Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: teachers

The Dark Side

I think it all started in the seventh grade.  Up until then, I was always the goody-two shoes in school, the student who was always picked to be the "Citizen of the Month."  I had no knowledge at all of the "dark side."  But then, in seventh grade, something changed.  There was a New York City teachers' strike that year that was causing chaos in the school system.   I remember having ten substitute English teachers that one year.

Our class was incredibly mean to these substitute teachers.   Some kids threw spitballs; some threw paper airplanes.  The third substitute teacher was a nervous wreck.  Every time she would turn her back, the class would intentionally bang their desks against the floor, using their knees to lift the desks up and down.  When the teacher would turn to face the class, everyone quickly stopped the banging and feigned innocence.  One day, this hard luck teacher just disappeared in the middle of the day, and we later heard rumors that she had a nervous breakdown in the teachers' lounge.

I'm proud to say that I never participated in any of this nastiness.  But, then again, I never took a stand or protested, an action a more heroic student might have done.  Lisa Simpson would have said something.   I just pegged my peers as "immature" and hoped for the strike to end, so we could go back to learning punctation and grammar.  How would I do well on my SAT?

Finally, English teacher substitute #10 showed up.   I don't remember his name.   I just remember that he had wild hair and looked like an ex-hippy, more comfortable at a Grateful Dead concert than a classroom.  Where did they find this guy?  When the class started to get rowdy, he told us that he was a black belt in karate.  At first no one believed him, but then he showed us some of his moves, which really impressed the class. He became an instant favorite, particularly with the boys.   Although he was very entertaining, he was probably the worst English teacher ever.   He never taught us anything.  Some days he would just let us sit at our desks and read whatever we wanted.

One day, after the bell rang, substitute #10 — who's name I still can't recall — asked me to stay after class.  I was horrified, thinking I did something wrong, but it wasn't the case at all.

"I see you like to read a lot of books." he said.

"I do."

"Me, too.   Reading is great.  Reading can really blow your mind.  You want to read some of my favorite books?" he asked.

"Uh, sure," I said, having never said "no" to a teacher before, being a "Citizen of the Month."   This was still very unusual for me — a teacher offering me books to read…

He opened his briefcase and took out three large books.

"It's called "The Lord of the Rings."  It's going to blow your mind."

I had never heard of these books.   They actually sounded pretty weird, and dangerous. 

The dark side.

The Best Teacher I Ever Had

Plato2.jpg

The best teacher I ever had was my eight grade social studies teacher, Mr. Molnia.    He was a middle-aged man who wore bargain-basement suits and the same pair of black shoes every day.   Most people probably walked past him on the street without giving him another thought.  I have no idea whether he was married, had children, or if he is still with us.  But this man blew my mind open with his radical ideas. 

It’s an old intellectual concept that "reality" is the superficial part of life — and the real action is going behind the scenes.   It was the Greeks who first introduced us to the "Platonic ideal."   Christian thinkers such as Aquinas infused Greek thought with Christian thought — creating a separation between heaven (the ideal) and earth (the sinful senses).  Later philosopher rejected this religious outlook, but still sought "the real truth" beneath the sensory world.  Hegel and Marx saw history as pushing society forward.   Marx’s vision  became the basis for Communism and Socialism.   Freud’s search turned matters inward, with the unseen truth usually having something to do with sex and repression. 

As an eighth grader, I didn’t know much about Marx or Freud.   Mr. Molnia talked about issues that I could relate to — like television, and the reality behind the facade.  He explained to our class that the networks existed as much for the commercials as they did for the programs.   This was an earth-shattering concept to me.  I always thought of TV as my friend.  Suddenly, I realized that it was two-timing me with the Milton-Bradley Company, telling me I needed to buy certain games just to get some action with his other friend. 

television2.jpg

Mr. Molnia told us to watch some of our favorite shows, and make note of the commercials.  By doing this, we could find out what type of audience they were shooting for, and we could get insights on how they’re trying to manipulate us.  Years before everyone was arguing about media bias, he was telling us that EVERYONE IS BIASED.   He told us to take everything with a "grain of salt," even text books.  He read us part of a book explaining that the "Founding Fathers" were as interested in personal gain as they were in forming a new country.  I couldn’t believe we were learning this stuff.  It was as if we had just found out that the world was round, and every other teacher had been telling us for years that it was square.

I felt a paradigm shift in my mind.

Now, Mr. Molnia was NOT some sort of ex-hippy.  He was far from it.   His biggest enemy was propaganda.  He showed us how it was used in Nazi Germany.   He showed us various American political campaigns from the past, and how their aim was to manipulate the populace.  He made us watch commercials for products, and how they used the same propoganda techniques to make us insecure and buy their products.  He taught us different  techniques — assertion, bandwagon, card-stacking, glittering generalities — not so we can become copywriters — but so we could analyze the false message that we are being told.

poster2_1.jpg

Mr. Molnia has had a great impact on my life.    Whether it is good or bad is another matter.   I can be a stick in the mud at times, still questioning the accuracy of some "60 Minutes" segment.  I’m always curious about a media company’s advertisers, because that tells you a lot what their content is and isn’t going to be about.

For instance, Gawker, the wildly popular gossip site, which the New York Times has called “the national go-to spot for keeping up with the rich and scandalous, the media elite and the pop-culture trends of the moment.”

Gawker2.jpg

Much of their website’s content involves mocking media companies and celebrities.  And who are their sponsors?  This week, it includes:

• Showtime
• Travel Channel
• NBC Blow Out
• American Public Media
• MovieBeam
• Hershey’s
• Don’t Come Knocking
• Speedo
• Basic Instinct
• H&M
• Dyson
• HSBC
• Toyota Yaris
• Brick
• Shatner DVD Club
• Delta
• Fox Searchlight
• Hard Fi
• American Apparel
• Nontourage
• New Line
• Sanctuary Group
• The New School

What does this tell you about their coverage?  Will they be mocking New Line this week?  And what does it say about the advertisers?  Why do they think that Gawker’s audience will want to buy "American Apparel" t-shirts? 

Sophia and I both love reality TV, but we get into endless arguments over it.  I don’t believe half of what goes on in those shows.   As a film school graduate, I can tell you now that there can be no "reality" with a camera in your face, a producer behind the scenes, an editor cutting the material, and music punctuating the emotions.  There is no doubt that someone like Steven Speilberg could film me typing this post right now, and manipulate things with lighting, editing, and music so you would be bawling in your chair after he’s done with it.

reality2.jpg

One of my first student movies at USC Film School involved a scene with a baby and a mother sitting under a tree.  We put an ad in the trades, and we were shocked to get hundreds of professionally-made photos from mothers wanting to get their baby in a no-pay silent 16mm student film done by two inept amateurs.  We held auditions and met all these crazy mothers who wanted to get their babies (!) into commercials so they can make money for the family.  We picked some cute baby for the part.

baby2_2.jpg

On the day of the shoot, the mother showed up with her baby — but there was some bad news.  The baby was sick and throwing up.  We were about to call up another "baby," but this psychotic mother insisted that her baby could "go on."  We ended up using this baby, shooting between the times she threw up on the actress.  Months later, after we cut and added music to the short film, people were touched by it, especially the scene with the "angelic baby."

You all know Kelly Clarkson, the shy girl from Texas who made it big on the first American Idol, right?  But did you know, she already lived in Hollywood before her audtion, working as an extra on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and recording vocal demos with famed songwriter Gerry Goffin ("You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman").  She wasn’t just some cute local girl they found working at a Texas Walmart.

kelly2.jpg

Does it take away from her talent?  No.  But, it doesn’t surprise me one bit that her "story" was bullshit.

Here is one of the most famous photos documenting the civil rights movement. 

rosa2.jpg

It is Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus with a scowling white man behind her.  I’ve seen this photograph in many documentaries.   After Ms. Parks’ recent death, there was an article in the New York Times about this photo.  It seems that the man behind Rosa Parks is Nicholas C. Chriss, a UPI reporter who was writing an article about her.  He posed in the picture to make it look more dramatic.

Does this take away from Rosa Park’s heroism?  Of course not.

But I guess I am a Watergate child at heart — I don’t trust too many politicians or media outlets — no matter which side of the spectrum they come from.

Maybe that’s why I don’t write about politics at all.  Whenever I start believing something is true, I hear Mr. Molnia in my ear and start questioning what I’m being told.

On Saturday, 500.000 marchers walked in Los Angeles to protest proposed federal immigration legislation.   My first instinct was to side with the protesters — and my local NPR station certainly seemed proud of them.  I heard an interviewer talking about racism and Minutemen and how terrible it was that it was OK for Europeans to come to this country, but not Mexicans. 

march2.jpg

Suddenly, my bullshit radar went off. 

I was pretty sure I wasn’t for HR 4437, the border protection bill, but surely something needs to be done to stem immigration from Mexico.  As a resident of Los Angeles, it is a vital issue.

I turned to progressive Chicago blogger Alley, because she is always insightful on political subjects.   But I didn’t quite buy what she was saying today, either.

Do you have any idea what would actually happen to the economy of this country if we turned all of our hard working immigrant non-citizens into criminals, and/or if we actually succeeded in stopping illegal immigration from Mexico? Say goodbye to your clean office buildings and your cheap veggies and your Italian lunch in Downers Grove. No, really.

What proof do you have that your assertion is true? 

The truth of the matter is that it is a complicated issue.   I think conservatives need to remember that most of our grandparents came to this country as immigrants.  But, then again, most of these immigrants came legally.  Is it fair that certain illegals now get "amnesty?"  How do others legal immigrants feel about this issue?

I know progressives are concerned with the well-being of the immigrant community.  But I think we should also be concerned with our poorer citizens who are being pushed aside because there is too much demand for city services.   In Los Angeles, county hospitals are being closed because they have to care for countless numbers of illegal immigrants without insurance.   Our inner city schools are overcrowded because we have to educate these students.  And illegals keep the minimum wage down, further hurting the poorest segment of society.  

As you can probably tell by now, I am wishy-washy politicially, spending way too much time thinking about the other side of the story.  Thank you, Mr. Molnia, for making me a more intelligent, but more indecisive person.

Teacher of the Year

teacher2.jpg

Many of the bloggers on my blogroll are teachers.  I frequently read their blog posts where they are complaining about their low salary and their bratty students.  Well, I have a message for all you teachers:  ENOUGH of your complaining.  Did you ever think that the problem with the American education system is YOU — the SPOILED American teacher?

You might ask me, "Who the hell are you — Neilochka — to talk to me in this condescending manner?"

I will tell you.

I am not just some dumb blogger mouthing off.  No, I am someone who has "made a difference," according to this letter I received yesterday in the mail:

"Dear Mr. Kramer,

I am proud to congratulate you on being selected for inclusion in the 10th Edition of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, 2005/2006.  I believe you will find this honor exceptionally gratifying since it comes from a successful former student who recommended you because you made a difference in his or her life

There is no greater reward for teachers than to be valued by former students.  Only high school and college students who have been cited for academic excellence themselves in Who’s Who Among High School Students, Who’s Who Among American High School Students – Sports Edition, The National Dean’s List, and the Chancellor’s List are invited to nominate one teacher from their entire academic experience. "

Do you hear that?  I, writer of Citizen of the Month, was nominated by one of my prized pupils for this esteemed honor.  Where is your nomination… BrookeNance Leesepea?   Janet?

I know what you’re thinking. 

"It’s all a scam, you idiot.  You’ve never taught a single class in your life."

Well, boo hoo.  Sure, I’ve never taught a class anywhere.  But think of all the educating I’ve done through my blog.

"It’s bullshit.  They just want you to buy the book with your stupid name included."

Of course I want to buy the book.  It’s an honor.  Something to show my grandchildren.   And I’m hoping some of you might want to buy the book as well.   You better be quick, because when these books are published, they sell like Chicken and Waffles at Roscoe’s on a Sunday morning. 

In fact, this is what Jeffrey Fix, Vice President of Student Programs, wrote in his letter:

"A limited quantity of these books are published each year — and they cannot be reprinted.  So, we urge you to act fast.  Order today, or you can reserve a copy now by including a payment with your Teacher Data Form.  We’ll bill you the balance in three equal installments."

That’s three equal installments.   Or "installments x 3," as I like to joke with a friend of mine who’s a math teacher. 

Teachers, it’s time to be awoken!  Our students cannot compete in the international marketplace without some serious reform.   Yeah, yeah, we can blame overcrowded classrooms, lack of money,  and Pizza Hut lunches as the culprits.  But the real problem is a lack of inspiration.

That’s where I come in.  I was included in the "Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers" because I "made a difference" in a student’s life.  Let me ask the other teachers out there:  Do you spend your time "making a difference" like me?   Or do you spend your time counting the days before summer vacation?

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial