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Archive for October, 2007

Trick or Trick

Y'know how no matter how many Friday afternoons you experience in a lifetime, no matter how long ago you shoulda become inured to the joy of a weekend, it still thrills you? Halloween is like that for me, only several hundred miles in the other direction.

  • INT. HIGH SCHOOL MATH CLASSROOM - DAY
  • DAN MEYER, 25, tall, arms built like telephone poles, greets the last in a stream of costumed pimps, witches, whores, and stabbing victims.
  • He stands in front of the class and smiles warmly.
  • MR. MEYER
  • Hey guys. Good to see you. Happy Halloween. I thought today we'd watch a Halloween video for the first half of class and then for the second I've hidden candy around the class for you to find.
  • The class REJOICES.
  • THE KILLER FROM SAW
  • Sick!
  • A CHIPPENDALE DANCER
  • Really?!
  • MR. MEYER
  • Ha ha ... uh ... no. I do have a test for you, though.
  • The class DESPAIRS.

Is Halloween international? Is there a country where I don't hafta put up with this?

Awards Hysteria!

Since the 2007 Edublog Awards went live last night, my e-mail box has been filling up, people wondering where to toss their dy/dan vote.

Some suggested categories:

  • best teacher blog
  • best new blog
  • best educational use of video / visual [link to Graphing Stories helpfully supplied]
  • best new blog
  • best contemporary folk album

Remember: a vote for dy/dan is a vote for yourself. Basically.

This is no small thing.

Universal and Paramount are both releasing screenplays for several films, some currently in theatrical release, some yet-to-be released, presumably as part of their Oscar campaigns for Best Screenplay.

And, man, this is great. Usually, unless you live on the concrete slab between Long Beach and the San Fernando Valley, you can't track down a script for anything on a new release rack at Blockbuster, much less anything in theaters.

So grab the PDFs. Print a few pages out for any of your students inclined towards film production or professional writing.

'Cause screenwriting is a very different, very interesting, very constrained form1. Third-person omniscient, for example, is rare unless you've got clout enough to break the rules. Since your audience only has sound and picture to guide them through the story, that's all you're allowed to use.

For instance:

No good for screenplays:

Dan Meyer scrawls an opener exercise on the white board. His kids are noisy, still coming down from a Halloween candy high. Dan contemplates the infinite choices that have led him to such a job — some tiny, others even tinier — and figures that fifteen seconds is all he needs to get his car rolling out of the parking lot.

Good for screenplays:

  • INT. HIGH SCHOOL MATH CLASSROOM - DAY
  • DAN MEYER is writing an opener on the board while the class goes steadily crazy behind him. THE CHATTER is unbearable.
  • Dan's writing drifts downward as he writes. He doesn't seem to notice. Or care.
  • He turns and faces the class.
  • DAN
  • Okay.
    (a beat)
    Okay can we start?
  • A crumpled piece of paper smacks him in the face from off screen. His face sags a bit but he doesn't turn in that direction.
  • DAN
  • (to himself as much as the class)
    Really?
  • THE WINDOWS SHAKE.
  • The wing of a Boeing 767 TEARS OFF THE ROOF OF THE CLASS.

End scene, suckahs!

Get 'Em

From Universal:

From Paramount:

Only film without a screenplay link is PTA's There Will Be Blood, which is definitely a bummer.


  1. That last one's for Dean.

John Taylor Gatto: Um, wow.

Try not to contract an acute case of self-loathing reading John Taylor Gatto's Why Schools Don't Educate, a speech in which we are all agents of a system which subjugates students emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

The products of schooling are, as I've said, irrelevant. Well-schooled people are irrelevant. They can sell film and razor blades, push paper and talk on the telephones, or sit mindlessly before a flickering computer terminal but as human beings they are useless. Useless to others and useless to themselves.

Yeah, I get it. This has kinda been the School 2.0 vector all along, right?

My reservations with Gatto's preference for self-knowledge, internships, apprenticeships — an educational buffet line, essentially — over traditional teacher-led instruction have historically been, whither the kids years behind their peers in math, reading, and writing?

Rarely do those disciplines (reading, writing, 'rithmetic) carry obvious value to the student in the present, only in hindsight to the future practitioner. I've always wondered what would compel those students to study fractions absent any compulsory institution like a school saying so.

This has gone unanswered (to my satisfaction) until Gatto's essay. (And if I've missed anyone's response, lemme know.)

"How will they learn to read?" you say and my answer is "Remember the lessons of Massachusetts." When children are given whole lives instead of age-graded ones in cellblocks they learn to read, write, and do arithmetic with ease if those things make sense in the kind of life that unfolds around them.

Of course he's referring to Massachusetts in 1850. And, of course, he's calling whole lives, whole families, and whole communities prerequisites for effective education. Which, I mean, yeah, I guess if we could only get our students' lives, families, and communities on track then maybe we could fix education. But this isn't the Massachusetts of 1850 and education is so often called to cure what John Taylor Gatto says must be cured in advance of any educating.

Anyway, I'm usually frustrated by the abundance of idealism and the dearth of pragmatism in this discussion so it was nice then to see them paired up, if only under 19th-century terms.

Finally, I just want to point out ('cause someone's gotta) that Gatto gets it way wrong with television, which he indicts eleven times throughout the speech.

Either schools have caused these pathologies, or television, or both. It's a simple matter [of] arithmetic, between schooling and television all the time the children have is eaten away. That's what has destroyed the American family, it is no longer a factor in the education of its own children. Television and schooling, in those things the fault must lie.

What Gatto is really under no obligation to clarify, but what is a glaring deficiency of his speech nonetheless, is the difference between watching television and watching 55 hours of television. The consumption of t.v. isn't what's wrecking kids; it's the indiscriminate consumption of t.v.

I realize my self-appointment as Television's Ambassador to Education kinda makes me easy to write off here, but Gatto (and most teachers I've sparred with over the matter) advocate an extremist policy I couldn't handle if it concerned movies, blogs, music, or any medium.

Still and all, it's never been easier to dodge the 55-hour mark.

  1. Don't own a television. Buy or watch your select stable of shows online. Or not at all. (But you are missing out.)
  2. Own one. Get a DVR. Let your kids record a select stable of shows and nothing more. Fast-forward the commercials.

Whether he means to or not, Eric points out how time has vindicated television:

I think we can now replace “television” in this speech with “entertainment” in general, meaning the constant barrage of on-demand entertainment through TV, film, music, and the internet.

Like if we smashed every t.v. in the world, the kids wouldn't find another way to narcotize themselves?

[that cold bucket of water via Eric]

Show and Tell: Floating

There's a shot halfway through this music video where a stalk of broccoli floats dreamily across the screen — frame left to frame right — shot at 60 frames per second. (Or something fast.) On the weird power of that shot alone, I showed the entire music video to my class, which follows the standard arc of boy-meets-girl-who-throws-an-entire-produce-section-at-his-head-in-slow-motion. ¶ After they watched it, several students agreed with me about the broccoli shot, though we were all stumped for an explanation. The broccoli just spoke to us.

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