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Dorothy was transported to Oz while hitching a ride on a twister. Mary Poppins blew into Cherry Tree Lane on a wind from the east. Dorothy followed a yellow brick road while Mary Poppins pulled some amazing tricks with a little “winkle” of her nose. Dorothy’s creator, Lyman Frank Baum,  lived a hard life.  He followed a yellow rick road but the path was filled with potholes. He struggled to find his way to Emerald City.  Pamela Travers (aka P.L. Travers) who was born Helen Goff, created Mary Poppins out a bolt of damaged fabric.  Her life was a series of sad events tied mainly to the love she had for a father who was not only an alcoholic but was not grounded in any sense of the word.  He was a dreamer and he filled his daughter’s head with the dreams that eventually gave birth to her beloved Mary Poppins and the Banks family.

I have read two biographies on L. Frank Baum and did see the rather tepid television movie that was supposedly about his life. I have never read a full biography of P.L. Travers, but I have read, read again, and re-read two volumes containing some of her amazing essays.

Before watching Saving Mr. Banks, I knew all about Travers rough and tumble relationship with Walt Disney and the creation of the musical film, Mary Poppins.

It was an amazing movie. It went to great lengths to show you how much a created character means to an author because most of those characters are actually cut from the cloth of the author’s life.

I always knew that the movie was not really about the Banks children, but rather about their father.  He was the one in need of Mary Poppin’s magic, as was Travers’ real father.

But then I did some digging and learned that while there is much truth in the Pamela Travers portrayed in Saving Mr. Banks, but….

It failed to tell you the truth about the real Travers and the life she did live.  In the early 40s she had every intention of adopting twin boys, but when it came time she, according to one story, had consulted an astrologer and decided that she could only take one of the boys…and she chose the first-born twin, leaving with him to lead a life of some affluence, while leaving the other twin in let’s say a more Oliver Twist environment.

Unfortunately neither of the twins thrived.  Travers lied to he adopted son, at one time telling him he was actually her natural son.

The point of this blog?  Life is very to the tenth power…complicated. And when it comes to telling stories about real people, we often tell it  through a lens of many facets. And in the end we either eliminate those parts of the story that don’t fit into the story we want to tell or we embellish other parts to make the story work the way we want it to work.

What we are really left with are the stories created by people who have often been battered and bruised by real life. And it is those stories that nourish us and make life better.

When I read The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins, it is the characters that fill me and I give thanks to the authors for sharing their characters with me.

Twisted, not a twister.

Twisted, not a twister.

March 25, 1911
RIP

So many events have eclipsed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, but even though the victims are now faceless, their names remain etched on stones in a number of different New York City cemeteries. When it happened, this tragic fire shocked a nation and brought a skyscraper city to its knees.  And while I don’t expect anyone to read the names of the 146 victims, most of them young, immigrant women, think of them as one of the yellow bricks on the yellow brick road:

Aberstein, Julia

Adler, Lizzie

Altman, Anna

Ardito, Anna

Astrowsky, Becky

Bassino, Rosie

Belatta, Vincenza

Bellotta, Ignazia

Benanti, Vincenza

Bernstein, Essie

Bernstein, Jacob

Bernstein, Morris

Bernstein, Moses

Bierman, Gussie

Binevitz, Abraham

Brenman, Rosie

Brenman, Surka (Sarah)

Brodsky, Ida

Brodsky, Sarah

Brooks, Ida

Brunette, Laura

Caputta

Carlisi, Josep

Caruso, Albina

Carutto, Frances

Castello, Josie

Cirrito, Rosie

Cohen, Anna

Colletti, Antonia (Annie)

Costello, Della

Crepo, Rose

Denent, Grances

Dichtenhultz (Fichtenhultz), Yetta

Dockman (Dochman), Dora (Clara)

Dorman, K

Downic, Kalman

Eisenberg, Celia

Feibush, Rose

Feicisch(Feibish), Rebecca

Feltzer

Fitze, Mrs. Dosie Lopez

Forrester, May

Franco, Jennie

Frank, Tina

Gallo, Mrs. Mary

Geib, Bertha

Gernstein, Molly

Gittlin, Celina

Goldfield, Esther

Goldstein, Esther

Goldstein, Lena

Goldstein, Mary

Goldstein, Yetta

Gorfield, Esther

Grameattassio, Mrs. Irene

Harris, Esther

Herman, Mary

Jakobowski, Ida

Kaplan (woman)

Kenowitch, Ida

Keober

Kessler, Becky

Klein, Jacob

Kupla, Sara

Launswold, Fannie

Lefkowitz, Nettie

Lehrer, Max

Lehrer, Sam

Leone, Kate

Lermack, Rosie D.

Leventhal, Mary

Levin, Jennie

Levine, Abe

Levine, Max

Levine, Pauline

Maltese, Catherine

Maltese, Lucia

Maltese, Rosalie(Rosari)

Manara, Mrs. Maria

Manofsky, Rose

Marciano, Mrs. Michela

Mayer, Minnie

Meyers, Yetta

Miale, Bettina

Miale, Frances

Midolo, Gaetana

Nebrerer, Becky

Nicholas, Annie

Nicolose, Nicolina  (Michelina)

Novobritsky, Annie

Nussbaum (Nausbaum),  Sadie

Oberstein, Julia

Oringer, Rose

Ozzo, Carrie

Pack, Annie

Panno, Mrs. Providenza

Pasqualicca, Antonietta

Pearl, Ida

Pildescu, Jennie

Pinello, Vincenza

Poliny, Jennie

Prato, Millie

Reivers, Becky

Rootstein, Emma

Robinowitz, Abraham

Rosen, Israel

Rosen, Julia(widow)

Rosen, Mrs. Leob

Rosenbaum, Yetta

Rosenberg, Jennie

Rosenfeld, Gussie

Rosenthal, Nettie

Rother, R

Rother, Theodore

Sabasowitz, Sarah

Salemi, Sophie

Saracino, Sara

Saracino, Serafina

Saracino, Tessie

Schiffman, Gussie

Schmidt, Mrs. Theresa

Schneider, Mrs. Ethel

Schochep, Violet

Schwartz, Margaret

Selzer, Jacob

Semmilio, Mrs. Annie

Shapiro, Rosie

Shena, Catherine

Sklaver, Berel (Sklawer,  Bennie)

Sorkin, Rosie

Spear

Sprunt

Spunt, Gussie

Starr, Mrs. Annie

Stein, Jennie

Stellino, Jennie

Stiglitz, Jennie

Tabick, Samuel

Terdanova (Terranova),  Clotilde

Tortorella, Isabella

Ullo, Mary

Utal, Meyer

Velakowsky,  Freda(Freida)

Vivlania, Bessie

Vovobritsky, Annie

Weinduff, Sally

Weiner, Rose

Weintraub, Sally (Sarah?)

Weintraub, Celia

Welfowitz, Dora

Wilson, Joseph

Wisner, Tessie

Wisotsky, Sonia

Wondross, Bertha

Zeltner, ?

piece of ceiling

After projecting the above image on a screen, I asked the students in my college public presentation what they thought the image was.  I gave them more than enough time to look at it and do some “pondering.”  Before moving on I asked them to write down their response on the back pf a piece of paper. The majority of the students (about 85%) said it was a “crack.”  One student said it was an egg. Another student said it was the Liberty Bell.

Without saying I was disappointed…I was disappointed, and not necessarily because most of the students said it was a crack…because it actually is an image that “contains” a crack, but because of the lack of imagination or creative (out of the box) thinking.  I  sort of  applaud the students who said it was an egg or the Liberty Bell because their answer evidenced some outside-the-box thinking.  And that’s what I was looking for. Unless the student was an expert in Renaissance Art, there was no way he/she could identify the image for what it was.

ceiling full size

The image was a piece of Michelangelo’s creation of Adam scene on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Had they said anything but a “crack,” I would have been able to sigh a sigh of relief.  My faith in the creative potential of college students would have been restored. Had some of the answers been: a dried paint spill, a slide of an animal cell, the side of an old ship…then I would have been encouraged.

My “lame” excercise actually had two purposes.  One to give the students a chance to think creatively, and the other to make a point about the current aim of higher education.

After showing the “big picture” I said that I believe that because today’s college students are so pragmatic and so focused on learning that leads directly to a job that they are missing the big picture. I went on to add that unless you broaden your horizons and step back from a limited view of the purpose of a college education you risk only seeing a small piece of the picture, and at that you can only hazard a guess as to what it is the big picture.

On her journey to the Emerald City,at first  Dorothy did not see the big picture. She was only focused on getting home. However, once she met other people and opened her mind and heart to learning new things, she began to see the big picture. As a result she was able to declare at the end of her journey (in the movie version, at least): If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.

Dorothy saw the big picture. And I’m sure she saw a few cracks on the YBR along the way.

We need to do our best to step back from our parochial way of thinking and see the big picture.

daylight savings on the YBR

Tonight we spring forward and set the clocks ahead one hour, losing an hour, or perhaps, giving back the hour we borrowed when we set the clocks back in the fall. Either way it is a custom I don’t believe they observed in Oz, or at least I don’t remember reading about it in the book or seeing it happen in the movie. Nevertheless, it reminds me of a time in my childhood when I asked the question, “How can you save daylight?”

Obviously my question was met with looks that ranged from total befuddlement to downright fear. But come to think of it, my question still remains. How can we save daylight?

Think about it. Setting clocks back and forward are just ways for us to manipulate time in our favor. In the pre-tech world it was equivalent to “rewind” and “fast forward.”  Which is another thing that troubles me.  In the old days of my childhood and youth if something happened it happened more or less in real-time.  You couldn’t push the hold button, your couldn’t record the event, and you most certainly couldn’t rewind to watch it again or catch it if you missed it. And your certainly couldn’t fast forward past things you didn’t want to endure.

Unfortunately I believe the whole idea of manipulating time has a serious downtime. And I don’t mean when it comes to watching a marathon of a show you stored on your DVR. I mean we’ve actually employed the concept to the way we live life.  While we’ve always looked forward to the future and looked back on the past with a degree of fondness, we no longer know how, not to just live in the moment, but to savor the moment.

And while on a Monday we can’t physically fast forward to that Saturday event we’ve been looking forward to, we often do it mentally and emotionally. We watch the clock and try as hard as we can to make time fly.  And if it’s not focusing so much on a future event, we do the same when it comes to looking back.  Even though we are in the moment, we close our eyes and drift back to a particular time that filled us with joy.

There’s nothing inherently looking forward or look back, but when it diminishes the present, I think we’ve gone too far. It’s true that we are prisoners of a 24-hour day. It’s also true that two-thirds of the 24-hour day are spent sleeping and working. That leaves us only eight hours. But wait. The eight-hour work day involved getting to and back from work, so we reduce that eight hours to six, and in many cases, five hours.  Five hours!

What do we do with those five precious hours? We shop, we pay bills, and we do all those other things that consume our time, further cutting into those five precious hours and giving us maybe an hour or two…that we either spend watching shows we’d DVR’d or playing Candy Crunch and getting angry with helpless birds.

I think we, as a species, enjoy filling every working hour with sometime mind numbing distractions. The challenge is to make every hour count, even the ones we sleep through and the ones where we sit in our cubicle.

Regarding sleeping. I say, sleep well. Open your mind and heart to the possibility of refreshing dreams that could every easily be the antidote for a weary soul. Regarding the work day. Be present there, but don’t be a prisoner to it. Don’t let the ever-slow work clock damage your spirit. Take your work seriously, but don’t be so serious.  Look for those moments when levity can creep in.  If you are fortunate to have an hour lunch break, make it a point to do something different. With warm weather showing its head, go out and enjoy the beauty of the day. Take a walk. Find a nearby park and do nothing.

And for the hours not owned by sleep and work, live them in the moment. Relish them. Savor them. Break the mold. And by doing so, you will actually be saving daylight…the daylight that lights up the spirit hidden deep inside of us.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

This psot first appeared on my education blog: schoolingamerica.wordpress.com.  It is applicable to the YBR. I’ve added a piece to the end to tie-it into the YBR.

Even though I have been teaching college courses for 14 years, I still have a lot to learn. While driving today I heard a radio talk show host talking about being a passenger. In short order I tuned out the talk show host and began to think about passengers in terms of being a college instructor.  I am the driver. Currently I have 20 passengers in my learning vehicle. Try as hard as I can, I cannot crack the shell of the students in my class.  And then it dawned on me. Passengers are passive, and the longer you’ve been a passenger the more passive you become.

We don’t put seatbelts on students, but we might as well, because we’ve restrained them.  Even before school, most children are passengers in life.  They just get in the back seat and turn off their imagination.  And it’s not their fault.  Our school system only has room for one driver.  So, from the start of their education, our children are passengers, or perhaps we should call them “passivengers”  because not only are they passengers they are passive.  After 12 years of being a passenger, they board the college bus where suddenly they are expected to stop being passengers.

What the hell are we thinking?  How do we expect such a magical transformation when we’ve never stopped to give college-bound students any driving lessons?  But now that I think about it, most college instructors only give lip service to turning over the wheel to the student. In cases, however, when an instructor wants to encourage his/her students to stop being passivengers…the request is met with blank stares and some resistance because most of our students have earned good grades by being passivengers.

Because the stakes are so high for today’s college student, few of them want to sit in the driver’s seat. Just buckle them up in the back seat, give them a syllabus, tell them what they have to do to earn an A…and step on the gas.

Leaders are not passengers..and neither are entrepreneurs. Success in the larger sense of the word does not come to students who remain passivengers.

The world needs fewer passivengers and more drivers.  I encourage students to take risks. To stretch their thinking. And yes, I challenge them to challenge the guy/gal in the front of the class.

I’ll let students in on something educators don’t want them to know. In life your grades don’t matter diddly-squat. When students are out on the battlefield in the real world, it’s not their grades that will keep them moving forward…it’s their DRIVE.

Tie-in to the YBR: Dorothy was definitel not a passenger nor a passivenger.  She might have been one in Kansas, but once she hit the YBR she took the wheel. And while she picked up three passengers along the way, they were not passivengers. In fact, each of Dorothy’s companions took the wheel on the YBR.

We need to take whatever steps necessary to take the wheel on the YBR.

Photo: momentum-strategies.com

Photo: momentum-strategies.com

If there’s any one particular piece of contemporary jargon that leaves me scratching my head it’s the phrase “level the playing field.” It’s one of the many well-intentioned slogans that while it  is supposed to motivate, it has far too many trickle-down politically correct influences to suit me.

The makers of the level playing filed concept believed…and still believe…that society needs to eliminate or at least diminish the obstacles that prevent someone from having an equal opportunity in participating in a venture be it in education or business…or whatever. If two high school soccer teams were to meet on a literal playing field to compete in a championship playoff we could argue a point of fairness if the players on one team had all the latest high-tech soccer gear and the kids from the other team were playing in snow boots, sandals or inferior soccer cleats. It is obvious that one team would have a singular advantage and that the outcome of the game could be decided, in part, by the disparity in gear.

As a society we have made great strides in many areas to remove obstacles that make it difficult, if not impossible, for someone to participate/compete in a venture.  Making access to and inside building accessible to people with certain physical disabilities is just one obvious example that illustrates the positive point of leveling the playing field, making it possible for people with disabilities to work, go to the theatre, take mass transit, navigate city streets, etc.

Unfortunately the term “leveling the playing field” has taken on an entirely different meaning. Instead of meaning to remove obstacles, it now means, we have to be “fair” and in a way, penalize certain people by taking away something from them.  It’s all being done because we live in the era of political correctness where right and wrong have been turned inside out, where everyone is a winner, and where we are all entitled.

Let’s go back to those two soccer teams. One team comes from a very affluent area where kids begin playing soccer at a very young age and are coached by “really good coaches,” play on “really good soccer fields,” have “really good equipment,” and are “really competitive.” Meaning that not everyone makes the team even though it might not be fair because some of the kids’ parents paid for individual coaching and some went to “really good” soccer camps.

Just look around at the schools in your area and you’ll have to agree that some school districts seem to have a number of advantages compared to other districts, hence the reason for divisions where like schools play against like schools. Here’s where we’ve leveled the playing field. We wouldn’t expect a team from Division IV to be able to compete with a team from Division I. Perhaps not, but in life we are not grouped by division the same way. When a kid from a Division IV school wants to compete for a position on a college team with a kid from a Division I team, all bets are off and may the best player succeed. It would be unfair to put certain restrictions on the kid from the DI school just to level the playing field.

Does this  make it more difficult or challenging for the DIV kid to compete? Perhaps. But in this case the level playing field should be limited to the opportunity to show your stuff.  It would be unfair and unjust to prevent the DIV kid from competing just because. (This still goes on in society, and this is where I believe we need to break down barriers and fight elitism.)

But if we continue to level the playing field because we believe everyone is “equally” entitled, we are making a big mistake. I say do everything possible to remove those barriers, but don’t knock down those mountains, because without those mountains we’d have no reason to climb, not reason to reach the top, no reason to work like hell to accomplish something.

History is replete with stories of people overcoming obstacles to reach the peak. The same history is filled with stories of people who had all the advantages in the world but never made it to the top because they felt they were entitled to the gold medal…jsut because.

Just because you’re rich should not entitle you to anything (unfortunately it still does). Just because you are poor, that  shouldn’t entitle you to anything because you’re poor. If your poverty is an obstacle, we shouldn’t level the playing field, we should lift you up and provide you with the tools you’ll need to make it to the top. But you have to work for it, you have to earn it, and you have to want it.

I worked at a public college where almost any student could gain entrance.  Many “underprivileged” students were given money to go to school.  And you know what happened? Even though the playing filed was leveled, many of these students failed to succeed because they believed their entitlement was enough.

Dorothy and her traveling companions weren’t walking on a level playing field. The Wicked Witch of the West didn’t give a damn about entitlements. She was the obstacle. And Dorothy had to move forward despite every disadvantage because she wanted to.

A landscape without some mountains can be a barren desert.

I leave you with a  quote from a very unlikely source, but that’s what makes the quote more appetizing.

If you don’t have a mountain, build one and then climb it. And after you climb it, build another one; otherwise you start to flatline in your life. Sylvester Stallone

(The following blog was first published on my education blog: http://www.schoolingamerica.wordpress.com)

Opportunity

I was in my car today (Sunday, Feb. 2) and I heard a segment of “Religion on the Line” for no other reason than that was the network my radio was set to at the time. The hosts were talking about gifted programs in schools and how the population of these programs was disproportionate to the school’s population.

Let me shift gears and present an analogy:  You have three sets of tulip bulbs. Each set includes a magnificent, top of the line bulb; an average garden variety; and a common grade bulb. Set one is planted in the best possible soil and tended with extreme care; the second set is planted in relatively good soil and given just the right amount of attention; the third set is planted in soil lacking in the proper nutrients and does not get sufficient care.

One would assume that the bulbs in set one would have the greatest chance for blooming success…even the common grade bulb would have the maximum opportunity to reach its maximum potential. Less would be expected from the bulbs in the second garden. And the blooming success of the bulbs in the third garden would be questionable.  Even the best bulb in the third garden would be at risk, despite the fact that it had the potential to bloom like the comparable bulb in the first garden.

Consider the bulbs to be students and the gardens to be different schools/school districts. I believe it goes without saying that top schools are usually located in what the “Religion On the Line” hosts called the better zip codes. It follows that these schools have money in their budget to afford their students with the tools for a “great” education.

Following this train of thought, one might also assume that programs for the gifted and talented would offer great opportunities to the top students…most of which, the hosts said would be students of non-color (?).

One of the hosts made a comment on the Stuyvesant Schools in NYC. He said that the largest percentage of students in the gifted program were Asian. He went on to add that he didn’t believe that Asians were inherently more intelligent than non-Asian students.

Two reflections:

One – I don’t believe any race or people of color are inherently smarter than any other group. It all comes down to the gardens, and in addition to the school garden, the community and home gardens also have a major impact on the bulb/student. Isn’t it possible that the Asian students are not growing in the same garden that some of their classmates are in?  While it might be that the school is the same, but the rigor of certain courses, like AP and honors classes, actually makes it a school within a school. And then you have the garden these Asian students live in. Isn’t it possible that their environment is one that stimulates academic growth and one that is supported by family and a larger invested community?

It does take a “village” to raise a child.

Two – There is something inherently flawed by the superficial zip code comparison both the hosts and other educators use. It is flawed logic when you compare the Garden City (LI) zip code with the Hempstead or Freeport (LI) zip codes because you are not only using the extremes, you aren’t providing a 3D portrait of the schools in those districts. Not all of Garden City school children are brilliant. Not all of them come from six and seven digit income homes. I would concede that the Garden City schools provide opportunities that the public schools in Hempstead and Freeport probably can’t provide. In addition the full learning opportunities of the zip codes used for illustrative purposes are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The comparison is also flawed because it does not take into the equation school districts in high-middle, middle, and low-middle zip codes. The more diverse the school population might be, the better chance there is of making an intelligent comparison.

I wonder if the population of gifted students better reflects the schools population.  If it does, then that is worth examining.  If it doesn’t then it demands looking into.

There is one thing else. Can we assume that just because a student experiences a “gifted” education that they will be better people, better citizens, better leaders, etc. ?

All the opportunities in the world do not translate to success however you might define that word.  Adversity sometimes brings out the best in people.

More on this in a future blog.

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