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Posts Tagged ‘pop culture’

THE HAIKU CHALLENGE!

July 1st, 2009
Time to let your creativity burst forth like the blowhole at Punakaiki! Photo (c) Rachel Bolstad 2008

Time to let your creativity burst forth like the blowhole at Punakaiki! Photo (c) Rachel Bolstad 2008

As I was walking to work today I was thinking about Twitter and Facebook, and how I’ve become so used to composing short “status” messages about what I’m doing or thinking that I sometimes find myself composing little updates in my head, even when I don’t necessarily bother to post these online. If I was a truly dedicated Twit (Twitterer?), of course I might send updates from my mobile phone directly to the web, but since I have to cross so many busy roads on my journey I figure it’s in my interests not to be texting while I walk…

Anyway, I was thinking about why it’s so satisfying to compose a good status update. It’s hard to explain to a non-Facebooker or Twitterer, but there is something that just feels sooo good about sharing a little snippet of information in a surprising, funny, or creative way – and the fact that status updates are so short means you have to choose your words judiciously. And this made me think of another short text form that I am also pretty keen on: The Haiku.

And so I am issuing: THE HAIKU CHALLENGE!

I hereby invite you all to compose your own haikus about what shifting to 21st century thinking about learning and education means to you. You might want to draw on any of the material you find on shiftingthinking.org as an inspiration! You can post as many haikus as you like (as long as they are on topic of course!).

My preferred haiku structure is the 17  syllable 5-7-5 form I learned at primary school, but I am open to variations.

Below I offer my humble first efforts

WONDERING
Shifting our thinking
A group of people blogging
Who else is out there?

AT LEAST WE’RE HAVING A GO, EH?
What is schooling for?
One small question calls to us
We try to answer

DID YOU SEE THAT SCENE IN THE NEW STAR TREK MOVIE?
Schools of the future?
Young Spock learns alone in pod
I hope that’s not us

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Shakespeare or LOST?

April 2nd, 2009

An interesting question, Rachel! I’ve haven’t yet watched LOST so I’ll have to deal in generalisations here until I do watch it.

Perhaps I could compare and contrast The Tempest to a series of LOST (both feature shipwrecks on a magical island, romance, nastiness)? At first glance it seems like comparing apples and oranges, though.

We can apply criticism to anything, of course, and the act of criticism has to be good for your mind in that it entails complicated mental processes including the articulation of ideas not consciously realised. But is studying LOST as rewarding for you as studying Shakespeare? It all depends on the quality of LOST, I think. Is it worthy of close examination? Is it complicated, nuanced, intelligent, dramatic (and so on) enough? To be brief, is LOST of very high quality?

Looking at the link you provided, Rachel, http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/This_Place_is_Death I have some doubts. I’ve quoted from the site below.

Recurring Themes

Ben drives a van with the name ‘Canton-Rainier.’ This is an anagram for ‘reincarnation.’ (Life and Death) (Rebirth)

Ben previously told Jack the last time he saw Locke was three years ago on the Island; he has however seen him since then. (Deceptions and cons)

Danielle tells Jin that her team departed for their expedition on 15 November 1988. (The Numbers)

Montand’s arm is ripped off. Later, Jin sees it somewhat decayed after a flash. (Missing body parts)

And my favourite theme (yes, it’s time to throw out the classics!) :

Sawyer refers to Charlotte as ‘Red.’ (Nicknames)

A couple of these might be motifs, at best. Anyway, at first glance I’m worried about the nature of the analysis going on here.

I think the best answer to your question is that we study both Shakespeare and LOST (or any high quality contemporary TV series). We’d be missing something if we studied only one at the expense of the other. Maybe start with LOST then graduate to Shakespeare? Or vice versa?!  I’ll watch the next episode!

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On Reading Trash

February 26th, 2009

It all depends on how you define “trash”, of course. On a bad day I’d probably define it as anything I don’t read. But on a better day, when I’m trying on my post-structuralist hat (I’ve got a lot of hats but I’m not actually convinced I suit any of them), I’d tell you there was no such thing. I’d say that literature and trash may often be set against one another but that there’s no real reason why they should be.

It’s what you do with a text that matters. Readers can engage with a complexly crafted text as well as a much simpler one on the same sort of intellectual level: I can make use of Mills and Boon to think about aspiration; I can make use of Emily Perkins’ Novel About My Wife to do the same thing. From this perspective we are less likely to see “literature” and “trash” as opposites, and instead of spending time distinguishing between two extremes, we are more likely to spend it critically exploring the themes a text represents: what is important is the level of thinking generated. I should have used this argument when I was asked, “Wouldn’t you be far more intellectually stimulated if you taught secondary?” I wish I’d had the wit to point out that, for the teacher, intellectual stimulation is not derived from the complexity of student thinking. It comes from the process of working out what to do in response to student thinking – complex and simple.

I can easily convince myself of this “there is no such thing as trash” argument as long as I’ve got the right hat on. But something always makes me take it off.

Hatless, it occurs to me that I’ve just implied Mills and Boon is on a par with Emily Perkins, that no novel is of more worth to us culturally or aesthetically than any other. The trouble is nothing will convince me this is true. So I’m stuck in an argument with myself where trash does, and does not, exist; stuck spinning around in an argument neither of my two selves can win. Sticking the hat back on helps.

Now I can remind myself of my main point: Mills and Boon and Novel About My Wife can be read at the same intellectual level. Yes, got that. But in saying this I haven’t said they are equally well written and that they have equal cultural or aesthetic significance. Just because a novel can be put to intellectual use doesn’t mean it will necessarily be one of those texts that live inside all of us (whether we are conscious of them or not). Sometimes written hundreds of years ago, these are the texts our current conversations and actions can be traced back to; the ones that show us the historical weight of narrative on present events – they show us the agency of texts. Who knows, Novel about My Wife might one day have this kind of place in our culture. I doubt anything from Mills and Boon will.

But I’m left asking myself if I think Mills and Boon could be a useful part of secondary English classes even though its usefulness will be transitory. And the hat comes off again.

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O! She doth teach the torches to burn bright!*

February 26th, 2009

I’ve just read two shifting thinking blogposts about Shakespeare, one by Jane and one by Jim, and it’s inspired me to segue to a favourite topic of mine: Television.

From Shakespeare to Television? That’s a bit of a plummet isn’t it, from the heights of Western literary culture, to the morass of mass stupefication?

Not so! At least not the way I’d like to approach it. Here’s what I’m interested in – looking at fictional stories from television (or books, or film) and deconstructing these to examine some ideas about:
- how they represent how schooling/education “is”
- what they say about how we think schooling/education “should be”
- and (if I can find some good examples) what kinds of possible futures they can help us to imagine for schooling, learning, and education.

I’ve chosen my first television show/character to discuss: Loretta West from the utterly brilliant New Zealand TV series Outrageous Fortune. The show is a refreshingly original comedy/drama that is unashamedly grounded in kiwi (or perhaps more accurately, the mythological “Westie” – West Auckland) culture, language, and humour.

When Outrageous Fortune begins (season 1 started in 2005), Loretta is 15 years old and a student at Shadbolt High. The youngest child of Cheryl and Wolfgang West, Loretta has grown up in a family that makes a living on the wrong side of the law – through burglaries, break-ins, car conversions, robberies, and otherwise dodgy deals orchestrated by her father, usually aided and abetted by at least one of her older twin brothers. However, at the beginning of season 1, all this starts to change when Wolf is sentenced to prison for his last “job”, and Cheryl decides to turn the family around and go straight. Cheryl doesn’t receive rousing support or enthusiasm from her offspring. Yet she battles on, doing her best to carry the family through the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Naturally, enormously entertaining complications ensue.

Anyway, back to Loretta. What does she have to tell us about schooling, learning, and education? (And where is the connection to Shakespeare?)

During season 1 we learn that Loretta has been frequently truant from school. The reason for this is pretty clear: Loretta finds school boring, pointless, and an utter waste of time. What makes Loretta’s attitude towards school interesting is that she is obviously extremely intelligent. She’s a talented writer, she’s articulate, can speak confidently and argue her opinions. She’s no slacker; she has big goals for herself. Her single-minded goal at age 15 is to become a film-maker, and she’s already working on a screenplay with her teenage friend and fellow video store employee, Kurt.

Yes, Loretta is highly intelligent. However, she is also rather devious .

She discovers the perfect way to avoid her mum finding out that she’s not going to school: blackmail. Several years earlier  young Loretta took some incriminating photos of her young female teacher in “compromising” positions with Loretta’s older brother, and now years later is using them to keep her teacher quiet on her truancy. However, through a series of plot twists and turns this plan eventually falls through and Loretta has no choice but to go back to school.

In season 2, Loretta turns 16. This is both the legal school-leaving age in NZ, and the age at which each of her three elder siblings has left Shadbolt High. She is momentarily overjoyed – only to be foiled by her parents’ insistence that she remain at school to develop her full potential. So Loretta tries get herself expelled. But even this backfires, as her parents decide that she will have to attend a private Catholic Girls’ school instead. Finally, in a stroke of genius, Loretta cuts a deal with a young homeless woman of a similar age and appearance. The homeless girl will attend the school as “Loretta West”. In return, she receives a free education, a place to sleep, and payment. This frees the real Loretta to get on with her “real” life – managing her video business, and working towards her first film. As you can imagine, things don’t work out exactly as she planned, but again, I can’t give too much away….

In a truly digital-age convergence of television and the internet, you can read Loretta’s view of school in own words, right here on Loretta’s Blog. (Hint: that’s where you’ll find our first connection to Shakespeare….)

So what can Loretta West of Outrageous Fortune tell us about how schooling is? I know that Loretta is a highly fictionalised character, and many elements of her life have been exaggerated for dramatic and comic effect. But I think there’s something interesting simmering underneath this portrayal of a student’s deep antipathy towards school. In representing secondary school, Outrageous Fortune has played on a stereotype or cliche not uncommon in television or filmic portrayals of school: The disaffected student, who finds teachers boring and uninspiring, doesn’t do what she is told, and eventually goes on to become so disruptive that the school is happy to see the back of her. These kinds of students are rife in the film world – although usually they’re often set up to be saved by a charismatic teacher who “won’t give up on them” even when every other teacher has. Thus re-engaged, the delinquents become stars, show the world not to dismiss them while they’re at it. Think Dangerous Minds, Sister Act 2, Take the Lead, etc. These cliches about students “work” partly because they are grounded in truth. Plenty of kids are disengaged by school by the time they reach secondary classrooms. Plenty of kids, like Loretta, have extremely complicated lifeworlds that sit at odds with the culture and practice of the secondary classroom. Plenty of them leave early, as soon as they are legally entitled to, with few or no qualifications. And not all of them are as resourceful and resilient as Loretta West. The question is, do we think this is just “part of life”, “the way things are”, “the way they are always going to be”? Or can we imagine something different?

*The title of this posting is a line from Romeo and Juliet. In case it’s not obvious, this is an homage to the writers of Outrageous Fortune (the television series) who have borrowed both their show’s title, and the titles of each episode, from William Shakepeare.

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