Tuesday, December 06, 2005

You're a Good Man...Teacher Man

Tonight, on TV, "Charlie Brown Christmas" will be on for it's 40th time. It is as old as our oldest, Clark. The newspaper today says it almost didn't make it past network executives...too slow and boring...reading a portion of the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke by little Lisping Linus. It is now ironic that's main message, anticommerialism, is thwarted by it's years and years of top "Nielsen Ratings" and all the millions it has made for it's advertizers over those years. The ugly little tree strikes a "chord" in all our hearts. Some even write poems about it.

Charles Schultz has left us but his legacy lingers in his characterizations by cartoon. His estate is still earning millions. I know, at first, I was not attracted to his little "anti-hero" Charlie (patterned after himself, I suppose)...always a bit depressed and then you had "bossy" Lucy etc. She reminds me of Alicia who first put on "Your A Good Man Charlie Brown" in my Young Actors' Workshop in Claremont. She has continued for all these years with a very successful, "non-profit" corporation call "Karosel Kids". I did try to stage its sequel, "Snoopy" when I taught at El Roble. It was much more "up" and "cute" and it was a commercial success. But the image of Charlie still remains, average, n'er-do-well', always complaining, the butt of jokes etc. gets the football pulled away every year and his kite stuck. We identify with him to a point and the humor in the predicaments.

Betty and I have just heard the new audio book by Frank McCourt. It is called "Teacher Man". Here, I think, we found the same fascination as with Charlie. He, with his charming Irish brogue, describes his 30 years of teaching in the New York Public Schools. "How did I ever survive?" he asks. We had read his previous books, "Angela's Ashes" and "'Tis". They are also autobiographical. They have that same "hang dog" "poor me" kind of humor. He bemoans his upbringing (barely surviving) in Limerick, Ireland, and his education with the Catholic Church. He continues to show how it effected him when he got to America in "Tis". The guilt and depression he continued to struggle with all through his life. He is such a "storyteller" you almost can't believe all the "tales". But, as he says over and over, he..."didn't give a fiddler's fart" and just kept trying.
He taught mostly at Trade Schools where the students could care less about "English" and "Creative Writing" his subjects. He did get a chance to teach at Stuyvantson(?) one of the top schools with a "more motivated student". There he did the kind of lessons I would've done (did). He had all the varied ethnic group kids bring in their mom's best foods and had a great picnic in the park nearby. He then had them bring in their best recipe (books). They then had lyrical readings of their favorite recipes with instrumental accompaniment from the band students. He asked the kids to "observe everything" through a "writer's eye" asking why and why not. He challenged them, as they him, to document their feelings about their lives no matter how "hum-drum" and "normal" they seemed to be. To hear him tell it all is part of the charm of the stories. He's a good man, always well meaning, just like Charlie but taken the wrong way and constantly getting into trouble and getting fired too. He departs from Charlie when he spends so much time in the local "pubs" with many a "pint" which was his father's undoing. He had "the gift" ...of gab, as they say...and sometimes it got him in trouble in the classroom too. This is also something I've experienced too. Now, I just post blogs...and teach "the 12 Days of Xmas" with motions to Kindergarteners. Bob


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