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Thompson: Two Generations Of Teachers Travel To NYC

Brandyclark2012Pulling out of the driveway, starting a trip to New York City where Diane Ravitch would be honored with the Deborah W. Meier Hero of Education Award, I recalled the words of the person who would be introducing her. Randi Weingarten says that education is based on the concept of "L'dor V'dor," or "from generation to generation." 

I would be traveling with a former student, Brandy Clark.  We have developed a father-daughter relationship, and Ms. Clark was rebuilding the drama program at our old school. We would be reflecting on the end of her seventh year in the classroom.

As we started out, by accident, the last stanza of the title track of Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball came up on the CD player.  It really was an accident. It was my fault that Brandy rejected my explanation, however.  I had long argued that all teachers needed to listen to "the Boss," and it was too early in the morning for her to listen to one of my lectures on his lyrics.  She put in earphones as I turned to NPR. Our next cross-generational conversation was no better - at first. 

GradbrandyBrandy was unimpressed with my introduction to Leonard Cohen classics until "Hallelujah" came up.  She responded, "he wrote the original version?" Ms. Clark then punched the keys on her i-Phone and the part of our Prius's dashboard that I do not dare to touch.  She then played me in versions of "Hallelujah" that today's students would enjoy.

Driving across the Midwest, Ms. Clark learned that the belated graduation ceremony for a hospitalized student had been rescheduled.  By cell phone, she arranged for students to organize the ceremony.

Arriving in Brooklyn, we stayed with a former TFAer of Afro-Caribbean descent, who graduated from Stuyvesant High School and who taught with Ms. Clark in the projects of Bedford Stuyvesant. I went uptown where FairTest was honoring Diane Ravitch, and came back with stories about the good-natured banter between Ravitch and Deborah Meiers and their dueling accounts of moving from opponents to friends to allies.  And, I admit, I had a few more stories to recount ...  So, Brandy's patience with me and my anecdotes was diminishing when I got us lost on the return trip.  Fortunately, a stranger drove out of his way to direct us back onto the New Jersey Turnpike.

My time finally came when we drove through the Monongahela valley.  This gave me an entree to place my experiences "wrestling iron" in the 1970s within the history of the deindustrialization that wiped out families and made it so much more difficult for high-poverty schools. As Springsteen wrote:

From the Monongahela valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia
The story's always the same
Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name

I limited my lecture to less than an hour, explaining that the old factories were still profitable when they were closed.  The immediate, cataclysmic loss of industrial jobs was accelerated by union-busting and financial engineering.  Now, a new generation of education "reformers," are borrowing the same numbers-driven, market-driven methods. They don't even know the history of how the corporate world destroyed communities and families, and thus wrecked schools like ours'.

And that brings me back to the message of the Wrecking Ball:    

And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
And hard times come, and hard times go
Yeah just to come again

Bring on your wrecking ball
Bring on your wrecking ball
Come on and take your best shot, let me see what you've got
Bring on your wrecking ball

- JT (@drjohnthompson) image via and lyrics via.


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I feel like the popular contemporary versions of Hallelujah are really best thought of as covers of John Cale's version from the early 90s. Cohen's original is for all intents and purposes a completely different song.

I'll give you Brandy's email and let you argue with her. She'll probably say you're too old also. She cut me off as I started to sing Cohen's lyrics, "I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice."

Well that was an interesting diversion:


I always liked Jeff Buckley’s version best. It always came across as the most emotionally driven. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8AWFf7EAc4

OK you guys win. Just so long as I never again have to listen to "Call Me Maybe."
But, seriously, that led to another cross generational discussion when we listened to NPR's report on that song, and Nina Totenburg and the other hams sang it.
And Sarah, thanks for the link. I'll listen now.

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