School’s Out – Forever?

By Judy Berman

Pink Floyd, "Another Brick in the Wall"

Pink Floyd, “Another Brick in the Wall”

The bass in the music is hard to ignore. It’s rocking the walls and floors.

Teens are jamming to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and screaming the lyrics: “We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.”

I can relate. When I was in high school, I didn’t like the rules or being told what to do. Maybe that’s why some of my friends called me “Rebel,” although I don’t recall leading any protests or any subversive behavior. Still, I’d love to go back in time and, maybe, have a do-over for some parts of my teen years.

In S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” the main character didn’t want any one bossing him around, either. But he placed a value on education.

In one scene, Pony and his older brother, Darry, are arguing. Pony threatens to drop out of school like his brother, Soda, did.

Soda tells Pony that he’s “happy working in a gas station with cars. You’d never be happy doing something like that.”

Pony, who is 14, realizes his brother is right.

Some of my seventh-grade students have this figured out. They are planning for what they want to do after high school. If they are forced to take a detour – as I was – I hope their goals and plans are not permanently derailed.

As my graduation day drew near, I was eager to test my wings and leave the nest.  I couldn’t wait to begin the next step in my journey.

There was just one small catch. My grades weren’t all that hot. Would I be able to get into a college? I’d asked my English teacher if she’d write a recommendation for me when I applied to a college. I was delighted when she said yes.

So, imagine my shock, when I was turned down – not by one college of nursing, but by three. My Mom called to find out why. It wasn’t the grades that did me in. It was the English teacher’s “recommendation.” She said that I “didn’t have the stick-to-itiveness to make it through college.”

Infuriating. An English teacher certainly knows that “recommend” means to say something positive. Why didn’t she just say “no” when I asked? Crushed, but not defeated, I decided I’d go to a business school.

A few years later, I did go to college part-time and approached education with a new attitude. In the end, I have to admit, that teacher did me a favor.

I have the highest regard for those in the nursing profession, but I wasn’t cut out to be one of them. That discovery was like a burst of sunlight filtering thru a dingy rooftop window.

Illumination coincided with my college biology professor’s request that we dissect a frog. My partner handled the dirty work, and I transferred to courses that paved the way for me to meet people, go to exotic and strange locals, and to write: first as a radio news reporter and later as a reporter for a newspaper.

My experiences disproved another rock song as well, Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” also known as “School’s Out for Summer.”

Education doesn’t stop when you leave school. If you’re doing it right, you’re constantly learning to keep pace with changes at work and elsewhere in life.

Best wishes graduates. As one phase ends, another magical part of your journey begins. The world really is your oyster.

Not the end, just a new beginning.

Not the end, just a new beginning.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-13. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: Pink Floyd, “The Wall”

Photo – Pink Floyd, “The Wall” http://ilarge.listal.com/image/3933722/936full-pink-floyd%3A-the-wall-screenshot.jpg

Video: Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”

Photo: “American Graffiti” – Ron Howard (as Steve) and Cindy Williams (as Laurie) dancing. http://www.listal.com/viewimage/791092

Stay Gold, Ponyboy

By Judy Berman

Living life on the fringes. Always feeling like you’re on the outside looking in.

That’s the theme of the novel, “The Outsiders,” by S.E. Hinton. It’s one I can relate to, and I’ve been out of school for a few decades. The book and the movie still resonate with readers today.

Elvis, The Beatles, leather jackets, D.A.’s greased-back haircuts and madras shirts. They evoke a different time – the early-‘60s. That was when America worried about a nuclear attack and building bomb shelters. We had not yet gotten involved in Vietnam and the flower children of the mid-1960s were still a few years away.

Many look at those times as being more innocent. But it had its share of troubles, too. Like the author, I had friends who were rich, as well as those who were poor and lived “on the other side of the tracks.” A few were “hoods” and, around me, they were great guys. I knew that neither life was problem-free.

S. E. Hinton wrote about the clash of those two groups. She was 15 and still in high school when she began writing her novel. It was published in 1967,  when she was a freshman in college. She has said that the characters were not based on any one person she knew. Ponyboy, Johnny and Dally’s characters each had their own universal appeal, she said.

The movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is one I’ve shown to my students the past several years. They see the PG version, although I prefer the PG-13 version because the story thread is much closer to the book.

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” That’s Ponyboy Curtis’ opening line in the novel.

A few blocks later, Ponyboy is jumped by members of the Socs (or Socials, the rich kids). When he yells for help, his brothers and gang members of the Greasers, the hoods, rush to his defense.

Their next encounter is deadly. It forces Ponyboy and his friend, Johnny, to run away to avoid arrest. At one point, they’re focused on the countryside’s beauty and wish that scene could remain forever.

I recall a similar experience when I lived in the country. As I looked out our kitchen window, the whole countryside was awash in gold. Then, sadly, as the sun rose higher, the golden hues began to yield to nature’s green coloring. Ponyboy, in repeating lines from Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay:”

“Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day, Nothing gold can stay.”

When Johnny asks what it means, Ponyboy tells him that things cannot remain as they are.

Like the scene they witnessed, their innocence will slip away. What they’ve gone thru will transform them forever. Near the end of the book, Johnny told Ponyboy to “stay gold.”

Little has changed since the book was published in 1967. There are still cliques and those who are on the outside. Hopefully, as teens read this book and see the movie, they will see the harm that comes from stereotyping, from forming cliques, and how they view others who are not part of their group.

Ponyboy realized that just because he was poor didn’t mean he’d be stuck in that life. He was going to make something of himself. That’s an excellent observation. One that I hope my students take away from the story that Hinton crafted when she was a teen herself.

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* Main photo of cast in “The Outsiders”   http://www.listal.com/viewimage/1402794h

* Photo of Ponyboy and Johnny from the movie  http://www.fanpop.com/spots/the-outsiders/images/29368683/title/johnny-cade-ponyboy-curtis-photo

* Photo clips from the movie, “The Outsiders,” and Stevie Wonder singing “Stay Gold.”   http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=the+outsiders+movie+music+video&mid=BEBF8C699E909E8E2096BEBF8C699E909E8E2096&view=detail&FORM=VIRE1

* Video of Ponyboy and Johnny. Scene where Ponyboy recites Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwJ-ppxCGPk

* Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”  http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19977

* S.E. Hinton’s website: http://www.sehinton.com/

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Bully

I was only 9 years old, but I knew that Otto was trouble with a capital T.

He’d thrown my schoolbooks into a snowbank and laughed while I bawled like crazy as I retrieved them. It wasn’t the first time. I was terrified. Imagine you’re the smallest kid in your class and some kid – the size of a rhino – is standing between you and a safe passage home.

Once you’re in his sights, that short walk home suddenly becomes filled with terror. Otto, who was in my 4th-grade class, was a bully and nearly as big as some of my teachers. Never knowing for sure when this goon would pop out of nowhere added to my stress. Most kids look forward to the end of the school day. Not me. I dreaded going to school for the same reason.

For months, Otto (not his real name) would verbally or physically threaten me. Fighting back was not an option – not if I wanted to live to tell about it.

One day, he stepped up the harassment. Otto was waiting for me as I took a shortcut on my way home from school. This time, he had a buddy. The bully took the rubber off his shoe and hit me in the face with it. Otto smirked in satisfaction as I cried. His friend just laughed.

My Mom only spoke about this once. She said they went to the bully’s parents’ home. With apologies to Marlon Brando in “The Godfather,” I imagine my Dad’s conversation went something like this: “I’m a superstitious man. And if some unlucky accident should befall my (daughter), if my (daughter) is struck by a bolt of lightning, I will blame some of the people here.”

After that, I was able to put Otto in my rearview mirror. He never physically tormented me again.

You might think: So, that’s the end of it. But it wasn’t.

Life is rarely tied up neatly like it is in the movies and in books. In Carl Hiaasen’s novel, “Hoot,” you might get a vicarious thrill when Roy Eberhardt gives his tormentor, Dana Matherson, his comeuppance and Matherson is sniveling in jail. Or, you dread every encounter J. K. Rowling’s, Harry Potter, has with Dudley Dursley and Draco Malfoy, who later make peace toward the end of the series. The worst outcome is when the conflict turns deadly, as it did in S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” when Johnny killed the Soc, Bob, to save Ponyboy’s life.

I can’t recall even talking to Otto for the next four years that we went to school together. It’s like we were strangers passing each other in the revolving door of life. It’s been decades since I’ve been in fourth grade. Yet there’s hardly a week that goes by that I don’t think of Otto and wonder who he’s harassing now.

If you know of someone who is bullying or being bullied, please speak up. Stop the bully from doing more harm.

I was lucky. My parents stepped in, and peace was restored.

Many others long for the same intervention and a safe place they can turn to when they’re feeling threatened.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.