Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Soul Rock!
In my coursework at grad school I’m always reading inspiring stories of teachers who unlock the vast creative potential of their students, soliciting hilarious and heartwarming tales and poems from children everyone else has given up on. It doesn’t happen like that for me.

I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to encourage creativity and critical thought. I’m constantly designing lessons involving drawing, poetry, graffiti, record reviews, whatever, it never works. What’s really depressing is, it’s not like the kids are really into the arty stuff - having a ton of fun as they produce a bunch of hackneyed, clichéd, worthless crap – which I would love. No, they’re actually even more bored and apathetic about this stuff than they are about rote grammar worksheets and other useless busy work which they tend to actually concentrate on and even enjoy.

The drawing is particularly bad. Stick legs protrude at odd angles out of vaguely circular, flat, heads. I taught a basic perspective lesson once where all the students had to do was copy what I was demonstrating in very clear, step by step process (vanishing point, horizon line, etc..) and none of them even approached looking like a three dimensional object.

“No, Meester,”
they will whine when I hand them a marker. “No se dibujar.”

Their writing is even worse. I’m not talking about their non-existent grammar, or their atrocious spelling, I don’t give a shit about that. I’m talking about ideas, humor, images, emotions. It really is that bleak. I’ve been doing Haikus all week, and tried to get the kids to write about the Bronx, seeing how they all live there and since it’s where, like Fat Joe Crack so eloquently says, shit happens.

First I had my little Terror Squad write down the first 20 things that came into their minds when they thought of the Bronx. This was great. The kids were crazy excited about this and yelling all kinds of inspirational gold at me like there was prize or something.

The Zoo!
Yankee Stadium!
Spanish People!
Crotona Park!
Drugs yo!
D train nigga!
Bad Schools!
Naw son, Bronx Science a good school!
Hunts Point!
Oh shit! Ho’s yo! Ho’s!

And on like that, with me making such teacherly interjections as, “So maybe the Bronx has good and bad schools? I’ll put that, ok, Rocio?”

“Ho… uh, prostitution. That’s good. Yes, Hunts Point is known for prostitution, thank you Stanley.”

The whole Haiku concept went over pretty well. Most everyone was familiar with syllables, so I gave them an example to keep things straight.

Haiku is a poem
Of three lines with syllables
Five, seven and five

And we were off.

The results were monumentally disappointing. The following was one of the better poems.

The Bronx Zoo is good
The Yankees Stadium too
I can go by bus

Woo hoo. Great job, Jose. Seriously. My best, most enthusiastic, funniest, sharpest kids were coming up with poems like that.

The best one I got was from a girl named Loida. It has a certain blunt force to it.

The gangs in the Bronx
Bloods hate Crips and Crips hate Bloods
Both hate each other


Given the usual creative output I get from these kids, I was blown the fuck away when a tiny little African boy who shows up 40 minutes late to class everyday delivered to me some seriously out there fiction. Unsolicited too. He did not, he told me, want to be associated with the inferior story he and some classmates had come up with together during groupwork. He gave me a frizzy-edged page-and-a-half of notebook paper covered in chicken-scratch.

His story was titled, “The Soul Rock,” and I have to admit, he’d pretty much already won me over right there. It was the story of a boy named Popsoul. Popsoul is a regular kid. He likes a girl, but there is a problem. There’s a blood-guzzling vampire named Napster who Popsoul battles and then lures to an all-night party. Napster has so much fun at Popsoul’s party he loses track of time until Popsoul, crafty little Popsoul, opens all the doors and windows to reveal that it is daylight and put an end to Napster.

Then - nope, it’s not over yet - Popsoul bumps into a guy named Heroshark who is winning all kinds of money in a dance contest. This leads to the following climactic passage of unedited, unabridged, completely unaltered, brilliance.

Popsoul put $500 and the other guy put $1000. lets Rock! Who said that? Everything is technology. No just don’t work like that. We have our new chapion. We’ll call him Soulrock. Yessss. Now girl go get a new house because we’re rich.

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