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Monday, September 02, 2013

School of Rock

First things first, I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a very happy Labour Day. Whether you're spending the day actually doing labour or just relaxing by the pool on what marks the unofficial end of summer, I hope you spend at least part of the day enjoying yourself and doing what you want to do.

Because, let's face it. For some of us, school begins tomorrow. And that can be a point of crisis for some of you reading this.

I know that as far as I was concerned, I dreaded the very first day of school. I don't really need to go into too much detail as to why, but I will say this. The factor behind whether or not a school year would be good or a disaster depended squarely on the teacher who we had that year.

And believe me, I've had some teachers that have been real “winners”, so to speak.

When it comes to what I consider a great teacher, I think back on the great teachers that I have had over the years. A good teacher finds a way to make learning fun. A good teacher finds a way to teach his or her students both inside and outside of the classroom. As far as I am concerned, a good teacher is someone who helps a child develop their strengths and to help them understand and improve their weaknesses so that they can gain more self-confidence about themselves and become well-rounded adults.

On the flipside, a teacher should NOT belittle a student, embarrass a student, isolate a student for something they can't change, or treat a student as if they are their own personal pet project, pledging to change everything about them when nothing is wrong with them.

I've had exactly three teachers in my lifetime who have done all of those things, and they certainly tried to break me. Guess what. You didn't.

You know, I'm almost kind of relieved that I am no longer a student in high school. Being in high school in the year 2013 must be a very different experience than being a high school student in 1998. Back when I was in high school, one in about one hundred students owned a cell phone. This day and age, it seems like nine out of every ten students are glued to their Blackberry devices or iPhones. I honestly don't know if I would survive being in high school in the current time period. I had a hard enough time surviving high school when I was actually a high school student, and I graduated thirteen years ago!

And, you know...judging by some of the videos that people have posted on YouTube and other social media sites, it's hard not to develop a negative attitude about high school if all you're seeing are videos of students getting into fist fights in school hallways, teachers engaging in inappropriate behaviour with students behind closed doors, and students and teachers simply not caring or having the desire to learn anything. In my experience, I have seen some of my classmates coasting through school by copying off other people's homework, and doing as little work as possible, and still get passed through to the next grade because the teacher didn't want to put forth the effort to teach them.

To me, that's ridiculous. Of course, on the flipside, I also find it equally wrong to hold back a person because of personal issues that had nothing to do with their schoolwork. I knew a couple of people who were forced to repeat a grade when in all honesty, I didn't feel that they needed to.

In fact, I have a confession for you. I've talked about my evil first grade teacher on this site before, but did you know that if she had her way, I would have repeated the first grade? She insisted that I wasn't grasping basic first grade concepts even though I could read and write at a higher grade level than first grade. She was just going to do that because I wasn't exactly a child who always sat still and obeyed the teacher (which to be fair, almost everyone in my class was guilty of it – I was just the only one who got caught). Her crusade to hold me back in the first grade was strictly personal. Of course, the school did not side with her and ordered her to pass me into the second grade. But still, knowing that she tried to do it any wonder why I have very little respect for her?

Now, you compare that with my sixth grade teacher who was warm, compassionate, kind, and who really made learning a lot of fun. Mind you, it wasn't entirely perfect. I did get into trouble in that class on more than one occasion. But rather than chastise me openly in front of the class, or threaten to keep me from entering the seventh grade, she worked with me, and actually helped me find a better way to control my feelings and come to terms with trying to overcome the bad things and focus on the good. It didn't necessarily always work out that way, but at the same time, I appreciate the fact that she did reach out to me and tried to help me deal with conflict resolution in a positive manner.

So for me, Grade 6 teacher = good. Grade 1 teacher = Satan. That's not too harsh, is it?

This week's Monday Matinee deals with a man who becomes the most unlikely educator in the entire world. When he is first hired to teach at a school, he's lazy, unmotivated, and completely out of his depth when it comes to educating his students. But as time passes, he begins to mature a little bit, and he starts to use the lessons that he learns from his students and applies them to his own messed-up life. By the end of it all, he will have learned so much about himself that he will have the tools necessary to make the positive changes in his own life, while teaching his students some lessons that he never believed he could before.

I have a hard time believing that this film is ten years old, but believe it or not, “School of Rock” was released on October 3, 2003. The screenplay was written by Mike White, the star of the movie was Jack Black, and the director was Richard Linklater (though it would have been cool if his last name was 'Brown' to keep the colour theme going).

The film also marks one of the first appearances on screen for actress Miranda Cosgrove, who would later go on to star in the series iCarly, and the Despicable Me movie series.

This film certainly did very well at the box office. It made over one hundred and thirty million dollars worldwide, it scored Jack Black a Golden Globe nomination in 2004, and on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a 92% Fresh rating (which is extremely good). And, I will also state that this movie probably has one of the best motion picture soundtracks of any film released since 2000. With songs from The Clash, The Doors, The Who, AC/DC, Stevie Nicks, The Velvet Underground, T. Rex, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin having their music featured in the film, it was definitely a soundtrack that appealed to all ages.

Oh yeah. Jack Black also quotes Whitney Houston's “Greatest Love of All” in the film as well. Not exactly what I would call a rock song, but it's a nice touch.

Okay, so I suppose that you want to know a little bit about the plot of the film. I will reveal a little bit of it to you, but since I never reveal endings to films featured in this space, I can't go into too much detail. But here's what I can tell you.

When we first meet the character of Dewey Finn (Black), he is the guitarist/singer of the rock band “No Vacancy”. It is a job that Dewey absolutely loves to do, and he thinks that there is nothing else in the world that he can do.

Unfortnately, Dewey's skills as a guitarist are marred by the fact that he's a bit of a show-off on stage. His arrogance, over-confidence, and desire to be the star has really turned off the other members of “No Vacancy”, and after a disaster-filled performance at a nightclub, the majority of the members of “No Vacancy” vote to kick Dewey out of the band, replacing him with a new member, Spider (Lucas Babin). Dejected, Dewey is forced to consider other options, even though the last thing he wants to do is walk away from music. To compound the problem, Dewey is sharing an apartment with his submissive pal Ned Schneebly (Mike White), and his overbearing, obnoxious girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman), who gives Dewey an ultimatum. Get a real job or get out of the apartment.

So Dewey has lost his job in the band, and could possibly lose his home too. Things were getting desperate, and Dewey needed a miracle.

So when Dewey takes a phone call intended for Ned in which the principal of an prepatory elementary school (Joan Cusack) is desperate for Ned to fill in for a fifth grade class as a substitute teacher, Dewey decides to impersonate Ned and take on the job as a way to save himself from getting evicted from the Big Brother House apartment.

So, Dewey arrives at Horace Green Prep, taking on the role of Ned Schneebly, in an effort to teach a fifth grade class. Only he has no experience with teaching, which certainly is made woefully apparent when he can't even remember how to spell his own friend's last name. So, to the students he is teaching, he is simply known as Mr. S.

And what lessons does Mr. S. teach the students at first? Well, nothing, really. He lets the class have recess whenever they want, he teaches the class lectures which are boring and de-motivational, and basically lets them do whatever they want. Clearly, Dewey is in way over his head.

Or, is he?

As it so happens, there is one thing that the class that he is teaching has in common with him. They both appreciate a good jam session.

Turns out that the class is completely made up of musical prodigies and geniuses, and Dewey plans on using this to his advantage. He tells the class that he has a special assignment for them to complete during his tenure as their teacher. He plans on teaching them all about the joys of music by having them play a variety of classic rock songs, and his hope is that he can make the children develop their own talents and become better students. In secret though, Dewey plans on using the students to enter a “Battle of the Bands” contest. His former band is competing in the contest, and he is determined to best them at the contest to not only win the twenty thousand dollar prize, but to rub his victory in their faces, showing them that they made a mistake in cutting him loose.

Yeah...doesn't exactly sound like the best role model for a teacher, does it?

But here's the thing. As Dewey's little white lie grows into a gigantic whopper (and by whopper, I don't mean the burger where if you hold the pickles and the lettuce, that special order won't upset them), Dewey begins to have a change of heart over how he feels about the students. Okay, so his original intentions weren't the best...but as he immerses himself into his job, he finds himself caring for each and every student in his class, and somehow, winning the money becomes not as important as helping his students appreciate a love for music. Even the school principal seems impressed by Dewey's teaching and forms a bit of a friendship with him. And all the kids start respecting Dewey as well, with each one becoming engaged by his lessons, his stories, and his unique approach to education. The truth is that Dewey has found that he enjoys teaching the kids, and he is beginning to see that maybe there could be a potential career option for him after all.

But like every single lie that is told, they can blow up in a person's face like a big giant balloon that is punctured with a thumbtack. And when the thumbtack came in the form of Dewey's nemesis, Patty and the whole charade is unraveled right in front of Dewey's eyes, Dewey is left feeling ashamed and incredibly destroyed.

But let's just say that when it comes to the impact that Dewey has had on the students of the school that he taught at for several weeks...well, fate has a funny way of working out. And Dewey learns that sometimes the students can be the teachers, and that he will learn the value of the golden rule.

And, I think this is the time of the blog entry where we talk about some behind the scenes trivia.

01 – Fans of “The Amazing Race” may recognize Mike White. He and his father competed on a couple of seasons of the show!

02 – In the scene where Jack Black was to dive off the stage to be caught by the crowd, stuntmen were on standby to assist – just in case he needed it.

03 – Jack Black was a huge fan of classic rock. Mike White couldn't stand it.

04 – If you look closely at all of the cars that the parents of the children drive, you may notice that they are all Volvos!

05 – The film's plot was inspired by Mike White having Jack Black as a neighbour in the same apartment building. According to White, he often saw Black running through the halls naked, and heard loud music blasting from his apartment. How Jack and Mike became friends seems to be a mystery, doesn't it?

06 – Led Zeppelin was notorious for refusing to let movie makers use their music for their soundtracks...but when the producers sent them a creative video asking for their permission, they relented.

07 – Jack Black plays a Gibson SG Standard Guitar in the movie.

08 – Although the kids in the class were all supposed to be the same age, there was a five year gap between Kevin Alexander Clark (b. 1988) and Miranda Cosgrove (b. 1993).

09 – Miranda Cosgrove actually has a decent singing voice (she released an album in 2011). But would you believe that she actually took a class to learn how to sing BADLY for the film? It's all true!

10 – This film was originally slated to be a musical.

11 – The nicknames that Dewey calls his students were created by Jack Black himself.

12 – The movie poster for the film is deliberately styled in the same format as the cover of a standard “Rolling Stone” magazine.

And, that's our feature on “School of Rock”. But before I end this blog off, I want to say one final thing.

I cannot play a musical instrument to save my life, and it's something that I kind of regret not pursuing. I have absolute mad respect for people who can play music. When I was doing some fundrasing for the Relay for Life, I had the pleasure of listening to some live music from a band who was asked to perform at the yard sale we had at our store to raise money for the cause. The band was made up of teenagers who were playing at our yard sale for free in exchange for volunteer hours. They were very talented, and I was happy to see them doing something they loved to do. The joy on their faces was priceless, and I'll always remember them.

Tragically, one of the members of that very band was killed yesterday by a drunk driver. And even though I didn't really get the opportunity to talk with him the day that he performed, I knew that he was giving people a real gift. And anyone who was at that yard sale that day could consider themselves lucky that they had the opportunity to experience that gift.

So, I want to dedicate this blog entry in this boy's honour.

Rest in peace, Aaron.  

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