Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Visitor

Two weeks ago I was able to attend the SUNY Cortland Human Rights groups showing of the film "The Visitor" on campus. The visitor is written and directed by Thomas McCarthey. Richard Jenkins stars as Walter Vale, a widowed college professor from Connecticut who has become bored with his life. He has been writing a book for years that he has no interest in finishing, and he has taught the same college course, the only course he teaches, for over 20 years. The chair of his department sends him to New York City to attend a conference and give a presentation on a book he was a second author on. He isn't thrilled, especially since he hasn't even read the whole book, but goes anyway.

When he gets to New York he goes to his apartment which he hasn't stayed in for years. While there he finds that an unmarried ethnic couple living there, who think they are renting the apartment from a guy that claims to own it. After packing their things and leaving the apartment, Walter realizes the couple have no where to go. He invites, and insists, that the couple stay with him for a few nights until they can find their own place. Over the next few days Walter develops a bond with Tarek, the guy.

One day while entering a subway station with Walter, Tarek gets stuck in the turnstile and hops over it. He is then arrested by the police for jumping the gate. The problem is that Tarek is an illegal immigrant so he is taken to a detention center. The rest of the film shows how Walter fights for Tarek to be freed.

This film was interesting to me because of the cross-culture references, especially since 9-11. Tarek is Palestinian and from Syria, but still claims that people feel he is a terrorist. Even though he has done nothing wrong, he is still locked up and eventually deported. Its sad that people are treated that way, especially when we preach that America is the land of freedom and a place where anyone can make it. Also the film explores different cultures through Tarek and his girlfriend.

I also enjoyed this film because of the African drumming of Tarek, which he teaches Walter throughout the film. I am a drummer and have studied ethnic drumming, so when Tarek talks about African drumming being in 3s instead of 4s like classical music it made sense to me. Also I loved the line about in order to drum you can not think, just drum.

I would definitely recommend this film to friends and it is no wonder that it was nominated for so many awards.

Total time: 3 hours

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Inclusive Outdoor Education Video

For the AAPAR video contest I chose to make a video for the Inclusive Outdoor Education course offered here at SUNY Cortland, which I took earlier this semester. Unfortunately, after reading the rules for the video contest I found out I couldn't enter the video since I didn't have the clearance of the people in the video. So instead of entering the video I will reflect on the course and the video here.

The course was definitely an eye opener for me. It was possibly one of the best classes I took here at Cortland. Being up at Raquette Lake in a beautiful outdoor setting was great. The people who came from Wildwood Schools in Albany were great as well. The first night was spent getting to know each other and playing different icebreakers and games.

The next day we woke up early and split the group into two. One group went for a hike while the other group got to participate on the low ropes course. My group got to go on the hike first and it was great to be able to walk and talk with each other and enjoy the nature around us. The whole group met back at camp for lunch and then switched spots in the afternoon.

The low ropes course was a good experience too. I never imagined that some of the people would be able to participate as much as they did. One person who had been in a wheelchair was even able to get up and walk across a balance beam in the air, with the support of the other group members. It was great to see the excitement on the people's faces, and how we could all work together as a team.

The groups then got back together at the camp and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon on the lake. We used canoes, kayak and some even went swimming. After dinner, we met in one of the cabins to play some more games and then had a bonfire where we sang songs and just socialized late into the night.

The following morning we met for breakfast, then helped each other pack and said our goodbyes. I wont lie, it was sad to go. Its amazing how close you can get with a group of people in such little time. Thats what I enjoyed about being out on Raquette Lake. You are cut off from the world in a way and so you resort to actually socializing with people face to face, which I feel is lost in this day in age.

The video I made was from the pictures that all of the undergrad students at Cortland took. It was set to music ( "You've Got a Friend" by James Taylor, "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers, and "You've Got a Friend in Me" by Randy Newman). Each photo had a different transition to the last and the songs where edited so they fit the length of the video. It was a process that took a while, but in the end it was worth the time I put into it.

Overall, the experience of the video and the class was great for me. It made me realize that a lot of times we judge people before we get to know them. When I first met many of the students from Wildwood, I couldn't imagine any of them participating in a low ropes course and swinging from ropes or walking on wires from tree to tree. However nearly all of them participated in the courses, and many did more than even I am comfortable doing. We shouldn't judge people by appearance or by the labels that come with having a disability but sadly society does. They are still human beings and deserve the respect and the chances that comes with it.

Total Time: 4 Hours


Last Wednesday night I was able to attend the Disability Awareness Movie Night, or DAMN Good Movie Night at Park Center on Campus. This semester's film was "BLINDSIGHT" a 2006 Documentary by Lucy Walker. The film follows a group of Tibetan students who are blind, as they train and then climb Mount Everest.

Going into the film, all I knew was that the movie was about children who were blind who climbed Everest. To be honest, to me it sounded foolish. When I think of mountain climbing I think of the breath taking views from the top of the mountain, something that these children wouldn't be able to fully understand.

How wrong I was.

Luckily, throughout the film my opinions changed. In fact, it changed within the first 5 minutes when the documentary introduced Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to reach the summit of Everest. The film showed his 2001 climb and how challenging and impressive the feat was.

The film then introduced Sabriye Tenberken, a woman who is blind herself, who went to Tibet to establish the first school for the blind. In Tibet people who are blind are outcasts. Their religion teaches them that in previous lives they have done something awful and have therefore been punished in this life by being blind. This reasoning creates a lot of hostility towards the students who are blind in the film. It was heartbreaking to listen to the one child explain that he knows it is his fault he is blind, and in a previous life he must have done something wrong to cause it. Since the children who are blind are often outcasts, they are often forced to live on the streets and beg for money just to get by. This is why Tenberken wanted to establish a school.

Sabriye hears of Erik's climb to the top of Everest and writes to try and get him to come to visit the school and talk to the children about his climbs and accomplishments. Somewhere along the line a plan is developed to have a select group of children from the school climb with Erik and his crew to the top of one of the summits next to Everest. Six students are chosen due to their desire and drive to climb.

Erik and his crew then travel to Tibet and begin to train the students to climb. After weeks of training the students finally begin their climb. The rest of the film shows their trek up the mountain, with little tangents going into the details of each child's life scattered throughout. While climbing the group runs into problems including one student who struggles to keep up with the rest of the group, and even students who begin to show medical problems caused by the high altitudes.

Throughout the whole climb one question keeps coming up between the adults on the trip and that is why are they doing this? Erik seems to think that its to reach the top, to show that they can reach the top and do something remarkable. Sabriye on the other hand thinks it is more of a team building event, that the important lesson is that they need to rely on each other and establish close relationships with each other. As the group final reaches the Advanced Base Camp, located at 21,300 feet, some of the students show signs of altitude medical problems and the doctor on the trip recommends they turn around and go back. Three of the students go down while the others rest at the base camp.

The next day, after much debate and argument, the rest of the group decides not to continue any higher but to relax at the base camp and then return down the mountain to meet up with the rest of the group. Some members of the group like Erik are disappointed that they couldn't reach the top of the summit.

However, the film shows the three remaining students playing on the ice of the mountain. It was amazing because many of them had never felt a world made entirely out of ice. For many people who are visually impaired, tactile stimulation is one of their strongest senses, and for these students to feel the ice, climb on it, and use ice picks to smash through it, you could tell that they were enjoying themselves. They were allowed to be kids which is what was most important about the trip.

Even though they never reached their summit, they still climbed higher than a majority of people in the world will ever climb which is still amazing. More importantly the students became a group that relied on one another to get up that high. Most importantly it showed that even though these students have a disability, they are still able to do as much, if not more, than everyone else.

Click Here to View BLINDSIGHT Official Site

Total: 3 Hours

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Waiting for Superman

This past Friday I was able to go see the documentary "Waiting for Superman" by director Davis Guggenheim who also directed "An Inconvenient Truth." The story was inspired by an earlier documentary by Guggenheim, "The First Year," which is about 5 teachers who are in their first year of teaching in Los Angles public school systems. It had been 10 years since that documentary and as Guggenheim begins to look at schools for his children to attend he realizes just how much of a problem there is in the public school system in America.

"Waiting for Superman" follows several students from around the country in their struggle through the education system. All of the students come from families that are lower economic status, yet there is a huge desire from the students and their families for a quality education.

Also included are interviews with educational reformists such as Geoffrey Canada who has spent his whole life trying to increase graduation rates and decrease drop out rates of students across the country. This desire has lead Canada to establishing Charter Schools in New York City, to give parents a choice in their son or daughters education.

These charter schools are an alternative to public education. They are funded by the government so therefore they have to be open to the public for enrollment. Since there is limited spots available at the school they have to randomly admit people who have applied. This creates a lottery system, which is often devastating to the families and students when they don't get accepted.

It is heartbreaking to see these young students who have such a desire to learn, but are held back by a failing educational system. These families can not afford a private education so their only chance is the lottery for the charter schools. One lottery had a little over a hundred spots available and over 600 students who applied. Of the students featured in the film, only one was chosen, although one was put on a waiting list and later a spot opened for him.

While charter schools provide a small solution to problems, there needs to be a larger scale solution. The film features controversial Chancellor of D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee who proposed and carried out many changes to the DC schools, many of which went against teachers unions.

The stance against Teacher's Unions was one thing I found surprising with the documentary. However, the film presents many valid arguments in how the unions fuel our schools failures. For instance tenure makes it nearly impossible to remove and replace teachers who are not fulfilling their duties. Instead of removing the teachers, school districts do the "Dance of the Lemons" in which they move their poor performing teachers to another school in the district and accept another school's bad teachers in hopes of getting better teachers in the end. The reality is that moving a bad teacher to another school doesn't make that teacher better, and it only puts more students further behind.

What was most appalling was the "Rubber Room" in New York State. This is a place where teachers who are going through hearings to be removed from teaching are sent during the day. The teachers there are still paid their full salary to basically sit around, read newspapers, play cards and chat with each other. The hearings can take years to complete too. How much money are we wasting on these teachers that could be spent on the students instead?

I certainly understand the positives of being part of a Union, such as collective bargaining. I even totally understand tenure, that it means a teacher is granted due process before they are just fully removed from their job. It was established to make sure teachers aren't removed for not getting along with someone above them or having different political views. However I feel that tenure is being abused by the unions.

I like what Michelle Rhee did in Washington D.C. She allowed teachers to stay at their current employment rate if they continued with tenure. They would get minimum raises over the year. However, she offered teachers the choice to make more money based off of merit pay (based on how well the students do). These teachers would make much more (some over six figures) but would also forfeit their ability to obtain tenure.

Which brings me to my final question that I got from this film. Why shouldn't teachers be held accountable for how they teach? What makes our profession more privileged than others? I mean a surgeon is held accountable for how he performs on a job. If a surgeon went to work and performed his duties, but they weren't effective (i.e. he performed the surgeries but didn't cure the patients) chances are he would be fired. The surgeon is only wasting the hospitals money and is giving the patients a false hope. That is exactly what ineffective teachers are doing as well. They are selling parents and students an education and then not following through which is costing the government and tax payers money. We need to step up as a nation an insure we are giving our children, and our future, the best education they can get.

Its time to reform our education system. If this means as teachers we have to give up some of the perks we get such as tenure than so be it. The profession of teaching should be for those who want to create a better tomorrow. For those who want to make a difference in our students lives. Teaching is not for those who want to do the minimum to get a pay check. The idea of removing tenure is only a threat to those teachers. Teachers, especially physical educators, are always trying to validate what they do as a profession. The problem is we are held back by those who don't perform. If we have a way to weed out the bad teachers, it will be a major step in proving that teaching is truly a profession.

Visit the Official Website for "Waiting for Superman"

Total: 4 hours