Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Where Are the Adults?

The gray hair in my eyebrows, beard, and elsewhere on my face and body notwithstanding I still think of myself as a kid.  I suppose I always will.  Of course, I'm a kid of certain type, the one who was good in school so could go off on his own rather than having to follow what the rest of the class was doing.  My first memory of this was actually not in school at all.  It was in day camp and I was seven, summer 1962.  Somehow I got proficient in swimming and was able to pass a test for the deep water pool.  Maybe there was one other kid in the group who swam with me in that pool or maybe it was just me.  I don't recall.  The rest of the kids in the group were in the other pool, the one with shallow water.  Their safety was assured because of that.  I may have been the better swimmer at the time, but my safety was also assured by the lifeguards.  There were adults around to take care of things if something went awry.

This pattern of being a kid off on my own repeated in many different contexts.  In some sense the public library is like a deep water swimming pool.  I frequently went to the Windsor Park branch of the Queens borough library, but I also went to the library in Fresh Meadows and the one on Northern Boulevard.   I have no recollection now as to why we'd go to one library or the the other but I do have some vague notion that at the Windsor Park library once in a while a librarian would recommend a book for me to read. 

The math team, which I joined in eighth grade, was like this too.  At this point I was twelve or thirteen, and obviously there were some others on the team, with a few who were ahead of me with the math.  But it was mainly still a solitary effort in the sense that I didn't learn math from them.   More importantly, the teacher who supervised the math team provided a level of comfort for me to try it out.   She had come to our house years earlier to tutor my sister and remembered me from that.  If I recall correctly, she asked me to be on the math team.  I wouldn't have done it otherwise.

Econ graduate school was definitely like this as I had only one undergraduate course in economics, essentially no foundation whatsoever.  I did hang around with my classmates for socializing.  But I ventured into my own little world to learn the economics.  And because I was able to get a desk in the Math Center, I was always close to some faculty whom I could talk to about the economics.

Getting involved with learning technology was another example of the familiar pattern, though by then it had modified some.   I was in mid career and at that age it would be friends rather than teachers who would hold my hand.  It was Larry DeBrock who provided the path of entry.  Somehow the very first time I taught with technology, which was with PacerForum in spring 1995, I was able to get on the CHP server, even though I hadn't been involved with CHP yet and wouldn't get involved until 9 years later.  Less than a year later Burks invited me to join SCALE in an administrative capacity and that too was a whole new world, one where I felt as if I was in over my head, though somehow I was able to stay afloat. And I still sought out adults for counsel and edification.  There was much knowledge on campus about teaching with technology from experience prior to SCALE.  I tried to take a pulse of that where I could.  Once in a while I'd write about it, for example see this piece entitled Homage to Jerry Uhl

Sometimes kids try on adult hats and I've done that a few times in my life, both professionally and personally.  But in just about every instance of this what to do was not at issue or it was quite straightforward to work out.  The hard thing and really all that mattered was whether I'd have enough follow through to do what had to be done.  I've learned enough about myself to know that on occasion I can do that, especially when it is necessary and if I think it is important.

Yet for all that found maturity I prefer kid mode.  Blogging definitely fits the mold.  Boy blunder, hoping to find the path to discovery, gets lost in the woods and then proceeds to make it up as he goes along, just to find his way home.  In this case I interrupted the writing before starting in on this paragraph, wondering if I was too somber in what was produced above, apparently left with another partial essay headed for the virtual dustbin.  After a while I went to do the treadmill and searched the DVR for something to keep me occupied while doing that.  I found Inherit the Wind, which had aired on TCM.

An introduction to the movie is given by Ben Mankiewicz.  From that I learned that Spencer Tracy was younger when making that film than I am now and before that Tracy had entered into a quasi retirement.   (His previous film from a couple of years earlier, The Old Man and the Sea, is also a tour de force.)  He was lured out of that retirement by Stanley Kramer, who both directed and produced the movie.  Stanley Kramer promised that Fredric March and Gene Kelly would co-star, at the time an idle boast but one that Kramer was ultimately able to deliver on, after having signed Tracy.

In this story Kramer is the adult.  He had a lot of talent to work with, no doubt, and much of the success of the film can be attributed to the great acting.   Yet he was the one to put it all together.  Do note that Kramer was Tracy's junior by 13 years.  (Coincidentally, Kramer has the same birth year as my dad and they both went to NYU, graduating in the same year.  Maybe they knew each other.)  Being the adult has nothing to do with being the oldest, as every child whose parents are getting on in age understands fully.

We need more Stanley Kramers now.  Where are they to be found?

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