Friday, April 08, 2011

To Kenzenia Beautiful Girl & Mr. Holland’s Opus

Beautiful Girl & Mr. Holland’s Opus

By Kevin Stoda

I was watching Mr. Holland’s Opus on HBO tonight and was struck by the same issues the USA face in terms of the American politics of school and university budgeting that we see in 2011, especially the attack on the arts, humanities, and teachers.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113862/

Before I get back to the politics of today at the end of this piece, I want to share that I had taken American Sign Language (ASL) in my college days at Bethel College in Kansas in the 1980s. In fact, I started at that college in 1980, the year John Lennon was assassinated. In the film, Mr. Holland’s Opus , the slaying of John Lennon at the height of his comeback, plays a small but important role.

Later, in another seen, the main character Mr. Holland (played by Richard Dreyfuss) sings a sentimental song that John Lennon had written for his last child: “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” from the Double Fantasy album—also from 1980. As he sings the song, Mr. Holland uses ASL to communicate to a deaf audience the words to the text. Mr. Holland was singing the song before a very large audience to his own son, who also happened to be 90% deaf.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0IMASimhRo

What surprised (and pleased) me most was that I still recognized 80% of the ASL used—nearly 28 years after I took the class

http://www.bagism.com/lyrics/double-fantasy-lyrics.html#BeautifulBoyDarlingBoy

At this point in this writing, I will appropriate the John Lennon text, and rewrite it a tad for my daughter, Kenzenia. (You can sing along if you know the tune!) I hope Yoko doesn’t sue me.

Beautiful Girl (Darling Girl)
John Lennon and appropriated by KS
Close your eyes
Have no fear
The monster's gone
He's on the run and your daddy's here
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way
It's getting better and better
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Out on the ocean sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we'll both just have to be patient
'Cause it's a long way to go
A hard row to hoe
Yes it's a long way to go
But in the meantime
Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you're busy making other plans
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8-Er_Tn1u4&feature=related
Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way
It's getting better and better
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Darling, darling, darling
Kenzenia Girl
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJROPlu9lxc

One reviewer wrote the following about the film and its failure to get an Oscar (while nominated for 4).

“I love this movie because I had a fantastic, inspirational teacher in high school that all the students admired and looked up to. Even though I was in high school when this movie came out, I still carry the memories. Nicolas Cage deserved to win his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, but I still would have loved to see Richard Dreyfuss win. The whole cast was wonderful, and you actually felt like you were in the 60s and 70s, unlike other films set in that time period. How often does a film come out that generations relate to; and a film so touching about a teacher who cares about his students, and vice versa? Will always be one of my favorite films.”

INSPIRATIONAL TEACHERS & COLLAPSE OF AMERICAN THINKING

I had several inspirational teachers in my life and the one who encouraged me to be the most courageous in trying out new things was my band teacher from my junior high and high school days back in Sterling, Kansas in the 1970s.

A major lesson of the film seems to have been lost on the reviewer (above) and by too many other Americans over the past 40 years, i.e. since Proposition 13 was passed in California in the late 1970s and marked 4 decades of under-spending and under-support of many American educational institutions, especially as concerns training in the humanities and arts.

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1904938,00.html

The film, Mr. Holland’s Opus , spends half of its narration indirectly and directly on teachers and good holistic educational programming in America. There is a beautiful and touching scene at the end of the movie whereby many students from 35 years of studying under Mr. Holland “Music Appreciation”, “Band” and “Orchestra’ classes. Everyone—from the governor on down come down to participate in this send off of Mr. Holland at the age of 60.

What viewers too often forget is that Mr. Holland, whose “real Opus” is to be found in the music of the many lives he has touched over the years, is the fact that Mr. Holland was forced into an early retirement one or two scenes earlier. (Mr. Holland only retires under protest and certainly goes out kicking and screaming before the school board—i.e. letting the community where the school is located know that they have their educational priorities and city school budget practices all out of whack!)

I recall back in 1978 my father in Kansas ridiculed our friends and relatives in California for throwing so many school commitments to kids out the window through the Proposition 13 tax limitation initiative that passed that year. My dad noted at the time that people who did not have kids in schools involved in band, sports, etc. had been allowed to vote on issues affecting millions of youth in schools. (California sports and music programs were actually canceled for one or two years in most places.) Since 1978, the country has paid a great price in the area of youthful initiative and in the areas of the arts—both which are encouraged by non-essential school programs.

Mr. Holland rightly noted that the biggest cost to the loss of the arts and humanities was the potential future losses in creativity in and among American students (at a time when it was needed, especially as America needed to be more receptive to global market and global communications.)

Looking at the 2010 election results many Americans still cannot think out of the box they have put themselves in over the past 4 decades. This lack of an ability to make long term budgeting commitments in our society must be overcome if improved educational practices and more creative & effective problem solving activities in our society can be encouraged.

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