Saturday, January 9, 2010


We got to Brooklyn on December 21, and it has been a flurry of activity ever since. At 3 pm on the 22nd I found myself waiting in a drizzle in front of Junior's restaurant across the street from Long Island University. Howard Katzoff and Fred Spinowitz were meeting us there, but Tom was still at LIU dealing with projectors that wouldn't show our video! Luckily for us, the technician at LIU hadn't gone home yet, and Tom joined us before the cheesecake arrived. I have been corresponding with Howard for several months, since discovering his website,, which is sponsored by the Orion Society's Whole Child Education Initiative. Meeting him in the flesh was like meeting an old friend. When we started talking, it turned out that Fred (who is a former middle school principal, and now supervises student teachers when he is not painting) had just visited the junior high school that I attended! The conversation flowed flawlessly from memories of Brooklyn in the 50's and 60's to the politics that surround teaching. The pump was primed for viewing the video, and we strolled over to LIU, where the group grew larger with the addition of Lynn and Michael Hassan, and Marita Downes of LIU. Jerry Mitnz of AERO was delayed in traffic, but arrived about a third of the way through the screening, and right after him, my former student, Sara Hotchkiss. Jerry brought two students with him, who also contributed to the conversation.

Tom recorded the feedback, and I will be interested to hear it when I get back to California to see how well it jives with my memories as I am recording them after three more screenings, and may be mixing them up, but here goes. It has been very gratifying to see how much people basically enjoy the film, and relate to the children, the teacher, and the subject matter. Marita had to leave early, but as she left, told me it had been a privilege to watch the film. Jerry Mintz wanted more information about the structure of the school, and the community, but he missed that part of the film. For his philosophy of education, the school we show is not democratic enough, but he saw the value of showing what is possible in a public school setting. He would like more narration, and more comparison--wondered about using a student to narrate his or her perspective on what was happening.

Everyone felt my narration was appropriate, and that the more personal narration was the strongest. Fred would cut some of the social/emotional content. He and Howard disagreed on that point, but agreed that we need to find ways to spell out more clearly the context of the film in today's narrowing of instructional practices, but do it unobtrusively, and without an ax to grind. Lynn spoke strongly for keeping the social/emotional as a major component. Howard talked of the fine line we have to walk, between creating a dramatic and artistic product, and advocating for relevant education. Sara was pleased to see how similar the school was to the way it was when she was a student, and applauded Tom's photography. She reminded me that her dad has been involved in fundraising for the Ojai Society's school, and I will contact him when I get home, in case he might have some leads for us. We left this first screening feeling awed and buoyed by the experience! Guess I'll have to write about the other screenings another day, as it is almost midnight!

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