Last night I attended Parent-Teacher night with my eighth grade son. It was depressing.
For two hours, I, my son, and several hundred other parents were herded from classroom to classroom where we were introduced to the variety of TEKS tests our children would endure this year. TEKS, the acronym for the assessment “Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills,” will measure students’ ability to take tests. Honestly, that’s what it boils down to. The four areas of “knowledge” they will assess are math, science, history, and social studies. Writing, and critical thinking, apparently, are not deemed “essential.”
Now, I realize teachers only have ten minutes to address each class. They were dead tired, as was I. But you know, in each ten minute session, ALL I heard was due dates for tests and the breakdown of grades. In not a single class was there any excitement about the curriculum, no discussion of new ideas or interesting projects… nothing.
10. Patron: If I was feeling particularly existentialist, what book would you recommend for me?
9. Patron: Hi. I’m looking for a book called Bay Wolves. Can you help me find it?
Me: Sure, let me look it up for you… Hmmm, sorry we don’t have any books by that name. Do you know the author’s name, maybe?
Patron: No, but I think it’s spelled kind of weird, like B-E-O… wolves.
Me: …Do you mean Beowulf?
8. Patron: Can you help me find the Law Library?
Me: [pulls out a map] The Law Library is right here. You just walk down this street, turn this corner, and you’ll be there.
Patron: Thanks, hopefully they’ll have a book about Newton’s Laws.
Me: Uh, maybe you’re looking for the Physics Library instead…?
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Red Balloon is a private school in Brazil designed to help Portuguese and Spanish-speaking children become fluent in English. The faculty came up with an innovative idea to engage kids AND help them learn. They encouraged the children to follow their favorite celebrities on Twitter and then tweet them back, correcting their often egregious spelling errors.
Here are a few of the best recent Celebrity Shamings:
This summer the Los Angeles based Troubadour Theater Company is reprising its role as masters of the Shakespearean mash up. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you A Midsummer Saturday Night’s Fever Dream.
You may have guessed it, though you might not believe it: one theater company has poured all the funk, bellbottoms, and embarrassing dance moves of 70s disco into the world’s most timeless romantic comedy ever to be written in iambic pentameter. But lest you think this is a joke, you should know that the Troubies (as they’re affectionately known round these parts) are old hands at the genre. After all, these are the folks who brought you…
OthE.L.O., Fleetwood Macbeth, As U2 Like It, and every actor’s dream Hamlet, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince of Denmark
(George Eastman‘s (co-founder of Eastman-Kodak) suicide note. Eastman shot himself in the heart after suffering from chronic spinal pain which left him partially disabled.)
When someone makes the decision to take their own life, often the first thing many people want to know is whether they left a suicide note. Some people, like Eastman, leave just a few words the living are left to ponder; others leave long, detailed letters of regret, pain, and loss. Whatever the method, there is no denying that the final, written words of anyone who has made this decision are compelling.
Taking a class on the composition of suicide notes though…well, that’s definitely new. But philosophy professor Simon Critchley of New York’s the New School believes there is much to be learned, artistically and rhetorically, from suicide notes. He recently hosted a course called the “Suicide Note Writing Workshop.” One of several classes offered in month-long series of programs called “The School of Death,” Critchley came up with the idea after hearing about a program called “The School of Life” in London. Critchley (my kind of guy) called it ” “a particularly nauseating philosophy of self-help.”
Critchley realizes it is a dark subject and also a “way of mocking creative-writing workshops.” But, in the workshop’s defense, the professor explained to The New York Times, “We’re not mocking suicide. We’re doing this as a way to understand it. And why not be a little insensitive? People are terrified in talking about death.”
Fifteen students signed up for the workshop which looks closely at suicide ethics from antiquity to present-day. Suicide notes themselves, Critchley says, are a relatively recent innovation. “In antiquity, there was no need to leave a note,” he said. “It would have been obvious why you killed yourself.”
Notes examined include those left by Adolph Hitler,Virgina Woolf, Kurt Cobain. After analyzing a variety of suicide notes, from both the infamous and “ordinary” people, the class was asked to write their own last words. They were given just fifteen minutes to do so and the goodbyes had to be contained to a 4″ x 6″ index card. One woman wrote this for her children: “When you inevitably discover those things I kept secret, let these not diminish the reality nor the magnitude of my love for you.”
It is an interesting way to think about communication, especially since these last words, when not a classroom exercise, come from people who largely failed at communicating.