We need the Arts…

Yesterday, I went to see Miss Saigon on Broadway.  I remember seeing that show in 1993 because it was the hot show then.  I just don’t remember being affected by it.  Recently, I performed some of the music with the Philly Pops.  During the preparation we got the back story from the conductor.  We found out that a person in our choir had a father who lived the story at the heart of Miss Saigon.  This was that many GI’s married Vietnamese women and fathered children.

While watching this production I couldn’t help thinking two things.  First, a colleague warned me that it was “dated” and second, I realized it is more relevant today than ever before.

The character of the Engineer, who go the final bow, wouldn’t have been my call…but…anyway…he ran the local brothel and made money off of the hostilities by supplying American GI’s with female companionship.  One such girl who was new to the business connected with a soldier with a conscience and he soon fell in love with her and married her.  During the fall of Saigon and the departure of the American soldiers he lost touch with her and didn’t even know he was a father.

During the second act there was a slideshow that showed all of these Vietnamese children and the song that the men who assembled sang had a line that said “Conceived in Hell, And born in strife. They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do.”  This was in reference to the children that came out of these “temporary” relationships.

When we are in the storm, or the war, we seldom take stock of what our responsibilities are beyond “today”.  The human cost can only be measured when we put a face to the name or group of people who are affected.  Drama and music put allow us to do just that and experience that pain and longing of the individual.  It is a part of our nature to feel through these mediums and sometimes it takes these mediums to connect to our feelings.

Ken Robinson has said that we do ourselves a disservice when we try to justify the arts in our schools by saying things like, “the arts are worthy to be included in education because there is a positive correlation between participation in the arts and increased test scores in academics.”  This argument is the worst justification for the arts.  The arts speak to a part of our person that is otherwise left untouched.

On March 29, 2017…I was moved emotionally by the same show I saw on June 3, 1993 and was completely unaffected.  Those emotions are necessary for living and should not be discounted.  They should be an important consideration when making decisions at the national level.

Justice Delayed

As I approach my retirement, I can’t help but wonder…what if?  There are a number of “what if” questions that I would ask.  For example, what if I never purchased that bicycle?  What if I never took an interest in the guitar?  What if I didn’t follow my passion?  The list could go on and on…but there is usually one “what if” that haunts everyone.

In my job for the last 17 years, you could definitely divide it into two distinct halves.  The first half could be defined as the “passion years.”  In those days, my passion defined my work hours.  I was committed to delivering the kind of experiences that I never had in high school and I treated that as a mission.  That commitment meant that I never watched the clock and was often surprised that I was receiving a paycheck.  I never worked so hard and I never had so much joy and I delivered experiences to the students that they had never had before in this school.

Things changed in 2011 when it became clear to me that my ability to communicate my value to the school became compromised.  The “entitlement mentality” meant that if a person (student or staff member) felt that they were somehow mistreated, they could complain loud enough and use the prevailing political climate to effect a change to their advantage.

What followed were 2 attempts to revoke my tenure, based on the combined desire of the district to save money and put a “favored” teacher into a position that she was clearly unqualified for and honestly, unavailable to do.  While they didn’t succeed either time, I was suspended for…nothing…for an entire year.  But it changed me.  It changed how I approached my job, shortchanged my students and robbed me of over a year of salary and pension time.

Several years ago, a student interviewed me as part of a project for a documentary.  Here is her footage.  I have been fighting this travesty for over four years now.  My lawsuit has gone nowhere.

I stand on the side of truth.  I have conducted myself with the highest ethics.  I have pointed out the violations of policy and ethics to my employers, my attorney(s), and still nothing.  Justice delayed???  Justice denied!!!!

As a footnote here, it should be noted that, coincidentally, the size and quality of the music and theatrical program that I had built, has fallen off considerably since my removal from this position.  Also, the size of the student body has dropped by over 30%…coincidentally…or maybe not coincidentally.

What are we teaching???

On Saturday, I decided to go to Atlantic City to get shoes.  I like the Reebok Outlet there so that’s why I went down.  I also needed to check into a hotel for an upcoming conference.  I pulled out my phone and got the train schedule because I hate parking.  I found the train, bought a round trip ticket right on the phone and headed out.  I stopped at Dunkin Donuts because I was in a hurry and ordered my usual diet meal through the app and paid for it.  I went in and out of the store in 20 seconds.

When I got to the train, they read my ticket on my phone and I had an enjoyable ride down to AC.  I bought my shoes and got my AAA discount because my card was linked to the app on my phone.  I left the store and switched into my new shoes and walked to the boardwalk.  On my way, I found a good deal on a hotel room as part of my Groupon and bought it. Since I didn’t need the hotel visit now, I went to the train station and on my way picked up a coffee courtesy of the app on my phone.

On Sunday, I got up late.  It was daylight saving time.  Thank God for my phone.  It changed the time for me.  I just wish that I had set the alarm.

I just had time for a shower and my vitamins.  Had to get to church.  On my out I remembered my phone.  I took it out and put in an order for breakfast and paid for it.  I got a quick pickup.

When I got to church I realized that I forgot my check book.  I took out my phone and opened up the church giving app and did my tithe.  (I couldn’t help thinking that people were judging me as I sat there in church on my phone.)  So, I popped in a “fiver” to the basket to keep up appearances.

After church, I drove over to the mall and had a coffee and did a little shopping and went home. I used my app again.

This little device has allowed the world to provide me services and kept me loyal to their brand and I am happy with it.  More and more I understand their purpose for this and I will continue to use it as long as it pleases me.  It has become a powerful influence on my life as well as a convenience for me.  It is, for today’s world, the new commerce.

This commerce can work two ways.  You can also sell with this device.  You can create a product, define it’s value, advertise it on social media, and earn your own living.  You would think that we would be teaching this to the students of today.  Do you know how many courses there are in the public schools (at least my own) that are required for the students in this area?  ZERO!!  That’s right…not one single class requirement.

Until we get with it…until people begin to wrestle with the “why”, we will be doomed to be a state of people who need to have the government take care of them because the education system has failed them…and for that you can blame the government…or your(my)selves.

Fake News Blues…

It is amazing that now we have to deal with such new terms as “alternate facts” and “fake news”.  These accusations that are launched by our current resident in the White House have caused an expected polarization along the lines of supporters on both sides, but it does definitely make somebody wonder…just what, if any, “truth” is there in the assertion?

If you watch certain networks, it is clear that there is a slant on the delivery of the daily news from the commentary to the guests or experts that are interviewed.  While this is painfully obvious even to the most naive viewer, we have to remember that all of these news outlets are a commercial venture.  Every news broadcast is interrupted by a series of commercials that target their loyal audience.  The broadcasters set up their news twist so elegantly prior to the commercial to keep you on their station through the advertisement.  These advertisers want to keep their predictable audience and quite often their political views will affect their purchasing choices.  I recently watched a news station that leans toward the liberal side and saw a number of ads for medical programs or devices that indicated that they will be covered by medicare.  Government insurance is a commitment that comes from our Democratic party.

This type of news delivery has been around for a while now, so we should be used to it.  The charge of “fake news” as issued by the executive branch of the federal government is something quite different.  It is designed to inflame the electorate and believe that there is something genuinely evil about the news industry as a whole.  News satire channels on TV and and Internet are definitely fueling the fire…but they serve the purpose of entertainment more than the responsible journalism that keeps government honest.

Our president is using this new phrase to deflect the focus off of his relationship to a totalitarian leader of a regime that stands in direct contrast to what America is at it’s core.  He has refused to implicate Russia and continued to shower praise on their leader.  If he had been forthright, honest and transparent then there would be no suspicion about his international dealings but he hasn’t.

There is a real difference between real news and fake news.  So much of the “fake news” comes from discussions that are taking place on social media with no basis in fact and continues to polarize Americans.  A leader who leads with tweets is no leader.

Twitter has it’s place…so does Facebook. It should not be a playground for misinformation particularly when it is being spread by the President of the United States.  Enjoy my “tongue in cheek” musical lament inspired by number 45.