Saturday, October 25, 2008


Life is full of choices. The smaller ones, like what to wear, how fast to drive to work, or what to eat for lunch, do not affect us significantly (unless of course, you choose not to wear clothes, get pulled over for speeding, arrested for not wearing clothes, and then get salmonella from the peanut-butter they feed you in prison). Others, like what career to pursue, whom to marry, and what to do in our relationships with others, are more lasting. Choices, it seems, often determine our destiny (and our brand of peanut butter). Such a story of choices, consequences, and redemption comes from one of the oldest surviving pieces of literature (no, not the original National Enquirer). This “story” is one from the Bible. The Old Testament, to be exact, unless of course you’re Jewish, then it’s from the Torah and Books of Moses. Or if you’re Muslim, well, then your story detoured back with Abraham anyway. It is a story of a young man named Joseph, a dreamer who made choices, had other choices forced upon him, and ultimately saved his family, his nation, and God’s chosen people (not bad for an old book that doesn’t have any pictures, eh?). It is also the story told in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as performed by the SCERA Youth Theater at the SCERA in Orem (The SCERA Youth Theater being the only group with more children than one of the story’s main characters, Jacob).

The tale of Joseph begins in the land of Canaan. Canaan, in this case, being somewhere near Agrabah (Joseph was distant cousins to Aladdin). Our story is told, or retold, as the case may be, by two spunky, peppy, and amazingly talented singers (think Ariel in Footloose, after all, she knew her Bible). In the land of Canaan are so many children that it could be mistaken for Utah County. One reason for all of these children is Canaan’s most famous resident – Grizzly Adams. Oh sorry, wrong story. I meant Jacob. Jacob lived in Canaan, and Jacob had lots of children… and lots of wives (no Utah jokes, honest, it’s too easy). Being a parent, Jacob had his favorites (as all honest parents do). His favorite son, for he had twelve, was Joseph (Think Huck Finn, but with a really good singing voice). As a sign of his favor for Joseph, Jacob attends homemaking class and designs a bright rainbow-colored coat. It’s multi-colored, it’s psychedelic, and it looks like the parachute you bounced balls with in elementary school. Joseph’s multi-colored chute, however fun for him, angers his eleven brothers who encapsulate what happens when “Lost Boys” grow up. Their reaction and jealousy to Brother Joe provides the catalyst for our story, and some excellent songs as well.

The plan Joseph’s lost brothers devises consists of them throwing him into a pit, selling him into slavery to the Pirates of the Old Testament, and killing a passing cloud. Then to cover their evil deed, they hire Zack Morris to sing a western song to their father, while several cactuses in surgical scrubs back him up (Does a cactus doctor ask for a scalpel, or just use their arm? I wonder…).

Meanwhile Joseph is taken to the Starship Enterprise. I mean Egypt (but their triangular uniforms throw me off). And in Egpyt, there is an episode of Desperate Egyptian Housewives being filmed, starring the “worldly” wife of an Egpytian Millionaire, Potiphar (Think Donald Trump, but with better hair. Same type of wife though). After unsuccessfully trying to seduce poor Joe, Potiphar’s wife makes a false accusation that lands poor Joe in prison (He should have called Johnny Cochran). Strangely enough, prison is filled with children (stupid child labor laws). In these surroundings Joseph doesn’t lose hope, but instead sings about his people being promised a “land of their own,” (obviously a promise not made by a Palestinian). While in prison, Joseph meets some interesting men – Don Quixote and Jean Valjean (oops, wrong story again). In truth, he meets a Butler and Baker (where’s the candlestick maker?) The butler is a cross between William Shakespeare and Willy Wonka, who tells Joseph about his dream, which is interpreted to mean the Pharaoh will soon release him from prison and rehire him into service. The baker, in contrast, has his dream horribly deciphered to mean he will soon be executed (The lesson here kids: don’t wear a beret, nobody likes the French). After the dream interpretations are proven to be correct, the stage is set (or lit) for Joseph to rise from his prison and into the service of The King (also known as Pharaoh). Such a rise is illustrated by a very psychedelic song of “Go, go Joe,” with yellow hair, afros, and things that imply the baker may have been guilty after all, of putting something else in his bread.

After a short intermission, we return to the golden land of Egypt, where a sock-hop is underway. The poodle skirts and white shirts are accented by magical moon staffs, when Joseph is called before Pharaoh Ramses Presley. The Pharaoh, it seems, had some strange dreams of his own (no more eating tainted Peanut Butter before bedtime). Combining the spirit of Elvis with the hair of Alice on “The Brady Bunch” the Pharaoh tells Joseph of his prophetic dreams, which for Joseph signify the next 14 years of crop production in Egpyt (For your own dream interpretations, call 1-900-GO-GO-JOE). As a result of these correct dream interpretations Joseph is made the first Secretary of Agriculture and given a coveted “white hard hat” to symbolize his office. The poodle-skirts invent the concept of “groupies” as they sing to Joseph’s praise.

While the diva-tastic narrators explain the story could end here, we return to Agrabah, I mean Canaan, to see what has become of the Brothers Joseph. They, it seems, haven’t learned the lesson of the Baker, and choose to wear berets. This brings down famine, hunger, and a melancholy song upon them. They reminisce over their former parties, banquets, and piñatas (If only the piñata had looked like a cloud, they might have hit it). They resolve to solve their dietary problems by building a barricade and storming the Bastille (oh wait, that’s the other French story). What they do decide to do, is drag themselves and their youngest brother to Egpyt (I wonder if the youngest brother could pull the sword from the stone…).

And so, in an example of dramatic irony, the angry and jealous brothers of Joseph end up bowing before his feet asking for food (not recognizing him, which might seem weird, until you see Superman magically change into Clark Kent by only adding glasses). The Egpytian palm trees, which were obviously grown near Las Vegas, provide an excellent background for their reuniting with Joseph (who, judging by his new wardrobe, is now fighting G. I. Joe). Joseph begins the first welfare system by rationing food to his brothers, but secretly hiding a goblet in the youngest brother’s sack. As a test for his brothers, Joseph learns they are now honest men, as they sing of Benjamin’s innocence (and one wears the “birthday cake of innocence” on his head to prove it. The bravest brother must be the one stuck with the pink sombrero). Finally revealing himself to his brothers, his father comes to Egypt to reunite with his son (and make him a true Jedi). The show then ends with an elaborate “mega-mix” performed by the Blue Man group.

And so ends the journey of Joseph in the land of Canaan, Egypt, and Agrabah. Having come through sibling rivalry, seduction, a prison sentence, the psychic network, and mardi gras, Joseph is able at last to achieve his full potential, and stand on Pharaoh’s right hand (or right staff, as the case may be). In this capacity he is able to save his family, his nation, and God’s “chosen people.” All because of several choices he makes. Joseph chooses not to give in to Potiphar’s wife. Joseph chooses to trust a higher power while in prison. He chooses to help his family, even after they have betrayed and sold him. Joseph is after all, a dreamer. It may be that the dreamer believes in the virtue of people, in the triumph of good over evil, and in higher powers that can not be seen or proven. And it may be that those qualities are what make him a dreamer. However, his choices, like the clothing we wear, driving speed, and food we consume, have consequences. And the story of Joseph and his psychedelic parachute shows that often the choices that are hardest to make, or hardest to explain, are those that help us the most. And it is often the paths that we would not choose that lead to where we ultimately truly want to go. And even if that place isn’t full of poodle skirts, piñatas, and shiny metallic palm trees, it may still be, for us, the promised land.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Teaching Philosophy

When I applied for Student Teaching at the U of U last year, this was what I wrote to answer "What is your teaching philosophy"

The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.
- Anatole France

When I was 12 years old, I approached my mother in the way only a child can, and asked if it would be possible for me to take piano lessons. This is shocking, considering how many parents plead and beg and torture their children to force them to practice and take such lessons, but even more shocking was my mother’s response. She said no. She said she knew I’d likely quit soon after and it would be a waste of time and money. Thus began my passion and determination to play the piano nonetheless. The experience not only taught me a lot about determination, but also about one of the driving forces in my life – education. I have no greater frustration than not understanding a concept, an idea, or the process whereby something occurs. Nothing makes me angrier than when I am unable to try something, learn about something, or find out more concerning a given item or idea. The reason, I believe, is a passion for education. It is a passion for knowing the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of any situation, and then being able to analyze and act upon that knowledge. It is this passion, and not the passion for teaching young minds, the love of kids, the desire to teach history, a respect for social science, or even the longing for summer vacations that fuels my aspiration to be a teacher (although I do possess all of those things).

In regards to my actual teaching philosophy, I take a cue from Thomas Huxley, the English biologist, who said, “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.

I believe an education is truly “gained” in the fire of experience. Thus, it may be irrelevant how many facts about the Civil War a student can repeat, if that individual doesn’t know the causes and effects of slavery, or the reasons it must be abolished. Knowing the difference between the Axis and Allies in World War II is immaterial to a student who does not see how and why Hitler gained power. And the settling of the country now known as the United States is unimportant if a person does not understand basic human rights, equality, and what “freedom from tyranny” truly means. Some labels I’ve found for my style over the course of my own education are “transcendentalist,” or, “existentialist,” followed by “post-modernist.” What such terms mean, in my definition, is that I believe students have a right and privilege to learn. They need to hear the course of history taught them with the passion that exists for the human race. However, more vitally, they need, and deserve to be allowed, to process the course of history, question the decisions their race has made, and then make choices and actions accordingly. I think the true role of education is, ironically, to bring up individuals who will question everything they are told, vocalize and share their opinions rationally, defend their positions, and act in such a way to bring about change. It may be that I’ve seen Dead Poets Society too many times, but I believe words and ideas can change the world, but it must be done through the educational system.

Relating to the role that educators, administrators, and students play, I am reminded of the Roman Senate. There are rules and regulations for parliamentary procedure, and there are essentials needed for a school to function, which reach beyond electricity, food, chairs, or a chalk board (though nowadays it is more likely to be an overhead and laptop). There should be a system of discipline for those that interfere with a learning environment. There needs to be a means whereby students with special needs can receive additional attention. Ultimately, however, I consider these administrative functions, and the role of “teacher” as merely a Socratic mediator who conducts conversations, repeats observations, and struggles not to taint the educational environment with their own opinions. This is, naturally, a “goal” and not a concrete reality. Teachers and administration are also prey to standardized tests, state-run curriculum, and all of the chaos associated with daily school schedules. There are specific points to be covered, assessments to be given, grades to be assigned, parents to conference with, and daily lessons to plan, outline, and adapt for individual students. On top of that, there are as many different learning methods as there are students. Some need visual stimulation. Other would prefer didactic multiple-choice answers. Many would choose outdoor “hands on” activities, and there are those who desire quiet and personal reflection. All of these styles must be addressed and accounted for. In addition teachers must follow all ethical guidelines, maintain certain standards, and plan ahead for every conceivable “contingent” plan.

Ultimately, what has evolved for me during my college career is not the desire to teach. That desire is as strong as ever, and I even see a concrete realization of it drawing nearer. Instead, the way I view and acknowledge this “dream” has been adjusted. Like Robert Hutchins observed when he said, “Education is a kind of continuing dialogue, and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view,” I now recognize and more greatly appreciate those different points of view. My way of teaching is not the only way or necessarily the best way (though it may be the best way for me). My way of learning is certainly not the best or only way for students to learn. In addition, the impressions of how a school must be run are different dependent upon location, time, specific needs, and administration. Teaching and education are as diverse as the student population within them. Just as diversity in a classroom should be valued, so it should be in the teaching profession.

So why become a teacher? Yes, I love kids, which is mandatory for prospective teachers. True, I have a passion for history and the “human drama” that it has written. And yes, I do like having my summers off. However, ultimately it is the opportunity, privilege, and duty that education has for awakening a mind, creating and satisfying curiosity, and providing tools to change the world that draws me to the classrooms I spent nearly twelve years learning within. I love to understand. I enjoy knowing why things happen. I am passionate for the gaining of knowledge. I want to share that love, enjoyment, and passion with students. Who knows, we may even change the world. I will be a teacher. And yes, I do play the piano.


Long long ago, in a galaxy far, far away... also known as Utah County, I used to write a column. It was a theater review column, but instead of reviewing the actual merits of a show, focused more on the odd plot twists, funyn costume choices, and bizzarre things that make watching live theater so much fun (just ask my friend Mindo, she says I talk WAY too much during shows).

So... in order to have someone to make my funny comments to, like "Hey, doesn't Sweeney Todd's Hatt look just like the Ark of the Covenant!" I started the column. Well, and Miriam Latour, who is one of the smartest and most amazing people I know (who hosts, the BEST source for Utah Theater info) asked me to do this column thing. And Hogwash was born.

In addition, like many people who I admire (Robbie and Glade especially) I like to write (read as "ramble") so having a blog allows that. I plan on using this to post the random theater reviews I do (and past ones I've done) as well as some other random writing things.

(A post some other time will have to explain why "Hogwash" and why "Hedgehog" but tonight I'm not in the mood)