Weekly Rochester Events #390: Eighty-Three Miles
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Anyway, just to blog a bit, Thursday night I had a pretty lousy night's sleep because I kept having my typical night terrors: things like the United States Army going to Burning Man (The Man, Black Rock City, NV) and killing everyone and all the Christians saying, "well it serves them right — sinning like that." I also worried about the police raiding my home because I downloaded data from the "wrong" IP address and the cops — now without the need for warrants — are scouring Road Runner records without knowing what the fuck they're doing. Push comes to shove, and they show up to confiscate my computer for downloading child pornography when I don't have any child pornography.
I was a bit consoled by Flex Your Rights which is a site that describes ways to guard your 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendment rights. Basically if you give up your rights for a particular instance, those rights don't magically help you later. The advice revolves around being questioned by the police who are there to do a job — catch criminals — so they employ psychological tricks to get people to give up their rights to make their job (theoretically) easier. Whether that itself is "just" is another discussion, but given that it does happen today, you've got to keep your head. Here's their advice in a nutshell:
Anyway, Friday during the day I checked out the warehouse and work space for Friends Helping Friends (230 Hudson Ave., formerly Food Not Bombs) I met Andrew Stankevich last week at the The Black Factory show and we talked about art bikes. He was impressed with The Bike With 2 Brains and was interested in me getting involved with making art bikes with the kids that his program helps. It's still up-in-the-air, but something will probably come of it.
After going with Ali to a great picnic at Peri's house, we headed to Monty's Krown (875 Monroe Ave.) to see the bands there. There were so many people there I didn't bother trying too hard to get inside — I spent a lot of time catching up with friends outdoors. I did get to see a little of Greg Carder's Miracle who played some very good acoustic guitar, but I only got to see a couple songs. Kelli Shay Hicks was back from Nashville for a few days and I got to see her. I still like her style and songs, but I found that by learning new things down there, she's becoming more like other acoustic soloists — at the same time getting more skilled and sounding a little homogenized.
On Saturday I got out of town with Ali and some of her friends and went to Six Flags: Darien Lake (9993 Alleghany Rd., Corfu). We avoided the absurd "cost-of-convenience" on all the food in the park by bringing some snacks in the car. Aside from that, it's a pretty fun trip — oh yeah, and we also happened to pick graduation day for 90% of local high-school students, so the park was not nearly as crowded as it could have been. We first attempted "Superman Ride of Steel" but it was closed temporarily so we took the Predator — the tallest wooden coaster in New York State (according to the website.) Now I'm a nut for wooden coasters because of their chaotic feel, but it was only Ali and I who really enjoyed it. From there we went to Superman and got quite a thrill from its 208 foot drop, 70 mile-per-hour speed, and over 5 seconds of weightlessness. The other really thrilling ride is the Tornado in the water park: it's a 75-foot diameter funnel and you climb to the drop point with three other people, get into a 4-person inner tube, and get dumped into the funnel. You slide halfway up the other side before swinging back and forth, eventually getting dumped through the end of the funnel. It's quite a thrill. Our final ride was the Mind Eraser in which you sit with your feet dangling out ... it does some loops and such but mostly just bashes your head back and forth in the harness which I guess is where they get the name.
Sunday night I headed to The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Mel Brooks' High Anxiety. I had liked it when I was a kid, but it really holds up pretty well. It's still quite funny, but not gut-bustingly so. The guy who gave the introductory speech said he thought it had a lot of warmth for Hitchcock — so much so that it was a pretty softball satire. I'm still amused when Brooks' character arranges to meet in the "north by northwest corner of the park."
Monday it was back to the Dryden for Surprise Cinema. I thought it initially surprising that Jim Healy dispensed with the suspense and revealed the title of the film early in his review: Song of the South. It's a live-action/animated rendition of the stories of "Uncle Remus" (by Joel Chandler Harris) depicting a fictional black slave who tells tales/parables of Br'er Rabbit and others. To soften the image, Disney changed the setting to post-Civil War so Uncle Remus was a freed slave, but the distasteful rift between whites and blacks remained: whites basically sat around the plantation house while poor blacks presumably living in nearby shanties happily sang before going to work for the daylight hours. The movie depicts a falsely peaceful world between wealthy whites and poor blacks in the South. To me the most offensive scene was when a young white woman bosses around an older black man, treating him as if he were a child — and for him to meekly obey.
That said, the escapist parables told (and acted against animated characters) by Uncle Remus were charming, witty, and rewarding. Also the moviemaking was somewhat progressive in that black actors were hired to play the role of blacks in the film. A bit of trivia from Internet Movie Database says that it's rumored that star James Baskett couldn't attend the premiere because, as a black man, he couldn't get a hotel room in Atlanta.
When they stopped distributing the film in 1986, they were just trying to present themselves as a family-friendly corporation, but missing an important point: that there is value in seeing mistakes. What if Disney had a "Historical Disney" division which would allow people to see such films in an academic setting? — to teach how values have changed over time, and to see what was acceptable then. Similarly, it would be nice if Warner started a similar division and released the Bugs Bunny World War II propaganda cartoons wherein Bugs takes on the stereotypical Japanese enemy. It's important to see such things so they are not forgotten — so we can compare those images to the ones we see today and judge for ourselves whether our amusements are reasonable. But heck, why not a remake of "Song of the South" — something that allows the still-positive elements to stay alive while getting rid of the objectionable material — I mean, where do you think "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" came from?
The next day I returned to the Dryden once more to be slapped around by the stark reality of LaLee's Kin: The Legacy Of Cotton. It's an unbelievably believable film about a 3rd-generation cotton picker, LaLee, living in the Mississippi Delta and trying to raise her grandchildren in a mobile home with no running water — in 2001. Her lack of education and disinterest in valuing education contrasts with the desperate plight of the local school superintendent: his school is about to be taken over by the state because test scores have not increased adequately. It's a film of desperation, nearly complete hopelessness, and rock-bottom poverty. It was heartbreaking to hear about the driven hope in the superintendent's words contrasted with the bureaucracy that forces LaLee to scrounge for a pencil, paper, and other seemingly trivial school supplies so her grandkids can meet the minimum requirements to get a public school education.
It's sad to think that people who create, administer, and enforce standardized tests don't consider these kinds of environments. I mean, this ain't Schalmont High School (1 Sabre Dr., Schenectady.) The entire town is desperately poor and yet the school is striving to fit the arbitrary "standard public school" template. Deviating away from a template leads to discussions of segregation — whether by race or by socioeconomic status — and you end up with the old separate but unequal. The question is, "what is equal?" or more accurately, "is the direction we're going making things more equal?"
The trouble is each person — each student — is unique. Their family is different from every other, and what they learned at home is different, how well they take tests is different, their town is different from other towns, and their state is different from other states. Despite this, we rely on standardized tests. Touching on what I said last week, it's more about judgment: that doing well on standardized tests means you're smarter — ergo better — than someone who does poorly.
Now, testing in the context of a class seems pertinent and important to me. It lets the teacher know how well their students are learning. However, I disagree that the aggregate test scores should reflect a final grade: the test determines how well the lessons were transferred to the student's mind, but by having them reflect a final grade of the student implies that the burden of learning is squarely on the student. In other words, the grade on a test has as much to do with the quality of the teacher, their relationship with the individual student, the appropriateness of the lesson for the student, as well as (but by no means exclusively) the effort of the student.
I guess ideally, the teacher is the best judge of whether a student "knows" the material. At least they should be the best judge — they're really the only domain expert with enough contact with the student to make such a judgment. So how would one standardize the process? Well presently we shoot for these "standardized tests" which essentially demonstrate whether the student can produce the correct answer.
But what was the goal in the first place? If you take a chemistry class, is it enough to be able to say that sodium and chlorine bond in a 1-to-1 relationship or is it more important to be able to explain why? So what if we gave the teachers standardized questions and allowed them to decide whether each student "knows" the work. We empower doctors to prescribe drugs based on their informed opinions, so why don't we allow teachers to do use their informed opinions to assign grades? [In a cynical moment, not the teachers we have today.]
In the end the reason to maintain the status quo lies in bureaucracy: how do we quantify a student's performance to create an aggregate and determine which schools are better than others? We need numbers to rank primary schools so they can be analyzed in a simplistic fashion — so national administrators can easily sort schools based on criteria to identify schools performing poorly and schools performing well.
It's not about students learning anything at all — it's a miracle when they do. When I look at our public schooling system, I realize we can do better, but it'll require a completely different kind of thinking. We need to get out of the codified utopia claimed in computer advertising from the 1970's. It's just not working.
We need people with problem solving skills. Speaking of which, does anybody know how to undo a bureaucracy?
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This page is Jason Olshefsky's list of things to do in Rochester, NY and the surrounding region (including nearby towns Irondequoit, Webster, Penfield, Pittsford, Victor, Henrietta, Gates, Chili, Greece, and Charlotte, and occasionally other places in Monroe County and the Western New York region.) It is updated every week with daily listings for entertainment, activities, performances, movies, music, bands, comedy, improv, poetry, storytelling, lectures, discussions, debates, theater, plays, and generally fun things to do.
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