Dec 4, 2016

Wisdom from the Animated Feature Film "The Sword in the Stone"

The animated GIF is my favorite type of digital file. It's been around forever, right? It's been around longer than Vine has been a platform for short video clips - that's for sure.* And, what is a Vine but a glorified GIF?

So, here is a favorite of mine - some words of epistemological wisdom on the difference between knowledge and understanding  -- from the young King Arthur in Disney's animated adaptation of T. H. White's children's literary classic The Sword in the Stone:

source: Disney
*The GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) was created by a Compuserve engineer in 1987.

Aug 26, 2016

Theater of the Absurd Charlie Rose Style

Charlie Rose supercut
In 2013 I saw this video at an exhibition on super cuts at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens -- adjacent to the old style Astoria film studios where Law and Order and Sesame Street have been brought to life.

Anyway. A supercut is a kind of new media -- someone gets an idea like "What if I cut out everything in news media clippings of Donald Trump speaking except for when he utters "China"? You get the idea. Or a supercut of just blah blah blahs from across cinematic history. I posted that one on this blog. I must be obsessed with supercuts. I have wanted to create my own but never had the tenacity nor have I yet lighted upon a good idea.

This supercut from the Charlie Rose show was imagined as "if written by Samuel Beckett." By just paring down an episode on technology to a few buzzwords and phrases the creator has managed to create an nonsensical interview between Charlie Rose and himself. Here it is.

True story: I now utter "Google" nonsensically in public places. Thank you very much.

"Charlie Rose" by Samuel Beckett from Andrew Filippone Jr. on Vimeo.

Media Credit: Andrew Filippone, Jr.

Aug 25, 2016

Ira Sach's "Little Men" Improvisation Scene

Ira Sach's Little Men (2016) is about how children are more mature in their emotional expression than the adults -- as well as better listeners.

The film tells a story about two friends who must suffer the consequences of a business dispute between their parents. While the adults bicker and put up their defenses, the two boys roam the streets of Brooklyn, an image of the borough that is a stitched together pastiche of different neighborhoods. While it seems the kids live in the Greenpoint or Williamsburg neighborhood, the setting shifts between Sunset Park and Bay Ridge. We see the Verrazano Bridge in one sequence, and in another, a view of Lower Manhattan from Sunset Park. I am not sure whether Sachs was attempting to make a statement about the ever shifting landscape of New York City, or simply painting a colorful, albeit nostalgic, portrait of several neighborhoods mashed into one.

But, I want to talk about my favorite scene in the movie. A quarter of the way through, it features a creative, energy-infused scene with one of the young protagonists Tony, played by Michael Barbieri

The scene is great on many levels -- and it's hilarious to watch, especially as it pops out at you when watching the movie in the cinema. On the website Vulture, Kyle Buchanan made a thoughtful interpretation of the scene, as it relates to the larger story arc of the film. He mentions how Ira Sach's "explosive, funny sequence" nicely ties together the theme of silence and listening. While the adults fail in resolving conflicts, the two boys respond by making their friendship stronger. The two stage a protest by not talking to their parents. 

Having done improvisations with young people, and having done improvisations myself as a young person, the scene reminded me of how truly transformative acting can be. Or, how acting out in an improvised way -- structured play -- brings out raw, creative energy. And that's what we see in Tony as he naturally mimics and expands on his Theater teacher's (Mauricio Bustamante) verbal phrasing and intonation of voice.

Here's the clip!

Media Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Aug 24, 2016

Inequality in America: W.E.B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk and HBO's The Night Of

A black stranger … for instance, is liable to be stopped anywhere on the public highway and made to state his business to the satisfaction of any white interrogator. If he fails to give a suitable answer, or seems too independent or “sassy,” he may be arrested or summarily driven away. 
W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, p. 113

Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk in 1903. I like to use his book as a point of reference because every time injustice is carried out, deniers will often remonstrate thusly: "But, that was then, this is now."

No. History tends to repeat itself. And not only that, old wounds heal slowly when subsumed under the relentless wheel house of time.

The tyranny of the interrogator persists. It hides behind "gun rights" lobbyists and political candidates using fear of the other to keep constituents voting for them on election day.

Americans live in a country where last year 1,134 people were killed by armed police officers. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., an African-American History scholar at Harvard, was arrested in front of his own home. American children do not have equal access to education. The United States, one of the world's most developed nations, fares poorly in its citizens' share of the wealth. Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Ethiopia have better equality in the distribution of income across families than the United States. I am not just throwing out facts. I am suggesting that inequality spikes through multiple layers of society.

In The Night Of, Nasir Khan is accused of murdering a white woman.
I can't help but think about popular culture. In the HBO miniseries The Night Of, Nasir Kahn, a Pakistani American from Queens, is brought in as number one suspect in the murder of a young white girl on the Upper West Side. The season finale has not aired yet, so viewers don't know the identity of the killer. As a crime drama procedural puffed up as a cable television series, we're not sure if Naz is a killer or not -- but one thing the show makes clear is that once interrogated Naz is drawn into the bone-crushing bureaucracy of the criminal justice system, the perception of a mindless crowd, and the truth that even if Naz is innocent, once spooled through the system Naz is transformed -- and it is not exactly a pretty transformation.

I digress a little bit. My main point is that the United States, with all of its proclamations of freedom, democracy, and justice for all, has difficulty in being honest about who exactly enjoys this so-called freedom, democracy and justice.

Image Source: HBO

Jul 15, 2016

Greig's Educational Philosophy

Every once and awhile an employer or person will ask me about my educational philosophy. As they say -- there's many ways to skin a cat -- but here is one version of what teaching means to me:

The word “education” derives from the Latin meaning “to lead out.” Teaching is just that. To teach is to lead out. But where is out? And to where are we leading those entrusted to our care? I believe we lead our students out so eventually they will no longer need us. Of course, all young people graduate. But if they graduate and are still dependent on us -- then what have we accomplished? We don’t call graduation “commencement” for nothing. To commence means to begin the journey. Once those in our care depart they will have to guide themselves. We guide our students not so that they will be perpetually guided, but so that they too will become like us -- those who lead others out. That is the purpose of education.
I disagree with the educational philosophy that says children have an innate understanding of knowledge and it is our job as teachers to show them what they already know. However, I do agree with Aristotle when he said, “all people desire to know.” What I teach in the classroom is what to do with knowledge. What do we do with our knowledge of history, the arts, of writing and reading? Mere curiosity is not enough. The role of the teacher is to help students dive into the vast ocean with a canteen of fresh water by their side. The merely curious will end up like the curious cat -- and we know what happened to the curious cat! In sum, teaching is providing our cohorts with the tools to understand what they desire to know.
I love teaching because I was not as a child someone who was primed to learn. I liked to read but I had no guidance in choosing what I read. It was not until a teacher told me, “Greig, I notice you read books in the library. But you seem to have no rhyme or reason to what or why you read the books you do.” She gave me some books she thought were thought provoking and better than the drivel that I had chosen for myself. She gave me books to read that lead me out to other worlds, concepts, and different ways of thinking. I must say that even today I love the pleasure of the Choose Your Own Adventure series and Goosegumps, but I am forever grateful that I was lead out by Alice in Wonderland and the Odyssey.
Master teachers ask the right questions. Students in a classroom do not respect the know-it-all teacher. I agree with Paulo Freire who said that you cannot pour information into the brain of a child and just expect them to conform. Education is not a mechanical activity of depositing raw information into empty heads. We have to put fire under the belly! For example -- I do not expect to give a one-hour lecture on Shakespeare. I do not want Shakespeare’s plays to be empty information poured into an unloving mind. I have to set up the conditions to enable the spark to ignite. I know that young people are fascinated by love and death -- and I will be sure to lead them into a discussion of Romeo and Juilet with this in mind. Whatever I teach must matter.
My teaching creed stems from my own education. I am excited about the history of philosophy. I love telling stories of the great myths and recounting historical events. I am usually enthralled by the intricacies of a good novel, an excellent coming-of-age story, or funny poem. I thrive in schools where students are in love with a certain passion they see in their instructors. Master teachers must be lovers of their field of knowledge.
To teach means learning new ways to teach. I love working with technology because what better way to think about literature than to comb through the archive of Google Books to look for evidence, or to examine an ancient artifact from Ancient Mesopotamia on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website? Getting kids to form good habits of discussion is awesome. When young people begin to lead others out I know that I have done my job.
I do not teach in a vacuum. I do not believe in going rogue. I think teachers thrive best in a school where the values espoused by the teacher is equal to the school’s own values. For me: it is love of learning equals desire for the divine. By love of learning I mean the thirst for knowledge that whets the appetite of novice learners. We love learning because we seek more that what we are.
To put it squarely: I believe in becoming. In this way, I think teaching is an intimate occupation. We must not only be lovers of knowledge, but we must be lovers of others. We must help the kids in the room become better versions of themselves. And in this way we too are changed.

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.

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