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Reform Part One: The School Day

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about education reform. Some of it good, some of it not so good. Being an educator myself, I figured I’d throw my ideas into the mix. Before I start though, let me say that I have no idea how to best teach elementary school aged children. Though I spent a year tutoring them, that year was many moons and seasons ago and I do not feel comfortable even attempting to come up with an idea to best educate them. For as anyone with a peanut of sense in his brain can tell you, teaching a four-year-old is completely different from teaching a 15-year-old. I’d wager, I can say the same thing for middle-school aged children. I haven’t spent a lot of time teaching them either, so the idea that I would know what’s best for them is laughable . . . . If you aren’t picking up on my subtle hint about education reformers by and large then let me spell it out for you: If you are a reformer who has never taught then I find your ideas, for the most part, both laughable and insulting.

However, I have spent the bulk of my adult years standing in front of high school classrooms teaching teenagers English, reading, writing, journalism, filmmaking, and design. I’ve also done a few stints in the college classroom, which is similar to the high school classroom in many ways (currently, in the United States though, not enough ways). For a full list of my credentials, go here. Full disclosure, I’m only 37 and I earned my teaching certificate a few years after I originally graduated college, so ‘the bulk of my adult years’ doesn’t, in any way, mean I have the knowledge of a lifetime of teaching behind me. There are only 12 years in my rearview mirror.

All that aside, I am going to offer what I think is the best way to reform high school. For the record, I am open to suggestions and would be more than willing to edit/change any of my ideas before approaching a billionaire to ask for money to create this school.

Okay, so, as the title states, today I am focussing on the school day. Step one? Make it shorter. Hold on now. Teachers would still, by and large, work a standard eight-hour shift and maybe more in some instances. Students though, students wouldn’t start until 9am. They would be done with classes by 2pm. My class periods would be around 45-50 minutes long and students would have to take four a day. By 2pm, all classes will have been taken and lunch will have been consumed. But wait! The school day would not be over, however, all students would then have two-three hours in which to get extra help in study hall-like settings and participate in extra-curricular activities of their choosing. Think about it. Wouldn’t it be amazing for the student athletes to start practice at 2pm or 3pm instead of after school and have half of their night gone before they even get home? Wouldn’t it also be great for the coaches? Athletics aren’t the only bits of education that would benefit from this. What about publications? How about tech classes and/or clubs?

Speaking of that, I think I would require all students participate in some sort of extra-curricular activity. Teens need somewhere to belong that doesn’t have anything to do with family or a grade, you know? Why not a school sponsored club? In a perfect world there would be something for everyone. I’m working on that . . . . Again, any help would be greatly appreciated.

Teachers, of course, would be able to leave at 4pm, when their eight-hour work day is over; however, there may be some who choose to stay longer for clubs, etc. 

To sum it all up, we’re looking at four hours a day of standard classes, followed by a two-three hour block in which students can get additional help in study hall-like settings and/or participate in extracurriculars like sports and clubs.

Maybe though, just maybe, I’m writing all this simply because I’m a lazy teacher . . . .

ZING!

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When The Fool Dies

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*spoilers ahead

When the Fool dies, the world takes notice. The one gift the great gods of storytelling bestow upon the Fool is that of survival. He outlives kings and queens, warriors and wanderers, villains and vagabonds alike. The Fool, who spends his days mocking the pro- and antagonists and pointing out the madness of it all, is traditionally allowed, in story, a long life after la fin. I’ve often wondered why. I’ve also often wondered why the Fool’s rare death seems so profoundly upsetting, more so, even, than the traditional Hero’s death.

For me, when the Fool dies in any given story, there is this visceral, supremely painful gut reaction. I’m thinking of Fili and Kili in The Hobbit. Or Fred Weasley in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Wash in Serenity always hits me hard too. As I mentioned above, these deaths are so unexpected, so undeserved, so sad, so poignantly pointless that it hurts in that natural, animal place we all have inside of us reserved for situations we can’t properly process. When these characters die, happiness, in a way, dies with them. No one expects that.

But it’s more than happiness that dies with them. And this is the scary part. It’s knowledge. For the Fool knows something the rest of the world doesn’t. Or rather, the Fool knows something the rest of the world refuses to recognize. Or rather, the Fool knows something the rest of the world is too cowardly to conceive. The Fool knows the sadness of it all on a level few can process. The Fool knows how depressed we all are, or worried, or angry, or frustrated, or stuck here on his plain of pain because the Fool is the saddest one of all.

Luckily for us, he is also the bravest.

But I am speaking of literature, of well designed story where everyone and everything has meaning. The real world is not so kind. For in the real world, the sadness can sometimes claim the Fool as its own. If I am ridiculously saddened by the deaths of the imaginary Fool, how do you think I feel about the death of a real one? How do you think we all should feel?

Once More, Unto the Breach

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While I do not endorse war for war’s sake, as, apparently, King Henry did, and I certainly don’t endorse sacrificing one’s self for a cloudy cause, as, apparently, King Henry did (for his soldiers anyway), I do appreciate the sentiment in this famous Shakespearian speech as  it rings out in Kenneth Branagh’s superbly British voice. 

Henry tells his soldiers to fight, fight on in the face of impending doom. He tells them that if they fall in battle, their bodies are going to be barricades, the best damn barricades ever. He tells them this is the cause to fight for, it is noble, it is needed, it is honorable.

He lies.

However, as I sit here the day before the 2014-2015 school year begins in earnest, the day before Bellevue West High once again fills to capacity (and beyond) with teens who need knowledge, I can’t help but feel the truth in the sentiment, at least as it pertains to my situation. Many good teachers are gearing up for battle, most of us again, some of us for the first time. We are honing our skills and we are facing an insurmountable task. We are charging forward, just like King Henry’s soldiers. Some of us will fall. Some of us will falter. But we will go out there armed with books and words, with wisdom and intelligence, with kindness and strength, and we will fight. We will fight ignorance. We will battle blowhards. We will strive to create a better world than the one we were given.

Once more unto the breach indeed.

My Endless Summer

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This summer I took on the almost overwhelming task of reading every one of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels. For those of you who don’t know, Sandman, otherwise known as Morpheus, the Dream King, Dream, the Master of Story, etc. etc, etc.  is the protagonist of one of the most well-respected and beloved comic books ever written. He is one of The Endless, a group of siblings who embody seven aspects of existence (Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Despair, Desire, and Delirium). 

The story is actually quite simple. The Endless are ideas given life, concepts with feelings, older and stronger than gods, who live outside of the purvey of any power in the known universe. We first meet The Endless at a kidnapping gone wrong and last see them at a wake. Incidentally, this is the closest to a spoiler you’ll get out of this post (in case you were wondering). Filling in the gaps between the kidnapping and the wake, Gaiman’s tale moves this way and that in a fluid-like motion that is chronological and convoluted, elegant and messy, profound and concrete. Furthermore, Gaiman weaves elements in and out of his books. In the first volume he drops hints of things to come in the last. Everything is important. There are no extraneous aspects. If the curtain in the living room is blue, it’s blue for a Goddamn reason. Characters are connected in unexpected but clear and simple ways. The story’s ebbs and flows are surreal. The mix of mystic and magic with modernity is eye-opening in that it reveals the mystery in the ordinary.

In fact, it’s hard to process. The word “profound” is dancing on the tip of my tongue while I fumble for some way to describe Dream’s story. 

But it isn’t just Dream, is it? The Endless is made up of seven distinct and intriguing characters. Death is pleasant in Gaiman’s deft hands. Destruction is necessary. Delirium is . . . adorable. Why? How? Well, you’d have to read Gaiman’s words to see how he makes this work. I’m not going to attempt to explain it here. After all, there would be a lot of explaining to do. The Endless aren’t alone. There are ravens and ideas with voices and emotions, places that talk. Lovers and haters who come together and fade away. More importantly, there are people–perfectly ordinary people–trying to make sense of the madness around them. In other words, and perhaps most importantly, there are people like us. That, dear readers, might just be why The Sandman is so profound. Set aside the cosmic concepts, the castles, the dreamscapes, and the magic and you have a tale about life and death, a tale about people.

This summer I spent warm afternoons on my back porch, early mornings in the passenger seat, and late nights in my recliner. It was time, with Gaiman’s books open, I spent in waking dreams with characters I love and people I know.

It was time well spent.

37

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*Today is my 37th birthday.

A week ago I found myself at the kitchen sink crying. A confused, emotional pain had hit me in the chest. I could hear my daughter in her bedroom singing some mundane pop song in that saccharine voice only a father could love. She had, shortly before this, kicked me out. Don’t get me wrong. She was polite about it and would have willingly suffered my presence. But a man who pays attention can tell when a woman doesn’t want him around, even when that woman is his nine-year-old daughter, or rather, especiallyMy son, almost 12, was at his grandma’s house when this occurred. I hadn’t seen him and had hardly talked to him in five days. 

My children, it seems, are drifting away. But ‘drifting’ isn’t the right word, is it? They are flying away as though they’re sprouting leathery bat wings and hankering for the blood of life. Which, in a way, they are.

Hold on now. This isn’t going to be one of those sappy posts about how my kids are growing up and I am growing old. Stay with me.  

What made me cry as I rinsed a small cup that used to hold more juice than either child could drink, but now, overflowing, could hold little more than one gulp each, was knowing what’s in store for them. 

My tears were of happiness and sorrow. For a few moments I was stuck realizing the beautiful paradox that is life and it overwhelmed me. Living is a grand mix of sufferings and joys. It is a tailor made bloodbath of love and hate. It is a struggle. It is a perpetual awakening (for those with wide eyes, a wide heart, and a brain like a sponge–for others, maybe not so much). 

As they move down their paths toward 37 they will see and do things that will make them proud and ashamed. They will live lives quite different from mine in many specific ways. However, in many general ways, they will live the same life. They will have ups and downs. They will have gains and losses.

In short, they will live.

In that, they are miracles. As am I. As are you. As are we all. Trying to process the profundity is almost too big a task for a mortal brain. But it is also a gift.

At 37, loping toward middle age, that’s enough birthday present for me.

 

 

*In case you are wondering about the blog’s new/old look, for various reasons probably unimportant to you, I have moved my blog back to wordpress.

Move

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Starting tomorrow my blog will move. I am going over to my new website: www.aestueve.com, of course, specifically, the blog will be at www.aestueve.com/blog. I’ve been told I have to ‘centralize my Internet presence” and this is a step toward that. If you are one of my faithful followers, feel free to follow my posts some other way. You can go through twitter @aestueve and facebook and whatever else I decide to link to the site. This move has nothing to do with the quality of service I have received from wordpress, it is simply the easiest way for me to maintain that aforementioned ‘centralized presence.’ Wish me luck and come along with me! 

2012 Project 366: Stueve Music Day #312

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Wednesday November 7

Tom Petty – “You Don’t Know How it Feels” from Wildflowers, 1994

Here is a list of what I don’t like in a song:

  • Unartistic literalism
  • Unartistic realism
  • Stupidity (when it is not accompanied by fun)
  • Songs that try 
  • Songs that don’t try
  • Songs that lie
  • Vapid songs (which probably fall under the banner of “Songs that lie”
  • Hateful songs

Well, the list is longer and it makes me sad to think of, so let me explain why I did it. “You Don’t Know How it Feels” is a writer’s song. The lyrics tell the world–and a woman–the teller is strange. No one will ever understand him. But the singer isn’t bitter. No. He’s fine with it.

The world would be a much better place if more people just understood what Tom Petty was getting at with this song. It isn’t a bad thing that no one will understand him. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s in this huge misunderstanding that we all understand each other.

And there we are, right back at the paradox of great art.

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