I’ve been on blog hiatus for the past week as I attended a series of Heinemann meetings here in beautiful York, Maine, just north of Heinemann’s Portsmouth, NH headquarters. We’ve been talking about the state of progressive education and how our company is faring in this dismal time of mandated curriculum and high-stakes testing. It’s a challenge but Heinemann will always be a beacon to teachers who strive to do what’s right for kids—create child-centered classroom experiences that engage students and allow them to think critically and develop a lifelong love of learning. It’s always inspiring to be around my colleagues and I can’t wait to get home and start acquiring more books! I may be the only editor at Heinemann who uses a blog as a recruitment tool but I can already think of two teachers I met through this blog that I hope will write for us. If you are an educator who believes in a progressive, constructivist approach to education, please email me if you want to discuss a possible book. Two of our authors who are also contributing editors are here with us this week and you should check out their amazing resources: Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, who understands more than anyone how teachers can hold on to kids as they navigate through middle and high school, and Gloria Pipkin, who should win a Nobel Prize for her tireless, courageous work in defending the rights of teachers and students during these crazy times.
This is a beautiful part of the country and I frequently betray my L.A.-soaked frame of reference with comments like “Wow, this looks like a movie set!” I can’t help but continually check the 17th and 18th century buildings to make sure they’re not just false fronts. Yesterday before our meeting we took a walk along the York River and ended up at the John Hancock Warehouse, a building that was owned by the Boston patriot and was a store and a customs office during colonial times when the river was a major thoroughfare. The customs official there used to collect taxes on ships bringing china, fabrics, silver, furniture, and tea from London, or the ships that were exporting tallow, apples, and potatoes from York to the West Indies.
I admit that before I started coming to New England for Heinemann, my knowledge of Maine was restricted to two things: George Bush Sr.’s summer home in Kennebunkport (just up the road from here) which is in the news this week because Papa Bush invited Bill Clinton to stay with him while he’s in the area promoting the new paperback edition of his book. I was surprised to see the photos of these two fishing and golfing together and looking like the best of chums. Sort of heartening to see although I read that many right wingers are not pleased by this friendship because they worry it might lead to the Bush family pulling its punches if Hillary decides to run for President in 2008. (Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll be capable of plenty of hideous attacks.) Funny how my utter loathing of what George W. is doing in the White House is making me look back to the days of George Sr. with something approaching nostalgia. His budding friendship with his former ideological enemy adds to George’s newfound appeal even though the relationship doesn’t seem as sincere as the one between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
My other knowledge of Maine comes from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel,” set in a Maine fishing village in the late 1800s. While I’m sure most of the move version was shot on the Twentieth Century Fox backlot, the dark tale of Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan looks authentic to this rugged seacoast area (but then again, so does “Murder She Wrote’s” Cabot Cove, and I’ve stood on that southern California set at Universal Studios!). Don’t think I haven’t burst into song several times during this trip where the surroundings are so quaint I feel like I’m an extra on the “Carousel” soundstage. And of course, being June, how could I resist?
June is bustin' out all over
The ocean is full of Jacks and Jills,
With the little tail a-swishing'
Ev'ry lady fish is wishin'
That a male would come
And grab 'er by the gills!
Because it's June... June, June, June
Just because it's June, June, June!
We went to the oh-so-cute town of Ogonquit the other night for a great dinner with the gang and one of my co-workers told me that the area boasts a very large gay and lesbian community. Surely the town song must be:
You're a queer one, Julie Jordan,
You been acting most peculiar,
Every morning you're awake ahead of me,
Always settin' by the winder.
You like to watch the river meet the sea.
Maybe Julie Jordon or Billy Bigelow were gay. Billy kept insisting, “I’m not the kinda fella to marry anybody!” That might explain the tragic results of his and Julie's attempts at a love affair. And it would bring new meaning to one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best songs:
If I loved you,
Words wouldn't come in an easy way
Round in circles I'd go!
Longin' to tell you,
But afraid and shy
I'd let my golden chances pass me by!
Soon you'd leave me,
Off you would go in the mist of day,
Never, never to know
How I loved you
If I loved you.
I think I was about 12 when I saw the movie version of “Carousel” for the first time, about a year or so after my parents’ divorce. There were times back then when I was keenly aware of my numbed-out state—my survival mechanism for coping with my mother’s absence and the radical changes in my family life. I remember staring in the mirror and trying over and over again to cry. Not a tear, I just couldn’t do it. Then one day my sister and I were watching “Carousel” on our little Sony TV that sat on our kitchen table (yes, we watched TV at every meal—great idea, huh?). At the end of film, when the ghost of Billy Bigelow is watching the daughter he never knew get taunted by the local Maine brats, he stands beside her and tries to give her strength. The unhappy daughter senses her father’s presence and suddenly sees a light in the storm that is her miserable life. She knows that she will be able to live through the adversity she currently faces and come out happy and strong on the other side.
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never walk alone.
Something about that scene hit a nerve and unleashed a torrent of pent-up emotions. Hearing Gordon MacRae’s Billy and then Shirley Jones’ Julie sing those words I started crying so hard that I had to run up to my room. I haven’t had a problem crying since that day although I sometimes need a movie like “Carousel” to spur me on.
And now, with several lobsters digesting in my system, I’m off to Boston to fly home. I may stop by the inspiring JFK Library on my way out if I have enough time. If President Kennedy had lived, do you think he would have befriended his rivals as Carter and Clinton have done? There’s an image to contemplate: an elderly John Kennedy on the golf course arm-in-arm with Richard Nixon. Wish we could've seen that.