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Friday, November 5, 2010

You will read what you sow.

I will admit that my knowledge of Superheroes and Comic Heroes is both limited and relatively new.  Growing up, comic books were forbidden reading materials in our home except those Illustrated Classics Comics with titles like Arabian Nights, Prince Valiant, Hiawatha and Heidi, titles I am sure I would have rejected in any other format. After all they were “ featuring stories by the world’s greatest authors.” 

I remember knowing a little bit about Superman and Spiderman and reading a stray one or other at somebody else’s house. The irony is, had my mother known the ethnic roots of the comic book genre, she might have been welcoming of its inclusion in the myth-making of our childhood; she who was so approving of all that arrived stamped with “Jews were here.”       

The Madness of Gaines

 At some point, I was able to sneak Mad Magazines (also begun by a Jewish guy) in past this ever-watchful Gate Keeper and was enthralled by Spy vs. Spy and that awkwardly illustrated tri-fold back cover with the words that reconfigured to make some vaguely political statement that I mostly understood. To my young mind these magazines were the ultimate expression of subversive thinking.  Who didn’t love the clever cartoon parodies of popular movies and television shows?  What about the mini-cartoons that were done outside the lines! Weren’t these all just building the foundations of what would become the contemporary graphic novel, a genre with no limitations that continually astounds and astonishes when well done? 

I cannot resist a nod to WATCHMEN, a graphic novel that my 15 year old has read at least four times and his father and I have also read twice.  He even bought a copy for his 90 year old grandfather to read.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  It is remarkable.

Who says books have to be a certain thing? Clearly with all of the hubbub going on in publishing, with the advent of Ebooks and the very real possibility of books containing Advertisements to both defray costs and well as build brand loyalty within genres as well as support writers, there is much to consider. 

Just ponder the possibilities for a moment.  Think about your favorite writers.  Now pick a book.  What product would the reader of this book be likely to purchase?  For adult romance novels, what might be a better choice than a tip-in coupon for the Kleenex brand and perhaps a lovely sherry?  For Science Fiction books, Science and Natural History Museums promotions and a discounted subscription to Discovery Magazine? For Cookbooks, imagine a mini William-Sonoma catalog or Food magazine subscription solicitation.  In Westerns and International thrillers, we might find coupons for cigarettes and alcohol, even Dude Ranch vacations. In Historical Fiction, perhaps we would find Bombay Furniture brochures and local Antique Dealers Advertisements or packaged trips to visit locales mentioned in the book.

Books represent many things throughout our lives. And I remember in particular a pajama party at the home of my ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Hirschhorn.  She was a horsy-faced spinster, who invited a small group of girls to her home to welcome Evangeline, our Native American just-off-the-reservation exchange student, to the girls world of fuzzy slippers and baby doll pajamas toting hair dryers with inflatable bonnets in round pink suitcases.  Mrs. Hirshhorn was sharp tongued and opinionated and in her class we endlessly conjugated sentences, memorized the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and how the boards did shrink, and listened to her chastise students who did not meet with her approval. 

She rather less than generously included me in the festivities, not for my attentive scholarly behavior I was informed, but rather that I seemed so well liked by the others which she found curious. Damned with faint praise and just beginning to understand the cruelty of adults, I packed my sleepover goodies nonetheless and attended.

According to another attendee, a bit of a rabble-rouser like myself, Mrs. Hirshhorm prepared chicken with a corn flake crust for dinner. I don’t remember that but I do remember wandering around the house after dinner with this same person and finding a copy of Jaqueline Susanne’s Valley of the Dolls, eagerly looking for the dirty parts and getting caught by Ms. Hirshhorn.  My mother certainly would not have approved of this, even written by the Jewess Jacqueline. 

This brings me to the subject of public schools and their current state of affairs.  Those who know me understand that I spend lots of hours in them and it’s really a conundrum to be an educator, parent of a public school student and a taxpayer. The solutions to the problems are not easy and are not just about money. But I think public schools are really missing the boat of the funding gravy train that so many others have figured out.

My simple answer to the financial shortcomings is corporate sponsorship.  Nike might underwrite Football and Basketball.  Nascar would sponsor the Driver Ed program. Apple would support Graphic Design courses. Microsoft could support the Engineering programs.  Goodyear would sponsor the school buses along with Geico Insurance or Progressive, thereby actually living up to their name.  The pharmaceutical companies would support the biology and chemistry classes.  It just seems limitless to me. Each Corporaton would decide what courses or programs they wanted to sponsor, draw up a budget and the funds would be distributed nationally based on the class subscription at the same rate per student.  Local taxes could come down, the corporate images would be enhanced and teachers might finally be paid a decent wage and be rewarded for their performance -- when merited.  Tenure can disappear because of competitive wages and rewards.

In the meantime, educational administrators could attend to the work of providing their beleaguered staff with more training for differentiation in the classroom and get the breathing room to restructure the system to fit the needs of our next century, which must include getting rid of the dinosaurs. 

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