Sunday, March 8, 2009


Is it Collusion or Collegiality?

Coroline is a book about a feisty young girl whose family is dismissive and unappreciative of her. They have become immune to her needs and demands. She longs for acknowledgement and validation. She craves a family that regards her, embraces her essence. Through a magic portal door she is mystically transported to a parallel universe. She has her own parents, but not exactly. They are seemingly warm and charming. They are the parents she has dreamed. All is well. All is mostly the same, just slightly askew. Coroline is ecstatic until it becomes apparent that she may have her fantasy family but only by becoming their Steppford child, by allowing her parallel parents to co-opt her power.
A teacher friend entered the rabbit hole of a parallel universe recently when she attempted to take her young class on a field trip to see the movie Coroline.Having read this fantasy book to her students, squeezing each chapter between the delineated curriculums. She had prepared her mental legal brief in the event that her lesson plans or judgment be questioned. She had created the rationale for her deviating from the proscribed text etc. She could quote how this curricular choice supported each child’s individual goals and moved them in the direction of AYP (government jargon for Adequate Yearly Progress) In other words this master teacher had done her homework
She also knew the promotional blitz for the movie had peaked her student’s interest. She had selected this text not only as it affirmed strong female voice, but the fact it was coming out as a movie had primed student’s interest. The best thing of all though is that it could connect the students to the big idea that movies came from print. First it was an idea, then a book now it is a contemporary fairy tale on celluloid. Writing and reading are now magic somehow.
Being a master teacher and a wise woman, she understood the interior lives of children. She knew that all children have orphan moments, where in a fit of anger they wish there parents away and like Alice dream another world. What really draws us in to reading, to the story is our ability to revisit and redefine our own universe.
The students in this class had been placed there by an IEPT (further jargon for Individual Educational Planning Team) All of these students had been certified Severely Emotionally Impaired. This teacher knew the students to be akin to the immigrants’ welcomed by stanza chiseled on the Statue of Liberty. Give me your tired; your poor… these young souls had been battered to the core. They had learning issues, attention issues, stressed families and back stories that could keep Dr. Phil and Montel in business forever. Fragile wee things that had lost their power and had no voice. Behaviors were their primary repertoire of communication. They would bolt from school, toss furniture; spew profanities in effort to communicate their despair and sorrow. They had ceased to dream and dared not hope.
This “special” school sits in a parched field, in a neighborhood that if it is not a slum it is a ghetto of poverty. They arrive here when the local district exhausts it’s intervention. Or as a stepping stone back to the local school from the hospital. And the litany can go on.
But my friend, she is a master teacher. She has peeked behind their spinning eyes. They do not dream and have ceased to hope.
She knows that each screech or bristly behavior is a reaction to living in their own askew world.
The Coroline story brushes past the students mask. Coroline’s bold nature emboldens them to dream again. Perhaps it is the littlest of dreams; perhaps we can run away from school for an afternoon and see a movie. The book has sparked their spirit to life.
Master teacher writes a proposal for money …CBI (surely the Community Based Instruction money can finance the trip.)
Master teacher follows the proper protocol, jumps through the hoops and submits her request to the principal’s mailbox. It sits dormant, no reply. Days pass. The bright eyes have begun to glaze over with dashed hopes, perhaps again I risked to dream.
Do not go to sleep. She wants them awake to books, awake to this spunky heroine. As a master teacher she thinks, I will channel their angst; I will uphold the curriculum as well. We shall practice letter writing. So each of the little people laboriously in scratchy print writes a letter to the principal. “Dear principal, can we pleeze go see Coroline?”, the letters voice reminiscent of the letters they wrote a few months earlier to Santa.
Excitedly they leave them in the principal s mailbox. Now master teacher has captivated the principal’s attention.
She is called to the office and the principal scolds master teacher for putting the students in the middle. The principal fails to hear the letters as the children’s dreamy aspirations, but she seems to perceive the letters as a chastisement to her ennui in responding.
Master teacher has not followed protocol. Has she gotten team approval? Is the book part of our basal curriculum? The hoops are now rings of fire. Now master teacher must jump higher and more fiercely. She may exhaust herself and cease to dream. Or perhaps she can get button eyes. Blind herself, quell herself, so she will be held in regard…
So how does this story end?
Coroline is not a malleable being. Roger Ebert says “Coroline is unpleasant and suggest she deserved to be sent down the tunnel.” So it is with the master teacher, perhaps she deserves this rabbit hole. Perhaps she should ask for less. She has the same conundrum as her child heroine. Coroline will be allowed to remain and receive the affections of her parallel family if she gives up her eyes and replaces them with buttons. But alas she must collude in her own blindness to remain… whatever… whatever shall one do?

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