Movie Critics

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I have a number of collections of movie reviews by classic film critics like James Agee, Pauline Kael, Robert Ebert, Gene Siskel, Andrew Sarris, Richard Schickel, Vincent Canby, Bosley Crowther, Richard Corliss, Rex Reed.  I frequently read their reviews on the website, “Rotten Tomatoes.”  Usually that’s after reviewing the film on  IMDb, (Internet Movie Database).

When I took film courses at Boston College, they were taught by a young New Yorker, Manny Grossman.  He was hired by the English Department to teach several film courses.  Before classes, I would read whatever commentary and reviews available.  It was limited in the 1960s.  Manny was only a few years older than me,  got married my sophomore year, the same year Diane and I walked the aisle.  With our mutual interest in film we double dated rather frequently, a movie and dinner.   A standing joke was “who was better prepared for class” — I watched the film(s) but also read whatever history, commentary or critical reviews were available.

In the early 1970s, Manny was teaching at a community college in New York.  We may have been in mail contact a few times but what a surprise, we met in Soho, lower Manhattan, on I several weekends.  Wonder where he is today?

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I just finished another film book.  Peter Biskind’s “Gods and Monsters: thirty years of writing on film and culture from one of America’s most incisive writers .” (2004)   I love his introduction, “My name is Peter Biskind, and I am a recovering celebrity journalist. Which is to say, I started my career during the anti-Vietnam War movement of the sixties as a political activist with a general interest in culture and a particular interest in films, and more or less ended it — or at least a lengthy phase of it — in the late nineties, writing about movie stars for Premier magazine.”

Biskind came of age as a film and culture writer in the same period I became a film fan.  He writes about the “movie brats” — George Lucas and  Steven Spielberg — and other directors of the period — Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah, Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman and Woody Allen who challenged the Hollywood model and created a new American cinema.

The essays explore specific films, trends, personalities, including producers and agents.  What amazes me is how these critics have a detailed recall of scenes, dialogue, and other cinemagraphic elements.  And their ability to compare film to film.  As I reread these film books, my Netflix list keeps growing.

Biskind’s first essay explores Eli Kazan’s “On the Waterfront.”  In 1950s,  Kazan was a “friendly witness” before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  He gave names.  As I’ve previously written, Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando)  “squeals” on the waterfront hoods.  Politics, anti-communism and film.

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I was intrigued that Biskind reviewed science fiction movies in his “War of the Worlds” chapter.  I never thought of them as  leftist, conservative, or centrist.  Do we place our trust in the federal government or the military?   I’ll watch “The Thing,” “Them,” “Forbidden Planet,” and “The Day the Earth stood Still” through a different lens.

I’ll watch ” Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, if only to listen to the Bob Dylan music track

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I was surprised to find articles on the TV series, the “Holocaust”  and Stanley Karnow’s “Vietnam: a television history.” I believe “Vietnam” going to be rebroadcast.    Although it’s usually considered balanced, Biskind finds it “a great many facts, little analysis and much waffling. . . Karnow has a surprisingly rudimentary grasp of politics.” I’d like to rewatch.

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Biskind writes about the theoretical unpinnings of some critics. Andrew Sarris was in the forefront of the “auteur” movement, the director was the “artist,” the auteur who created a body of film.  These critics discovered Hollywood directors like Ford, Wilder, Wyler, Cukor, Hawks, Houston.  No longer Hollywood hacks, these directors were artists.  Articles were written; books were published.  Pauline Kael was in a different camp.  Biskind labels her approach “eclecticism.”  She had no specific theory, but would draw on many; she had no formal standards, her reviews were personal.

Biskind writes about George Lucas’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the  “Star Wars” empire — an anniversary this year.   Children’s movie lands were back; but there were political overlays.  At the same time Steven Spielberg was creating the Indiana Jones films — “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Temple of Doom.”  Hollywood would never be the same.

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Biskind also wrote, “Easy Rider, Raging Bulls: how the sex-drugs–and rock ‘n roll generation saved Hollywood.”  I have the book and a video based on the book, so I’ll continue with Biskind later.

 

 

 

 

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Women in the news and in my life

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It’s March 2017.  I’m remembering January  21, the day after Trump’s inaguaration, thousands and thousands of women (and men) marched in protest in D.C. and cities around the country and the world.   The numbers were amazing.  The Women’s March.

It’s interesting and exciting that the dissent was spearheaded by women.  The President elect, our President maligned so many groups, including women.  But it’s women who took the initiative, don’t accept, resist. More are considering running for elective office.

Over a year ago I wrote a blog, “Friendship: the guys.”  I knew there needed to be a companion, “Friendship: the girls.” Maybe now is the time.

Women contributed significantly to who I am.  I have four sisters, all younger — Cissy, Vicky, Marylee and Lizanne.  All unique personalities.  My relationship with each is very different but they all have been very important in my life.    Several months ago I wrote about Marylee and will reflect on the others in future blogs, not here.   In a similar way, my mother Cis, daughter Jenny and aunt Ellen were/are important females who influenced me and deserves their own blogs.

Cousin Ellen Mignoni is the only other female relative whom I consider a close friend.  We grew up together and stay in touch.  Ellen is on my weekly call list; she is supportative and keeps me balanced. But it’s interesting,  in recent years I’ve had more contact with cousins Elaine and Phyllis;  closer friends in the making.

My earliest “girl” friend (much to mom’s dismay) was Carol Jefferies, a fellow Mill Street apartment resident, a tough kid — a year older and basically not the best influence. We got caught in a 5 and 10 store theft — can I say Carol was behind it.    In elementary school, there were various friends who were “girls,”  — Donna Lutz, Patty O’Gara, Karen Fannin, and Karen McGee.  There were different relationships with each of them but all good friends. Karen Fannin for several years was my first “girlfriend.” She taught me that girls had different interests.  In High School, I stayed connected with Karen McGee.   She was a bit of a confidant, we shared growing up concerns.  I should get in touch with her.

In my Sophomore  year I began dating Rainy Cohen.  She was from a liberal Jewish family, had an older college brother at Ann Arbor, who was involved in the anti-war movement. For me, a different culture (Jewish and political activist) and it may have contributed to my anti-war involvement in college.  Rainy today is a retired teacher, a liberal Facebook activist. We have FB contact.

Interestingly, Diane is the only female friend from my college years.  We met at a party in the Boston Statler Hilton hotel, dated for a year and decided to get married.  It’s hard to believe that was almost 50 years ago.  In the past few years, we’ve attempted to adjust to retirement and my medical issues.  It’s not always easy.  She can be very critical but it pushes me to look at my decisions.  We also share many interests and while traveling her serendipity (let’s check out this back road) complements my planning (but it’s getting late). I’d write more but she wouldn’t want me to write anything.  Enough.

In the early 1970s I read a book, “Open Marriage” by the O’Neills.  Their premise was that a married couple  didn’t fulfill all their spouse’s needs.   Wives would have male friends; husbands would have female friends.  I remember teachers at the Holy Ghost Prep faculty lunch table being amazed by the idea.  No “open  marriage” there.  But over the years Diane has had male friends and I’ve had female friends.  Many of these “girl” friends have become part of my life.

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After college and the Peace  Corps training, Diane and I lived in Bristol,  then Yardley. My first post-PC job was teaching at Saint Michael’s in Levittown.  Much to my amazement, my principal, a Mercer nun, became a close friend and mentor.  Sister Michael Marie was amazing.  She identified with kids, respected faculty, and energized  a school.  She taught me how to be an effective, understanding school administrator.  I kept in touch with her for decades, and we had a retirement lunch a few years ago, before she passed. One of my first adult female friends.

Diane and I  both became close friends with Barbara Cantor who would marry one of my best friends, John Paglione.  Barbara had moved to Bristol recommended by her Pratt College roommate Melody.  Barbara and John met in a local drug store and were soon married.  Melody, a developing  potter,  married a local boyfriend Garret Bonnema.  We all became friends.  Barbara and Melody are among my close women friends today, decades later.  Both contributed to my artistic sensibility.

For several years in the early 1970s, Diane and I lived with John and Barbara Paglione in a rented house in New Hope. Barbara became a “sister.” In recent years, we’ve visited Paglione’s in Ann Arbor, hosted them in Yardley and shared several short vacations. More are in the planning stages. Although John and I talk weekly, I really enjoy when I call and get to hear Barbara’s perspective.  A women’s point of view.

Barbara and John Dye were neighbors when we bought our River Road house in Yardley in the mid  1970s.  Their daughter, Kati and Jenny became best friends.  The Dye’s had been Peace Corps volunteers.  Although we all had similar interests, we had more contact with Barbara.    She was more out spoken, socially and political active.  She was a liberated woman and we became friends.  But it’s interesting, now that we’re all retired,  John and I have become closer. The interaction between couples is interesting.

My friends specifically female friends, were often associated with Holy Ghost Prep or Yardley Borough.  Rose Horch, lived in Yardley, was hired at HGP as an English teacher and later Academic Dean.  We became friends.  She left HGP for ETS but  we stayed in contact and although our current interaction is limited, Rose and her husband Dwight, Diane and I have had lunch in Lambertville. Rose showed me a professional woman.

Barbara Cavanaugh was a younger German teacher at HGP in the 1970s.   My first European trip with students was a week in Germany with Barbara.  Barbara was a female contact with the younger generation — music, movies, lifestyle.  I always commented how I had faculty friends that kept me young.  Barbara was the first female in that category.

Years later I became friends with another German (and math) teacher, Sandy Courtney.   For years Sandy organized an exchange program with an HGP school in Germany.  I signed on two years.  Sandy and I had a unique relationship.  She was pretty conservative, but socially liberal.  She didn’t drink but had no problem joining me as I sampled German beer.  I have some contact with Barbara on Facebook; but contact with Sandy has been too limited.

Another HGP teacher, Eleanor Osborne and I were friends from Bristol.  She and I grew up on the same block on Mill Street.  Regularly the Profy family had pizza and pasta from her family’s restaurant.  Eleanor came to HGP as a substitute foreign language teacher — Spanish.  As the years passed and we became older, Eleanor increasingly became one of my sisters with frequent telephone contact.  A new HGP language teacher, Edna Ramirez , and I have become social friends.  Fascinating how you just click with some people.

In my last years at HGP, I also became close to Kathy Posey, an English teacher. She was from Virgina and and at times slides into a southern drawl — calling me “Vinne.”  I would only allow that from Kathy.  She retired right after me and we have met for lunch several times. Kathy is understanding, a support, a good friend. Kathy showed me the importance of nurturing students.  Mom, Kathy.

Other HGP female friends include Arlene Buettler (her husband John was a 60s HGP grad, faculty member and friend) and Trish O’Conner.  Both were my assistants in the library.  Arlene’s library style was conservative, hush, quiet, very classic; Trish was liberal, loud, a friend of all students.  Although both could sometimes drive me crazy, they were/are close friends.  I still send Arlene notices related to “chocolate;” Trish gets emails related to Ireland. More recently, Gerri Carmine, another math teacher, and administrator became a cooking, Italian culture friend.  There are other HGP teachers who have left imprints, Louise Martucchi, Pat Esposito, Karen Smallen, Jan Nolting, Kristen Walters.

We moved to Yardley in 1978.  Several years later I was recruited by the local Republican Party to run for Borough Council.  At my first meeting I  met Susan Taylor.  A fiscal Republican but quite liberal socially.  I had registered Republican to vote against Reagan in the primaries.  Could I run as  Repulican?  I did.  Susan and I became a local team for eight years.  In addition to our time dedicated to borough issues; we socialized.  During the 1980s, our family vacation was chartering a 30 foot sailboat out of Rock Hall on the Chesapeake with the Taylors.   Jerry, Susan’s husband, had significant sailing experience.

For years I became involved in  local community organizations.  Susan, sometimes Jerry, were involved with the same organizations — the Yardley Historical Association, Friends of Lake Alton, Friends of the Delaware Canal,  the Yardley Community Center.  Although I no longer have involvement in the community organizations; our friendship with the Taylors is strong.  Susan is probably my closest female friend.  Words not needed; she understands.

Another girl friend from the Council years was Sue Micklewright.  Sue was hired as one of Yardley’s first Borough managers.  We had a professional relationship which developed into a personal friendship, which has continued even though Sue moved to Oregon.  When I’m upset, Sue is often my late night telephone call or FB friend.

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Women’s role in our lives and their contribution to our history – personal and national — is often not recognized.  I suspect I have a share of male chauvinism.  But  I believe I have also realized the contributions of women to my personal life and our national character. Part of who I am is because of them.  I thank them. May there be many more women’s marches.

 

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Friendship

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What is a friend?  How do we make friends?  I reflected on friendship last weekend in Ann Arbor, while attending the wedding of Libby Paglione, the daughter of “friends” Barbara and John Paglione.

What is a friend?  The question was asked in a movie about anti-bias education made by Teaching Tolerance, the education arm of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  When asked the question, one shy little girl answered, “I just want them to sit beside me.”  Another imitated breaking a candy bar, “If I had candy, I don’t like candy,” she said, “I’d share it with them. That’s how you make friends, sharing.”

I recall several incidents when I was a new Freshman at Boston College.  I was outside, with hundreds of other Freshman, waiting around an auditorium for our first orientation.  Most of us were strangers.  I thought, “need to meet guys, should make friends.”  Almost without thinking, I swung around with a hand outstretched, introducing myself to the kid behind me.  Amazing!  He was doing the same thing at the same time.  Our hands touched.  The kid was Jerry Mascola and we became college friends.  In the summer of my Junior year, while waiting for my father to adjust to the idea of my proposed marriage, Jerry and his new wife put me up for a few weeks before I found an apartment.  Diane and I visited with them once or twice in Boston in the years right after graduation.  But we’ve lost touch.  I wonder were he is; are we still friends?

In my Freshman year at BC, there wasn’t enough dorm housing.  The college arranged rooms in private houses.  There were eight of us on the second floor of a house in Newton Square.  Initially we broke into three subgroups for hitchhiking to school and socialization in the evening.  I was “friends” with two guys who had gone to the same New Jersey Prep school, Jerry Alonzo and Ted Fuery.  There were two other pairs and then Mike Honan, a loner.  Mike took to following Jerry, Ted and me.  Little was said, but he’d be steps behind us.  Until one night.

I had a private room, had a small two cup coffee maker.  About 10 one night, Mike came in.  I offered a cup of coffee.  We talked – Dylan, music, movies, our lives.  We talked to early morning hours.  Mike and I became close friends.  Afterwards he sometimes walked with me, Jerry and Ted.  I’ve probably remained closest with Jerry, the best man in our wedding, we’ve made visits to each other. Mike and I stay in touch, through our blogs and FB.  Maybe one visit to him in Albany back in the 1970s.  It’s been many years since we had a face to face.  Ted is a FB friend, no more.  And I’ve had some contact– Christmas cards, letters, maybe one visit — with Tom Glynn, another guy in the house. How and why do we keep friends?

I mentioned at the start that this reflection was sparked by the marriage of Libby Paglione to Steve Vedder.  Libby’s father John and I are “best friends” and her mother Barbara is like a “fifth sister.”  How?  Why?

John and I grew up in Bristol, PA.  We went to different Catholic elementary schools in the town — the Italian parish, St. Ann’s (John) and  the Irish parish, St. Mark’s (Vince). Bristol was a small town.  About three years ago, John told me a funny story. In elementary school, he went to the library and signed up for a card.  It was an old wooden building, with worn books and dusty shelves.  The librarian fit a stereotype we all know.  John asked, “Where should I look for books.”  The librarian lowered her glasses and pointed to some shelves — Junior Classics, I suspect — “Vince Profy looks there she said.”  John thought, “Who the hell is Vince Profy?”

He met me a year or so later in the Boy Scouts — Troop 73.  We weren’t close friends  but we knew each other.  Friendship came a few years later at Holy Ghost Prep,  in High School.  We frequently hitch hiked together (often with another Bristol kid, John Mundy).  Coming home, after school, we would stop in the 5 & 10 or Katie’s Corner for a coke.  Sometimes John Paglione and I detoured to Route 13, Bob’s Books, where we purchased paperbacks, news stand returns I think, covers torn off, for a fraction of their stated price.  John Paglione and I became close friends.  The cement was reading and books.  When I left Paglione’s house, post wedding, this week, he handed me two books.

Which leads me to believe that friendships are formed first on mutual interests.  John and I bought, exchanged, reviewed, and shared books throughout our high school years.  In college we drifted apart.  He went to Duquesne; I went to Boston College.  John served in the Army; I was in the Peace Corps.    But we returned to Bristol and reconnected.

We discovered we had similar “liberal” political views.  For a year while living in Bristol, we worked with several other recent graduates and an older African American woman activist to establish a community center in town.  Diane and I had been married several years; John met Barbara Cantor, a New York art student who had moved to Bristol to live near a college friend.  John and Barbara were soon planning a wedding. Somehow within months of their marriage we had decided to share a house together in New Hope.  It was 1970, “drop out,” “back to the earth,” — communes were hot from Vermont to New Mexico.  With only two couples, ours was not really a commune but an “intentional community.”

In New Hope, John and I learned we had many mutual interests.  Besides books and reading, we shared pipe smoking, films, gardening, history, art, and imaginative travel.   The first summer together, we drove back roads in Bucks County, in a VW bug,  stopping at farms, looking for seasonal summer work, dreaming that we were characters in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath.”  We eventually found work and created another shared experience — Boy Scouts, High School, living together, now working together on the Daniel brothers’ farms in Pineville.

Friendship it seems is based on mutual interests, shared ideology, and common experiences. I quickly became friends with John’s wife, Barbara.  Our common interests were art, crafts, gardening, and cooking.  All of us had similar political ideologies.  We watched the Watergate Hearings and The Walton’s on TV.  As the months and years passed, I had common experiences with Barbara.  We all became friends with Barbara’s close friend, a potter, Melody Bonnema, and her husband Garrett. Again interests, ideology, experiences.

In 1974 when the house broke up, the Paglione’s moved to Ann Arbor where John went to graduate school and eventually got a job with the VA.  Diane and I bought a house in Yardley.  Within a few years we each had one child, our Jenny and Barbara and John’s Libby.

Initially my friends were Bristol kids, guys from Holy Ghost Prep where I went to high school; a few college and Peace Corps friends.  As a working adult in the 1970s, friends increasingly came from work, for me, it would be Holy Ghost Prep;  and neighborhood, after New Hope, then Yardley.  I think the basis of friendship remained pretty constant –mutual interests, common experiences and similar political and social ideology.  At work, I became friends  with a few fellow teachers, it seemed always those  younger than me.  In Yardley I became involved in local politics and made several close friends.

Twenty plus years, I am in touch and maybe social friends with a handful of  HGP teachers — Gallagher, Corley, Cavanaugh, Horch, Buscaglia, Gillesppi, DiGiesi. There are a few from more from recent years — McCullough, Posey, O’Conner, Figliola, Jordan.  I have many HGP grads as “friends” on Facebook but only a few are really friends.  In Yardley I’m not involved with most “friends” from the politically active years   Jerry and Susan Taylor are the exception.  We don’t always stay friends. Why?

I think friends fade because to sustain most friendships, we must remain actively involved with them. Diane and I have kept doing things with some of the HGP teachers — annual dinners, plays, lunch dates.  We have consistently done things with the Taylors  since we met in the 1980s. So we remain friends.

For years, several decades actually, our contact with the Pagliones was limited to a Christmas visit when they returned to Bristol to see parents and extended family.  They came to Yardley with Libby and spent a day.  It always ended with group pictures on our couch. Pre Internet and Facebook, there were few telephone calls or letters exchanged. We still had mutual interests, common experiences, and similar ideology; but time to be together was a missing element.

That changed recently.  A few years before retirement we took a trip to Western Pennsylvania to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water.”   Pagliones retired and began to visit us in Yardley more often. We took an extended trip to Ann Arbor.  The first year the Profys  retired, we traveled together to the Hudson River Valley, spent five days in NYC together, John and I spent over a week reconstructing a slave cabin on Madison’s estate in Virginia.  There were more Paglione trips to Bucks County with time spent with the Profys.

One of John’s new post retirement interests has been craft beer and local breweries.  I shared the interest.  It may be related to our beer making in the New Hope years.  One day in the Philadelphia area we visited five breweries and several bars on a Phila beer explore.  Books remain an important shared experience.  We discuss our reading regularly on the phone, tried to start a joint book blog, and constantly lend each other books.

When we’ve visited Ann Arbor, wedding trip included, we are introduced to Paglione’s friends as, “this is Vince and Diane, the couple we lived with.”  Four years living together was a strong shared experience that kept us glued together even in the years we had minimal contact. Now that experience and bonding seems to be renewed and strengthened with each contact we have.

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I wondered what others had to say about friendship.  I immediately thought of Charlie Brown.  He and others often describe friends as those that stand beside you, accept you for who you are. Recently I’ve felt this as John has offered support in my year of surgeries. Not all good times.

 

I also found and liked an article, “The True Meaning of Friendship” by Alex Lickerman, in Psychology Today. Lickerman wrote:  “The Japanese have a term, kenzoku, which translated literally means “family.” The connotation suggests a bond between people who’ve made a similar commitment and who possibly therefore share a similar destiny. It implies the presence of the deepest connection of friendship, of lives lived as comrades from the distant past.”  He defines four qualities of friendship.  Three of them repeat qualities I’ve mentioned:   1) common interests, 2) common experiences, 3) shared values and for Lickerman 4) equality, true friends need and support each other, it’s not a one way relationship.

 

John and Barbara are not my only friends.  But they are probably the closest.  Like family, John, Barbara, Diane and I may have a “kenzoku” relationship.  And it may be a bit stronger between John and I, male bonding and the length of our relationship.  It’s been a hard year for me with three major surgeries.  I’m still not fully recovered.  But the recent days in Ann Arbor, at Libby and Steve’s wedding, with best friends, was happiness as Charlie Brown said.  And it gave me time to reflect on friendship.

Again quoting Charlie Brown, “In life, it’s not where you go it’s who your travel with.”  Hopefully in the coming year, some travel time will be with our kenzoku friends, John and Barbara.

Congratulations to them, to Libby and Steve.

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Organizing — are you sequential or random; concrete or abstract?

 

imageDue to my teaching at LaSalle University, I often used the Gregoric Style Delineator when I taught methods classes.  Gregoric set up two dimensions. First, how do we perceive information — concrete or abstract.  Second, how to organize information —  random or sequential.  Crossing the dimensions, he developed four learning, teaching styles — concrete sequential (CS), abstract sequential (AS), concrete random (CR), and abstract random (AR).  Through word choices, subjects plot their scores on the four styles. No one is 100% one style; no style is better than the other.  But we learn (and teach) differently.  CS is the most common; AS is the least common.  Some of us may be very strong on one style; others balanced between several.  CS people follow directions, how do you do this?  What is expected of me?  They plan, organize things in a logical order.  They don’t like to get too personal.  They are your typical  math or foreign language teachers.   In contrast AS people are readers, like authority, work independently, like to debate, always have the correct answer.  Maybe a HS forensics coach?  AR and CR types have problems with deadlines, following directions, following the plan.  CR people like working together, sharing, projects and motions.  Social Studies teachers tend to be more CR and AR.

You can check on line for a fuller explanation of each style. In my college class I sometimes established a CS group and an AR and CR group.  Assignment: plan a trip to Europe.  The CS group came back with a detailed itinerary, costs, times, places to visit.  The Random types said they agreed to fly to London and then see what individuals wanted to do.  No other plans.  In another activity, an CS group kept asking directions, “What are we suppose to do? What does the instructor want?   Is this correct?”  The Randoms agreed quickly, who cared about directions, we just need to give some answer, it really doesn’t matter what we do.  You probably remember both types from school. There is  teacher who deducts points for a late paper (CS) and the teacher who says turn in the paper  in when your done or it doesn’t matter if it’s late (CR).  What I am; what are you?

There are experiences in my life that point to a CS type of person.  My family ran an GE appliance store in Bristol Borough in the 1950-60s.  The first job I remember doing (self initiated, I think) was to organize  light bulbs.  First those displayed in the store; later boxes stored in the basement.  They were mixed up on the shelves, I organized them in neat rows from 25 watt, through 150 watt.  Little soldier bulbs in a row.  Some years later I worked in O’Boyles Ice Cream plant in Bristol.  One of my main responsibilities was to help unload product in a freezer (20 below) from a conveyor belt — ice cream sandwiches, chocolate pops, pints, 1/2 gallons, and the list goes on.  We had to organize and stack product so that the older product would be moved out first; every product line had to be accessible.  Kind of a CS task, I think.

 

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My first and last position at Holy Ghost Prep was librarian. You know, Dewey Decimal System, organizing books on shelves sequentially, in order, according to rules laid down by the American Library Association.   When I first got the position in the early 1970s, the school’s library was pretty disorganized.  Many books had been donated and just shelved.  I spent quite a few hours my first summer (unpaid, no less) labeling and shelving books in Dewey order.  This was before computers and programs, call numbers were determined by consulting a cataloging book and labels were typed out on a manual typewriter.  Wonder how many of those books are still in the HGP library; does HGP even have a library?

My personal life may also exhibit some CS behaviors.  In HS, I (on a typewriter) I  began to catalog everything in my room — it may have started with books, but  continued to collections, stamps, coins, LPs, soon it was everything, even clothes.  I had a book that documented everything in my room.  Practical?  Strange?  Not sure.  For better or worse this activity was repeated when I was in my 30s.  It started again with books — my local history collection, then all my books, then LPs and cassette tapes, collections, of course, clothes, everything.  The HS catalog was lost, possible in a Yardley flood; the adult catalog was on a computer that became outdated and the data was lost.

I currently have have a very limited record of my things — several bibliographies of books, children, good reading in social studies, a DVD collection.  More importantly I have a record of our art (paintings and other prints), good craft pieces, and some of Diane’s jewelry.  There are investment and financial reasons for these lists, right?

Despite what seems to be a lot of CS tendencies in my life, when I take Gregoric’s inventory, I come up strong CR and AR (about equal).  My attitude toward deadlines — I was thrown out of Temple’s doctorate program because my time had expired; my favorite card from a close friend, Susan Taylor, quotes Mark Twain, “Don’t put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow.”  I like the 1960s, talk about you feelings, collaborative-cooperative education.  My dates for student assignments are movable; I’ve never penalized a student for a late paper project (maybe the extra time produced a better product).  This doesn’t sound like a typical CS learner-teacher.

 

This question of style — sequential, random, concrete or abstract — came up as I recently began my annual  Spring cleaning and organizing.  I am a collector, I like old things, I always believe there might be a use for something, better not throw it out (sometime I think I have 1930s Depression complex, don’t waste; or maybe it’s from the 1960s, recycle, think small.  Some might call me a hoarder.  We’ve lived in our Yardley house since 1978 — going on 40 years.  I will admit, we (no I) have a lot of stuff.  The Spring cleaning project is ongoing and repititive.  Go through clothes, what can be given to Good Will or turned into rags.  I refuse to get rid of the Harris Tweed sports coat I bought in Ireland in 1977.  Maybe I will lose weight and can wear it again. Maybe Eli can wear my BC sweatshirt (it’s almost new), the red dashiki, or the off white-ruffled Nicaraguan shirt.  These are part of history.  This year, before finishing clothes I moved to several drawers containing  rings, watches, pins, buttons, penknives, my father’s dog tags, Boy Scouts medals, assorted coins and other jewelry like items.  Fortunately I save, buy, and  collect a variety of containers and boxes.  It  can be a carved wooden box or a Prince Albert tobacco tin.  Most of the jewelry items are now organized and collected in these containers.  My justification for the containers is that my granddaughter, Vivienne, loves containers to save things in.  She will inherit may collection, maybe.

I moved to the balcony office.  There are 20 feet of floor to ceiling shelves.  Most are packed with books. There is some space for what might be called knock knacks.  Diane has a stronger name.  I work to integrate some new books onto the shelves or into piles near the shelves.  So many books have returned from my office at HGP (I am selling a few on Amazon and I sold 20 boxes to the Princeton bookstore, but that just the tip of the book iceberg).  I try to group the books, local history, books I haven’t read, books I might want to reread, books that should be lent, sold or given away.  This is a rough organization at this time.  Another day I attack the dirt and dust on shelves and the floor.  I remove all the non-book items, clean shelves and display some things on available space.  A row of Mercer tiles, pipes — Sherlock Holmes calabash,  hash, just an old tobacco pipe.  There is a antique microscope,  small framed photographs of family, ceramic statues that belonged to my mother or grandmother. It’s personal  history.   Most coins, stamps, postcards, political and other buttoms are placed in boxes or file drawers containing similar objects.  These are collections to be organized at some later date.  Remember, this is a rough go through.

The Spring cleaning and organizing has just begun.  It’s a bit more intense since we are retired.  What’s going to happen to all this stuff in ten, twenty years?  We have a bedroom that is still filled with Jenny things.  Rooms and rooms filled with our things.  From the bedroom and clothes, balcony office, I plan to move to our shed and our ground level garage and workshop.  These are areas that can flood.  In the past year I have moved boxes and boxes of stuff from HGP (some moved to school during previous floods) and I recently brought many of my father’s tools from storage.  There are hundreds of books, LPs, VHS , DVDs  and CDs.  And a wild assortment of teaching props, tools — you name it.

I’ve often invoked Socrates, ” Know Yourself.”  Sequential or random; concrete or abstract.  What am I?  How have these dimensions influenced my learning and teaching?  How will they influence my retirement?  Not just how I organized the things but how I organize my life?  How I spend my time?  Maybe I am randomly sequential.

More later, maybe, when. . . .

 

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Remembering school field trips?

imageWho remembers school field trips?  Did you  want to sit in class, read from a textbook, listen to a lecture or would you rather go on a field trip.  I suspect most students would choose the field trip.  And if well planned and organized, the trip would probably be  more memorable and a richer educational experience.  This is not to say there aren’t interesting texts to read and captivating lectures.  But seeing and doing will usually trump classroom activities.  

My first field trip as a teacher was taking elementary 7th graders to Gettysburg in the early 1970s.  It was an annual trip associated with a United States History course.  Another teacher organized the trip, so I was pretty much a chaperone.  I remember the big map with lights that showed the movement of troops and battles during the three day campaign but not a lot of specifics.  I participated in this trip several years.

Beginning in 1974, for 40 years, I worked at Holy Ghost Prep. There were many  trips.  They fell into several categories – entire class trips, personal class trips, and trips where I  helped other teachers.  Field trips were usually  to Philadelphia, New York City or Washington, DC.

For several years, sophomores in World History went to the Cloisters in NYC.   The building is impressive and the docent tours were always good.  Kids also seemed to enjoy free time to explore. They also enjoyed going to the gift, book store.

Another annual trip for many years, took Freshman students to Saint John the Devine on the Upper West Side.  Sometimes docents guided the kids through architectural exercises; some years the organizing teacher, Father Chris, prepared a scavenger hunt.  I always enjoyed pointing out the Nakashima altar.  George Nakashima, a Bucks County woodworker,  had a project to create peace altars — one on every continent; one altar is in Saint John’s.

Free time on trips was always important. On the Saint John’s trip, students were allowed to explore the neighborhood at lunch time.   I believe this free time in a new environment was particularly valuable.  For several years, students led me on a trek, blocks away, to what they identified as the Seinfeld Soup Nazi restaurant.  They were correct that “Tom’s” was a favorite Seinfeld restaurant where the gang frequently gathered and Elaine got a favorite Big Salad but it was not the original Soup Nazi restaurant which was located on 55 th street.  But what did I know?

Follow ups to field trip are always exciting.  I have gone to Winter Solstice concerts at Saint John’s for several years.  And it was the HGP field trips that led me the concerts.

One of the most interesting NYC trip I took with students was arranged by a parent who worked on Wall Street.  One big advantage was  that we took a small class rather that all the Freshman or all the Juniors.  Another teacher and I took maybe 15-18 students.  We went to the New York stock exchange, met with bankers from Morgan in a room that had over a dozen TV monitors flashing stock, bonds, and a variety of other indexes. We went to the Federal Reserve — the gold vault was amazing.   After a morning exploring finances, we wandered around Chinatown and Little Italy.  A big advantage is we didn’t need to make a bus and be back in Cornwells by 2:30.  We returned by train or maybe vans in the early evening.

Another great NYC trip (maybe for two years) was to PBS studios.  HGP graduate Joe Quinlan worked for the McNeil-Leher report.  Joe organized a  fantastic tour of the studio for a small class of about 15 students.  We were on sound stages, watched some taping, explored the building and the neighborhood of Rockafeller Center.  For someone like myself who has had dreams of writing and film making, this was a trip.  I wonder what are the memories of the students who made this trip.  Do they remember?

Washington, DC.  For several years, I  accompanied  a teacher (I believe Jan Nolting) who took her students on a DC, political trip.  Other years,  I took political science classes to the Capital.  Although it varied a bit, our itinerary usually included a visit to the Capital building.  I recently found photographs of my class with  Representative Jim Greenwood.  Some years we had meetings at the DNC and RNC.  I remember seeing Newt Gingrich walking out of the RNC one year — he didn’t acknowledge us.  Oh well.

My first Philadelphia Partnership class went to DC after the school year was ended.  We met with some people on Capital Hill who interviewed and photographed students.  Then we went to my cousin Ellen’s lobbying firm to talk with clients interested in service learning.  One of my students (Carl Wentzel) told the group, “Doc Profy didn’t teach us anything this year; but he made us  learn.”  On the way out Carl began to apologize to me.  “Carl, that was fantastic, it was a great compliment, thanks.”  Have any of these kids gotten involved in the political process?

For many years, Jim McCullough arranged a senior class trip to DC.  The morning was spent at the memorials — Lincoln, Vietnam, Korean, Roosevelt.  The kids were pretty much on their own to explore.  We then boarded buses to have lunch at a HGP parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace, in Arlinton, Va.  Ironically, considering recent history at HGP, Our Lady Queen of Peace is considered one of the most gay friendly parishes in the US.  Spiritans do tend to be among the most liberal orders. In the afternoon, kids were free to visit one on the Mall museums.  Most went to the American History museum.

Philadelphia field trips have ranged from docent led trips to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Archaeological Museum and a few Arden Theatre trips. Then there was my own Philadelphia field trip.

Sometime in the 1980s, I participated in a National Endowment of the Humanities program on local history.  For weeks I took the train to the University of  Pennsylvania.  Walter Licht, a historian, guided us through local and new social history.  It was eye opening.  Amazing.  For several years I had been teaching a course titled  American Studies. During the Endowment  program I took the train to Philadelphia and spent several hours exploring and photographing the city.  Classes  which started at 9 involved lectures by a variety of local historians and of course field trips to sites throughout the city.  Soon my HGP course was titled Local Studies.  Field trips were integral to the course. For many years we took two field trips each semester.  Unfortunately,  in the last few years that I  taught the course, I wasn’t allowed to take the kids on field trips.  Are you kidding?

Its interesting to realize that what became my standard Philadelphia field trip had its roots in an elementary school trip.  In the early 1970s, I recruited parents and older siblings to take my class on a Philadelphia explore.  I gave each guide a handout with stops and ideas, and turned them and a group of ten students loose.  The idea was to explore the city.

I did my  local history tour with many high school classes, college classes and the entire Freshman HGP class.  We would start at Penn’s landing, wandered through Old City — Christ’s Church,  Elfrey’s Alley, through the historic area, Jeweler’s row, Reading Terminal Market for lunch, depending on the day, onto the Rittenhouse neighborhood. Lots of side streets.  Then the death march back to Penn’s Landing.

I also took the Local History class on a Bucks County field trip.  It usually began and sometimes ended in Bristol Borough.  There was so much.  Bristol history echoed Philadelphia history.  Town planning, ethnic groups, different types of architecture. Kids were always amazed when cars drove by and the driver hollered out to me.  Small town. But not something that they experienced in the suburbs.  Some years we went beyond Bristol, to Levittown, Makefield, maybe a bit of Yardley with a lunch at my house along the river.

For  seven years, I participated Ted Hershberg’s University of Penn High School Partnership program. A suburban class (from HGP) partnered with a city class (Philadelphia’s  CAPA).  I will share more about the Partnership program in another blog.  But it was the ultimate field trip experience.  Classes from the schools met at least one a month for the entire  year.  Meetings  initally involved “get to know you activities.”  Other meetings engaged students in community service projects.

Kids seem to remember field trips.  I certainly hold them among my best teaching experiences. What is your memory of field trips?

I still use the term “field trip”  to describe my urban adventures in Philadelphia and explores that Diane and I make in Bucks County and New Jersey.  But that’s another story.

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Looking for a rainbow. Think I saw that rainbow today.

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In the early 1970s when Diane and I lived on Old York road in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione, we joked that we were the only straight folks on the street.  Until that time I had limited exposure to gay or lesbian individuals (at least as far as I knew).  No one in high school or even college (both Catholic institutions) were labeled gay.  I remember a guy picking me up in high school — we Bristol kids would hitch hike to Holy Ghost Prep (imagine that today).  The guy looked at a book I was reading, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.”  Lawrence of Arabia was gay, he said;  I was shocked.  I assumed that the driver was gay.  But Lawrence?

In our Peace Corps training for Libya in Bisbee AZ,  the Libyian men who were living with us would walk down the street holding hands ( they included us).  The men danced together.  We were assured they were not homosexual.  Doubt the locals believed that.  Just Arab behavior.  Flashes of Lawrence of Arabia.

But back to New Hope, an artist community, definitely a gay population.  Across the street from us lived the Bailey boys (Mom  Bailey, a delightful woman lived with them).  Terry and ? ( it will come to me).  They worked in New York in theatre.  One was a voice coach — the Greek actress Melina  Mercouri (Never on Sunday) was a client.  They had a pool and since they were not around during the week we were  encouraged us to use the pool anytime we wanted.  Then there was Steve Katz who owned the Logan Inn.   There were several  other houses of gay men on the street. All very nice, friendly, non threatening.   They all had parties and invited us.  Diane and Barbara as well as John and I.  I remember having cavier at the Bailey’s for the first time.

As Assistant Headmaster at Holy Ghost in the 1970s and 1980s, I suspected that a few of the teachers we hired were gay.  But it was still the days of don’t ask, don’t tell although that wasn’t yet a spoken policy.  But many gays were still in the closet.  And since no one ever told be they were gay, I didn’t really label or pass any judgement.  If anything I may have felt sorry that they couldn’t be more open.  The homophobic behavior/comments ( real or not) of kids did drive me crazy.  It wasn’t right.

In the 199os, there were several events that really impressed me.  One teacher came out as homosexual with me (and probably others) but not the entire school community.  Then there was the speaker Father Jim McCloskey brought to school.  It was a Catholic mother of a gay guy who had died of AIDS.  She spoke about how she had denied her son.  And how she should have embraced and loved him.  I was so proud that HGP hosted such a speaker.  The third event was a discussion about gay marriage when I did the Philadelphia High School Partnership program.  At one session there were about 8 city and suburban schools, private and public represented.  The kids were asked to take a position on gay marriage.  To my astonishment, about 99% said they really didn’t care.  It was up to the individual.  The only hold outs were a few African American girls who said their religious beliefs  led them to say it was wrong.  Not one HGP student took that position and I did not at all  feel it was peer pressure.  Wow, the times they were a changing.  This was probably the mid 90s.

Some years later when I was teaching a film course at HGP, I started to show “Milk.”   I usually didn’t show  recent films but I had time for one more and the kids response was so strong I continued to show it.  The response was quiet and a bit nervous and put off during the first part; cheering for Harvey Milk at the end.  Gays had rights too they said.  I continued to show the film.

And and of course in the ten years since then, rights, full rights, including marriage has become the major social issue. Initially I thought why the need for the word marriage.  If civil unions give you full rights, enough. But then gays using the word marriage didn’t threaten me.  So if they felt the need for that marriage language so be it.  If a religion didn’t saction gay marriage that’s fine too.  The church does not have to marry gay couples.  They will marry in a church that accpts their union or they will have a civil marriage.

And then there was my last year at HGP. One afternoon, I  learned the school had fired Mike Griffin.  I didn’t know Mike was gay.  He never told me and I knew nothing about his home life. Didn’t assume things.   But fire him; not even just ask him to look for a new job.  Simply put, I was furious.  How could the institution that had the best years  (well maybe thats an exaggeration, the best are coming).  But you get the idea.  I believed HGP was a progressive institution.  I believed we hired gays even if I wasn’t 100% sure who was who.  I heard that some of our students came out at senior retreats.  Fire a man, devoted to the values of the school and the Spiritan mission because he chooses to marry in a state that accepts gay marriage.  No this didn’t happen.  But sadly it did.

I know I have friends who might ask what’s wrong with Vince.   Why is he writing this. How can he accept gay marriage.  My answer is very simple.  I believe in equal rights.  I have friends and relatives who are gay.  They don’t present any threat to me.  I believe that in the next few years, this issue will fade but for the most hardened homophobics.  If some churches don’t want to marry gays that’s OK.  But I don’t think that gives them the right to discriminate against gay couples.

I am am looking for a rainbow.   Rainbows are colorful and beautiful.  I think the rainbow has been a symbol of the gay community.   I hope to see one soon.  It’s coming.

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A Final Talk — maybe

 

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On May 27 during my last faculty meeting at Holy Ghost Prep I made the following remarks:

Last  week Tom Murtaugh, Joe Cannon and I went to Seorabol, a Korean restaurant in the Olney section of Philadelphia.  For weeks, I’d been suggesting that Tom go to the Korean show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Finally we decided to go together.  Tom invited Joe and picked out a lunch destination.  You may or may not know — Tom was a Fulbright scholar in Korea.  At the restaurant, he proceeded to order us a feast using some Korean and some English.  It was amazing.  The food was delicious. At one point I asked Tom why he had never taken any of us from HGP to a Korean restaurant? His answer, “No one ever asked me.”  I was set back.  Surprised.  A bit ashamed.  Why had I never paid attention to Tom’s Korean experience? Why had I never asked him to take me to a Korean restaurant?

Later that night I was feeling great — flying high, nothing more that some wine.  But I was feeling exceptionally good.  Why?  To my surprise, it wasn’t because I was retiring. Almost the opposite.  I was happy because for several weeks so many HGP people had been paying attention to me.  Both students and staff.  Some were thanking me for my years of service; others asked what I would be doing with my time.  Some congratulated me on 40 years of teaching.  They communicated that I was appreciated, even needed.  I would be missed.  In short I was happy because I believed I had the respect of my colleagues and students.

I don’t mean that previously everyone ignored me or told me I was a failure.  But in our busy lives we often forget to affirm each other.  I know I do.  We all know about the need for affirmation —  we have heard of Maslow.  But we are busy grading papers, preparing classes, taking care of our kids, shopping.  We are preoccupied with personal needs.  Why had I never been to a Korean restaurant with Tom or gone to a play with Tony Figiola (which I did recently)? The list could go on with every person in this room.

When my father worked in his appliance store in Bristol, he  would always engage customers in questions.  What were they doing, what were their interests.  What did they think about this or that? Many times he asked questions and I knew he knew the answer. One evening I asked him, “Why do you ask questions, when  you know the answers.”  He responded, “because it makes people feel good, it shows you care about them.  As I leave here today to look around the corner, I ask that you try to take the time to affirm each other.  Ask Tom to a Korean restaurant; ask Tony to a play.  Celebrate individual interests and talents.  Respect and understand differences.  My thanks to each of you.

I concluded with a handout (once a teacher, always a teacher) and gave one or more  used books to each staff member.  Some were mine; some donated to the library but not needed.  They were books that I though reflected their interests or our relationship.

As it turned out it was not my final talk (no surprise). At a Wednesday night retirement party at the Yardley Inn for John Buettler and myself, I felt compelled to give another talk.  It went something like this:

This morning when I arrived at HGP the halls were dark,  no one was there.  But as I walked around lights automatically turned on.  I was reminded of a retirement party for my father many years ago.  He was part of the maintenance staff at HGP and he had a great respect for teachers and learning.  He gave a short speech.  “Each morning I go around the school building and turn on the lights,” he said.  “I am proud,” he continued, “I am turning on the lights so that all these great teachers can teach and students can learn. . . I feel that it’s a small thing but it’s the way I contribute to the educational process.”  I was amazed.  My father was very humble, not given to speeches.  I was also very proud.   Since my father worked at HGP there has been a lot of technological change (we discussed it endlessly at faculty meetings).  It’s intended to make for a better education.  The lights go on automatically.  There are computers, smart boards, phones, this program and that program and on and on.  Always changing.  My father is no longer needed to turn on the lights.  But is it better?  I wonder is technology making for a better education?”

I was coming to my conclusion when a voice in the back of the room shouted. “Yes.”  The room broke up.  It was my grandson, Eli.  He was listening closely and shared his opinion.  I thanked Eli but suggested that I might disagree with him.  I thought it was the teachers, not the technology that made a better education.

But the reality is actually (one of my grand daughter Vivienne’s favorite words) a lot more complex.  Eli is partially correct.  He reads at about a 4th grade level.  But he is only  in first grade.  The reason to some extent is an I-pad that he  has used since he began cancer treatment. Technology in many forms helped him get through the ordeal and cured him of cancer.  He learned from it.  And yet we all know that machines, technology can’t fully replace the human touch.  The teacher in the classroom remains extremely important.

As in the past I think Eli and I will continue to learn from each other.  For that I am so grateful.

P.S. The drawing in this entry is not Eli’s  or Vivienne’s.  It’s Jason Fisher’s who gave me a nice tribute at the party.  Somehow he claimed the drawing helped him to write his speech.  We all Learn in our own way.

Another final Comment:   Thanks to everyone at HGP for making my past few so joyful.

 

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