From Prey to Predator: Laurie Transformed

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Just yesterday I sat in a darkened movie theatre with over 150 Communications Technology students to watch Halloween (2018).

It’s always a treat to sit and watch a horror film with teenagers in a shared space. Unlike most adults who may sit through horror violence gently shimmering in their seats, teenagers yell at the screen. Their visceral reaction to characters unknowingly walking into the shadows of their death or running in the wrong direction, speaks to the shared cultural experiences of genre. In regards to horror, the conventions of narrative are known and recycled. Students shout out of a great knowledge of what is to come and respond personally to characters’ lack of situational knowledge. This was so evident during the screening of Halloween where students where both quiet and belligerent.

Within the quiet space of our Halloween screening was where Laurie existed both as victim and survivor. As the film transitions from an opening scene obsessed with the evil of Michael Myers and the lure of his mask, Laurie as a horror-infused Sarah Conner (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) in training and waiting becomes culturally pressing.

Laurie, now forty years after the initial attacks of Michael Myers in 1978 has had a tainted life. From having her pre-teen daughter removed from her care by social services to failed marriages and continued conflict with her now adult child, Laurie has endured an ongoing present unjustly impacted by terrible acts of violence. It’s with our beginning to know Laurie of 2018 that co-writer/ director David Gordon Green paints a portrait of the Trump Era. As Laurie is told to get “over ” her victimized past multiple times by her daughter and grand daughter or where pod cast journalist show more humanity towards Michael than her, the politics of the Times Up And Me Too movements are clear:

  • Where is the respect and empathy for the victim in both the past, present and future?
  • Why do we concern ourselves so deeply with perpetuators and not support victims with pure intentions?

It’s within this context of Trump’s America that attempts to undermined or devalue female empowerment, that the quiet in the theatre during the “melodrama” resonated. Laurie, could be the mother grandmother, sister, cousin or friend of anyone in the theatre. Importantly, Laurie could be us.

Furthermore, in regards to Laurie who has been victimized, she is a woman not waiting for a man to protect or save her.  She responds actively to the events of 1978 by transforming herself into a predator. As such, she is a character with forty years of living history who rises from the tradition of horror ; an experiment of repressed cultural anxiety.

  • How do we define victimization?
  • How do we encourage victims to find their voice?

Alone, she needed to take matters into her own hands. Like the brave women who share their trauma and work to support and empower others, Laurie forty years later is writing her own story and next chapter.

As the film turns to the final act and the showdown between Laurie, he daughter, grand daughter and Michael ensues, the reimagining of the final girl is shaped. Whereas the final girl responds and survives as a victim, Laurie has been praying for Michaels return, so she can kill him. In this film Laurie is not a victim. Whereas we’re first re-introduced to Laurie as a recluse, we discover that her domestic and self imposed cage is really a fortified trap ready to be used against Michael upon his return. As Laurie asserts that she loves her family and worked to prepare her daughter for the violence that is typically placed on women (both on and off screen), the quiet of the theatre turns to applause as Michael become prey.

This applause is significant as I teach at a publicly funded all-boy school. As such, sitting in a theatre with 150 plus high school boys, applauding to the action response of Laurie Strode is significant. Her strength and courage resonants and also shows that boy culture is responsive; recognizing that film heroism does not need to be shaped by a male saviour.  As shaped in class today, students were asked to define their political sensibilities through the context of the film.

  • Do they understand Laurie’s struggle?
  • How do they view issues of equity in their own life?
  • How does the film help shape their learning of culture?
  • How does their cultural learning resonant in the film?

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This is the genius of the film and why in the era of the re-boot it works so well. It’s a true continuation not merely of story but life. This story could only be told 40 years later. As Laurie evolved and so did the true life narrative of cultural experience, Laurie’s story is made for our today and for our lens.

Finally, Laurie is a calling card for all mothers to daughters and importantly men. Not to take up arms (as that is a metaphor within the context of genre) but to be ready. As a father to a daughter this resonated with me. I must nurture my daughter to be empowered and equally my son to be responsive, respectful and empowering. Laurie is not doing what a man can do, she’s doing what she must do. Like Sarah Conner before her, Laurie must write her own narrative.

Ultimately in this Halloween, Laurie is more than than a final girl. She is the predator.

Posted in Film Theory, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Movies and Television | Tagged , , , ,

Michael Myers and Our Shared Horror

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With the release of David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018) today, I felt inspired to share my love of teaching horror.

From a critical media literacy lens, the horror genre provides me with a great opportunity to engage in rich cultural studies and dynamic production with students. Although some students are uncomfortable with the gore and tension horror films present, the rich cultural reading that horror provides is worth the short-term discomfort.

The genre forces students to be cultural responsive and aware. To understand horror and a film like Halloween is to have a sound understanding of self and other. This is reinforced that when it comes to producing short films in my Communications Technology courses, the horror genre is the one students seem to most naturally gravitate to. From the haunting and atmospheric aesthetic they love to create to the opportunity to be expressive on their own fears and anxieties, the genre is so rich and layered. Unlike Action cinema that typical reaffirms dominant culture norms, horror, in its history has a tradition of cynicism that speaks to be a critical learner and thinker. Horror is responsive.

Here’s an example of a student produced short film, inspired by the tropes of horror, that speaks to where Gr. 12 students are in their thinking. The learning is grounded in who they at a particular moment in time.

Below, is a classroom ready resource to support the critical understanding of horror and to ready the new Halloween within the context of genre and culture.

Enjoy!

REFLECT

From the opening POV frames of John Carpenters original 1978 Halloween, the idea of American horror transitions from the flesh-eating Zombies of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the depiction of monsters from the Universal classics to the safe space of everyday America. In placing the audience in the point of view of a child murderer in a clown costume the duality of existence emerges; we are Michael Myers in that moment and find discomfort not merely in the act of killing that takes place at the immediate onset of the film but from the visceral effect is creates.

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In recognizing that Michael is a representation of a lived real world, begin your in class study of Halloween with a reflection of what scares.

In small groups, distribute chart paper and markers. Have students reflect on the following:

  • What personally scares you?
  • What’s happening in the world or your direct community today that is scary or creates a sense of anxiety?

Once the small group collaboration is completed share reflection as a large group.

ACTION

Now that you have explored ideas pertaining to fear and anxiety, it’s important to connect lived experience to the horror genre directly. Importantly, genre is more than a category of popular culture (in this case film) and is a reflection of lived and shared experience. Genre studies is cultural studies.

As such, where the American action film celebrates and reaffirms notions of masculinity and revolutionary values of American violence and the romantic comedy reaffirms the formation of the couple, the American horror film rises from the political.

As such, the ideas shared by students within the “REFLECT” component speaks to the genre itself.

Watch the video below celebrated academic Barry Keith Grant, an expert in the field of genre studies. Much of Professor Grant’s work in grounded in the critical understanding of horror film.

 

In watching the video above, what is significant about Professor Grant’s notation of “change,” as it pertains to horror? What does this force an audience to do when reading a horror film through a critical and cultural lens?

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In relation to your reading of Halloween (2018), its important to recognize that what defines horror or adds to it within the context of the political differs from 2018 compared to the original Halloween of 1978.

This is where critical genre studies forces students to engage is a sense of cultural responsiveness – who they are and how they understand and see their world. As such, to address or study Halloween and horror within the framework shared by Professor Grant is to be political and culturally aware.

Individually, read the following short essay written by Professor Grant.

Reflect on the history of the horror genre and how it connects to a shared sense of cultural understanding. 

“Scream on Screams” by Barry Keith Grant

CONSOLIDATE

In watching Halloween 2018, or the original film and reflecting on the ideas shared within the “Reflect” and “Action” it is now time to consolidate student learning.

Using a graphic design program such as Adobe Photoshop Elements or a web-based application such as Canva, create a graphic postcard that highlights the the film narrative, while illustrating your understanding of Professor Grant’s assertion of “myth.”
The graphic should answer the following: What “campfire story” is Halloween 2018 telling? 

Here is an in-class exemplar.

Example

The graphic above was designed in Adobe Photoshop Elements.

Specifications: Width = 6inches , Height = 4 inches, 300 Resolution, 16 Bit

Teacher Notes:

From the voices of the now, Laurie Strobe, forty years after the terror of Halloween (1978) lives in isolation. Although a mother, she is continuously displaced by the male violence she and her friends endured. Suffering from PTSD and haunted by her past for forty years, she has turned into a Sarah Conner-esque figure of resilience.

With her mental state displaced by history of victim marginalization, she prepares for the return of Michael. Rather than hiding, she lurks in both justified paranoia and defiance knowing that Michael Myers, will return one day.

Like the film itself that rises from the discourse of the Me Too and Times Up movements, Laurie rises from her experience of terror to take control of her past and firmly be the author of her present and future. It’s within this context that Jamie Lee Curtis is inspired; mobilized by director David Gordon Green who balances horror with fitting humour to reimagine Laurie as the Ellen Ripley of her story. She must depend on her own skills and mindset to save herself, family and others from Michael.

Whereas other Halloween sequels and reimagining renditions became comic book like and lost their edge by making Michael either fantastical or attempting to humanize him  (Michael’s backstory in Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) weakened the thrill expediently), Director Davide Gordon Green gets back to basics with the goal to remind us that the safety of our homes and neighbourhoods are a misguided construct of All American values. Furthermore, when push comes to shove, it will be the “Final Girl” that saves the day.

Posted in Film Theory, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Movies and Television | Tagged , , , , ,

Students and their Meaning

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In reading Mark O’Connell’s Watching Skies, a deep personal and critical dive into the films of Steven Spielberg and Star Wars, I was reminded how personal the movie experience can be. As Mark shares personal insights of being “separated” from his father after his parents divorce and how the story of Elliott and E.T is a tale of belonging that he intimately understood, the urgency of reading such a critical medium is of paramount importance.

The question within an educational context is: in learning about our input critically can we transform our output meaningfully?

Specifically to me learning thus far in my Master’s course Innovation in Teaching and Learning, this idea of output is essential in addressing the pressing need to be cultural responsive in my teaching.

  • Who are my students?
  • How does the classroom experience allow them to share their experience?
  • How do I provide enrichment opportunities where they are the focus?

Although, my students recently aged me during an in class screening of Jaws and E.T where they proclaimed the films as from the “olden days,” they were enthralled by our critical conversation about Spielberg and his interior meaning. Interior meaning refers to film academic and critic Andrew Sarris and his authorship framework. When looking at Spielberg films (as as director or executive producer), the interior meaning of his films reflects his personal experience; primarily being a product of divorce and growing up estranged from father. Along with this, his films tend to have a domestic quality where the prescribed tranquility of the American family is missing or non-existent.

The lesson of internal meaning, speaks to the student experience as learners growing in their critical dissection of media text and in the urgency of being culturally responsive in the classroom . As a teacher, the lessons derived from Spielberg is a portal into the interior meaning of my students. This interior is cultural ; what shapes the personal narrative of the students in my classroom and how can those experiences be leveraged to blossom collective sharing and understanding?

Unlike in the past with my Gr.12 students who typically begin the year with small group video production that is genre based, I began with authorship this year and dialogued about the importance of representative voice not just in media but dominant culture. In this learning students were challenged to reflect on who they are, what shapes them and how they see the world. From there, each student using their personal smart phone was challenged to produce a one minute documentary about themselves; a snapshot into who they are.

Although I was earnest in my attempt to nurture personalized output, I wondered if the experience mattered.

What did the students gain?

Below is a short video that highlights two students who openly share about their reflective and creative journey.

In speaking to all of the students about their films, I do believe that they gained sense of empowerment from sharing an important aspect of their lives so directly and intimately. Ultimately, I know that I gained a new found respect for the students. Not only are they growing in their understanding of critical literacy and production but importantly they provided me with the privilege to know them in a new light.

I thank them and are inspired by them.

 

Posted in Education, Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Student Voice, Technology Education, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Cultural Responsive Pedagogy: Reflecting on Purpose

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As a write this blog as part of  my own going reflection and my Masters of Education course Innovation in Teaching & Learning , I can confidently assert that I value the enrichment of professional learning. Throughout the course my teaching career, I’ve never shied away from continued learning and take pride in that fact that as Communications Technology teacher my concern is not overtly technology but the way in which students can leverage the technological tools to share who they are. It’s who students are and who they want to become as people that truly matters. Its within this context that I will explore the following inquiry, but in regards to my Master’s course and my classroom practice.

How can my further understanding of Cultural Responsive Pedagogy be enriched through media literacy and digital modes of production.

Within the context of my Communications Technology class, I overly assert that my mission is not to create Steven Spielberg minions, but rather empower students to grow in their voice, share their point of view and through their distinct and personal lens, create new meaning or critique established norms. Its within this context that I embraced an opportunity to co-develop a PLC on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy for my school community and to produce a Culturally Relevant Teaching video for the Ontario English Catholic Teacher Association (OECTA), which is still in production.

Both experiences, recent as of this past summer, provided for incredible learning. In regards to the PLC module, it provided me an opportunity to research with purpose and to reflect on my own practice within the context of Institutional, Personal and Instructional frameworks as outlined in the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Build Capacity Series on Cultural Responsive Pedagogy:

  • do educational districts or schools provide traditionally marginalized groups with empowered mobilization;
  • do we as a teaching village reflect on our own bias (conscience or unconscious); 
  • do we within the context of the classroom, ultimately nurture an environment that is not about “curriculum” but the “souls of the classroom.”

Just yesterday, I had the distinct opportunity to welcome Dr. Marlyn Morris to my school as a guest speaker during staff PLC time. I had the privilege to collaborate with Dr. Morris in the production of the OECTA video resource produced over the summer. In working and learning from Dr. Morris, her assertion of students as the “souls of the classroom,” challenges teachers to intentionally embed students’ personal cultural experience into their teaching. As such, the students are the continuous driver for learning and provide each student and the teacher with opportunities to engage in an educational experience that is unique, diverse and culturally relevant to those in the classroom. As students are charged to be active citizens in a globalized world, we as teachers must be charged to nurture the promise of dignity for all.  As a teachers, it’s urgent to embrace diversity, equity and dignity in our classrooms if the goal is for a better today and tomorrow.

As shared by Dr. Morris, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy is a mind shift that recognizes the importance of reciprocal learning; one that acknowledges that the teacher is not the sole vessel for learning and knowledge. In that, students can provide a great richness to the shared experience of a classroom setting if who they are is known and intentionally leveraged. Furthermore, our pedagogy must be informed by those students in our classrooms. We are not to teach from how we learn but how they learn as a collective and individuals. This mind shift won’t be easy and my sense from yesterday’s PLC is that teachers, although enthralled by the ideas Dr. Morris shared, need time to reflect. To invite students to share who they are, we as educators must know who we are. What shapes as the adults in the room? What is our purpose in teaching?

As teachers, we must reflect on our purpose. If our “calling” was formed on the the promise of a good pension, extended holidays and two months off in the summer, then perhaps a new career is in the waiting. As Dr. Morris shared yesterday, our work must be with purpose beyond a particular subject or assessment. 

More to come!

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

Happy 1st Day of School!

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It’s the start of another school year and I can’t believe that it’s been 13 years since I walked into my first classroom as a permanent teacher. The pre-day butterflies I had then have persisted each and every year and I’m so happy for that. These pre-day jitters reinforce the excitement to both serve and learn with my students. In the 13 years since I walked into my first classroom (period 1 Gr. 10 College English) I’ve never wavered in my commitment to providing students with what I hope is a fulfilling experience; challenging them to evolve as critical and creative thinkers who can leverage the power of communications technology to empower their voice and connect with a world outside of their classroom. The journey, regardless of the time passed, is always thrilling and one grounded in constant change.

As I begin this new school year and after so many years of classroom instruction and leading adult learning, I’m thrilled to share my new learning journey with my students. As they begin a new chapter today, I too begin a journey that reinforces my commitment to life-long learning. I’m thrilled to be a Queen’s University Graduate Student in the Professional Masters of Education program with a focus on media literacy. This new chapter is strictly about the love of learning. It’s not about “climbing” the district ladder or looking for a life outside the classroom, but rather my yearning to be a student again. As a teacher I find that my own learning is essential in ensuring my students’ experience is timely and relevant. As such, this experience will serve me and the students I teach; a great investment on so many levels.

Although I have a specialization in Communications Technology and Film Studies and have extensive experience is producing and teaching media, it was personally pressing to continue in my own studies – to be challenged and to be provoked within an academic framework that will nurture and evolve my teaching practice. As such, I very much look forward to the next two years of learning; to collaborate with colleagues and to be challenged in my life-long learning journey.

As this new school year begins, let’s remember that schooling is empowerment; the more we learn the more empowered we are and become. As the this new school year begins, I feel incredibly empowered and hope that that my students have an experience that gives them everything they need and more.

Posted in Education, Educational Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

“Wicked” and the “art” of Decoding Difference

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As a parent and teacher, its hard at times to be optimistic about the world in which your children and students live. Perhaps, never in my own lifetime, has there been such an sense of dismay; a culture that seems to be indifferent about difference. From issues plaguing indigenous Canadians to the realities of supporting the working poor in communities all across the country, its important to recognize that difference, like a movie or an appealing advertisement, is a construct. It’s a construct that places blame and creates divides. From shallow proclamations in casual conversation that indigenous people are suffering due to their own incompetence or that the working poor are “lazy,” we can not afford to be indifferent about the creation of difference. Dignity, respect and community are real words with real meaning and as such we must take the intentional opportunity to dialogue with young people about the need to be critical thinkers who can recognize and decode potentially dangerous, isolating and divisive rhetoric. This is why, I love to engage my own children in the arts. As a portal to communication and sharing, the arts have the ability to seemingly engross in spectacle and engage in the intimacy of conversation. Whether it be a blockbuster film with a conscious, a photography exhibit or a musical, the arts liberates and challenges thinking. This doesn’t mean a particular message must be agreed upon but rather the provocation of conversation is what matters if you’re really watching and listening.

Recently, my wife and I had the pleasure to experience Wicked with our 7 and 5 year olds. Although they’ve watched The Wizard of Oz repeatedly, they were yearning to find out more about the Wicked Witch of the West; the fierce and unapologetic villain who in the 1939 film is a shallow vessel for evil personified. Her motivation is unknown and in such the perspective of the film is limited. As with any narrative, the question rests: What is Real?

Whereas the film is Dorothy centric, the theatrical Wicked provides a contemporary and urgent point of view; a colonial an imperialistic Oz plagued by the spirit of difference and one that’s built on lies, layered representations of truth and the placement of blame.  Published in 1995 and premiering on stage in 2003, I cant help but think of the story’s telling of the how the “Wicked Witch” came to be, is so connected to the cultural discourse of 1995, 2003 and even seeing it for the first time in 2018. As the Wizard himself says in the play, truth is all based on perception. Regardless, the perspective of the play and one that is ever pressing, is that the Wicked Witch was very much created; naturally good hearted but systemically and purposely vilified and used as a scapegoat to protect and justify power. Think about that for a moment; “purposely vilified.” Whether it be refuges painted as terrorists in hiding or a black male youth as a potential walking threats, those in power create the difference and a responsible society must be composed of people who can see that difference is being created.

This is important conversation to be had, both with children and adults. During the intermission I asked my children how Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the East) is treated and if we should treat people who are “different,” in such a way. I asked them to make a connection to their world and provoke conversation. We can’t underestimate kids; they pick up on the home conversation, table talk and what news is playing on the television. We have to be brave enough, whether at home or in the classroom, to have real conversations and find a way to navigate the real world talk.  This is the power of the arts; a vessel for dialogue. This doesn’t mean we have to agree but we should very much listen and share.

Posted in Media Literacy and Pop Culture, Uncategorized, Wizard of Oz | Tagged , , ,

How worried should you be about the Ontario Sex-Ed Repeal? Very!

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So, how dangerous is the recent repel of the Ontario sex Ed curriculum? Very.

I don’t write this reflection through the lens of a physical education specialization or experience – far from it. However, I reflect if my own children (7 and 5), my students in high school and the importance of teaching and learning that doesn’t serve a political party’s ideology, but,  is grounded in time and space.

The change in the curriculum, bringing us back 20 years, speaks to a paramount disconnect between the role educational systems are to play and the “sensitivity” of individuals. Education is to serve the greater good; grounded in a critical understanding of culture, student learning must be current and relevant. Since culture changes and values evolve, it’s important for teaching and learning to do the same. The role of government is to lead and in this case is a potential warning of what is to come; a fragmentation of progressive education that nurtures a critical discourse for students to understand the world in which they live.

As a parent, why would I not want my grade 1 child to know about consent? This is a urgent conversation not only about self but others. Or, to know the proper name for genital. As such, don’t we want to encourage respect for self and other and the maturity to know one’s body in scientific terms?

Or, as my daughter enters grade 3 the understanding of “difference” and the diversity that exists in her community. Perhaps the conversations will be challenging but we cannot afford to think less of our 7 and 8 years old. As the television and movies they watch become increasingly inclusive and potentially “censor-free” depending on where and what they are watching, it’s a reminder that we’re not living in 1998. Barney and the Teletubbies are no longer on the air and culture has evolved. As such, so does the conversation. It must evolve and make students active citizens of the present and future – not the past.

Pressingly and most disconcerting, the 1998 curriculum was developed at the time of dial up internet. This speaks to how out-of-date it really is. The 1998 curriculum is not the “greatest hits” of contemporary time and place. What about today’s use of smartphones where students must be educated on the pros and cons of social media, the importance of positive digital citizenship, the understanding of their digital footprint and respect for self and other online. The culture of Snapchat alone is a curriculum in and of itself; students at a young age are posting and sharing inappropriate images and messaging that hinders self, others and cultivates a negative social environment. How can this conversation be actively and purposely avoided? This is dangerous.

To eliminate an intentional opportunity to talk about technology and its use within a hyper connected world where young people escape into apps that parents are perhaps not well-versed on the hidden context, is dangerous and irresponsible. To avoid conversations about cultural difference is to amplify the politics of difference. It’s when we stop having current conversations that education becomes stagnant and strips you people of necessary preparedness. In case of Ontario students, a world that is connected and yet divided. For our students, the goal should be to establish Ontario students as leaders in a world in need of leadership that is forward thinking and progressive – reverting back to 1998 is a statement about the value of education itself.

In the end, regardless of who you voted for on June 7, a repeal back to 1998 should be worrisome. It’s one thing to make revisions or amendments, but to harken back to the time of dial up is a stark mistake and has the potential to be dangerous. If you’re worried, don’t be passive. Call or visit your M.P.P and have a real conversation; one that is informed and is committed to ensuring that young people of today are prepared to live activity in world much different than 1998.

Posted in Educational Leadership, family and education, Technology Education | Tagged , , ,