Nicolas Sparks and the Allegory of Pretty White People Who Struggle until Everything Works Out

I have to admit that I am really relieved. While doing my morning Internet browsing, I discovered on the Huffington Post that it Turns Out Dressing Like Gigi Hadid Is Cheaper Than You’d Think.

And when I thought things couldn’t get any better, right there also on HuffPo, I read that the anti-pretty women-of-Hollywood (who is gorgeous!), Jennifer Lawrence, years ago before she was famous totally bombed her Abercrombie and Fitch photo shoot because she was sweating and making ugly faces.

I should add that some of my giddiness may be in the wake of watching The Longest Ride last night [1].

This is a film adaptation of a novel by Nicolas Sparks, which his web site teases in part with:

A few miles away, at a local bull-riding event, a Wake Forest College senior’s life is about to change.  Recovering from a recent break-up, Sophia Danko meets a young cowboy named Luke, who bears little resemblance to the privileged frat boys she has encountered at school.  Through Luke, Sophia is introduced to a world in which the stakes of survival and success, ruin and reward—even life and death—loom large in everyday life.

Luckily, the movie stars two very pretty people, Britt Robertson (who, I checked, is not 12) as the Art Major and Scott Eastwood (the very pretty son of Clint) as the Cowboy (did I mention he is very pretty).

Once I realized the Art Major is in fact a college student and traditional college age (and not a local middle schooler, which would have been a much different movie), I was hooked to see how NC played a part in this love story.

I nearly stopped watching because early on the movie introduces an Old Man who seems about to die, and isn’t pretty at all. Luckily, we soon get flashbacks and discover he is pretty as a young man and falls in love with a very pretty woman.

I am kind of fuzzy on some of the details, but I do recall that the flashback pretty people have bunches of sad stuff happen (he even goes to war and seems to lose the ability to father a child while retaining the ability to have sex), including the pretty flash-back woman leaving the Old Man when he is young and pretty (although she comes back).

Mixed in with the pretty flash-back couple, and I was really getting confused, the Art Major and Cowboy have very clean shower sex (because she falls in the pond!), but also lots of really sad stuff happens.

The Cowboy rides bulls for a living and keeps having accidents that really are going to kill him if he doesn’t quit. His mother (played by the used-to-be-very-pretty Lolita Davidovich) keeps warning the Cowboy but it seems he has to ride those bulls!

Some people may miss that this film adaptation has some really important literary qualities. The Art Major and the Cowboy are very pretty people, but they have real struggles nonetheless.

The Art Major has to choose between her blossoming art career and the Cowboy, symbolically represented by New York city and North Carolina, and the Cowboy just has to ride those damn bulls, symbolically represented by his riding those bulls in slow motion with cut-aways to a slow-motion timer. The Cowboy’s dilemma is masterfully reinforced by his mother constantly mentioning the folly of a sport that lasts 8 seconds and nearly kills the rider every time.

[One interesting side not, possibly coming to my mind because of my comic book background, is the Cowboy has amazing powers of recuperation. I wonder if the novel explains something like Wolverine or Daredevil’s use of meditation?]

I hate to post spoilers, but the most powerful thematic element of the film is at the end when the Art Major and the Cowboy are reunited after the Old Man dies. And, here is the real tear-jerker, the Old Man’s will has a twist that leads to making it possible for an Art Major and Cowboy to be together (and millionaires)!

So I guess, after all, my morning glee probably has far more to do with watching this movie than the wonderful Gigi Hadid and Jennifer Lawrence news on HuffPo.

In fact, the more I think about it, I may need to post a comment at HuffPo about their sexist columns: Why no article on how I can dress affordably like Bradley Cooper?

[1] By the way, I was raised in the South where we are raised to slow down and stare at accidents. I was skimming past all my U-verse channels and paused when I realized is set in North Carolina, and a couple hours later, I had watched the whole thing.

Students, Not Standards: Calling for Solidarity in 2016

Many years ago, I was sitting in the last class session of the capstone secondary ELA methods course as part of my M.Ed. The guest speaker that day was my high school English teacher, the man responsible for my primary career path, Lynn Harrill.

Lynn was friends with the professor, who was then working at the state department of education, I believe.

Toward the end of the class, the professor asked what we wanted our students to know when they left our classes. That question was followed by lingering silence.

Ever the eager student, I said, “I want them to know themselves,” and I caught a glimpse of Lynn smiling widely.

Of course, that is what Lynn had taught me, although most people probably assumed it was reading and writing Lynn had so expertly given his students (which, by the way, was also true).

This moment—one of a very idealistic and naive young teacher, me—comes back to me often, and despite my many failures as a teacher, that grounding goal has always guided me. Not to be simplistic, but I teach students—that’s why I teach.

While reading Four Stories That Homework Tells Children About School, Learning, & Life, I was struck by “STORY #3: School Is More Important Than Other Pursuits/Interests/Activities.”

And now I have to investigate that memory again.

Yes, Lynn Harrill changed my life by being my sophomore and junior English teacher in high school. He was gracious, kind, and encouraging to a deeply insecure and anxious teen (me) who had decided he was a math and science person—because that is what school had told me.

Junior high English classes had been mostly draconian English teachers, grammar book exercises, and diagramming sentences. The “English” content of those classes was easy (I made As), but I loathed it all, even the texts we were assigned to read (much of which we did not read).

Now, before I launch into whining, let me be clear that my story is about how school failed me—but that because of my tremendous privilege (white, male and—according to traditional schooling and standardized tests—high verbal and mathematical intelligence), the consequences of those failures were miniscule. I attended college and continued to make As (easily), leading to an MEd and EdD.

I share this, then, not to bemoan poor pitiful me (or to brag), but to highlight that schools often fail students in ways we do not acknowledge and that the consequences for those students who need schooling most are monumental.

While I was begrudgingly playing school and succeeding, at home I was engaged in a rich array of hobbies and interests that school not only ignored, but also indirectly refuted (even Lynn told me as a 10th grader I needed to stop reading science fiction [SF] and start reading real literature such as Fitzgerald).

I was collecting, reading, and drawing from thousands of Marvel comic books. I was voraciously listening to popular music and studying the lyrics. And I was doing the same with comedy albums, mostly George Carlin and Richard Pryor.

My reading life, as I noted above, was Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, Arthur C. Clarke, and whatever works were prompted by my mother’s SF film fascination. I fell in love with The Andromeda Strain because of the film, and much of my formative life was driven by the five Planet of the Apes films and TV’s Star Trek.

My response to the real literature endorsed by Lynn was tepid (but always the mama’s boy, I did as teachers told me to do), but my life was irrevocably changed when he also recommended writers I would never be assigned in the rural South of the 1970s—notably D.H. Lawrence.

Well, damn, I thought. This is literature?

My journey from student to teacher began in my sophomore year of high school as I began to untangle the false narratives school had taught me and came to embrace the authentic narratives of my real life, my real Self, outside of school.

More than a decade into my teaching career (in the position Lynn left at my high school) and in the same doctoral program Lynn had completed, I finally discovered critical pedagogy as the complete vision of student-centered teaching and learning I had been haphazardly practicing.

Regretfully, my entire career as an educator (18 years as a high school ELA teacher and then 14 more years, and counting, as an English educator and first-year writing professor) has occurred under the antithesis of student-centered critical education—the high-stakes accountability movement.

All of which, ironically, I have been prepared for by the very reading material school marginalized, science fiction and dystopian fiction.

Standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability fail students, fail teachers. They conspire to do exactly what homework accomplishes in story #3 above.

I cannot step away form this: I must teach those students placed in my care, and that duty requires me to find out who they are, what they know, and what they want so that we can work together so that they find who they are and who they want to be.

So, I wonder with the new year, and the allure of resolutions—who is with me in 2016? Can we make this about students and not standards, not tests?

See Also

Doubling Down (Again) by Reverting, Not Changing: The Exponential Failures of Education Legislation

Teacher Quality, Wiggins and Hattie: More Doing the Wrong Things the Right Ways

More on Evidence-Based Practice: The Tyranny of Technocrats

Beware the Technocrats: More on the Reading Wars

I Don’t Need Standards To Teach, I Need Students

Are Common Core and Testing Debates “Two Different Matters”?