Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween in the Mountains - Vail style

RE-PRINT - Views on the Village, 2013

For as long as I've lived in Greenwood Village, we have celebrated Halloween locally, and it has always been a great time.  From a wonderful Fall Fest, usually put on by the Village and featuring a costume contest and games, to decked-out neighborhood houses and great trick or treating, All Hallows Eve in Greenwood Village has been a lot of fun. Generally, we've done our "candy walk" in Sundance Hills.  This year, however, we've broke from tradition.

Halloween in Vail is quite a "treat."

Through our time share with the Grand Lodge in Breckenridge and its connection to Interval International, we received the opportunity for a weeklong stay in a two-bedroom condo at the Marriott Streamside in Vail for $200 for the week.  For the week.  It was a deal we couldn't pass up, even as we sort of lamented being out of Greenwood Village for Halloween. We haven't been disappointed.  The Marriott is gorgeous, the weather has been perfect, and the Halloween fun in Vail has been great.

In Vail, kids trick or treat in Vail Village for what is called the Trick or Trot.  All the stores around Vail Village that are open offer candy to the kids - and they draw a great crowd.  Amazingly, the Village has been rather vacant during the week, but on Halloween between 2 and 5, the Village is filled with hundreds of kids running from shop to shop.  It's festive and a great way to spend the day.  I sat for a while at the Alpenrose and enjoyed a nice Erdinger - which is a German beer I love but rarely find in the states - and the kids made their way around the shops.

Other great places to trick or treat are the neighborhoods in Edwards and Avon, and the little town of Minturn has festivities for a couple days.  Halloween in the mountains has been quite a treat. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ignoring Our Best & Brightest - Let's Celebrate Mathletes

It's not surprising that contemporary society has a disproportionate interest in celebrating athletic achievements while downplaying or ignoring academic and intellectual accomplishments. And, of course, most of the news we hear about schools and students is focused on their shortcomings and failings. That narrative is a primary part of our problem, and perhaps it's time that we begin celebrating mathletes as much as we celebrate athletes. That's the spirit of my most recent piece for the Denver Post - We Celebrate our Athletes, so why not our Mathletes?

In July, six American high school students went to Hong Kong and won the International Math Olympiad. It was the second year in a row that American students have bested the world’s top mathletes from academic powers like China, South Korea, and Singapore. And practically no one in the news or government had a word to say about this incredible achievement. Sadly, this oversight reflects a disappointing tradition in the media, our education system, and society in general of ignoring the achievements of our best and brightest.
In Colorado, a general aloofness to academic achievements is no different, as there is a genuine apathy to recognizing the success of young Coloradans. Back in June, 57 students traveled to Salt Lake City to compete at the National Speech & Debate Tournament. In May, Colorado sent four middle-school students to the Raytheon national MathCounts competition, and dozens more competed at the Intel National Science Fair. In April, at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Bobby G Awards, Mountain View High School won the Best Musical prize with a stunning tap dance production of “Anything Goes,” and the state’s top two thespians were sent off to a national theater competition in New York. And in the spring, a team of students from Cherry Creek High School placed second in the national CyberPatriot competition, keeping the world safe from digital terrorism.
Despite all these successes, the Colorado public is virtually unaware of the state’s young talent, and far too often the only discussions we have about students and education is how poorly kids are doing. We must do more as a community to celebrate, support and promote the incredible achievements of our young people.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Listen to Greg Laswell - a captivating musician

Sometimes You Tube can surprise you - and I don't mean with images of skateboarding dogs. No, instead I mean the discovery of new musician who captures the tenor of the moment you're in and extends it in a beautifully reflective way. That happened to me recently when I had some music videos playing, and You Tube featured a song by San Diego-based artist Greg Laswell. The song "Comes and Goes" is a bit of melancholy meditation on our solitary lives. Laswell captured my ponderous Friday afternoon singing, This one's for the lonely/The one's that seek and find/Only to be let down/ Time after time.  This one's for the torn down/The experts at the fall/Come on friends get up now/You're not alone at all. It was, surprisingly, a reassuring nod to the fellowship of loners who embrace those vacuous moments and seek to grow or just persist. Laswell's chords and soft tone evoked the sounds of such hauntingly introspective songwriters Elliot Smith and Nick Drake, whose songs are perfect for those times when we simply pause to reflect on the void. 

So, check out some Greg Laswell when you're having one of those afternoons. Here's a great profile - Everyone Thinks I dodged a Bullet - from Pop Matters that delves into the sounds and identity of Greg. Laswell has been making music for more than a decade, and I don't know how I've managed to miss out on him until now. Yet, I have probably heard his music countless times in movie and TV soundtracks, for he has that deep and thoughtful tone that provides a great backdrop for those "dark night of the soul moments" in so many stories. I will certainly listen for him in the future.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Maria Popova's Brain Pickings is a Learner's Dream

My goal with A Teacher's View has always been in pursuit and support of Henry James' idea of being "a person on whom nothing is lost." Curating and disseminating information, knowledge, and perhaps even some insight is the reason I blog - in fact, it's the reason I teach as well. I've always wanted for this site to be that place where people know they can go to learn something new and cool and interesting. It hasn't always been that, of course. And I had attempted to branch out in other directions with different blogs and twitter accounts. But, at the end of the day, this blog and its sense of purpose is simply educational and cultural. While it's never really grown beyond what it currently is, I am always discovering new sources for inspiration. Within the last year or so, I ran across a twitter feed and blog that truly is a source of cultural knowledge and experience - that site is Brain Pickings curated and written by Maria Popova. Popova tells her story best in this recent post on the one-decade anniversary of Brain Pickings. Check it out - I'm sure you'll learn somthing.

I left Bulgaria for America, lured by the liberal arts education promise of being taught how to live. As the reality fell short of that promise, I began keeping my own record of what I was reading and learning outside the classroom in mapping this academically unaddressed terra incognita of being.

All the while, I was working numerous jobs to pay my way through school. What I was learning at night and on weekends, at the library and on the internet — from Plato to pop art — felt too uncontainably interesting to keep to myself, so I decided to begin sharing these private adventures with my colleagues at one of my jobs. On October 23, 2006, Brain Pickings was born as a plain-text email to seven friends. Halfway through my senior year of college, juggling my various jobs and academic course load, I took a night class to learn coding and turned the short weekly email into a sparse website, which I updated manually every Friday, then, eventually, every weekday.

The site grew as I grew — an unfolding record of my intellectual, creative, and spiritual development. At the time, I had no idea that this small labor of love and learning would animate me with a sense of purpose and become both my life and my living, nor that its seven original readers would swell into several million. I had no idea that this eccentric personal record, which I began keeping in the city where Benjamin Franklin founded the first subscription library in America, would one day be included in the Library of Congress archive of “materials of historical importance.”
And now, somehow, a decade has elapsed. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Bach & Beers? What a cool Gen X idea

If nothing else, Generation X have been curators and purveyors of culture. Growing up in a time of stagnation and stale thinking coming out of the 70s, Xers charted a course in pursuit of experience and lifestyle when they began entering adulthood in the late 1980s. Truly a pop culture generation with eclectic tastes in music, art, and entertainment, Gen X can be credited with the rich artisan world of today. While the craft beer industry and the resurgence of wine and spirits are associated with a hipster mentality linked to Millennials, the age of most producers indicate this cultural renaissance to be much more of Generation X movement. And, the fusion of ideas with an innovative "Why Not" spirit is an apt characteristic of X. A great example of that is happening this week in Denver with the pairing of craft beer and the music of Johann Bach at a brewery in the River North (RiNo) neighborhood of Denver. Here's some info from a great piece by Denver Post writer, Jenn Fields:

River North Brewery Goes Bach in Time by Paring Beer with Cellos

Two classic art forms will come together on Friday at River North Brewery — cello solos from Johann Sebastian Bach, and well-crafted beer. “The whole idea behind Bach and Beer is to get the audience to look back at these old traditions, and see how both Steuart as a musician and how the craft brewer is incorporating these traditions for the modern listener, or the modern beer drinker,” said Michelle Pincombe, who has been touring the country with her husband, Steuart Pincombe, for the past year. On Thursday, Steuart will come to River North to sample the wares and choose three beers that match three of the Bach Cello Suites from his repertoire. On Friday, concert-goers can have a glass of the paired beer in hand as they listen to him give a concert. The concert is name-your-own-price; the beer is not.

I love this idea, and would certainly put it on my agenda for this weekend ... but, alas, I have already made plans around the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years. That said, I will be on the look-out for more innovative cultural mergings like this. And, I might even just have to host a party like this in the future.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gen X music: Punk, Hip-Hop, or Grunge?

Being born in 1970, I had the coolest musical awakening growing up. Though I can't remember when I actually became conscious of rock music and all its dervatives, I do know that by the time I hit middle school in 1981, I was listening to classic rock on K-SHE95 in St. Louis while also trying to find alternative stations playing punk and new wave. The Ramones were the first band that took me in a cool new musical direction, and I was digging The Police, U2, & REM not long after that. St. Louis had a thriving punk scene in those days, and I can remember my older cousin playing in a band that covered the New York Dolls' "Looking for a Kiss." That one kinda blew my mind. Through middle and high school, we still listened to classic rock, but it was a great time for pop music, too with the rise of Prince and Madonna. Bon Jovi kept classic rock-and-roll front and center, and bands like REM and the Violent Femmes turned punk into post-punk into alternative. Heading off to college in 1988, I was confronted with the bold sounds of NWA, Public Enemy, and Ice-T coming through doors on my dorm floor. And, to be honest, my early reaction was that the music wasn't for me. But when a roommate started duping tapes from some guys on our floor, and I stangely asked why, he simply told me, "it's something new." By 1991, I was listening to some bootleg tapes coming out of the Pacific Northwest, and I still remember the moment I came home from the bars to find the raucous sounds and images of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" screaming through the TV. Mix in my introduction to the sub-culture surrounding the Grateful Dead, and you might be able to understand the Gen X music ethos. It was never about genre or style as much as it was about innovation and authenticity. The late 70s through the early 90s was a great time for music, and Generation X is defined by the vast eclectic world of music that grew out of rock, folk, and blues as Baby Boomer's Woodstock world became the fusion of Generation X's Lollapalooza.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Park City, Utah - the Perfect Fall Break

RE-PRINT - Views on the Village - Fall, 2013

Each October, I am blessed with a week off for Fall Break - one of the greatest inventions in the history of school scheduling. And, though we don't like to travel much during this week, we have spent the last two years in a mountain town resort, enjoying the laid back attitude of off season. Last year it was Vail, and this year we traded a week of our time share in Breckenridge for the placid calm of Park City, Utah. Just a quick easy eight hours on I-80 across Wyoming, Park City is a quaint little mountain town known mostly as the location of the Sundance Film Festival, as well as a location for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. We've enjoyed some beautiful fall days with sunny, blue skies and seventy degree days, as well as some picturesque snowy weather which made for pleasant evenings around the fire-pits.  A week at the Marriott's Summit Watch Resort is the perfect fall getaway. Taking hikes in the foothills, visiting Utah's Olympic sites, sipping warm and wonderful drinks at Atticus Book Store, and enjoying fine dining at some elegant but un-crowded restaurants is the perfect way to enjoy off-season in Park City.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Gen X - still not slacking

2016 has been a tumultuous year for all the obvious reasons, and that disruption is eerily appropriate during a pivotal anniversary for the group of people known as Generation X. This year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of what could really be called the birth of Gen X. For, it was in 1991 that Coupland published his novel, Linklater released Slacker, and a groundbreaking album from a little known band named Nirvana hit the airwaves. It was also a year of economic malaise and a continuing distrust of the 80s political and national ideology that started to fall apart with the crash of Challenger in '86 and the crash of Wall Street in '87. Through it all, Gen Xers carried on as they always have, ignoring the forces of a society that had largely ignored them. And, in 2016 they are still doing their own thing, quietly going about their goal of leading meaningful lives amidst the weirdness.

I've been trying to focus this year on on the "where-are-we-now" of Generation X, reading reflective pieces from writers like Jennifer James of JenX67 and Chloe of Lights from a Pixel, two Gen X bloggers to whom I've linked above. So, I'm thankful that they have discovered a cool 10-minute documentary from Viacom International's Gen X Today Project. The Gen X ethos has always been about choosing lifestyle over career and viewing traditions and institutions with a skeptical eye and cool indifference. It's that attitude that got the demographic of 1963-1981 pegged as the Slacker Generation before they ever had a chance to make a name for themselves. Yet, Xers were never really slackers in the traditional sense. They were just a little bit off of center, taking care of themselves the only way a generation of latch-key kids knew how to do.

Now, as Xers settle in to middle age - I'm turning 47 this year - they are having anything but a mid-life crisis. Sure, shit is hard at times, and Generation X has faced far more significant economic challenges than the Boomers ever did or the Millennials likely will. But that's par for the course with a group of people whose first memories of national politics and economics were probably lines at the gas station and the resignation of a president. Generation X today never really retreated from society, for they would have had to have embraced it first in order to retreat. So, as the media and the politicians and the Boomers and Millennials fret about the catastrophic moment that this election year represents, Gen X continues calmly along, not really surprised that in many ways "Reality Bites." But even if that is the case, that doesn't compromise our ability to love our kids, cherish our friends, appreciate our jobs but not be defined by them, and enjoy the simple pleasures like a nice cup of coffee in morning and nice glass of wine or bottle of craft beer in the evenings.

Carry on, Generation X. You're still cool.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Imagine a Sane Peggy Noonan ... and a Rational GOP Primary

As the GOP establishment approaches its day of reckoning on November 8, or November 28 for that matter, the Republican standard bearers have already begun the post-election, post-Trump autopsy of just what went wrong in 2016. Certain trusted voices such as George Will and David Brooks have resigned themselves to the potential damage down the ticket in the Senate and House in hopes of an honest reassessment of the party's appeal, while others are wistfully speculating on "what could have been." That's the approach taken in the Wall Street Journal when longtime conservative voice of reason Peggy Noonan penned a strangely naive and oddly optimistic piece in which she asked us to "Imagine a Sane Donald Trump."

Just to be clear, there is no possibility of a sane Donald Trump. For, without all the bombastic rhetoric about vague infeasible solutions to America's problems and the wildly inappropriate sound bites that reveled in the act of "speaking his mind" and "telling it like it is," the candidate would simply be a political neo-phyte running a pretty pedestrian campaign of a political outsider who would use business experience to "shake things up." It's not much different than what Carly Fiorina and Herman Cain tried.  A "sane Donald Trump" wouldn't be Donald Trump - he'd be Mitt Romney without the gubernatorial experience. It's a tired myth that strangely plays well around the Republican voter water cooler, but not so much at the voting booth. Granted, Noonan does concede that Trump "is a nut," and she admits that a sane Trump doesn't exist. But sadly, the entire scope of her column implies that if Donald Trump had simply run his campaign of haphazardly contructed half-baked policies that question much of GOP orthodoxy, but had done so with a nicer tone, he would have "won in a landslide." And, that sort of thinking is perhaps a bigger problem for the GOP than Trump's many embarrassing mis-steps have been.

Noonan tries to scold the GOP establishment for being aloof to the policies desired by their electorate, but that's a groundless approach in regards to the realities of the primary voters, especially the less-than-informed Tea Party voters who simply want change but will often vote for the very candidates whose platform opposes the policies that would help them. Voters didn't choose Trump because he pledged to preserve entitlement spending to support "people [who] have been battered since the crash." It wasn't because of the American worker's nuanced understanding of "complicated trade agreements" that they blame for a lost manufacturing sector. And it wasn't because he had reasonable immigration proposals that could have been "explained ... with a kind loving logic." All of these claims expose Noonan as even more aloof to the electorate than Jeb Bush. The groundswell of support for Trump came from Tea Party extremes desiring him to "build that wall" and "lock her up" while he withdraws support from NATO, bans Muslim immigration, and somehow forces American corporations to build factories in Ohio and Michigan with much higher wages.

Noonan seems to believe that a "sane Donald Trump" would have been the second coming of the Reagan Democrats. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, GOP primary voters ignored numerous variations of candidates who weren't so aloof to the concerns of the American worker and who when joining forces on a ticket could have provided exactly the nuanced and fair "big tent" conservatism that Noonan mistakenly assigns to Trump. The most obvious choice was a true Reagan Republican - John Kasich. The extremely popular Republican governor of a fairly Democratic working class state should have been the GOP's dream. Pair him with a young energetic Marco Rubio, and the GOP could have won the election pretty easily, if not "in a landslide." Chris Christie should have had similar appeal to working class voters, and Rand Paul certainly should have appealed to Republicans who were dissatisfied and suspcious of a foreign policy that focused on re-building other countries at the expense of American infrastructure.

Instead the voters chose Trump precisely because he is not sane. And that's the biggest challenge for Republican leadership. And for the country at large.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

I'm Back - Sorry about the Silence

The month of October has been brutal for my blogging, and it made me consider this question: Am I a writer?

In "the life I have imagined" (per the advice of Henry David Thoreau), I would be transitioning from the blogger/teacher/administrator of the past twenty years to the writer, speaker, and cultural critic that I want to be for the next twenty or so. But what is a writer if he doesn't write. When my dailiness gets in the way, and I head home in the evening to some time on the couch watching nonsense and surfing social media, I wonder if that will ever happen.

Today, I am pondering several ideas, but the one that I have become focused on is the idea of "gifted and talented," or GT. At a school of incredibly high performing students, there are numerous kids who are signficantly beyond the norm - they are GT. And that's not something you can be with a lot of hard work. It's not a matter of Malcolm Gladwell's mis-interpretation of the "10,000 hour of practice to mastery" idea. There are people who are simply exceptional to the highest levels of achievement. And Colorado has recently expanded GT identification beyond the basic four - math, langauge arts, both, and other. Now there are twelve identifications of gifted and exceptional, and that includes as it should physical gifts and athletics.

Cam Newton is a GT football player, Yo Yo Ma is a GT cellist, Michael Phelps is a GT swimmer, Picasso is a GT painter, Banksy is a GT "artist." There are people who are simply so far beyond the norm that no amount of practice will enable non-GT people to reach their levels of mastery and virtuousity. I mean, just take a look at this and tell me that anyone could do it with enough practice.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Read Imbolo Mbue's "Behold the Dreamers"

Last year a friend recommended a book - Americana by Nigerian author Chimimanda Adiche - and I was captivated by a fascinating account of an immigrant's view of America and race. A key element of Adiche's book is the observation from her protagonist that "before I came to America, I wasn't black." That insight about race and identity set the novel on a higher level of social criticism that has intrigued me for quite some time - especially in the era of "the Trump candidacy."

Since I read Adiche and took a second look at her TED Talk - the "Danger of the Single Story" - I have been intrigued by more works from African immigrants turning a lens on America. And using book reviews and Amazon recommendation as so many of us do to find comparable works, I happened across an inspired work from Cameroonian author Imbolo Mbue called Behold the Dreamers. A third person narrative set in 2007-08 in New York City amidst the implosion of Leyman Bros and the crash of the US economy, "Behold" is exactly the book that we wish Donald Trump and his supporters could read ... and understand.

Telling the story of a Cameroonian immigrant Jende Jonga who wants so desperately to embrace the  American Dream, "Behold" juxtaposes two complicated American lives on either side of the wealth and citizenship divide in contemporary America. Jende is facing eventual deportation if he cannot earn a green card, but he is given hope when he earns the job of chauffer to a Leyman Bros exec. It is a beautifully whimsical and painfully poignant portrait of the antithetical struggles of two families to survive in New York in early part of the twenty-first century. In that way, it reminds me of another great work about the immigrant experience juxtaposed with middle/upper class sensibility, The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle.