I’m somewhere around the middle, this early morning, of a 24-hour sojourn that spans a veritable Mount Whitney and Death Valley of public educator experiences. Last night I got to attend the Academic Letter Ceremony at Albuquerque High, celebrating graduating seniors who kept a 3.5 GPA or better through all eight semesters. Medals were placed, Olympics-style, around the necks of amazing kids. Teachers were thanked; even your humble blogger was thanked.
So we’ll call that “Mount Whitney.”
Today, my Principal and Assistant Principal have the true Death Valley honor of sharing “Summative Evaluations” with staff via a ton of drive-by sessions in which Admin and each teacher will discuss the “much more detailed reports” courtesy our Public Education Department ostensibly illustrating teaching competency or lack thereof. The previous sentence is probably longer than most of these sessions will last. Like any grading, bullshit numbers in a bullshit “rubric” will be glossed over as each frantic teacher will not admit they are frantically looking for words like “Effective” or “Minimally Effective” somewhere in the blizzard of bullshit. There will be much gnashing of teeth and various sincerity levels of laughter. My guess is that Admin will have a box of kleenex within easy teacher reach throughout.
Which gets me to Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude” (1971) and zombies. I showed “H&M” to my semester 7th/8th Grade Film class pretty much every Semester. Each and every time the kids very slowly grew to love Harold, especially as his faux suicides grew more and more visually arresting and psychologically disturbing. The faux hanging that starts the film got their attention. The faux self-immolation a bit later had them laughing en masse.
Yeah, these kids were being taught, with your taxpayer dollars, to laugh at people setting themselves on fire.
But the film isn’t really about that, and it isn’t about death, despite the nearly countless numbers of faux suicides. It’s about life and about being truly alive while we’re living. The thing I’ve never got about the whole “zombie” thing is that we’re supposed to fear people who die and come back from the dead. I’m not seeing many cases of this, so it’s not nearly as worrisome as what each of us sees around us every day, all the time. I refer to humans who are, for all “intense and purposes” (as a former principal of mine used to incorrectly write), dead despite their beating heart and ability to locomote. This type of living dead is a far, far scarier thing than any zombie movie can ever be.
In the film, this truth comes from the newly-turned octogenarian Maude, who illustrates in a set of faux suicide mirroring activities what it means to stop being the living dead and to once again truly live. And yeah, one of these activities is quite evidently turning her relationship with the somewhere around 19 year-old Harold sexual. And boy did that creep the kids out. Every Semester (although I ended up skipping this scene most Semesters for “time purposes”).
Yeah, these kids were being taught, with your taxpayer dollars, uh…whatever that teaches people.
More importantly, getting back to the zombie/life, thing, “Harold and Maude” teaches us to remain living, despite all the attempts to kill us off while still kicking. To stop kicking, in fact. Today’s “Summative Evaluations” are nothing other than an attempt to make us teachers stop kicking, to slip into the noose of kiss-ass, monotonous “differentiated instruction” or whatever today’s edu-Kool Aid is called, and, fundamentally, professionally, stop living.
The saddest evidence of this, for me, is that I no longer teacher a film class. That’s a long story…some other time.
Instead let’s have the gloriously named actress Vivian Pickles, as Harold’s mother, embody “Summative Evaluations” via a stupid dating questionnaire and have the eternally lovable Bud Cort, as Harold, do what every single teacher is picturing in their mind as they sit at their little drive-by meeting with the Principal today.
Bang…you’re dead. But we don’t have to be. I have seen Mount Whitney; I saw it only a few hours ago. It’s beautiful.