A gentle reminder ...

The goal of this blog initially was for Mr. Mc to show his students and friends what he doing while in Pennsylvania and DC in 2011. Now it's being used as a place for him, travelling colleagues and former students to discuss edumacation and history related "stuff" as well as ... well, anything which pops into his head. Mr. Mc would never knowingly embarrass either the school he loves or the family he is devoted to. By joining in the discussion, he expects the same of you.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

National Treasure 3?

A former student sent me this video after they saw my posts. There really is a National Treasure 3 in production but some kids couldn't wait for the next installment. The premise of their movie is kinda interesting ... just as plausable as the others in the franchise.


Friday, June 29, 2012

"...surrounded by kids on their 8th grade field trips ..."

Since tomorrow is a typical busy Saturday for me I thought I'd get a jump on its post. I wasn't accurate in the tease from earlier today. The next clue is in my second, not my first post. The title of that post was, "People don't talk like that anymore" and is from ... National Treasure (2004)

This is one of my go to movies. When I'm bored or need to just run away from the world for two hours and eleven minutes. As I've looked at the movies I've suggested there are definite themes to what I see as patriotic. Idealism and sacrifice. Speaking truth to power both as an individual or an institution. Rememberance, creation and innovation. For me, patriotism is seeing what is good and right and next to be done to ensure that opportunity for my children and grandchildren. Benjamin Frankln Gates is an excellent example. Riley Poole too, I think. His trust in Gates isn't blind. He is one of funniest character created for film lately. But, he gets a moment or two of Ben Gates-like insight. I like his line in the second movie, "Ben, if it were you trying to convince me, you'd have less evidence and I'd already believe you by now."

Yes, it is a silly movie and requires a suspension of both reality and physics. But ... it asks an interesting question. How far would you go to protect an ideal?

Up next: The patriotic gangster

At the Movies: Your informant's name is what?

Friday's installment of my favorite patriotic movies is one about whistleblowing-speaking the truth to power. I had two for this theme I really liked.

One was Silkwood. I think it captures the fear of the average person who takes a stand really well. Set in Oklahoma in the mid 70s, it follows a women who works for a company making plutonium rods. Karen Silkwood charges the company with unsafe working conditions and mismanagement of nuclear materials. When people talk about Meryl Streep as the actress of her generation, this movie is one of those cited as why. She and Cher are excellent and there are scenes in this movie which feel terrifyingly real. The real Silkwood died on her way to meet a reporter. Her activism and the investigation of her claims after her death resulted in changes in how nuclear materials were handled and transported.

I think, however, that the best movie about speaking truth to power is All The President's Men (1976)

Watergate started as a break-in at the DC offices of the Democratic National Committee and ended up forcing President Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace. The movie chronicles how the break-in started an investigation by two reporters for the Washington Post which lead to uncovering corruption at the highest levels of the Republican Party. Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bertnstein (Dustin Hoffman) play the reporters who break the case. Its different from Silkwood in that it isn't about an individual but an institution holding power accountable. I think I really like this movie, in part, because of my background in journalism and one of my childhood memories is being confused watching President Nixon get on a helicopter and leave the White House. All The President's Men helped explain why everything was so turbulent as I got older. Part of being a patriot is having the courage to say no when the easier answer is yes. Convictions matter.

Up next: My next clue is my first post...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

At the Movies: "That's the fact, Jack"

If you didn't like the musical theater post, you will hate hate hate this one, but I have my reasons and will explain.

Stripes (1981)

Rallying the troops as only Pvt. John Winger can pull off.

I know I'm losing credibility with ya'll on this one (do I have any left?), but hear me out. On its surface, Stripes is the anti-patriotic movie. It mocks almost all that is patriotic. You might argue its satire: Murray and company are shining a light on the shadow side of nationalism. Maybe, but that's not why its here.

It is here because of a 30 year old memory.. I graduated high school in 1982 and decided to join the military. I left for basic training in late June and so my first Fourth of July away from home was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After a couple weeks of shaved head, screaming seargents and SC sand everywhere imaginable, I was homesick, tired and wondering what fool thing I had done.  On July 4th, we were marched to a large building and listened to Vice President George Bush (Ok, my memory puts the VP there, but I'm worried my recollection is wrong. In my mind, I may have promoted the Second Undersecretary in charge of paper clips to second in command of the US government.)  thank us for our service. We were then served fried chicken and ice cream and taken to see ... Stripes! The movie has fused with that moment and my desire to serve. Public service (acting in the public's good) is central to the patriotic act and that memory is why Stripes is on the list.

Up next: When the plumber goes rogue...

Getting water from the tap ...

I wanted to interupt the movie countdown for a challenge. Kim, a James Madison Fellow and teacher from Ohio challenged her friends on Facebook to read the Supreme Court opinion before making statements. Not the pundits or experts or talking head (those are all the same thing but you know I like the whole triptic thing). The actual opinion. So, here it is. So far I am about a third of the way through. Thanks, Kim.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

At the Movies: Another suggestion from a different front

Todd M. suggested Enemy at the Gates and I wanted to submit it for your consideration. I will be honest, I've not seen it but Todd offer some ideas on how to use it in the classroom in an earlier post.

Enemy at the Gates (2001)

At the Movies: Ben Franklin -- Song and Dance Man

There was some back and forth on yesterday's selection and I appreciated the challenge to rethink The Longest Day. I'm pretty sure today's selection will garner unison boos but I love this movie. There, I said it--I heart this movie!

1776 (1972)

The clip I wanted was from the Ford's Theater production this year but...

Full disclosure: I love musicals. It was part of how I paid for college and I still perform every now and then. One of my proudest accomplishments is having been able to sing comic opera at Monticello and Ashlawn (Jefferson's and Monroe's homes, respectively) while stationed in Virginia. 1776 is one of the musicals I would try to arrange my schedule to be in if it were mounted around here. So, don't be a hater, hater.

As a movie musical it is quite solid. Most of the original Broadway principles reprise their roles and reprise them well. Williams Daniels and Howard DiSilva as Adams and Franklin are pitch perfect. Ken Howard as TJ is quite good. None of these men are exceptional singers but, like Paula Abdul, you forgive them a little pitchiness here and there. The musical heavy lifting is done by Blythe Danner, Virginia Vestoff, Ron Holgate and John Cullum. The four's moment in center light are among the best of the movie. Cullum's Molasses to Rum is, I believe, a perfect moment on film. He would star a few years later as a Virginia father torn by allegiance in the Civil War in the musical Shenandoah and shine there as well.

1776 as a patriotic movie ... Its patriotic because it shows the messiness of convictions and change. Is it historically accutate? Not on alot of levels but since its not a documentary ... A musical has certain size and cost constraints so characters get merged together and events speculated, even created from scratch. But the conflict, the backstories, the hourglass ticking as the British aim their fleet at New York Harbor--it works.

In addition to the messiness of birthing a nation, I would offer the character of John Dickinson (played brilliantly by Paul Hecht) as an example of patriotism. He is Adam's foil in the movie; not ready to split from Mother England. However, Dickinson is a great example of opposition honing the argument and galvanizing the decision. Leaders aren't supposed to be lemmings and 1776 shows that.

Up Next: "Blowed Up, Sir!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mary Todd Lincoln: Ninja!

Just came back from seeing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I walked out of the theater thinking I needed to remember to send back my Sherlock DVD to Netflix. I had pretty much forgotten the movie by the time we hit the lobby.

I really liked the book. It was fun and didn't do a bad job with the history. It didn't seem to take itself too seriously. It is one of the few books I've imediately re-read.

I liked the movie Lincoln. I liked the movie Mary Todd Lincoln even though she had a Laura Linney as Abigail Adams vibe. The movie is both visually stunning and ham handed with the history and the storytelling

Oh well,  I guess it doesn't make the list this week.

At the movies: Another D-Day entry ...

Since my post this morning, a fellow teacher has suggested another D-Day movie and I want to put it out there on the 'interweb'.

The Longest Day (1962)

The original trailer of the movie

Mike B. suggests that The Longest Day might be a better suggestion. It looks at the invasion from the American, British, French and German perspectives, among others. It is certainly more global in its scope than Saving Private Ryan or even Band of Brothers. One of my criteria for picking these movies was that they looked at patriotism as something more than just xenophobia wrapped in flags and bunting. The Longest Day certainly meets my standards on that criteria.

One comment by another teacher is that Saving Private Ryan is a more 'user-friendly' piece to historically analzye with his students. Its story is personal and not as epic as The Longest Day. This is an interesting discussion to me-what works best for our charges. Keep it up the discussion and I will post.

I will be honest that it has been quite a while since I've watched The Longest Day so I wanted to be fair to it. I will watch it in the next couple days and weigh in.

At the Movies: The movie I don't want you to watch...

There is a portion of a movie I want all of my students to see. It is historically accurate. It is unflinchingly graphic. It, for 27 minutes, drops you into enemy territory with all its terror, confusion and carnage. Here is a few minutes of it (warning--it is graphic).

This is the first portion of the beach landing. There is a part of me who wants to apologize for the graphic nature but ...

There is a reason I want my students to experience these 27 minutes. Patriotism requires something of us. There is a cost to it. We can romanticize war and rallying around the flag, but some 3,000+ soldiers died on that day. Not Call of Duty dead. Dead. And thousands of soldiers saw things they spent the rest of their lives trying to reconcile. We can talk about what is a just war and what is a necessary war, but, on the individual level, patriotism expects us to show up; requires citizens to stand up; demands we speak up.

Now, I want you to take Saving Private Ryan out of your Blu-ray player. The first thirty minutes are excellent, but now I want you to watch a better movie about the D-Day invasion and the battle toward Berlin. I was struggling to understand why Saving Private Ryan from the 30-minute mark becomes just another 'okay' war movie when I stumbled upon this commentary from a few years ago. He explains it much better than I can.

I agree with Carey. Band of Brothers is a better movie on the same event. Now, it is based on a excellent book by historian Stephen Ambrose and gets twelve to thirteen hours to tell its story and so you get more than broad stereotypes. It also has some of the best actors around--Michael Fassbender (He is in everything anymore, isn't he?), James McAvoy, Damien Lewis, Simon Pegg, Ron Livingston and Colin Hanks. Colin Hanks is the son of Saving Private Ryan star Tom Hanks and both Hanks and Ryan director Steven Spielberg are executive producers of Band of Brothers so I think they'll forgive me liking their mini-series over their movie.

Up Next: KITT: founding father

Monday, June 25, 2012

At the Movies: Standing up to 'guilty national pride' to a synthesiser soundtrack

My next submission for best patriotic movie is going to peeve a few of you. Some, because it only has a couple characters who are American (and minor ones at that), but my suggestion it is the best sports film made.
Chariots of Fire (1981)

This is the new trailer for the movie which will be re-released in England this summer for the London 2012 Olympics.

The story follows two British runners in the 1924 Olympics. One is a Jew and faces both his insecurities the anti-semitic upperclass in England of the 20s. The other is a Christian who faces the balance between faith and public duty. It is based on actual events though elastic with some moments like the order of races and character interaction. Beautifully written and acted. There is so much to like about this movie. Please forgive the soundtrack--Vangelis and the synthesiser do not hold up to time particularly well.

Why is it a great patriotic movie, you ask? Fair question. In the movie, Eric Liddell, was a young runner as well as Scottish missionary to China. He is asked to run on the Sabbath while at the Olympics and declines. In the movie he is confronted by the British Olympic Committee headed by the Prince of Wales. They try to bully him into running but he stands fast. It is only after a solution is brokered by another runner (Lord Andrew Lindsay) that Liddell will be able to run after all. After the meeting, two of the committee members talk about how it all worked out:

Duke of Sutherland: A sticky moment, George.
Lord Birkenhead: Thank God for Lindsay. I thought the lad had us beaten.
Duke of Sutherland: He did have us beaten, and thank God he did.
Lord Birkenhead: I don't quite follow you.
Duke of Sutherland: The "lad", as you call him, is a true man of principles and a true athlete. His speed is a mere extension of his life, its force. We sought to sever his running from himself.
Lord Birkenhead: For his country's sake, yes.
Duke of Sutherland: No sake is worth that, least of all a guilty national pride.

Patriotism is about conviction. Sometimes you rally around the flag, but sometimes you challenge the flag holders. Both can be patriotic. There are times you trust your leaders implicitly and if the order isn't immoral or illegal, then you follow. Those times, however, to quote The West Wing, usually 'involve body counts'. Most of the time, however, patriots can disagree of fundamental points and still be patriots.  To suggest otherwise is ludacrous. (Soupbox descended ... back to the blog).

This is footage of Liddell winning the gold in the 400 m.

BTW-to those of you who disagree that its the best sports movie ever made ... feel free to disagree ... would love to hear your thoughts on the subject ... will post all suggestions except for Caddyshack!

Up next--27 minutes of required viewing for all students.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

At the Movies: A Kick-A** President and an Idealistic Senator

Featurette from the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I've been looking forward to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer and, so, my mind has been on movies of late. Some folks are complaining that Lincoln is sacrosanct. I have teacher collegues who suggest the book and the movie border on some level of blasphemy. Now, I have an immense appreciation of Lincoln; while Madison is my mancrush, I acknowledge that Abe is probably the best president we've ever had. But ... its a piece of fiction and a movie. 'Nuff said.

I got to thinking the other day what I considered the best 'patriotic' movies out there. Now, I'm not talking about the "America: Love it or Leave it" variety. Some of the movies I came up with aren't even American. The shadow side of patriotism is nationalism. Nationalism is stuff of the Third Reich and empire building and I blanche every time I hear someone belching out some variant of 'love it or leave it'. Patriotism is a love for my country which doesn't dimish your love of yours. Think Olympics. Think the Queen's Jubilee. Think Fourth of July.

So, over the next ten days or so, I thought I'd offer my favorite movies of that vein. Not scientific. Not comprehensive. Not even in any particular order. If you have a movie you want to suggest, please please please do.

My first selection is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Not a surprise to anyone who knows me. I love its honesty. Politicians and the Washington establishment aren't portrayed nicely. It's Frank Capra at his best. Better than Its a Wonderful Life. Better than Arsenic and Old Lace (my wife will probably argue with me on this point). As good as It Happened One Night.

This clip is probably my favorite of the movie. My heart ends up in my throught everytime I see it.

Yes, Mr. Smith is sappy some 75 years later. It was sappy then too. But Stewart's performance is pitch perfect and he is the politician every other tries to emulate on the campaign trail. Aw shucks and idealistic; a straight shooter looking out for the 'kids'; scrappy and willing to take on the big guns.

The movie is also incredibly funny and well written. Jean Arthur as Sen. Smith's secretary is wonderful. Claude Rains as the corrupted senator is excellent as well. It was also controversial in it release in 1939. Many thought it portrayed America politicians as too corrupt and America in a moral freefall. It is also one of the "Class of 1939"--the number of movies which became iconic in their own rights is impressive: The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind and Stagecoach to name a few.

Next time: possibly the best sports movie ever made.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Should we leave teacher's unions behind?

I watched Waiting for Superman yesterday and am still thinking about it. It is a documentary from a couple years ago and follows five families from across the country and socioeconomic backgrounds in their quest to get a better education for their children. You fall in love with these kids and you become angry at a system which is failing them.

The focus of the filmmaker's wrath are teacher's unions. There is innovation going on and its the unions that are stifling it. They target tenure and unwieldy teacher contracts and a severance process that keeps terrible teachers in the classroom. They profile Harlem Success and the KIPPS schools as examples of what can happen without the unions and when the playing field is evened.

There is a scene in the movie that is haunting me. A little girl named Daisy lives in SC LA. She has applied for a KIPPS school and they have to hold a lottery for the spots--one spot for each five or six applicants, I think. She sits at the lottery as the numbers are called. No real emotion on her face, but her eyes ... her eyes say volumes and I couldn't help but feel the sadness and helplessness her father must have been feeling.

I watched this at the same time I'm reading Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner and working on curriculum for the new year. And I'm struggling with what can be done to make things better. I'm struggling with unions. I've heard the horror stories from teachers I travel with see it in public schools my children attend or have attended. But ... the person who was amongst the most influential to me as a young man and whom was one of the finest educators I've ever known is a leader in the NEA. I trust this man and he is passionate about the need for the union. 

The reality is that I teach at a private school. Smaller class sizes. My students have their own struggles but poverty and violence aren't a constant in their world. I am considered an expert in my field and expected to constantly push myself to be better in both content and pedagogy. The bureaucracy is negligible. While my work isn't challenge free, I know I'm blessed and I'm where I'm supposed to be. I work with a passionate, creative and student-centered group of teachers and administrators. And, I adore these kids.

So here is my question. Is there a balance to be found in public schools? (BTW-my sons attend public schools so I do have skin in the game.) Unions can't be all bad, but can they be made better? Do we need to scuttle the whole system (We had to ditch the Articles of Confederation to make way for the Constitution?) and start over?


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Do ya want a former student on your jury?

This is a TED talk from earlier this year and posted last week.
 It lays out Dr. Wagner's basic premise for his book, Creating Innovators.

I'm still wrestling with innovation today. BTW-Thanks to Chad and Ellie for their comments to the last post. Its summer and most of us teacher types are 'off duty' but, for me, its the best time to unpack ways I can be a better teacher. I would love to hear from more of my teacher friends, parents and former students. Part of this blog is for me to process thoughts and part of it is to hear the thoughts of teachers, parents and student whom (or is it who--where is a grammarian when you need one?) I look up to and admire.

As I read Dr. Wagner's book, I'm also watching the embedded video and reading his blog. On the blog he asks if we should add a second criteria to what we want to help our charges 'be' when they graduate. College ready makes sense. His addition, however, is jury ready. Here is the premise he creates:

 "Imagine, for a moment, that you were accused of a serious crime that you did not commit, and you were on trial for your life. How confident would you be of getting a fair trial if the members of your jury had merely met the intellectual standards of our “college-prep” courses as they exist today? Certainly they would know how to memorize information and perform on multiple choice and short answer tests. But would your jurors know how to analyze an argument, weigh evidence, recognize bias (their own and others), distinguish fact from opinion, and be able to balance the sometimes competing principles of justice and mercy? Could they listen with both a critical mind and a compassionate heart and communicate clearly what they understand? Would they know how to work with others to seek the truth?"
-taken from Wagner's blog based on an article in Education Week (11 Jan. 2006)

So my question today is: are our students both college and jury ready? What are we intentionally doing to make them more jury ready? What could/should we do better?

Again, I would love your comments. You can join the blog to comment or post on my Facebook page and I will copy and paste. I triple double dog dare you to think and respond!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Are cartoons better than college prep for college prep?

Washington Crossing The Keyboard 
Jenny Kroeker
Wichita, Kansas
Legos, copypaper and laptop
Digitized print a gift from the artist

This photo has nothing to do with the text-its by a student based on the the Luetze painting.
For me its an example of a student playing with an idea rather than just puking out facts.

I'm reading Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner this summer which is based on interviews with business and educational leaders as well as twenty-somethings just entering the workforce. I'm in the early chapters, but his argument is that the model of education built on 19th and early 20th Century model doesn't serve the 21st Century. This is a well travelled road-everyone from Sir. Kenneth Robinson to Daniel Pink to the folks at ASCD say the same thing. Wagner, who wrote Global Acheivement Gap a few years ago, says that we need need to, "produce students who can think creatively and creatively, communicate effectively and collaborate versus merely score well on a test."

It has reminded me of Daniel Pink's book, A Whole New Mind, and his discussion with the folks at the Rainbow Project at Yale. The project tested college readiness by asking students to create captions for New Yorker cartoons, actually explain how to solve a problem or write in a creative and compelling manner. The research showed these to be better indicators of college success than the ACTs and SATs.

For your enjoyment is the New Yorker's weekly cartoon contest. See how college ready you are:

New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest

Here is an article about the Rainbow Project:

USA Today-Rainbow Project at Yale

So here is my question, what does an innovation-friendly classroom look like? How do we balance the need for rote content (standardized tests ain't going nowhere) and the curiousity beyond the 'easy' answer? I'm posting this on my facebook page and twitter account. I'd love to hear from both students, parents and teachers. If you know of someone who is passionate about this, invite them to respond. You can post on the blog or on the other venues (blogger sometimes won't let comments post so just send to my facebook or twitter and I'll manually post them.). BTW-with the exception of language ... all posts will be entered as written.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Dowton Abbey in an RV...

To steal from Ms. Deb Cole, "hailmageddon" hit two days ago and I spent the lion's share or it at Exploration Place for the one day WWI show. The traveling exhibit is pretty cool. I'd seen the WWI museum in KC this spring and this was cool refresher.