement.

Unlike many redemption stories, there is no specific antagonist nor any obvious guide or mentor figure leading Phil to peripeteia, his moment of clarity. The movie never explains why Phil’s space-time continuum glitch is, well, glitching. And it’s all the more satisfying that way. Phil’s status and challenge is his and his alone to understand and resolve – as is the case for all of us. If there seems to be nothing we can do about the state of the world, perhaps the most logical choice, which is really the only choice we ever had, is to turn back toward ourselves with a focus on making meaning of the one thing we can, ourselves.  Ultimately, the film deftly touches up 18th century neo-classical ideas of “freedom” – not the ability to do whatever you want, but to be free from ultimately unsatisfying and dead end of impulsiveness and appeals to our primal nature.

Pieces of popular culture truly embed themselves in the national consciousness at the moment they enter the lexicon. Danny Rubin’s screenplay certainly did that, as “Groundhog Day” has become the catchphrase for “monotony” and a drudgery-filled sense of repetitive daily life. Beyond that, the movie has become a reliably entertaining bit of self-help for the existentially thirsty who seek solace and understanding in the classic redemption narrative that has captivated audiences since the time of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which Bill Murray also explored in the Christmas classic Scrooged. Ultimately, after all these years the weird little tale of Phil Connors remains a refreshingly engaging romantic comedy that also happens to be an inspiring primer on the wisdom of existentialism. Given one life to live with certain parameters beyond our control, the best and only thing we can do is to make that life exactly what we want it to be and imagine ourselves happy.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Conservative Classical Liberal

With several books out recently that contain the word "Liberalism" in the title, I have been giddily traipsing across the internet exploring ideas and definitions of conservatism. The intriguing game for me is coming to understand and articulate how many contemporary conservatives are actually classical liberals. Isn't that fun? From Patrick Deneen's hot-off-the-presses Why Liberalism Failed to the boldly titled and eloquently researched The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce, there is much to entertain the minds of Burkean-Kirkean conservatives. For a while I have maintained a pretty consistent "conservative-but-not-Republican" eye toward the issues, as I generally find myself aligning with the fiscally-conservative-but-socially-conscious camp. Many would simply identify that as being a moderate - and I don't quarrel with that view. There are simply so many contradictions and dead ends in the party politics that have made the heads of America's center-right spin. Religion would be a key component of that, with the roots of dissent going back to the rise of Ralph Reed in the 80s and 90s. It seems that many conservatives draw a line in the sand on "their" ideology as being intrinsically linked to a firm religiosity, notably Christian. But the line of thinking I tend to follow believes, as George Will so eruditely explains “an individual’s faith is not a requisite for good citizenship; that democratic flourishing does not require a religious citizenry; that natural rights do not require grounding in God.” Tell that to Focus on the Family though. As I've wondered around the blogs and think tanks, I've enjoyed discovering The Imaginative Conservative, a website filled with commentary and scholarship exploring conservatism in the contemporary age. There I found a wonderfully succinct bit of Kirkean wisdom worth repeating:

The conservative is concerned, first of all, with the regeneration of the spirit and character—with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest. - Russell Kirk

And, as I continue to explore the Burkean-Kirkean tenets of conservative thought, all the while pondering ideas of the Emerson-ian and Thoreauvian conservative, I am always amused to get lost in thoughtful ponderings such as this one from the New Republic:  Everyone Hates Henry David Thoreau.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

If I'm the Media, what does that say?

I believe in the news. And, as much as any rational, educated person can be reasonably well-informed while also scrutinizing any source of information, I also believe the news. That seems to be an ever more rare and suspect position in the era of fake news and Russian trolls, and I think a lot about what that means for contemporary society. The number of people who "don't believe the news" or simply don't pay attention to the news always surprises me (with increasing frequency), and a couple of recent conversations have re-framed this for me in interesting ways.

For one, I have an old college buddy who regularly challenges my blog posts and tweets as being part of "the media." The criticism mostly implies that I am "brethren" to the liberal mainstream media that is in conspiracy against the President and his agenda. Now, I am definitely a critic of the current White House, and I will occasionally post about relevant issues. But I'm a personal blogger with a couple social media accounts. That ain't "the media." For me, the media are professional news organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and NBC. Journalists are people who have trained to report the news and information. While any individual and organization is bound to have bias in the way stories are reported, I'm fairly comfortable with the state of news.

The issue of a news organization's "trustworthiness" came up over Winter Break with my middle-school-age daughter and one of her homework assignments, and the subsequent discussions I had with another parent also baffled me a bit. I was initially annoyed by the task my daughter had because she was asked to gather some factual information on a government-associated issue (hers was military spending), and her teacher told her she could not use news organizations because they were biased. She was instead steered toward using "a dot-org" because it's unbiased. Now, clearly any educated person knows that Americans for Prosperity and the Progressive Policy Institute are both .org groups, but each has a clear bias and agenda. So, I didn't like the assumptions about a website's inherent bias or the implication that CNN would be intrinsically biased about reporting of military spending.

Yet, interestingly, when we did a bit of researching, the quickest way to find simple facts about spending was, in fact, to go to a ".org" like Pew or the Petersen Foundation, and all searches of news sites truly did offer some biased commentary even in the headlines. And, I guess a lot can be said for not just turning kids loose on news websites because it's not so easy to simply go to Time or CNN or the WSJ or Fox and just collect facts and information.  That said, I am surprised by people who simply don't read or watch "the news," and I am a bit saddened by people who choose to remain somewhat aloof and uninformed simply because "all news is just biased."

Certainly, as an educator and teacher of rhetoric and argumentation, I am committed to developing a better understanding among my students about "what's out there," and I still seek to create "people on whom nothing is lost." This challenge of interpreting the media is actually in the media with the recent AP report that "States Push Media Literacy in Schools." While that goal is already ripe for criticism because of who will teach what to whom, it's probably a worthy goal for schools. And, interestingly, even as I was composing this post, I was challenged to find some sources. For example, in terms of an organization actively pushing a political party's agenda, I immediately referenced AFP. But I was initially at a loss to come up with a comparable group pushing the Democrats agenda that had equal prominence. Here's a good question: who makes up the progressive version of AFP?

Lawmakers in several states have introduced or passed bills calling on public school systems to do more to teach media literacy skills that they say are critical to democracy. The effort has been bipartisan but has received little attention despite successful legislation in Washington state, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico. Several more states are expected to consider such bills in the coming year, including Arizona, New York and Hawaii. "I don't think it's a partisan issue to appreciate the importance of good information and the teaching of tools for navigating the information environment," said Hans Zeiger, a Republican state senator in Washington who co-sponsored a bill that passed in his state earlier this year. "There is such a thing as an objective source versus other kinds of sources, and that's an appropriate thing for schools to be teaching."

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do know a few things. I will still read the Denver Post everyday and the Wall Street Journal on the weekends. I will still subscribe to Time Magazine and occasionally check in with CNN. I will still get my news and news commentary from sites like The Atlantic, Vox, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. And I will still trust my ability to read news with a critical lens, rather than simply choose not to read.

And I will maintain that I am not "the media."

Friday, January 5, 2018

Ideas Junkies & their Gurus

America is fascinated with ideas - just take a look at the non-fiction bestseller lists across the country and then review the careers of people like Malcolm Gladwell, David Brooks, Daniel Pink, Thomas Friedman, and others. We love to read and think about cool stuff. As a self-diagnosed "ideas junkie," I have been thinking a lot about my list of favorite thinkers and ideas-writers. I got to thinking about this when I recently read a review of Daniel Mendelsohn's new book An Odyssey: a Father, a Son, and an Epic. 

Looking in to Mendelsohn's work, I discovered him to be a thoughtful and erudite literary and social critic. His website led me to other works of criticism, and I just disappeared down the rabbit-hole of more and more books. Literally, I (and many others) just can't get enough of writers who so smoothly introduce the general populace to ideas and information that we would probably never encounter on our own. Perhaps no one has done this so effectively - and to such success - as former journalist Malcolm Gladwell who taught us about The Tipping Point and people known as Outliers

So, who do you like to read?  Here are some people I like to call "Ideas Gurus" who catch my attention regularly with the cool stuff they've been reading and thinking about:

Thomas Friedman

David Brooks

Daniel Pink

Daniel Khaneman

Stephen Levitt

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"I am What I am" - Poem, 2018

Art, more art. That is what I regularly tell myself ... and others. Being a creator more than being a consumer, seeing the world as an artist does - these are my goals for 2018. So, to begin this new year in pursuit of art, I offer this poem that I just ran across in an old folder at school and that I apparently wrote years ago, though I can't recall when.

I am what I am; 
Teacher, husband, father,
I am what I am.
More conservative than most people expect,
More liberal than I might admit,
I am what I am.
A traditionalist who likes to push the envelope; 
a painfully shy extrovert,
I am what I am.
Smart enough to know better, foolish enough to
make the same mistake twice,
or three times.
I am what I am.
Fiercely loyal to those I know well,
strongly suspicious of too many others;
I am cautious and carefree, and while 
I am always learning and usually willing
to listen, I figured it all out a long
time ago.
I am what I am.
Madly in love with my wife, amazed with,
inspired by, devoted to, and enamored of
my children, I live for my family,
and I can't get enough of them.
I am what I am.
In perpetual pursuit of the truth, constantly
refining my craft, fascinated by the whole
world, desirous of everything
at once, I am completely satisfied, but
always questing for more.
I am maniacally, cautiously
at peace with my life.
I am what I am.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve 2017

Well, here we are again. It's a white Christmas in Denver, and the family is here and safe and warm, and I'm reflecting on another year. Listening to, I am reminiscing about my favorite holiday songs, many of which take me back nostalgically to working winter breaks at the Pasta House, Co. in the St. Louis area. The Christmas tape had songs like:


And, now that it's thirty years later, and I'm living in Colorado, I've added a few favorites to my list such as:

Looking back, I realize that twelve months ago I was "Looking for Something about Life." I imagine I'm still doing the same in 2017. A year later I've managed to learn a little about playing piano, and I am forever trying to work a bit more art and culture into my life. The world continues to baffle me, though I am inclined to worry less about that which I cannot change, and I've come to realize that people will believe or not believe what they want with little help from me. Thus, I am trying to focus on hugging my people and tending my own garden as much as I can.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mendelsohn: a father & son study The Odyssey

Man, I really dig smart people. And veteran scholar and critic Daniel Mendelsohn definitely qualifies as one of the smartest people in the contemporary humanities world. If you're a reader, and especially if you are a reader of reviews and essays on the classics and humanities, you've most likely read some DM before, as he has been publishing critical commentary for years. Now he's released perhaps his most personal work with his re-visiting of Homer's The Odyssey in a seminar class at Bard College with his 81-year-old father sitting in on the class. Wash Post writer Wendy Smith offers an engaging and inviting overview of the man and his project as "Daniel Mendelsohn learns that teaching his dad 'The Odyssey' is a classic trip."

Daniel Mendelsohn is one of the finest critics writing today and the most broadly erudite, as comfortable and astute assessing blockbuster movies as he is when writing about classical Greek and Roman literature. He’s also an elegant and moving memoirist, of his personal history in “The Elusive Embrace” and of his family’s entanglement with the Holocaust in “The Lost.”  His lovely new book, “An Odyssey,”draws on all Mendelsohn’s talents as he braids critical exegeses into intimate reminiscences to illuminate them both. His 2011 seminar at Bard College on the “Odyssey” becomes a voyage of discovery not just for his students but also for Mendelsohn, who gets more than he bargained for when his 81-year-old father, Jay, decides to sit in on the class.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Art, more art - in Denver

Some time around a year ago, I concluded that what I need more of in my life was art. Art, jazz, photography, food, culture, .... life. The reality was that while I am pretty well-established and successful in my personal and professional lives, I was reeling from a sense of ennui, and I needed to be reminded that music, art, literature, and culture are the "things we stay alive for." For that reason, I am glad that even as a school administrator, I have remained in the classroom with a connection to the humanities that give us meaning and understanding. And I am also thankful for writers and critics like Denver's Ray Rinaldi and the Denver Post for continuing to cover the art world as an indispensable part of news and society. Reading about those neighborhoods where art is thriving, I am inspired and fulfilled, not to mention reminded to see the world like an artist.

These days, the Golden Triangle is the serious contender. While other districts have been turned upside down by gentrification, the triangle has remained a reliable place to see good work, due mostly to the fact that four of the city’s most venerable and trusted dealers call it home, with William Havu, Sandra Phillips, Tina Goodwin and Bobbi Walker all running namesake businesses within a few blocks of each other. The neighborhood also happens to overlap geographically with the city’s well-hyped Museum District, which means it hones in on the arty aura of the Clyfford Still Museum, the Denver Art Museum, The Art hotel and, starting in March, the newly relocated Kirkland Museum.

The world is alive. Get out there and see it.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

George Will explains the Wedding Cake/Gay Marriage Issue

Making a cake is not practicing or "exercising" Christianity. For me, it's that simple. It's all in the words of the amendment:

Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Having been born and raised Catholic, and having practiced that religion for many years, I understand the perspective of Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Philips, who believes that his religion and faith do not approve of homosexuality and subsequently the legality/legitimacy of same-sex marriage. That said, I cannot fathom how he extrapolates that belief into arguing that conducting business at his cake shop constitutes violating his religious beliefs. While I do know the origin of the opposition to homosexuality in Scripture, I also know that doing a job is not practicing the religion, and nowhere in Scripture does it expect, command, or encourage the faithful to deny doing business with anyone, including those believed to be in a state of sin.

Making a cake ain't going to church or receiving a sacrament, Jack, and thus you are wrong in your interpretation of your faith, the Constitution, and the law.

Conservative writer George Will expounds on the issue as well this week in his commentary, More Wrongs than Rights in Masterpiece Cake Shop Case anticipating the Supreme Court ruling on the cake issue and Colorado's anti-discrimination legislation.

The First Amendment speaks of speech; its presence in a political document establishes its core purpose as the protection of speech intended for public persuasion. The amendment has, however, been rightly construed broadly to protect many expressive activities. Many, but there must be limits.
Phillips was neither asked nor required to attend, let alone participate in, the wedding. Same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado, so Craig and Mullins were to be married in Massachusetts. The cake was for a subsequent reception in Denver. But even if the cake were to have been consumed at a wedding, Phillips’ creation of the cake before the ceremony would not have constituted participation in any meaningful sense.
I do believe Will goes a bit off base when he criticizes the plaintiffs for filing the case. Sure they could have gone to other shops, George. But that's not the point. Other consumers in other towns might not have that luxury, so the case had to be resolved, and Philips had to be sued.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Stop Reporting Local Bad News

There was another traffic accident (break in, house fire, fight, robbery, hit-and-run, etc.) in Colorado today. I would know about this event, of course, if I happened to tune in for my local news, broadcasts which are seeing a noticeable decline according to recent sweeps.

The chief reason for the decline is obvious: Digital devices continue to draw attention away from television as younger audiences desert the medium in droves. According to a September 2017 Pew Report, in a drastic change from a generation ago, “the internet substantially outpaces TV as a regular news source for adults younger than 50.” It’s also possible that KUSA was hurt by the loss of a viewer favorite, longtime anchor Adele Arakawa, who left in June after 24 years on top of the ratings.

Or perhaps it's because the stories they feature are not really news. Perhaps one reason viewership declines is that no one really needs to, or wants to, hear news about a traffic accident or criminal act that is not "newsworthy" to others in any relevant way. Henry David Thoreau in Walden: or, Life in the Woods noted that "to a philosopher all news is gossip," and he can't fathom ever getting much communication via mail or otherwise that was actually worth the paper it was printed on.

Daily life in contemporary America, especially in a large metropolitan area like Denver, is filled with fascinating and newsworthy stories with pertinent information and knowledge that can lead to a more erudite population. But single traffic accidents or singular instances of criminal activity like robberies and break-ins aren't such information. When I flip the news on and see a report on a local crime, followed by a traffic accident, followed by a house fire, followed by .... well, you know, then I am uninterested and turn off the news. I am not a more informed citizen, voter, father, teacher, or neighbor because I learned of a traffic accident in Thorton or a robbery in Aurora.

Give viewers more illuminating matter, and perhaps they will return.