Tag Archives: Arts

Teenage Resistance To The Teachable Moment

Dr Brown's Cream Soda

Dr Brown’s Cream Soda (Photo credit: stevegarfield)

TechSupport was relaxing, drawing in his notebook to complete an assignment for his art class.

“Can I show you something?” my husband interjected. He used to be a pretty good artist back in the day. “I want to show you how to look at that can of soda and really see it.”

“I kind of just want to draw,” Tech said.

My husband pulled a chair over to the kitchen table where our son was sitting. “I just want to show you something,” he said. “Will you just look?”

Tech kept his eyes on his notebook. “I will.” His hands gripped his pencil tightly. “In a little while.”

I addressed my husband. “Not every moment has to be a teachable moment…”

My husband glared at me. “Don’t do that.” He held up one hand. “You’re always undermining me. I just want to show him something.”

Insulted, my husband pushed back from the table, scraped the chair’s legs against the hardwood floors, and he stormed off into another room.

Tech’s hand continued to move. He wasn’t really looking at his can of soda. He was just coloring.

“You know,” I said. “Instead of making a big stink, you could’ve just listened to what he wanted to say.”

Tech bit his lip and continued drawing.

After a while, Hubby reappeared. “Now can I show you something?”

I could feel how much my husband wanted to show our son what he knew. How he wanted our child to see the world differently. How he wanted him to see shadows and light. How he wanted him to see a different perspective.

Tech looked at me, then at his father. I could see he was biting the inside of his cheek.

I imagine he felt outnumbered.

There are always two of us, and only one of him. He tries so hard to please.

My husband started again. He showed our son how the eye can lie. How colors can be different, not uniform. How a brown can of soda isn’t really brown when you are drawing it. If you look, it is gray and maroon. Even orange in places.

“That’s all I wanted to show you,” my husband said with some degree of satisfaction.

After all, he got what he wanted.

“Thanks,” Tech said with a blend of gratitude and sarcasm in his voice.

My husband’s cell phone rang and he answered it.

And Tech continued to draw with his brown pencil.

Not gray, no maroon, no orange. He only used brown: a Good Son’s quiet act of defiance.

Tech’s completed drawing

What my husband didn’t know was that Tech and I had plans. We’d said that while he drew his picture of Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, that I would write about the same topic.

I guess it didn’t go quite as planned.

Or maybe we all got it done in our own way.

Michel Foucault once wrote: “Where there is power there is also resistance.” Anyone experiencing any resistance lately?

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Shecky the Meckyl and His Technicolor Groove: My Seussian Self-Help Book

A Bully Free Zone sign - School in Berea, Ohio

Image via Wikipedia

When my son was in 5th grade, he went through a rough patch socially. We had moved to a new house – which meant a new school for him, and there was one douche-bag boy in particular who made his daily life difficult.

In an effort to try to deal with what my son was feeling, I created a little picture book with weird little drawings of a funky little creature named Shecky the Meckyl — who just so happened to be getting teased by some other “Meckyls.”

My son let me read it to him.

Once.

When I finished, I asked him what he thought about my book. He exhaled with the kind of exhaustion that seemed too dramatic for a 5th grader.

“I get it, Mom. I’m Shecky. And some day some people will appreciate me for who I am. I just have to wait it out.”

In hindsight, my son’s annoyed tone wasn’t inappropriate. I was trying to simplify a complex problem. I was telling him “Be Yourself!” when he knew all too well the person that he was — his core self — was being rejected daily. He felt attacked, defenseless, and friendless.

Over the weekend, we found the old manuscript in a bin.

He didn’t remember it, so we read it again.

I thought I would share it. It may not have worked in the moment, but it reminds me that the woes of youth are, in his case, quickly forgotten. And perhaps my little story might offer something else to someone who is going through a rough patch.

• • •

Shecky the Meckyl & His Technicolor Groove

Shecky the Meckyl had a technicolor groove

He’d leave colors in his wake whenever he’d move.

Sweet Shecky had colors where shadows should be

He made rainbows on sidewalks for Meckyls to see.

Shecky loved colors, as most people do,

But Meckyls turned up their noses and said, “PICKLE-POO!”

Which was not a nice thing for a Meckyl to say.

It made Shecky sad, and his colors turned gray.

Said one nasty Meckyl on one nasty day:

“We don’t like your colors; we don’t like your hues

We step in your shades, and get stains on our shoes!”

“You are too bright!” said this nasty fellow,

“Your pink is too pink, your yellow, too yellow!”

“Why don’t you keep all those shades deep inside?

Lock them up tight,”

And so . . . Shecky tried . . .

He held in the purple

He held in the green

He held in the fuschia

And aquamarine.

But once in a while some blue would appear

And the Meckyls would laugh as they though he was queer.

Shecky was puzzled as Meckyls could be

He missed the bright hues which had filled him with glee.

Shecky sat himself down on a cold piece of birch.

And his smile flew away alone in that prickle-perch.

He was sitting deserted on his bum in the street

When who do you think Shecky happened to meet . . .

But his friend Schmeckyl Meckyl who was out for a walk

And when he saw Shecky he stopped for a talk.

“Where are your colors, Shecky? Where did they go?

Can’t they come back, Shecky? Please make it so!”

Shecky answered sadly, a tear in his eye,

“Other Meckyls don’t like them, so why even try?”

“Don’t let those Jabber-Flabbers rain on your parade.

I like you, Shecky and all the colors you’ve made.”

“Please make a rainbow, you know what to do.

Those Meckyls are just cranky. Don’t let them change you!”

So Shecky straightened the glockins which grew from his bum,

He squeezed and he pushed and hoped they would come.

And it started to happen, as things frequently do,

Shecky smiled a smile, and his colors shone through!

With colors flip-flapping, once more Shecky was high,

Ready for anything under the sky.

Some Meckyls still look at Shecky with shlock in their eye,

But now Shecky is thankful he is a colorful guy.

My son doesn’t like to discuss 5th grade, and he rolls his eyes at me when I mention it. Meanwhile, I remain on amber alert.

Just because he is able to “straighten his glockins” and refuses to allow the “Mean Meckyls” of the world to be his undoing, I’m not so sure the same can be said of his mother.

What would you do if you found out your kid was a “Mean Meckyl”? When do you let kids fight their own battles? And when, if ever, do you move to intervene? And would you ever have your child call to apologize to another?

Not To Be Trashed: Guest Post by Mary Mollica

That's my girl!

Today’s guest blogger is my old friend, Mary Mollica whom I have known since 1975 when we found each other in 2nd grade.  Mary and I have been in and out of each others lives for over 3 decades, but we really reconnected when we learned that we had both been blogging.

Mary’s professional blog, The Decorative Paintbrush, is a journey where she shows readers how she finds trash and turns it into treasure. (I was recently with her when she found a piece of crap leaning against a building and she circled back to get it, declaring with absolute certainty that she was going to turn it into something gorgeous. I am sure she has. I have seen what she can do.)

Mary’s personal blog is called 2moms5kids and that is a whole different kind of adventure, equally amazing. You can follow Mary on Twitter @thedpb

Today, Mary recalls our most excellent high school art teacher, Carl Wenzel whose work can be found HERE. She’s not lying about his quirky-awesomeness. Note: While I took numerous art classes, I had nowhere near the artistic potential that Mary did.  Some of us are artists and some of us are writers. And some of us are financial guys. 

• • • • •

 Not To Be Trashed

I remember the first time I stepped into his classroom. There was music playing, and the lights were off. Quel ambiance, right? I remember thinking this guy is either a total nut job or very cool. Turns out he was a bit of both, and I say that with total admiration. He’d probably admit that himself. Mr. Wenzel was, and still is, an amazing artist and, as an artist now myself, I’d have to admit, in order to be a good one, you have to be a bit of both!

Until ninth grade, I had taken art classes along with the rest of my peers. Pinch pots, papier maché, and abstract self-portraits cluttered my mother’s refrigerator. Like most young children I liked art – it was fun – but the first day I walked into Mr. Wenzel’s classroom, I knew things were going to be different. He ignited a passion for art inside of me like no other teacher had before.

Mr. Wenzel introduced me to techniques that enhanced my own creativity instead of trying to manipulate my work into a carbon copy of his own.  He gave praise as well as constructive criticism, which, at first, I’ll admit was not easy to take. But along with the criticism, he always gave a solution that helped fix the problem.

I remember once we were getting ready for the annual art show. We all had to do a piece in hopes that it might be submitted. At the time, Mr. Wenzel was trying to teach us about atmospheric perspective (reducing value contrasts, and neutralizing colors in objects as they recede) and, for whatever reason, I was struggling with this concept.

My frustration started to build.

I wanted to be in the art show so badly, to show people what I could do, to prove I was a good artist, but my piece was not cooperating with me. At all.  

I was irritated as I watched Mr. Wenzel walk around the room casually, giving kudos and words of praise to the other students. I wanted those accolades and looking at the junk in front of me, I knew I wasn’t going to get it. He finally stopped at my desk.

“So, what’s going on here?” He made a circle with his forefinger over my work.

“I don’t know…”(Yes, I was whining.) “I just can’t seem to get the hang of this.” I threw down my pencil in disgust. “I should just start over again.”

“Well you could start over…” he said sympathetically, “or you could try something else.” In one swift motion he grabbed a sheet of rice paper from a shallow drawer behind him, flipped the chair next to me around and snatched a big old jar of Elmer’s Glue.

He plopped down and started humming as he ripped the paper into large random pieces.

I watched him.

“Some of your biggest artistic mistakes will turn out to be some of your best creative work,” he said gluing down random slips of paper to the front of my project.

I had been trying to recreate a landscape from a picture I had cut from a magazine and although the background was wonderful, the fence in front was flat and unattractive. He slapped down the paper over the large fence posts, layering and molding them as he went, until finally they resembled old pieces of wood.

“A paper collé!” He exclaimed.

“A what?”

“A paper collé. A visual and tactile technique you can use to embellish certain areas.” He smiled and his mustache wiggled. “If you add color to these, they will stand out and make the background seem distant, like it should. Sort of 3D.”

I worked feverishly on that piece, falling in love with it more every day. My piece actually took first place in the art show that year and sold for a nice chunk of change. And to think — I had wanted to throw it in the trash.

Mr. Wenzel inspired me for many years after high school and helped me transform my hobby into a lifelong quest. His ability to arouse the imagination and motivate students was astounding. He taught us how to transform the mundane into the magnificent with very little effort. So, now when I screw up on a piece of art (or in life), I remain calm and remember Mr. Wenzel’s words.

This is the kind of stuff that Mary does now!

What are some school art projects that you remember loving? Or hating?

 • • •

If you have writing chops and are interested in submitting a memory about a teacher you had and can explain how that person helped you (or really screwed things up for you), as well as the life lesson you took away from the interaction, I’d love to hear from you! Contact Me. Essays should be around 700-800 words.

If you write for me, I’ll put your name on my page of favorite bloggers!

 

And Since We Are Talking About Pencils…

Image from art.com

My friend Carl D’Agostino and I often have Vulcan mind-melds. This week while I was tapping away about how much my Monkey loves his Ticonderogas, Carl simultaneously posted a pencil related comic on his blog, “I Know I Made You Smile.”

Check out Carl’s funny here, then come back and tell me about a mistake that could not be erased.

I’ll start: Congressman Anthony Weiner’s decision to send photos of himself in his grey underwear via Twitter. Whooopsie! Good luck with that one, dude.

“Saturday Summer Screwball” Contest Starts Today!

To inspire my viewers and have some fun this summer, I am kicking off a contest.

We all work hard during the week, but it is important to relax whenever we can grab a moment. Every Saturday from now until September 3, 2011, I will post – videos of YOU, my beloved readers, doing the things you love to do! G-rated things. This is a family show, people! 😉 Think ziplines, epic water fights dressed as cyborgs, alligator wrestling.

Send me the link to your You Tube video at rasjacobsonNY@gmail.com anytime between now and September 3, 2011. Videos must be under 2 minutes and they should feature you doing something relaxing… that’s a little bit off-beat.

Between September 12-16, 2011, I will create a poll and ask people to vote for their favorite “Saturday Summer Screwball” video. If you mention this contest on your blog and link back here, you will receive an extra vote. If you Tweet an #SSS of your choice, you will also receive an extra vote. Just be sure to come back and let me know that you did!

To usher in the fall, one winner will be announced on September 21, 2011.

An uber-cool prize will be awarded.

You all know that I love to dance, so I’m kicking it off.

And, if you’ll notice, I’m kind of off-beat.

So here you are: for inspiration.

Seriously, it is a pity that you could not see my fabulous green wig in this video. I will have to spank Monkey talk to my tech guy.

Tweet this Twit @RASJacobson

Stupid Stuff Kids Do – Lord Love ‘Em

Every once in a while, Monkey will do something that really makes me mad.

Like on a really hot day, he’ll spray me with his water gun – but he will forget to mention that he’s filled the barrel with a special concoction of water and the added bonus of blue food coloring (you know, for greater impact). So that’s pretty much the end of that white bikini.

Or he’ll tap things, even though he knows I can’t stand repetitive tapping.

Or he’ll leave his cup sitting on the kitchen counter. (And I don’t mean the cup you drink out of.)

Or he’ll put his jeans in the washer and then transfer them to the dryer…with an entire pack of chewing gum still in the pocket. So that’s pretty much the end of everything in that load.

But this.

This takes the cake.

Leanne Shirtliffe is Ironic Mom, and – after this “little inicident” where her daughter decided to write on a non-traditional writing surface, well… you tell me what you would have done.

Or better yet, tell me the worst thing your little stinker has ever done – to date!

That you know of.

And if you don’t have a stinker, ‘fess up!

What’s the worst thing you ever did as a kid?

Grammar is a Hussy

I got this little gem from a colleague who was in the midst of grading three sections of English 101 mid-term papers. Upon completing one full section of essays, he decided to reward himself.

(I usually reward myself by eating a bag of Snickers.)

Anyway, he found this little gem and sent this around via department mail:

My colleague took pause to wonder:

Do you think if we “sexed it up” (as the British say), we could ever get everyone to use it?

Let me be the first to say that I am a Grammar Pimp and proud of it.

I use Grammar all the time.

And she has never failed me.

Ever.

Grammar is slick.

She is tireless, and she never lets me down.

She has never asked me for anything, and I have only benefited from my relationship with her.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want in on that kind of action?

Grammar, you have a bag full of tricks, you dirty girl.

You aren’t afraid of anything: noun-pronoun agreement, misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers. Colons don’t scare you and –  Grammar, you little trollop – you love when people use their hyphens properly.

Don’t you?

Yes you do.

Knowing Grammar is great.

But using Grammar is excellent.

I’m telling you: Use Grammar.

She wants you to.

If we approached grammar as if it were a reality TV show, do you think it would make kids more psyched to learn their grammar rules? Or would a whole bunch of teachers just get fired?

Lessons From Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart

Image via Wikipedia

I’m sorry, I friggin’ love Jon Stewart. He does snarky right.

Instead of ending tax cuts to the top two percent, America – apparently – needs to get money from teachers.

Because teachers are incredibly rich.

I know I am.

(Click on the link below to enjoy a few minutes of quality comedy.)

Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Explores Problems in Tax Reform & Education

Feel free to laugh out loud.

Then tell me what made you laugh.

Or cry.

The Giver: Thirteen Years Later

The Giver

Image via Wikipedia

It’s happening.

My son is reading a piece of literature that I used to teach.

He is reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver, the story of a young boy named Jonas living in a highly controlled community some time in the future. The novel fits into a larger genre of cautionary tales called “dystopian literature.” If a utopia is a society in which everything is perfect, a dystopia is the opposite: everything has gone wrong. The novel explores Jonas’s encounter with memories of “the past,” a time when people still had the freedom of choice.

When I first taught The Giver, the book had just come out, and it was controversial. In fact, it was banned in many schools for its disturbing content and ambiguous ending, but I taught The Giver to 9th graders in an independent school, so I had a lot of freedom. The Giver explores an age-old debate: Should government let people have freedom or seek to “protect them”? Should we value individuality or the greater good? Are emotional highs and lows better than the steady middle ground?

Fast forward. My son is now in 6th grade. Oh, he can handle the language and the concepts just fine. He is a voracious reader, and he seems to understand the book thus far. I have struggled over the last weeks because, really, I want him to discover the book himself. I want him to be stunned when he learns that the main character’s father has lied to him, that it is his father’s job to kill babies. To nurture them, yes, but also to decide which one’s live and which one’s die. Jonas watches his father administer a lethal injection to an otherwise healthy infant twin because the community has decided there can be no twins. And he learns that his father will have to “release” a baby that has been living with the family because he simply cannot sleep through the night without crying.

So I will be waiting for his response.

Because right now, he thinks The Community is a pretty good place to live.

No one has to worry about money, he insists. The climate is controlled. The birth-rate is controlled. Jobs are determined by Committee Members based on careful scrutiny of children and their personality traits. Kids who like to build become engineers and kids who like to play with children become Nurturers. There are Laborers and Birth Mothers. All kinds of jobs. My Monkey likes this kind of order. It seems logical, and it appeals to him.

“Sameness eliminated fighting and wars,” Monkey said matter-of-factly. “There is no more racism.”

“True, but people can’t see or appreciate colors. Everything is kind of beige, so they can’t appreciate hot pink flowers or the blue of an ocean,” I said. “And they don’t know snow or sunshine because of climate control,” I suggest.

He shrugged his shoulders at this. He isn’t far into the book yet to know what is coming.

While he was out today, I re-read The Giver from beginning to end. And I am struck by how Orwellian Lowry’s vision is. And I am amazed by all the ways the government has slowly intruded into our lives since 1993. Post September 11, 2001, video cameras are everywhere. Everywhere we go, we are being filmed. If we purchase something, our credit card transactions are tracked in a way they weren’t before. When we go to the airport, we are made to practically strip down – and we agree to do so, in the name of the greater good; we take off our belts and shoes and put our liquid products into baggies to be searched. We have caller identification so we no longer have to answer the phone. And every prank phone call can be traced back to the place of origin. The government is more involved in public education than ever, practically dictating to teachers the curriculum that needs to be taught. Textbooks, which have been approved and distributed throughout our country to our children, are filled with hundreds of factual and grammatical errors and people do not seem to be outraged. The latest version of Huckleberry Finn has had the “n” word removed. (Sure, you can still get the alternate version, but tens of thousands of students will never even know that another version exists because it is easier to edit the language of difference.) Journalism has become entertainment, and few people read primary sources. Most people just pop onto Blackberries and iPhones and read commentary (read: secondary sources or the ideas from “specialists” telling us what to think) about everything from the food we eat to the latest shooting. I see people forgetting how to think critically. I know people who do not know much about our Constitution. They could Google United States Constitution and read about it, but most folks would rather read Status Updates on Facebook or download the latest App designed to make us forget that our country is engaged in a war.

“There is no war in Jonas’s world,” Monkey said, his chin angled up defensively.

“True,” I said, thinking to myself but there is no love either.

And I wonder how many civil liberties my child might be willing to give up if the Government told him it was for the greater good.

A Bridge From Cyber Chaos to the World of Words

The Facebook Man. Facebook is celebrating its ...

Image via Wikipedia

I am forever trying to make sense of how to balance the world of books (which sit quietly, unobtrusively on tables) and the world of screens (which flash and bing and ping noisily for our attention). To me, they are like two different kinds of children.

Today, I was reading Madame Librarian’s Blog, and I saw that she had stumbled across something wonderful that struck a chord for her, and also struck that same place in me! She found a quote from an interview with Jonathan Franzen where he says:

I think novelists nowadays have a responsibility—whether or not my contemporaries are actually living up to it—to make books really, really compelling. To make you want to turn off your phone and walk away from your Internet connection and go spend some time in another place. I’m trying to fashion something that will actually pull you away, so I’m certainly conscious of the tension between the solitary world of reading and writing, and the noisy crowded world of electronic communications.

I continue to believe it’s a phony palliative, most of the noise. You have the sense of “Oh yeah, I’m writing in my angry response to your post, and now I’m flaming back the person who flamed me back for my angry response.” All of that stuff, you have the sense, “Yeah, I’m really engaged in something. I’m not alone. I’m not alone. I’m not alone.” And yet, I don’t think—maybe it’s just me—but when I connect with a good book, often by somebody dead, and they are telling me a story that seems true, and they are telling me things about myself that I know to be true, but I hadn’t been able to put together before—I feel so much less alone than I ever can sending e-mails or receiving texts. I think there’s a kind of—I don’t want to say shallow, because then I start sounding like an elitist. It’s kind of like a person who keeps smoking more and more cigarettes. You keep giving yourself more and more jolts of stimulus, because deep inside, you’re incredibly lonely and isolated. The engine of technological consumerism is very good at exploiting the short-term need for that little jolt, and is very, very bad at addressing the real solitude and isolation, which I think is increasing. That’s how I perceive my mission as a writer—and particularly as a novelist—is to try to provide a bridge from the inside of me to the inside of somebody else.

Franzen goes on to discuss how people who love books love to hold books, the whole experience of a book. I, personally, am a sloppy margin scribbler. I turn back corners and make notes. I underline and star things. No one wants to borrow a book after I have read it, and if I have ever borrowed someone else’s book, I usually have to buy them a new copy. Not because they wouldn’t take back the marked up copy, but because I simply can’t give back the book once it has become part of me.

This is probably partly why I have resisted getting a nook or a kindle, even though numerous people have told me I would love it. That I could still make my marginal notes; they would just be typed, and all my comments would appear in chronological order and be easily found. I understand all of this. It’s just, well . . . I just finished reading a book called The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future by Mark Bauerlein. And frankly, it caught my attention. The premise of the book is that parents and educators have been sold a bad bill of goods, promising that computers will help make learning easier and more enjoyable for students. They have also been promised that their children’s test scores and literacy will go up as a result of this new technology: that the whole world is at their fingertips.

The author points out, however, that this is not the way teens use the Internet technology that is available to them. Teens don’t independently look up information about history or art or follow politics or listen to any music except popular music.  Young users have learned to upload and download, surf and chat, post and design, play games and buy things online, but they haven’t learned to analyze a complex text, store facts in their heads, comprehend foreign policy, take lessons from history, or spell correctly. They require teachers, parents, religious leaders and employers to teach to pull them from their adolescent ethos towards a more mature ethic which will expose them to the idea of serious work, civic duty, financial independence, personal and family responsibility.

And as ironic as this is going to sound coming from an online blogger, I am trying to minimize my screen time. Yes, I will continue to blog, but I’m trying to live a little more unplugged because I truly believe (and now have well researched and documented support, thanks to Bauerlein) that all this screen time is leading us down the path to a place of incivility that breeds incompetence in school and the workplace. I see people losing their ability to connect to each other. And, as a teacher and a writer, I want to be that bridge, so I have to work on being that bridge.

Franzen’s interview came at the right time for me. As I continue to write on a manuscript that has been like birthing an elephant. And by that I only mean it is taking a really long time. One day, I would like to hold that book in my hands, and I would like to dream that somewhere, someday, someone might write all over it. Underline. Make stars. Question marks. Pen, “This sounds like me” in the margins.

I want to be a real (metaphoric) bridge, though. Starting Wednesday, September 8, 2010, I plan to help my undergraduate students figure out how to pull their own stories from out of themselves and put them on paper; show them that the conventions of Modern Standard English matter, that an outstanding vocabulary can help them get ahead.

I don’t think it is possible to be a cyber-bridge. You have to really be present to help people make their journey, especially when they are scared. And, believe me, when you ask 18-24 year olds to put away their technology — even for just 50 minutes — they are scared.

So I will gently take their hands and pull them away from their addictions and try — for 15 weeks — to get them to let me be their bridge.

I just hope they don’t walk all over me. Or that they, at least, tread lightly.