Tag Archives: education

thoroughly kottke’d

24 Jun

I got thoroughly kottke’d this week. (Not sure if Jason ever thought his last name would be verbed, but it’s officially happened.) One site shouldn’t offer so many great tidbits from the peripheries of history and culture. I get bogged down in my own fascination, and three or four ‘Draft Saved’s later, I don’t know what to write about, and even if I did, I’d feel like a hack for just regurgitating a week’s worth of another blog’s already regurgitated content.

But I guess if the hack shoe fits…. Here’s a handful of fascinating facts from everywhere, collected on kottke.org:

1. I really enjoyed looking back at the Boston Globe‘s real-time news feed circa 1900. Headlines were scrawled on blackboards hung from the awning above the Globe’s classical storefront. One of the boards in the above photo reads “US Forces Invade Central Solomons.” The writer cleverly notes how similar this turn-of-the-century system is to a 21st-century home page.

“This isn’t the first time the paper has tried a free, real-time, ad-supported product. From at least the turn of the century until the 1950s, Globe staff shuttled back and forth throughout the day from the newsroom to the street. There they wrote breaking news headlines and sports scores on four blackboards and two enormous sheets of newsprint. Behind the Globe’s windows? Ads.”

2. Also from the Boston Globe, a report on the global economy as experienced in the purchase of an ice-cream cone from Boston’s famous Toscanini’s, ice cream the NYTimes says is “the best in the world”:

“The story of this scoop of ice cream, as it moves from raw materials to finished product, captures the myriad forces that are pushing food prices higher. … A cyclone in Australia wiped out sugar beet crops. Uprisings in the Middle East have threatened to disrupt oil supplies. Growing demand for milk by Asia’s rising middle class affects the over-the-counter price of an ice cream cone at Toscanini’s.”

3. For all the foreign turmoil going on (hiking our ice-cream prices), I was encouraged by—of all things—the US military. Why? Turns out it’s got a system of daycare and early-childhood education that could be a model to replicate nationwide.

“Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the American military isn’t its aircraft carriers, stunning as they are. Rather, it’s the military day care system for working parents. While one of America’s greatest failings is underinvestment in early childhood education … the military manages to provide superb child care.”

4. Kottke includes another tidbit that’s equally surprising and inspiring. It’s a quote from Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett, the top non-commissioned officer in the Marine Corps:

‘Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is pretty simple. It says, ‘Raise an army.’ It says absolutely nothing about race, color, creed, sexual orientation. You all joined for a reason: to serve. To protect our nation, right? How dare we, then, exclude a group of people who want to do the same thing you do right now, something that is honorable and noble? … Get over it. We’re magnificent, we’re going to continue to be. … Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines.'”

5. Of course, these topics are outliers when it comes to the military; a good daycare system and one man’s open-minded opinion hardly erase the less-attractive aspects of the institution. I was reminded of some of these aspects—and not even close to the worst of them—reading another post. Kottke discovered a 1969 Playboy Bunny manual and posted the following excerpt:

Bunnies must allow enough time before going to their assigned rooms to report to the Bunny Mother for appearance inspection. The Bunnies’ hair, nails, shoes, makeup and costume must be “Bunny-perfect” and no Bunny is permitted to begin working unless appearance specifications are met. Demerits may be issued for carelessness in this regard. When the Bunny reports to her scheduled room, the Room Director, too, will note her appearance and suggest improvements if necessary.

Sounds eerily similar to being a petty officer in the US Navy.

For more nuggets of reportage from off the beaten path: kottke.org.

subtracting doors

7 Jun

“I…knew that if I stayed another semester they would hand me a diploma, and that diploma is going to open a whole lot of doors that I don’t want to go through. And I know that I am not real strong, and if I have that key, at some point I’m going to be seduced and want to go through one of those doors. So by not having the diploma, I will remove the temptation. That actually worked out very well, because I was tempted, more than once.”

—Bernard Levine, on dropping out of Harvard

films | books |&| why they mix

14 Oct

As I was at work, thinking about writing this post (which was to be a list of actors and actresses you can count on to be part good, creative projects), I got off on a tangent. So we’ll start there.

At the top of my great actors list would have to be Daniel Day-Lewis and not because he’s a “man’s man” who I can idolize to compensate for my own lack of bad-ass qualities (my favorite character of his is actually a subtle yet masterful portrayal of a dying father in The Ballad of Jack and Rose).

I was trying to recall if there had been a Day-Lewis film that just was not good at all. My mind went to The Crucible. I’m not certain that it wasn’t great, I’m just not certain it was great. And that got me thinking about something else: I saw The Crucible in high school. We watched it in class. I started thinking about why we watch movies in school, because we rarely watched the whole thing, and it was usually only to compare and contrast (high school English teachers’ favorite phrase) the book to the movie.

And that’s asinine, right? Like how do you do that, exactly? A book and a film are so different, what rubric can judge both? Can an author actually be compared to a director? Is that even the comparison that should be made? With a film there are a thousand different people involved, whereas a book is the story of one person, told by that one person with creative input coming from two, maybe three, people. So already the forms, and the processes required to create them, are totally different.

This spawns yet another question: if the media are vastly different, but both are used to relate a narrative, why are only books (or the movies of those books) used for education? If we can learn from stories (and I’m convinced we do all the time), why not use films, films with thought-provoking and young-adult-worthy themes? Is it because it’s too time-consuming? Obviously not, because they do allow for the movies of books for those fruitless — and deceptive (“kids, you actually CAN compare apples to oranges!”) — compare-and-contrast exercises. They could easily use that time to watch a different movie, one that would actually further supplement the discussion of issues brought up by that year’s literature. For example, you could read The Odyssey and then watch O Brother, Where Art Thou? or read 1984 and watch V for Vendetta.

This could work. Kids could learn and have fun watching good films that illustrate the same issues and themes that their books contained. There is only one problem: Ratings. In the U.S. you have to be 17 to watch an R-rated film. Obviously that puts a PG-13 limit on every single teacher who has a freshman, sophomore or junior class. So the 1984 and V for Vendetta pairing wouldn’t work.

Now here’s the question: is that how it should be? I don’t know about anyone else, but many of the books I remember reading in high school (and middle school for that matter) would’ve easily been rated R had they been made into movies. But they stayed in the library because books don’t get ratings. Even with other previously unrated media now receiving them (i.e. television programs and video games), books are still untagged. Why is this? I know seeing something is different than reading about it, but books can get you emotionally charged up. In fact, I’m not certain that seeing something in a movie is actually worse than reading about it at all. I’m reading Life of Pi right now and the description of the hyena attack on the zebra had me recoiled in nauseated horror, probably much worse a feeling than seeing it in a movie would have produced.

Or I remember reading books like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and similar stories that had some fairly explicit sexual content, some of it described graphically enough that in a movie it would probably been seen as straight-up pornography. So we should rate books? Not necessarily. What I find interesting is that they seem to be ok without them.

But why? Why do we trust ourselves and our kids with books whose pages could be filled with hyper-descriptive violence, graphic and gratuitous sex, or abusive language? And therefore, why don’t we give ourselves the same leeway with movies? I’m not advocating we rid our movies of ratings, instead I have a different idea.

What I propose is this: Schools should be allowed and encouraged to lower the suggested age limits for the sake of education. I believe there are as many good lessons in films as there are in books. I believe teachers should be allowed to qualify as a legal guardian in terms of age restrictions so that they have the final say on an R-rated film, like whether the Oscar-winning Crash and its thoughts on race might just be as or even more relevant to today’s high schoolers as To Kill a Mockingbird.

For now, teachers should search out great films they can show. There are some fascinating movies out there that are, surprisingly, only PG or PG-13. Here are a few, none of them R, that could be used in numerous high school classrooms, from freshmen English to advanced U.S. History: Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, The New World, The Visitor, and Mona Lisa Smile.

Those are just some off the top of my head, but any film that is quality and incorporates themes that help further the education of America’s youth could, and should be shown.

And hopefully someday a teacher will decide that comparing movies and books is just plain ridiculous.

Oh, about that list of actors and actresses… umm, next time.