In the movies

17 years ago

To the editor:
I received an e-mail from a colleague that mentioned an obscure fact. What is the connection between John Wayne and Presque Isle? I do not wish to encroach on Richard Graves’ territory but I suspect that he may not even be aware of this little known bit of history.
    Much has been made about the losses suffered from the loss of air bases up home. Yet, somehow the tenacity of the County has always come through. Even now the sense of self reliance pervades much of what goes on. It begins early with the admonishment to use our imaginations. Be willing to try something different. And we see it in the small businesses that have sprouted up through out the County. Our schools have made this contribution to the effort continually. Yes, the well intentioned, if myopic, visionaries in Augusta continue to deride the efforts of the schools in the County while having to admit that we do some things better than anyone else.
I think of this as I face my own classes of students. Here, in Shanghai, the schools are just beginning to embrace many of the concepts that have been used for thirty or more years back home. It has been notable that many of my students are surprised when I try to adapt my teaching style to many different types of learners. Yet, there is a grudging understanding that people learn in different ways and at different speeds. This concept wreaks havoc amongst those who believe that one size fits all and that economies of scale are useful in teaching students.
My classes are approximately 35 students in size and I have six of them. The time for an average class is 90 minutes once a week. It works out to almost three minutes of talk time per student. I bit of a shock when our own system is pushing for classes of 15 students. This is one reason I am trying to use Shakespeare in my speaking program. Willy is adept at writing plays with a lot of characters. Certainly enough for one class.
It was heartening to see one of the papers with my article in it and throughout that issue, stories about how my colleagues back home are using Shakespeare at all levels of education. Who knew that mathematics could be found in a worm riddled play nearly four hundred years old? Yet, the technical aspects of stained glass illuminate the idea. What makes Shakespeare accessible is that he does write for all
audiences.
My students are learning that once you master the basic vocabulary; the who, the what, why, how, when, and where of everyday communication you can begin to build on the idea that another culture has similar concepts. This goes against the grain of many who would argue for the Three Rs. yet, in that argument we find hints of Shakespeare. And this is the key: Anything, any writer, and place can become a lesson. Teachers in the SAD 1 system are constantly reiterating this idea just as their colleagues are in the other school districts. The proof: Look at the school farm! Who would have thought that a pile of dirt could be so fruitful?
My own students are struggling with a language they consider bizarre. One student told me that English just does not sound like Chinese. True. But that same student is also excited by the prospect that there are new ideas to be gained by learning another language. More importantly, those who do speak another language suffer through many of the same issues that are part of the student’s own language. How do you manage affairs of state? How do you find food, love, and life?
Learning to read and respect the literature of another culture helps us to understand our own better. It may take many years before we see the results. If the foundations are laid down well then students learn how to be students and in turn how to teach others. And this is where the innovations and desire to experiment that are hallmarks of the County and the SAD 1 system serve the needs of the County.
John Wayne would be 100 years old this year. In the 1940s he made a movie called “Islands in the Sky”. It was about the search for a missing plane. Wayne lead the search team and they flew out of Presque Isle Air base. Even the Great One managed to pronounce it correctly!

Orpheus Allison
Shanghai, China
orpheusallison@mac.com