May 30, 2016

Icarus, the Sun, and Why June is a Nostalgic Time

I love teaching. Although I came at the job in a peculiar way. My first stint at teaching was to ninth and eleventh graders in New Orleans. I love sharing stories. Myths, in particular, have a universal appeal -- it's impossible not to be drawn into the allure of bad-ass myth-making. I have a memory of a lesson I taught to a ninth grade honors class about the story of Icarus falling from the sky because he did not listen to his Father to veer AWAY from the sun. One student who did not show interest in myth confided in me after class that, "the story was cool."

The story has allure because it's easy to relate to Icarus's lust for risk. It's why teenagers hang onto the bars on the back car of subway trains. The flip side to Icarus's disdain for limits is of course his father Daedalus's forceful, "No. Don't fly too close to the sun, son." It makes for engaging classroom discussion. If you are a teacher, try it out.

There are many versions of the tale. The internet is legion for various versions of out-of-copyright stories. I suggest J.F. Bierlein's translation in his compilation Parallel Myths. It's lean and to the point without eliminating the essential thrust of the story.

By the way -- I suggest reading Theseus and the Minotaur as a companion piece to Icarus and Daedalus. Remember -- it's Daedalus who was forced to build the labyrinth to conceal Minos's monstrous son from the public.

Et. al: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a drawing by Hendrick Goltzius that depicts the horror of Icarus's recklessness.

Icarus, from the Four Disgracers, Hendrick Goltzius, 1588

Apr 26, 2016

Mug Shot Book at the Philadelphia History Museum

#6774 Daniel Mason, Larceny
At the Philadelphia History Museum, you can view objects that reflect the city's history. Of all the objects on display, I found the "mug shot book" interesting. Dated from the 1900s, the book is an orderly visual compendium of criminals arrested in the city of brotherly love.

Dec 23, 2015

Aug 15, 2015

It is Nice to Love a Bug

Bug #1 — Staten Island, 2015

Bug #2 — Staten Island, 2015

Bug #3 — Staten Island, 2015

Love a little. Love a bug. Love a green bug. Isn't love nice?

Image Source: Greig Roselli

Jul 20, 2015

Lying Prone on the Floor at Manhattan Mini Storage

Looking like a bible salesman who lost the key to his storage locker
Lisa told me to the ferret the key out with a flat ruler. It didn't work! And we needed to get in! Can you tell I'm opening this post like the beginning of a badly written situation comedy?

Feeling like a cartoon character, I got prone on the floor vainly fishing out the key to our storage locker. Am I a bible salesman trying to get my Gideon bibles? Or maybe I'm a bootlegger and this maximum-security storage locker holds my gin. Or maybe it's a year's worth of three-hundred-paged-glossy-covered coupon books —those artless tomes filled with fifty percent discounts for edible arrangements and vacation cruises. Mostly sold by high schoolers raising money for track and field. Or some other kind of extra-curricular activity.

Americans like to fill in their own stories. So I won't explain in detail why I'm prone on the floor fishing vainly for a key (that was never to be found).

Lesson learned: The tummy likes a cold dry concrete floor to lay its head.

Image Source: Lisa Helfrich

Jul 17, 2015

Writing About Teaching (Again!) — and When Superheroes Have a Villain Named Lester

Jerome Avenue has its heroes.
Writing about teaching is a go-to blog post idea. When I am teaching, I notice human behavior in a way that I do not notice outside of the classroom. That's why the classroom is great fodder for something to write about on a blog.

Teaching is about being aware. I know this to be true. As someone who is characteristically blissfully unaware, when I train myself to become aware I notice phenomena that had previously railroaded me.

One thing I noticed is that in a classroom signs are everywhere. You just have to open your eyes. I think the reason kids hate teachers who only sit at their desks and distribute homework from their high chair is that these teachers are unaware.

A teacher has to be engaged. And this does not just mean knowing the lesson. Frankly, anyone can teach a lesson. I know this from experience. But if I am not aware when I am teaching a lesson — I am just mimicking a rubric. It's no fun.

I work part-time at the public library. They have this awesome program that gives kids a place to learn fun things after school. Basically, I am a tutor — and people may say, a glorified babysitter. I am woefully underpaid in this job — which has prompted me to garner insights from my daily interactions to cover up the resentment I have with my abysmal pay. 

There is a strategy in being over-zealous in an underpaid job. Because in an underpaid job there is no risk in just sitting on your butt. But when you put you all into it — the results are surprising.

Like I said. I am often unaware. Don't ask me what I wore yesterday and I may tell you it's Tuesday when it is in fact Friday.

But breaking out of the miasma of my own unawareness, engaging the students who come to the library to learn is a beneficial shock to my system.

This week I learned that boys are very protective of their mothers. One kid said, "Don't flirt," when he overheard me bantering with his mother. And oh. Kids have fashion sense. I love it. Also, when you ask a question to elementary school kids, they will unhesitatingly give you a glorious answer. We were talking about heroes. We had the kids seated on the carpet. We had just discussed superhero powers. What makes a superhero. One kid said, "flying." One kid suggested he would take his truncheon and knock a "bad guy" over the head with it. I said, "If you were a superhero who would be your arch-nemesis?" One brazen little girl said, "Lester!" And then one girl said, "The devil!" And then we decided that a good villain duo would be Lester and the Devil. When they went to create their own superheroes I could not help but notice that every single kid had chosen Lester as his or her villain of choice. And we had like thirty-five kids. However, I think one first grader had decided that he was the Flash and his sidekick was Flash, Jr. he was going to protect Burnside (the neighborhood in the Bronx where I work) with a billy stick.

One second grade girl said she wanted a superhero who could save all the injured and abused pets she noticed walking underneath the elevated tracks where the 4 train rushes over Jerome Avenue. She decided (with the help of another second grader) that she would be "Pet Girl" and her sidekick would be Catwoman. And they both would battle against pet abusers (a collective villain!). It was trenchant, powerful, and I really felt rallied by her presentation. She got up in front of all the kids in the library and told them about her plan to solve this very serious issue plaguing our neighborhood.

To be honest: I am glad we were all aware (me included). Because I do not think we could have had a more engaged lesson. 

Image Source: munimeter

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