Facebook Reluctance and Diversity

Facebook Reluctance and Diversity

I have been reluctant to join Facebook for quite a while. I have from afar watched divisive rants and hateful things I want no part of. However, I do enjoy engaging people. One of the things I am passionate about is engaging those on opposite sides of an issue with civility and collegiality. Interestingly, in my first week as a Facebooker, there are folks who have either accepted a friend request or extended a friend request who are all across a variety of spectra. As a veteran, I am happy to have defended the right to express an opinion, but my stance is that divisive and hateful discourse is not productive. What I know is that from 4th – 12th grades in Jackson Public Schools (MS), friends with a variety of skin shades surrounded me. I remember working on projects with, being taught by, getting in trouble with, and serving in leadership roles with friends whose lives at home were completely different than mine. We did not always hang out together outside of school, attend the same churches, celebrate holidays the same way, or even view the world the same way. But we were dear friends.  I remember engaging conversations, innovative solutions, shared struggles, and really cool performance experiences. Yes, there were tense moments, but I do not remember relationships ending because of them. I’m sure some did and I doubt all of my peers share my perspective. However, because of those experiences, I am rarely uncomfortable around people unlike myself. Those years, especially the ones at Forest Hill High School, are still having a profound impact on how I view the world at 40 years old. It has been such a sweet thing this week to watch those faces pop up on Facebook. I cannot tell you how many times in my professional life I have referenced my wonderful high school experience. Some of the folks I most respect and admire look nothing like me and a few do not even share my worldview. So, in the tense atmosphere of extreme partisanship and polarity that we’re in currently, I badly want to encourage civility. I know it’s more complicated than that, but if you share my desire to be a part of the solution, please join me in looking for and sharing ways that diverse groups of people are collaborating well. And by the way, diversity is more than skin color. How many folks do you know who live on a month-to-month budget that are really tight with folks who are wealthy? Socioeconomic diversity can be equally complicated; just rarely as hateful. Please feel free to share an article, a quick observation, etc. It does not have to be lengthy or time-consuming. For example, in the past, I’ve shared a comment as simple as this one after a visit to Atlanta: “Just spent a weekend in Atlanta…diverse groups of people left and right. Love it!” As an educator, I am about to exit the eye of the hurricane into January, but I will try to send periodic reminders through social media to be on the lookout for things to share. I’ll conclude by saying that I am no one’s judge; nor do I believe I am better or superior in thought. I’ve made some royal mistakes that I do not plan to share on Facebook. I stand in judgment of no one. Only One has that job...

Excellence in Arts Education – a tribute to Tennessee Arts Academy

Dr. Bridges and Mr. Bluestein, I am writing to sing the praises of Tennessee Arts Academy, and to thank you both for investing so much of yourselves into what is arguably the greatest annual professional development opportunity for arts educators in Tennessee. During the 2013 Academy, Marc Cherry ended his muse by referencing a letter from Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille.  In the letter, she beautifully describes what is central to the vision of Tennessee Arts Academy – artistic expression:  “… because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.  If you block it, it will never exist… It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions…It is your business to keep it yours clearly and… to keep the channel open.” At Tennessee Arts Academy, educators are trained to guide students toward the joys of self-expression and excellence in a fine arts setting.  In a much larger context, I believe the arts are the most significant tool for inspiring humans to think differently about the world around them. The Arts:  Heart of the Common Core I admit this theme for last year’s Academy felt a bit cliché to me on day one.  However, on day six, I believed it wholeheartedly.  The Common Core State Standards emphasize learning by discovery.  Discovery has always been a fundamental precept of arts education.  The arts also reinforce literacy through theater and the multifaceted language of music.  Finally, the arts foster an appreciation for the abstract and enable students to operate in complex environments.  These will all be key elements of successful Common Core classrooms. Core Workshop Sessions Thank you for bringing faculty into these small group settings who are subject matter experts at the forefront of current research.  They rigorously challenge teachers with graduate level content.  Consider for a moment the exponential impact this kind of instruction has on the students of Tennessee. Musings and Performances Thank you for carefully utilizing TAA resources to bring in an ideal number of iconic performers and musers.  Each year they inspire us.  These unforgettable shared experiences allow us as artists to experience great art together. Excellence George Li’s performance on Sunday was an ideal launching pad for a group of educators:  a 17-year-old world-class piano virtuoso.  Craig Jessup was an inspiring example of an American story tracing humble beginnings through a career of greatness.  Finally, the closing presentation to Frank Bluestein was the perfect way to encapsulate the focus on excellence that permeates Tennessee Arts Academy.  His leadership in Tennessee’s arts education community is an inspiring example, but even more powerful is his stewardship of influence as evidenced by his illustrious list of alumni. Investment Policy makers and school leaders need to know that Tennessee Arts Academy is arguably the most successful event of its kind regionally if not nationally.  Like anything, maintaining excellence requires great resources.  Consider contributing financially to the Academy and please make legislators aware that it is an incredibly effective use of educational funding.  Research consistently points to teacher quality as the primary contributor to student success.  Few professional development opportunities for teachers make a stronger investment in teacher quality than Tennessee Arts Academy. Dr. Bridges, Mr. Bluestein and other TAA organizers, thank you for treating educators so respectfully during the week we are with you.  Finally, thank you for your work to ensure that Tennessee Arts Academy is itself a work of art.  You have created a legacy that will impact our region for years to come. Sincerely,   Jeff Myrick Arts...

Race and Masculinity in Star Trek Into Darkness

Race and Masculinity in Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek is a prime example of the arts acting as an agent for thinking differently.  A recurring theme in these films is friendship.  Additionally, because Spock’s Vulcan side lacks emotion, the issue of feelings and the difficulty expressing them is common.  Because most of the characters are men, we get to see the exploration of emotions by these men in the form of friendships that endure quite a bit of challenge.  This particular film focused pretty heavily on the friendship between Kirk and Spock.  They saved each other’s lives and there were some good buddy moments.  No surprise there.  However, when Spock is overcome with emotion at the prospect of losing Kirk, it was nothing short of powerful.  Roughly every 12 minutes in the Trek films, there is a reference to Spock’s emotions or lack thereof.  This is how writers set up the audience for Spock’s human moments.  It makes them powerful.  If your human half can’t cry at the loss of a dear friend who has not only saved your life (singularly), but now has exchanged his own life for the lives of his entire crew, at what can you cry? Nicholas Lezard of The Guardian wrote an interesting article about men and tears in response to the film back in May of 2013 (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/may/16/spock-crying-star-trek-into-darkness).  He said “we are reaching a point where the currency of male tears is becoming valueless.”  He makes this comment after reminding his reader that Khan, the film’s singular super-villain, also sheds a tear.  But I only partially agree with his assessment of masculine tears:  that they should be rare and under extreme circumstances.  First I recognize that in our society, a man who cries too often appears…not so much weak, but rather lacking a degree of stability.  I get that, but how often is too often?  I have for many years been an advocate of authentic male tears.  “Grown men don’t cry” is a useless adage.  Because I am so passionate about the arts, spiritual authenticity, racial equality, and education (to name a few), I cry pretty easily when a film really removes the viewer’s blindfolds on one of these topics. However, I recognize the need for restraint when putting male tears on screen and I believe that is exactly what director J.J. Abrams did.  A quick Google search tells me that Spock has been brought to tears before, but rarely.  The same search also tells me that many Trekkies were furious about him crying.  Again, it was done with taste and for me, put roots on these two durable characters that have inspired multiple generations.  Remember that the new films are exploring the origin of this leading friendship.  I do admit that Spock’s primal “Khaaannnn!” yell that followed the tears was a bit much. Abrams examines male emotions even more deeply by addressing father issues.  Kirk never knew his dad other than by reputation according to the first film.  We saw in it that he has anger issues about his father’s absence.  However, Admiral Christopher Pike seems to fill some kind of an emotional hole for Kirk even in the first film.  But, wow, in the second Pike is clearly set up as a father figure.  That set up is handled beautifully (brutal scolding and loss of the Enterprise for lying on the captain’s log, followed by a redeeming behind-the-scenes vote of confidence) and then we see Kirk respond to losing him.  I think this is the first cry we see from Kirk…and what a cry it is. When a grown man cries, it’s bad.  And why do you think that is?  Probably because men do hold it back so often, so when they lose it, they lose it.  And Kirk did lose it, right in front of Spock by the way.  No other science fiction franchise does character development as well as Star Trek.  These moments are how they do it. Star Trek has lead the way on issues of race and diversity since the 1960s.  I do not claim to be a Trekkie, but I’ve seen most of the films, most episodes from the original series, and several episodes of the subsequent series.  I have often thought this was a strength of the series but in writing this post I found a blog post by a proud Trekkie that develops this idea much more clearly than I could.  The excerpt below can be found at http://sto.perfectworld.com/news/?p=923821:   From the very beginning, Star Trek has been about diversity and acceptance. It’s easy to miss the messages behind the storylines today, but in 1966, Star Trek was revolutionary for its depiction of racial and gender...

The Adams Street Bridge

The Adams Street Bridge

The world is broken. Have you heard that before?  Does that statement resonate with you? In the film The Matrix, the character Neo begins to believe that something is not right with the world.  Morpheus offers answers to Neo but requires that they meet.  The meeting place?  The Adams Street Bridge. I often find myself wanting to explore ideas or possibilities that are rooted in solving a problem or looking at the world differently.  While many of these relate to who we are as spiritual beings, many of them simply relate to issues we confront daily:  marriage, children, work, money, friendships, and community.  I have decided to start writing about those ideas…here. I landed on The Adams Street Bridge as a blog title because, just as Neo faced a dilemma that night, so do we once we believe something to be true.  In my posts, I will often ask if there is room for thinking differently about the topic at hand.  In other words, could our paradigm shift somewhat?  From there, we will face a dilemma similar to Neo’s:  action is required.  When we believe something, we act on it.  If you fail to act on something you believe to be true, you’ll be miserable. You are reading this because I had an Adams Street Bridge experience of my own.  I began to believe that I had something unique and valid to say.  That belief required that I take some action. What can I expect from The Adams Street Bridge? Overall, I plan to bring attention to examples of thinking differently.  Eventually, I hope readers will be compelled to share their own paradigm shifting ideas.  Posts will likely fall into three broad categories:  personal life, professional life, and the arts. Personal Life Because I hope to write about things that are common to the entire human experience, I will address spiritual things.  I know this is one of those topics that either brings people together or tears them apart.  Therefore, I will attempt to write about such things with as little cultural bias as possible.  My views on spiritual life are at the core of who I am, so avoiding this topic would be foolish and disingenuous.  I suspect that readers will let me know if I write something that is out of place.  Thank you for being gracious as I fumble through.  As a husband and father, I will also explore the challenges, pitfalls and treasures of marriage and fatherhood under Personal Life. Professional Life The work we do is often what first identifies us to our community.  That is not necessarily a good thing, but it is true.  Our work also brings about interactions with people who are often very different from ourselves.  That is what makes professional life interesting…sometimes more so than the work itself.  Unfortunately, much of what takes place at work is anything but professional.  I want to confront some of the behaviors that drive peers, superiors and subordinates crazy.  And because I am passionate about my work, I will also explore issues of content.  My content area is education and I feel very strongly about the importance of its role in society.  However, I am the first to recognize that it is incredibly complicated and even messy. The Arts The arts are somewhat related to professional life for me, but I believe they are also the most significant tool available within the human experience for looking at the world differently and inspiring others to do so.  I will explore both what that looks like for me and how I believe the arts are central to the life experience of every human. The world is broken. It is a wonderful world.  But it is also tragic.  I want simply to shed light on some hopeful ways of thinking differently about difficult issues.  I also want to celebrate those who have already inspired others to think differently about specific things.  Finally, I am thankful to have you along on this journey. Welcome to The Adams Street...

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