Sunday Diary

The March wind blows in February outside the window. We fear for the tree out in front of the house. The kitchen drain is clogged and nothing seems to work. We hate calling the landlord up here because he sends his sons who are bumbling fools who make a mess. But I may have to, or buy more natural drain cleaner.

This is exactly what Froggy looked like.

The last frog died this week. He may have fallen victim to a cleaning of the tank. It was not cleaned since July, and he seemed quite okay with it. But we were getting grossed out by the build up of algae on the glass, so I finally relented. But Froggy did not seem to like it much and he slowly became listless. I found him frozen in stillness. A position that he seemed to like a lot. I think it was his form of meditation. He would just float in suspension, staring into nowhere. A state of sublime stillness. That is the position he died in. It would seem he went in peace. At least I like to think so in order to fend off the guilt that my actions led to his untimely death. He was about 6 years old. The normal lifespan of an African Dwarf Frog.

I do not have much to write today on my main topic. I have been a bit off. In truth, I have been so involved in doing things for the school, I am out of steam, although only temporarily, to write about activism. I did find the energy to call for an attack on earth by extraterrestrials, but I do not think they heard me, so I will have to hold out for another form of hope.

Friday, the sun moved into Pisces. I have nothing against the sign of the fish, but it always portends a certain type of moodiness in me. I can trace this back many years. I remember being aware of it when I was back in art school. Sitting in the School of Visual Arts student lounge drawing in my journal. Being depressed over the rejection from some girl, who I had for one reason or another, become infatuated with. This feeling of sadness and rejection seemed to coincide with the last throws of winter, which coincide with the sun being in Pisces. Maybe I was imprinted, and forever have associated this time of year with depression. As I am now much older, I have become astutely aware of this phase and have made a resolution to work with it. I am trying to make this a time of action. The forces of the universe are mysterious., and must remain so.

So in light of that I have begun to step up the action on getting my film on a moving track. This past week I was able to put my proposal before the board of trustees at Brooklyn Free School for fiscal sponsorship consideration. It is important that I get some kind of sponsorship for my project because most, and I mean most, foundations will not fund an individual. The money needs to flow through a 503c (non profit.) The sponsor benefits by taking a percentage. We just need to know more about the liabilities. In any case, this is only one of the steps I have taken this week. I have also put in my first grant application, sent a request for submission to another foundation and wrote a short note to Michael Moore this morning. I believe that when you are engaged in a process of trying to get help, you need to put a lot of psychic material out into the universe.You never know what is going to come back. Hopefully not a piece of space junk.

I am also in the process of building a board of advisers for the film. I have already enlisted the help of Humble Films who have been advising me through the early stages. Once some money comes, we will be working together to conceptualize and schedule shooting. But I am also gathering some of the pundits I know from the democratic education movement. Jerry Mintz has offered up his vast knowledge as he has been involved in this form of education for decades. I am currently reading his book No Homework and Recess All Day which I find quite informative. In truth, when I read books about the movement, I tend to get a bit bored because I have already been recruited to the cause. So many of these books by people I have the utmost respect for, tend to preach to the converted. Jerry is a bit different. He tends to talk plainly. So in telling me of his experience, I find myself interested, because he is bringing an original perspective. He has been a big help with the school and many schools like it. His organization AERO (Alternative Education Resource Organization) can be accessed on this site in the links at the right of the page.

I have a few others whom I will be speaking with in the next week or so and I hope to do a lot of networking at the upcoming Democratic Symposium at Medgar Evers College on March 2.

Although I have been in an economic funk, I have been busier than ever. The graphic design business has been on the down swing for too many years. I have been looking for the past decade for the kind of activities that will take me into old age. Things I can do until the end. Be active always. So besides stepping up my writing input on this blog, I have been drawing, creating new digital illustrations (which I hope to develop into animations for the film,) playing music a little and just trying to be engaged as much as possible. I am not much of a potato. Although I am no longer active in sports, I still like the daily walk, and I feel that being involved is a way of keeping the brain lucid.

On top of all this we have Noah home for a week. Winter recess. What are going to do with that kid for a week? The computer is off limits to him during working hours so he is going to have to find friends to occupy his time. He has been learning some free software on game development. I was able to have a brief conversation with Marc Prensky this week, who is also a game designer. He gave us some leads to help Noah find his way into the thing that interests him right now.He found a program called Atmosphir which gives him the ability to create his own levels.

The last thing I will leave with is a few pictures. Last night, while looking at Huffington Post, I came across a contest call The Justin-Bieber-As-Politician Photoshop Competition! I am not sure if my images will make it in, but I wanted to share them with my devoted readers. They may be a little over the edge and could be deemed as a bit offensive. My son stood over my shoulder as I created these, so at least he approves.

Bieber at JFK Funeral

Bieber as Oswald in the famous Backyard photo


The Little Rascals as a Model of Education

Recently, my wife posted a status update which was based on an article by Marc Prensky titled “The Reformers Are Leaving Our Schools in the 20th Century.” . The quote she posted was a subtext of the article.

“Certainly, all of today’s students should be able to read and write at some minimum level. But it is equally certain that those skills will be far less important in most of our kids’ lifetimes than they are today as new core skills take their place. Without the changes to our goals and focus described here, Obama’s much-hyped Race to the Top is nothing but a race back to the 20th century.”

I myself am no supporter of what Mr. Prensky calls the “sit up straight, pay attention, take notes” form of education. I have long left this behind. I have never felt (though I supported Mr. Obama’s move to the White House), his view of education. Same old, same old.

Rather than give you a response to an article I already agree with, which echos many of my own views, I wanted to respond to a question that came on the heels of the above comment in my own style.

What is the purpose of education in 2011 and going forward?

And the way I would respond to this is, rather than expounding on what the future is, I wanted to reflect on a model that many in my generation had when we were children. That of the 1930 film shorts “The Little Rascals” which aired every morning during the 1960’s. We as kids encountered this rambunctious model on a daily basis. My neighborhood cohorts would imitate the styles of self entertainment that were displayed daily by Spanky and the Gang.

One of the things Daniel Pink mentions in his short video (see Daniel Pink speaks) is that prior to the industrial period, and even in the early years of it, schooling was sort of ad hoc. It was yet to be institutionalized and was usually relegated to a one room school house of mixed ages. School was not an all day affair either. Children attended for a portion of the day, and then were let out with time to play and just be kids. This is what I saw as the world of the Little Rascals. This would allow them to create theater, go fishing, and generally just get into trouble.

Spanky, Darla, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Stymie and the rest were constantly trying to find inventive ways to occupy themselves. They would create elaborate burlesque reviews with dancing girls, opera, and short plays. It always went wrong, but the effort and team work that went into each situation was always impressive. They would come up with home made cars that sported retractable punching gloves and squirt guns to fend off annoying and intrusive adults. These kids were creative.

My friends and I would follow suit 30 years later. We were always trying to come up with plays, our own circus acts, street sales, and battles that involved water guns and throwing berries at the kids from other streets, not to mention some of the military organization that went into some of these events. As we got a bit older, I became friends with those kids from other streets and together we formed a clan. This group created tree houses in the woods. We even evolved that idea into creating underground huts in the local wooded area near our houses. We dug a 4 foot trench into the ground in a hidden area; laid small fallen trees over as ceiling beams; nailed sheet metal (confiscated from a discarded swimming pool) over the top as a roof; used a discarded washing machine top as our hatch and then camouflaged the whole thing with dirt and leaves. We stole lanterns from street construction sites to use as our underground lighting. We had alcoves dug into the walls to place candles. And it was here my buddies would hide cigarettes and nudie magazines taken from our parents secret stashes.

Robert Krauer’s Gang Green made from a Schwin bike frame with two Mag tires on the rear and a high powered lawn mower engine. Welding done in Rob’s basement. These bikes were built by 15 year old’s circa 1970.

As young teens, my friends customized their bicycles to such a degree that we were included as a group in the New York Custom Car show at the New York Coliseum. Our group took trophies for best customized bikes. I won a mention for exhibit display. We were there among adult aficionados and bikers who took this stuff seriously.

The Little Rascals existed as a model of free and rambunctious living. The children were left alone seemingly to fend for themselves and make their own discoveries. And my generation was fed on these images of rebelliousness daily. I offer up this model as a means of understanding how far away from any natural order we have come. Mr. Prensky poses a question about our national approach to education. It is archaic and a by product of the industrial revolution. The institution was set up to feed corporations and we have already bypassed the industrial age and have come to the end of the information age. This means that information is abundant and easy to get to. EVERYTHING is on the internet. So what is next?

The problem with public education is that it does not even attempt to ask this question. What is needed for the 21st century? When will we stop solving yesterdays’ problems and look at what is in front of us? Suggesting that the obsession with early reading and math skills at the exclusion of creativity is nearsighted and detrimental to our collective future. Yet parents are always scared, even in a Free School, that their children are just going to play all the time and forget about the “Three Rs.”

One of the many crazy cars the Little Rascals built

But as I have seen time and again, children step up to the plate and learn what they need to learn. What I have seen is a development of language, complex thinking, deep thought about the world, empathy to their fellow student, mentoring to younger students and so on. I am with Mr. Prensky in that I believe the predominance of this approach needs to be scrapped, or at least scaled back, in favor of a fairer system. One that does not separate children because some are good at what the  system likes. As a creative person, I was victim to this. Art, music, culture are always laid on the cutting room floor first in an economic crisis. What they want in new hires is an ability to teach science and math. But I am maintaining that creative types, left to explore on their own, make some incredible discoveries. The Little Rascals were a prime example of this. Their inventiveness was evident in almost every episode. America needs to become innocent again and stop competing with the world based on the last war.