Sunday, January 14, 2007

An Album and a Movie

Can we get this clear? I am not typically an impulse buyer. But recently, I strayed from the straight and narrow, and picked up this amazing album while standing in line at Starbucks. What a brilliant impulse buyer I am.

This album spans nearly 30 years, and is the result of the recovery of some old Ray Charles concert tapes from the 70s, combined with the very recent fill-in recordings of the legacy
Count Basie Orchestra. In my mind, this is a wonderful mixture of two remarkable styles. Ray always loved the music of Basie, and this pathetically white guy has always loved everything Ray.

Off to the Movies - Freedom Writers

This weekend we saw a movie that should be required viewing for anyone with kids in school, anyone who teaches or has ever taught, and for that matter, anyone who ever went to school.

Hilary Swank is remarkable, and is joined by a striking cast of young actors. This film has two major themes; the first is the stereotyping and class wars of the inner city.

In perhaps the most powerful moments of the film, the students of Erin Gruwell's class visit the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles - one of their first visits outside of the neighborhood where they grew up. There, they meet actual Holocaust survivors who relate the stories of their narrow escape from the death camps. I have visited Dachau, and brief scenes were shown of the death camps, which brought me right back to the sights and sounds of my visit 20 years ago. The filmmakers had the wisdom of using real camp survivors in the film; my wife Nancy recognized her recent museum guide in the movie. Very moving.

The second important subplot of this film is the ongoing battle of creative entrepreneurial teachers versus an entrenched public education bureaucracy. I found myself feeling angry, almost enraged at the educational system that actually fought against the dreams, initiative, and spirit of an obviously talented teacher. As a result of this system, Erin Gruwell is no longer teaching, and I do not blame her. I do not harbor the idealism that the movie seems to embrace.

Ms. Gruwell has outgrown the narrow, structured world of public education, forming the Freedom Writer's Foundation, which now is capable of inspiring teacher and students as far and wide and Ms. Gruwell's dream can take her. The loosers in this movie are not the students, who have been blessed by a remarkable teacher, but rather the members of the educational establishment, who perpetuate a broken system that stunts the creativity of gifted teachers.
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