Friday, November 21, 2008

Lincoln/Obama - The Man vs.The Icon

There is essay in a recent "Times" magazine by our nation's President-Elect, Barack Obama. It profoundly speaks to our nation's leadership during very difficult times. Reacting to the classic - "iconic" portrait of our 16th President, "The Great Emancipator", Abraham Lincoln, Mr Obama reminds us all of challenges before us, as a Nation, a Culture and a People in these next few years. We have chosen him by a "close" election similarly to Abe.
Having been a teacher of American History most of my career, I would've loved making "rubrics" for study and writing about these "fascinating times, challenging moral issues and leadership principles (also principals)". Forget "testing" for awhile and just "seize the moment" historically to teach Character and Self Discipline. We, now and then, need(ed) inspiration and example. Yes, we can learn from history and it can repeat itself. We, as a Nation and as Individuals, can rise to all these that our "Nation will not perish from this Earth". We still have many "nay-sayers" and "glass-half -empty-ers" that are going to continue to "snipe and criticize" those we have chosen and the people and policies that are putting in place in the next two + months. This kind of negativism and lack of faith is what has gotten us where we are in the world, economically and morally. (among other emergencies) Now it is of utmost importance to us all to support our leaders as they try to save our "way of life" and "our culture" Yes, we are in a cultural war and it is for keeps.
The deep lines etched in Abe's face should not make us think of his "imperfections" and "self doubts" during such stressful times in our Nation but of his "determination" and "moral courage" not to "pass on" the current problems to future generations. Of course, "Honest Abe" continues to inspire us all to seek the truth in all our worldly and personal "dealings". That has tragically been missing of late in our leadership. My sister reminded me of a quote (paraphrase) from Ghandi in reference to "the Christian World", "I admire your leader, Christ, and what he taught, but I question many of His followers (religious leaders) and what they have done (are doing)". i.e. "torture", Guantanamo. etc. We can't just point the finger at other cultures (Islamic, Muslim) for bad examples of "Man's inhumanity to man". We have to strive to get our own "house in order".
As a man, a husband, a father, a teacher of children, a student of "mankind" (I'm really getting profound here today) I have my challenges and self-doubts. Circumstances shouldn't always dictate my behavior and reactions and I continue to try to be and do my best from what I've been taught and what I have taught to my kids and those in my classrooms (our nation's future). I love all my family and will continue to support them in whatever way(s) I can as long as I am able. This is what I "get" from our leaders, past and present. RRR

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Like to Move It, Move It, Move It!

" Push back the desks! We're gona dance!" What a shock when you announce this in today's primary classes. "We've never done this before," they all say. "This is fun!"

Yes, I still think the subject of Dance is part of P.E...but not in our Public Schools anymore. "Physical Education", what they now call "P.E." is max two to three days a week, 20 mins. or less and it always happens outside. i.e. run/walking around the track two or three times (to "wear them out, or calm them down." I was recently told by a co-teacher) swinging on the "big toy" apparatus with no assignments or directions. That's P.E. now. Forget calesthentics, responding to the rhythm of music or marching, stretching, cardio for kids etc. No time for it now with all the mandated "testing". When I left regular teaching they were even starting to do away with the mandated "Physical Fitness Testing" every Spring. We had, years before, voluntarily participated in the "Presidential Physical Fitness Awards" where every kid got to try. Those achieving 80% or better in the 8 tasks got an award certificate signed by the P.O.T.U.S. It was a big deal. Even back then we had no dancing, folk or square mandated, let alone all the "modern ones" We would have "dance parties" in our rooms for the last half hour usually around the holidays.

At these young ages most kids are not "socially conscious" or not "embarrassed to dance in front of each other (male vs. female). In upper elementary and into middle school, it gets to be a real issue. Oh, I have stories I could tell. The fact remains, kids like to move (move it!) and usually in rhythm. I saw alittle of it last year in "special classes they had once a week for 6 weeks with their "Orff-Schulwerk" teacher, but that was mostly marching and interpretive movement, not dance or free-form "creative movement". You can observe it on the playground, in formally, when they think no one is watching and without any "stimulus mood music". It happens, despite our institution's efforts to stifle it. ("not enough time")

So, I got this "hot CD" from a website of acapella singing I check out regularly. It looked/sounded interesting. Very modern rhythms, sounds, scales etc. set to "really rather old" classic kid tunes. i.e. "Do Your Ears Hang Low?", "The Wheels on the Bus", "Pop Goes the Weasel", "If Your Happy and You Know It", (my favorite) "Itsy Bitsy Spider", Then some new ones: "Jammies" (kids loved) "The Crazy Dance" etc. They even had an extra 13th cut, "It's Hard to be Cool (in a mini-van)" This one kind of departed from the "theme" of the disc..."Party Like a Preschooler" and not drive your parents bonkers. (the music is modern and cool, throbbing beats, but the songs are tame) The last song was telling the story of a "young dad" driving his mini-van full of his young family and he see this "hot chick" in a convertible next to him...he "tempted". The sleeve is small but covered with "testimonies" of the "converted" dads of the group "Go Fish". There are no other "religious references" in the other songs.

We had an extra half hour or so at the end of the prescribed "lesson plans" this last Thursday; so I had the kids push their desks back along the sides and "come out and just respond" to the songs, move...not dance per se. Out of a class of 20, one boy went over and sat in the corner and hid, crying. We kept going, but I made sure he, and the class, understood that no one had to "dance". It was volunteer.(he "didn't like the girls looking at him" evidently) From then on I had them take turns, boys sit out and "rest" while the girls danced and visa versa. They liked that better. Some were more/less "self conscious" and some did sit out a bit. However, most "moved and enjoyed it". They wanted to do more when I called "Time Out." I gave out "reward tickets" to several, at their suggestion, who "got it on" so to speak for primary aged kids. Some, really came out of themselves and were alot less shy than they were during their "lessons" and when they were called on to read or do a math problem aloud.

Why aren't our schools even trying to educate/train the "whole child" anymore? Lots of "left-brain" activities and tasks, but very little for the "right-brain". They say they don't have time and that it is a province for the "family and/or the church or social group" after school. To my thinking, we all learn with our whole being/body. We need to react and learn kinesthetically to some topics/subjects of interest. I always have. This is why I always used drama and music in my teaching. Otherwise, It would get pretty boring...especially for me. I asked the kids, how many watched "Dancing With the Stars" on TV. Most put their hand up. How do you account for the enduring popularity of the "70's Musical Mama Mia"? It is one of the oldest, most primal forms of communication and we are ignoring it in our classrooms. When I was in my teens and earlier it was considered "sinful" to go to dances and movies. Are we reverting back to those enlightened times? RRR

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Wacky Wednesday Song

The Wacky Wednesday Song
It's Wacky Wednesday Time,
And we sing songs that rhyme.
We roam from room to room,
We walk, and do not zoom.
We learn our A, B, C's,
And count each other's knees.
We make a friend or two,
Having fun at ______ _______ "zoo".(school)
We do not swing from trees,
Our teachers all, we please.
Now it's your turn to think,
And end this song with _________! (?)
(Take that last rhyming word and just repeat it over and over again to the melody you've been singing...just for the "sheer silliness" of it. The tune, by the way, is "It's Howdy Doodie Time"...if you can remember it from classic TV) i.e. sample, suggested words: "wink, or blink or pink or...stink" you could even use a nonsense word that rhymes with "think".
This is a song I came up with for the two Kindergartens where I "volunteer" weekly, on Wednesdays. Every month or so that the teacher have a "minimum day" on Wednesday. They decided to group the kids differently among the three or four rooms of "morning kindergarten". This was "cutting into" my "math game time" with my classes so...I decided to give them a "song" to "help"(?) them march from class to class.
It was also my objective to emphasize the necessity of "rhyming" for this age learner...pre-readers. They have got to "hear" rhymes and sounds and feel free to "play" with them. Creative verbal "babble" has to happen with all young learners and some don't even begin to do it until kindergarten or first. What I do see alot of is regimentation and strictness and no talking, especially in "lines" and walking from one place to another at school. Why not sing? and rhyme? I would've...and still do, I guess. Tunes and words are always going through my head...and I'll bet other kids, even grown up ones, have that same "malady".
Back in the early days of TV, one of my favorite shows was "Howdy Doodie Time". It was so silly and creative. It had puppets and "Clarabell the Clown". It had a "Peanut Gallery" and lots of songs were sung. We sang along and learned them all. There was my favorite puppet, "Princess Summerfallwinterspring". We learned alot and it was mostly through "silliness"...even though it was all in black and white. Yep, no color TV then. Color didn't come in until I started babysitting at our neighbor's house 'cause they had it. "Wonderful World of Disney" (in color) was on Sunday night and a great night for babysitting. Then we memorized songs like, "Davy Crockett". We also watched a serial called "The Last of the Mohicans". Ahh, those were the days! What do the kids do now? Don't even ask. It can't be as innocent or instructive. Que lastima!
I digress...Will the teachers involved with these kindergarten classes actually use this song or even teach it? Probably not. It was introduced just to get them to think about having some fun with their kids and help them be "creative" in their verbal play...through singing and wit. School should be fun, especially in Kindergarten, don't you think? RRR

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fabled "Playwrights" Unmasked

The Grasshopper and the Ants
A Fable
This last week we brought out the masques and they were a "big hit" in the primary classes where I worked. The lesson plans actually called for masks but the regular teachers didn't have any and their wasn't time to make them. The timing was perfect since this was Halloween week. One class actually had been studying "Fables" and "animal masks" were suggested. It was amazing how enlivened the lessons/readings (dramatic) became with just two or three kids in masks romping around the room. They were expressive and emotive and wanted to do the "Story/Fables" over and over again. Fortunately I had been collecting masks and had a whole bag (40+) in my car. Kids who were having trouble reading the text, being prompted every other word, got into the spirit of the "ad lib performances" and became our narrators over and over. When we discussed the "meanings" of the fables and their "morals" they got into quite a discussion. i.e. "Would you rather be "an ant" or " a grasshopper"? Why? We took a poll. It wasn't unanimous. I told them, I liked the grasshopper because he liked to sing, dance and play and have fun. I knew I'd probably starve during the winter...but I could lose some weight, and maybe I'd make a new friend or two.
I noticed, in the teacher's edition, for a future day's assignment, that they were going to have to make up, write, their own "fable". I said nothing. A few minutes later, after some "free time" (which is now called "may-do time"), there was a neatly printed "story-fable-play(?)" on my desk. I went over to the boy and asked him about it. He said he loved to write stories and that this one was a "gift" to me. I was in the old days...when I knew I had created a "spark of learning" in a child. He and I read it over. It was short but good as "dramatic plots" go. We corrected the spelling and usage errors together and made sure that his "creativity was honored" I told him that he could always correct the "mistakes" in later "drafts" but that he got the "ideas written down" and that was the key and best part.
Here's where the "magic continued"...we dug in my mask bag and found a "rabbit mask" (the play was about a rabbit). He wanted to be the "lead performer" this first time, and also the director. We chose "a log", "a seat" and "a tree" to also "pantomime/perform". "The Star/Performer" gets to die in the end. What could be better for your first attempt as a "playwright"? To die, on stage, is an honor...and has to be done just right. I coached him. He then took over, cast it again and directed his friends...he also narrated it. Instead of keeping his original draft to show to his regular teacher, I gave it back and told him to "recopy" it. He was alittle reluctant. Soon I had another "story" on my desk. We were out of time. I told them I'd be coming back to "sub" in November so they could have somemore "plays" ready for me. I then showed them all my "masks", mostly of animals. They were very interested to say the least.
They were all being "ants" and working being "grasshoppers"...and they didn't even mind or resist it. Think of all the teaching/learning that can now happen in the "rewrites" and "rehearsals". It will be interesting to see what the regular teacher does with any of this. Will her time schedule of test preps and overhead fill-in sheets allow for this "crass-gorilla-type" learning? School can't be too much fun, can it? RRR