Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Weighing Calves

It is the method of this blog to be brief and to pair thoughts with images. I have seldom been able to write about what I know best, public education, under these self imposed strictures. But I can not ignore what is happening in my former school district, Los Angeles Unified, where thousands of teachers have been laid off and the school year has been shortened.

I retired seven weeks ago, in part, to open a slot for a younger teacher. In my role as a mentor, I saw many of my charges continue to teach conscientiously while awaiting pink slips. But my frustration over their plight is exceeded by the abysmal stewardship of officials and administrators.

For my tenth grade classes, six of my last eight weeks at Huntington Park High School were consumed by preparation and administration of three sets of standardized exams. When students return to school in May, they will have two more batteries of exams with three fewer school days in which to complete them. (It is a multi-track school with an arcane schedule). Reading long-form fiction, or working on thematic units, is no longer possible.

Most standardized tests are expensive because they are printed and graded by publishers. Furthermore, most exams have no educational value because students do not get to see which questions they missed. Finally, the data generated is unreliable as many students burn out in the testing hall and stop making an effort. The responses on bubble sheets often display happy faces or graffiti tags.

I suggest that money for standardized exams would be better spent to retain young teachers, and the time wasted on taking them could instead help mitigate the damage from forced furlough days.

In brief, as teachers often say, weighing the calves doesn't make them any fatter.

Golden Calf, by Damien Hirst, the world's richest artist. The sculpture is the carcass of a calf, festooned with gold, and preserved in formaldehyde. The artist auctioned off this symbol of our contemporary worship of lucre for over twelve million dollars. He bypasses galleries in order to cut out the middleman. Click on the picture for a closer look.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

No posting this week.

Please come back next week.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sequim, Washington

An existential question: what would you do? A flock of bald headed eagles--a flock, mind you--appears before your eyes. Four perch on ghostly wooden pilings, the ruins of a washed away pier on Puget Sound. A fifth circles above, joyriding on the April breeze during a sun shower. At hand are a pair of binoculars and a small camera. Which do you choose? The binoculars, to peer into the eyes of the eagles? Or the camera, to record forever this lucky sighting, all five of them, albeit at a distance?
There's a third choice, of course: grab nothing. Watch them while you breathe in the air, feel the sunlit raindrops on your face, and listen to the eagles' scolding cries above the sound of the surf.

I won't say what I did, but I didn't take this picture.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Historical Sense

About the same time that Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia was apologizing for neglecting to mention slavery in his Confederate History Month proclamation, the Virgina Museum of Fine Arts announced a new acquisition: Street Corner by Phillip Evergood. The painting is evidence that not everyone in Virginia is an atavist.

The way cultures remember their history stamps their character. The war still festers in the souls of those southerners who truculently fly the Stars and Bars. Urban Yankees, however, pay relatively little attention to the Civil War. Indeed, many are descended from immigrants who arrived some fifty years afterwards. Even African Americans find more to relish in the Civil Rights Movement than in the war against slavery. If there is a watershed moment for northerners, it may well be the Depression of the 1930's, when America discovered it could not survive as a great nation without a social conscience.

But back to the painting. Clearly it is from the Depression. It startles us with its raucous jumble of city dwellers. There is energy here, but not momentum. The people move in various directions, while a black man stands still, his back to all. Newspapers are strewn about, one with "War" in its headline. Two workers occupy the center space; their size and strength is assuring. A baby takes in the assembly with delight. We are on the cusp. Events are about to unfold that will galvanize this group. Evergood, who came from a well-to-do family, sensed the latent energy of the nation's streets. His painting demonstrates the era's yearning for a more perfect Union.

Click on the picture for a closer look.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Through a Glass, Darkly

Has Holy Week ever seen such a holy mess? When we hear the word "revelation" we no longer think of The Apocolypse in the Bible, but of fresh allegations against Church hierarchy. Their judgment was further called into question when a senior Vatican priest, at Good Friday mass, drew a very poor analogy between criticism of Church leaders and anti-Semitism. As if priests who abuse children, and those who cover up for them, are somehow victims, and accusers of corrupt clergymen are oppressors.

It is human nature to want things the way we remember them even when our memories are flawed. The simpler times we long for are a proxy for the simpler selves that we once were. Suffering and perfidy happened sub rosa, and now that they are known, some wish to see through a glass, darkly, once more. But they can't. The Church that Pope Benedict XVI is trying to protect never existed and never will.

I have no say in this. My holiday this week is Passover, not Easter. I can only hope that the church will revisit its options: ordain women, permit priests to marry, lift its ban on homosexuality, submit to civil authorities, and most of all, rededicate itself to serve humanity rather than itself.