March 2013

Youth Brigade

The True/False Academy and Boot Camp on the streets during T/F 2013

Day 124: Brit Lit–students applied some of Alexander Pope’s precepts from Essay on Criticism to Evita!, basketball coaching, and some Assassin video game; Lit Seminar–read aloud the very lyrical ending to A Lesson Before Dying and discussed its implications and subtleties (then closed shop 15 minutes early to dissect The Walking Dead).

Day 125: I have been fortunate during my second tenure at Hickman to have had several schemes funded by the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri (my heroes), Columbia Mo National Education Association (not too shabby, either) and the school PTSA (always at the ready). We have been able to build a library of former True/False Film Fest films, create a StoryCorps DIY media kit, and compile a collection of CDs 500+ strong, featuring music ranging all the way back to 1895. Occasionally, young Kewpies come through that are so passionate about music, I can’t help but include them in choosing new items, and today’s highlight was realizing that, beyond probably having the best music library of any school media center in America already, a couple of kids and I will be “inducting” some names several of my fellow Facebook fanatics will happily recognize: The Mummies, Hasil Adkins, Swamp Dogg, The Memphis Jug Band, The Sonics, and many more.

Day 126: My fourth block literacy class and I were watching the film version of A Lesson Before Dying, which we just finished reading aloud together, when Alvin Youngblood Hart’s version of The Mississippi Sheiks’ “Livin’ in a Strain” (see Record Rec of the Day, below) rolled out from the soundtrack across a great scene. I was completely unprepared for it–I hadn’t seen the film before (have read the book at least ten times)–so I was flat-out floored, since, well, he’s PLAYING AT The Blue Note tonight. I think I even talked a kid into going! I know, coincidence, but I just started a Christopher Hitchens book yesterday that opened with a quote from Middlemarch, which I just finished. Stay rational, dude.

Day 127: Welcomed Mr. Josh Chittum and the forces of the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series to the commons of Hickman High School once again to give away free tickets to next Thursday’s Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts performance by the Locke-Keezer group. Thanks to Patrick, Spenser, and Marielle for assisting to Mr. Chittum. Any Hickman student who wants a ticket but didn’t get one, come see me tomorrow in the media center Periods 1-3. As I have said before, the beneficence of the arts community in Columbia toward its youth is unparalleled in my experience, but I must say that the youth need to RECOGNIZE this kind of them doesn’t happen everywhere–even in some big cities. The event is FREE to all public school students in town, folks–and even those OUT of town. Beat that.

Day 128: In fourth block, where many unexpected cool things happen, we met today for the first time after having finished A Lesson Before Dying. One of my students walked in, quietly said, “I got this for you. You can put it on,” and handed this to me. We have had balanced discussions of this issue, I assure you, but, sorry, I put it on. If you’ve read the book, you know why.

Day 129: Had the privilege of listening to the “final draft” of a rap song w/excellent Star Wars references which I’d heard grow through several versions. Ziggy Vann Lyfe, Collin Deters, Ross Menefee, and Israel Santana–I’m danged proud of you. You built that!

Day 130: Presentations–time for Ol’ Teach to kick back and watch other folks’ dog & pony shows for awhile. Today’s featured poets: The Brontes, Dylan Thomas, Percy Shelley, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, and Robert Graves. Unfortunately, the presentations finished early each hour, so it was time for the Great Spinning Wheel of Overeem Anecdotes (students “spin” for the topic, I match a story to the topic). Block Two got “Did you ever have senioritis,” which produced the tale of the only “F” I ever made on a test (pretty deliberately, as cruising the strip in Carthage seemed more fun at the time than reading three chapters), as well as the query of whether a “C” in Ethnic History in 1980 made me a racist. Block Three got “inappropriate occurrences I have had to deal with,” which produced the story of how I ended up at Hickman in 1990 (the inappropriate occurrence, alas, was not produced by my actions, but a principal’s, which helped convinced me to get the eff out of Dodge).

Day 131: Today, I administered the DRESS test to several of my reading kids. On the first part of the test, they have to read aloud a passage from a text at the level they appear ready for, while I mark up my copy of the text with observations about their tendencies. Two students, moving up a text level for this one, had clean reads–no errors–and moved at over 110 words a minute. That is cool…the payoff for taking reading seriously.

Day 132: I am very much in love with Ali Smith’s new book of literary criticism couched in fiction, Artful, which I just started reading. When I read this passage this morning, beginning as it does with a gloss on Heraclitus, I knew I had to share it with students (actually, this is the end of a longer sublime passage): “You can’t step into the same story twice—-or maybe it’s the stories, books, art can’t step into the same person twice, maybe it’s that they allow for our mutability, are ready for us at all times, and maybe it’s this adaptability, regardless of time, that makes them art, because real art (as opposed to transient art, which is real, too, just for less time) will hold us at all our different ages like it held all the people before us and will hold all the people after us, in an elasticity and with a generosity that allow for all our comings and goings. Because come then go we will, and in that order.”

Day 133: In the biz since ’84, I have never loaned a student my belt (though I have threatened a few with lashes from it). Check that one off of the “have never” list. D’Angelo, I hope it had enough holes to cinch up tight around your scrawny waist! Proud to be of service–now if I can just keep my own drawers from sagging, because I am wearing Christmas candy cane boxers!

Day 134: The True/False Film Fest has done a great amount of good for Hickman High School students. I recently sent out a mailer to the most recent students for whom that good has been done, urging a show of gratitude. My deep admiration to the student (who would be embarrassed to be tagged here) who suggested she MAKE something rather than us BUY something for our benefactors. That made made day, and it was pretty danged good one to begin with.


Filmmaking begins in the basement at CAT TV

Day 135: Reading 16 pages of dense text out loud–with full interpretive effort and interspersed discussion and “strategic reading urgings”–is not just mentally exhausting. It is physically exhausting. I LOVE to read aloud, but I have carried a headache all day from two 16-page reps. Plus, this book (A Rip in Heaven–still!!!) seems to grow 10 pages longer for every 10 pages I read, and by the end of Thursday I will have read all 301 pages to two classes. No, I don’t want a medal. I guess I am going to really miss reading aloud to a class, but it ain’t no picnic.

Death Penalty

Day 136: Remember me complaining about A Rip in Heaven yesterday? Well, today I was teaching away in Brit Lit when one of my Lit Seminar kids appeared in my door, vociferously motioning me to step out in the hall. I put my class on hold, stepped out, and was met with, “No offense, but A CURSE ON YOU AND A CURSE ON YOUR BOOK!” I’m like “Wha?” and he’s all “I can’t stop researching the death penalty!!!!” I said, “So is this for a class?” He says, “No, I am making a powerpoint for MYSELF! Like I said, A CURSE YOU AND A CURSE YOUR BOOK!” He whirled–grinning–and went on his way. Never sell a book short. Note: Sometimes I worry that these reports from the front sound self-congratulatory, but, believe me, stuff like this happens to ALL OF US–every single day. If it sounds like fun, TRY IT!

Day 137: A reporter from VOX conducted a near-two-hour interview with the radio station kidz today. If it comes out in print as intelligent, interesting, and funny as it did in person, you will want to read it. However, I feel kind of hurt that Patrick D King has never used social networking to tell me how to live! Also, Happy 21st Anniversary, Nicole.

Just Kids

Sometime before the FIRST anniversary….

Day 138: Ahhhhh, spring break. Under the circumstances, the students were excellent today–a great poetry presentation on Gerard Manley Hopkins (thanks, Steve Gieseke), a fun discussion/story of one’s life-progress through religion, a final DRESS test administered, and that many-times-aforementioned fourth block Lit Seminar class reading quietly and with intent focus while hallway chaos was being sowed all around them. And, hey: my bracket’s in first place after 1/2 a round, and there’s room tomorrow at the Hotel Frederick! A restful, fun, enriching spring break to all you teachers and students out there. Also, thank you, HHS PTSA and CMNEA, for funding our ongoing project to make the historical bounty of American (and influential NON-American) music accessible to students and staff. Pictured are SOME of the CDs we were able to purchase this month with grant money from the aforementioned entities (couldn’t fit some into the picture; others are still on their way). View the existing collection at the following link (I haven’t written blurbs for the newbies); thanks also to Spenser Rook and Marielle Carlos for helping this old fart make fully relevant choices outside his taste-range, which isn’t exactly narrow, and agreeing to help with the blurbs. We are considering setting a rule where we have to write blurbs for CDs we DIDN’T choose, which is my idea of fun.

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