Maybe it’s just too much exposure to commercials for Bridezilla, a sort of WWE with smackdowns between maniacal brides and their wedding planners, families, and bridesmaids, but I was horrified to read a press release today from MyKidsRegistry.com, a new “social networking” website that allows children to register for the gifts they want for their birthdays and holidays.
When planning her son’s 3rd birthday it went from being a project of joy to a “project”, [founder Yvette] Segal began to think of ways to simplify the process. She didn’t like telling people exactly what to buy for her son and the idea of people trekking to the nearest toy store and standing in line for something her son may already have in his toy box, was something that Segal wanted to avoid as well.
First, if Segal’s son’s 3rd birthday party was a “project,” it was too big and expensive. No 3 year old needs anything more than some balloons, a couple of games lasting about an hour, and 3-4 other children to sing “Happy Birthday” and help blow out candles. What is truly disturbing here is the way this promotes a “gimmee” culture that turns the entire idea of giving upside down. Instead of teaching children to accept what they are given graciously and that it is the thought that counts, it teaches them to think of their milestones as delivery systems for an endless conveyor belt of goodies.
The press release defensively asserts that
MyKidsRegistry.com is not about an over the top party or a “buy my kids this” mentality, but it is about saving time and money for everyone. Its free membership is designed assist parents in planning and shopping for the perfect party.
The next sentence is (literally) where the money is:
MyKidsRegistry.com is affiliated with birthdayinabox.com, Amazon.com, Kbtoys.com, etoys.com, ebeanstalk.com, Kazootoys.com, littletikes.com, babyuniverse.com, Upromise.com, netflix.com, snapfish.com, giggle.com, uncommongoods.com, MiniBoden.com, and LandofNod.com.
Dad does not need a new tie! Make him some breakfast in bed and a hand-made card and then how about some DVDs the family can share and enjoy together?
If Dad is in his 50’s, he’ll enjoy some of the television shows from his childhood collected in Hiya Kids! A 50’s Saturday Morning Box. It includes “Kukla, Fran And Ollie,” “Howdy Doody,” “Flash Gordon,” “Lassie,” “Annie Oakley,” “Ding Dong School,” “Time For Beany,” “The Paul Winchell Show,” “The Roy Rogers Show,” “Captain Z-RO,” “The Rootie Kazootie Club,” “Winky Dink And You,” “Super Circus,” “Andy’s Gang,” “The Cisco Kid,” “Sky King,” “The Magic Clown,” “Kids And Company,” “Juvenile Jury,” “The Pinky Lee Show,” and “Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle.” At least a couple of them are guaranteed to bring back memories.
As promised, here is my follow-up to the list of great movie professors, great movie high school teachers. Another list of grade school teachers is in the works so stay tuned.
10. Dead Poets Society Robin Williams inspires his students not just with the thrill of poetry but with the thrill of independent thinking.
9. To Sir, With Love Sidney Poitier stars in this fact-based story of a teacher in a poor neighborhood in the East End of London. He teaches them the importance of respect for themselves and each other, starting with calling him “Sir.” You can also see Poitier as part of an unruly class with a dedicated young teacher in Blackboard Jungle.
8. Coach Carter What makes this fact-based story different from the usual inspiring-coach-shows-underdog-team-how-to-work-hard-and-help-each-other is that all that is just the beginning of the story. The team is undefeated on the court, but Coach Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) benches them all because their academic performance is not up to his standards.
7. Up the Down Staircase Sandy Dennis is the young, idealistic teacher almost swallowed up in an enormous New York high school, based on the fact-based novel by Bel Kaufman.
6. The Trouble with Angels Jane Trahey’s memoir of her experience in a Catholic girls’ boarding school inspired this rollicking story of rebellious students (Hayley Mills and June Harding) and the Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell) who understands them better than they thought. See also: Whoopi Goldberg teaching parochial school students played by future stars Jennifer Love Hewitt and Lauren Hill in “Sister Act 2.” The wonderful Mary Wickes appears as a nun in both movies.
5. Mr. Holland’s Opus Like many of the teachers in these films, Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) does not let the bureaucracy and his own conflicts about whether he wants to teach prevent him from touching the lives of a generation of students. Watch for Terrance Howard in a small role. And I dare you not to cry in that last scene.
4. Goodbye, Mr. Chips Robert Donat beat Clark Gable’s performance as Rhett Butler for the Best Actor Oscar in his role as “Mr. Chips,” who overcomes his initial shyness and reserve to become an inspiring figure in the lives of three generations of boys.
3. October Sky Another real-life story, this time based on a book by the grateful student who was so inspired by the science teacher (played by Laura Dern) in his tiny mining town school that he became a NASA rocket scientist. Be sure to wait for the clips of the real-life teacher during the ending credit sequence.
2. OT:OUR TOWN. A Famous American Play in an Infamous American Town This is not based on a real-life story — it is a real-life story, a documentary about a teacher who has her inner-city students put on a production of those most venerable (if white-bread) of American plays, Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Watching the students really make the story their own makes this a mesmerizing film and as we watch, we, too, become part of the lucky classroom of teacher Catherine Borek. Other great documentaries about real-life teachers include “He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin'” and the follow-up Who’s Dancin’ Now?, “Small Wonders,” which inspired the Meryl Streep movie “Music of the Heart,” and the magnificent French film about a one-room schoolhouse, To Be and to Have.
1. Stand and Deliver Edward James Olmos is electrifying as Jaime Escalante, the teacher who insisted that the inner-city students everyone else had given up on could excel in calculus.
At the Death House Door is an extraordinary documentary from the makers of “Hoop Dreams.” It is the story of Pastor Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the death house chaplain to the infamous “Walls” prison unit in Huntsville. He spent the last 24 hours with 95 different men who were about to be executed. After each was killed, Pickett recorded an audiotape account of his trip to the death chamber. Through his experiences, including the witnessing of the execution of a man later proven to be innocent, he became convinced that the death penalty was wrong. The film premieres on May 29 at 9:00 PM Eastern on the Independent Film Channel.
I spoke to Pastor Pickett about his experiences:
How did you first come to work at the prison?
I was minister of a Presbyterian church in Huntsville Texas. During the time I was at that church they had a prison siege and the director called me and said, “I want you to minister to the families of those who were hostages. For 11 days and nights they were held hostage and then they had a big shoot out across the street. The only ones killed were two of my church members. I was planning to do one’s wedding the next Saturday. Then in 1980 the same guy who called me asked me to come work at the prison for one year. I went for one year. I didn’t sign any papers but I stayed there 16 years. God had prepared me back in 1974 to go to the prison. I went there believing this was God’s will. I felt like God wanted me to be there. As it says in the Bible, “I was in prison and you came to me.”
What surprised you about the prison experience?
The biggest thing that surprised me that there were so many nice people who were willing to participate in the program, so many who were Christians who had, for lack of a better term, left the fold. There were so many victimless crimes, so many who were innocent, so many who had made financial mistakes.
What did you try to teach them?
We helped them understand that it is happier and better to live the way God wants you to — whatever religion you are. We had Catholics, 26 Jewish people — we had the first seder in the prison. In prison you can still practice your faith, and I was so happy many of them were really willing to give a lot. There were a lot of people who were good but had made mistake. I don’t believe in rehabilitation, but these people had changed. one night had changed me. So many of them got out. Close to 100 who used to be in prison are now ministers.
What did you use to reach these people?
I believe that the music is so important. So many people are musicians and express themselves musically. We started a choir. We had a different one for the Catholics because they sing different songs, one for the Hispanics, a gospel for the black prisoners. One of the requirements was that in order to be a part of the choir they had to maintain all the rules, they had to work, they had to participate in all the activities. One former back up singer for Don Ho was one of my singers, a state Supreme Court justice was one of my singers. I was permitted to give points for parole for those who participated.
Did the prisoners help each other?
Yes! The prisoners ministered to each other. We had 28 ministers in prison. Ministers go to prison too. We had a father and son who were missionaries in South America. The mother died and the father got real angry at God, so they became bank robbers. And a lot of ministers get framed.
Tell me about your work with the men on death row.
I was chaplain for the people in the death house. I only got to see them on the last day, the way it was set up. I stayed with them usually from 6 am to 12 midnight. We used to execute them at 12. After helping 95 walk the gurney and get killed by the state, I concluded that there are innocent people being put to death and there are mentally retarded. Because of the “law of parties,” there are those who are guilty by law but not by crime. The one who actually did the crime got off and the other one was executed.
Carlos De Luna was innocent, we proved he was innocent. He had no father, his father left him and his stepfather was a drunk. On that last day, I took care of him all day long and we got along real well. I told him I believed he was innocent and he said, “I wish everybody else did.” That afternoon he asked, “Can I call you Daddy? That is different than being called “Father.” I have a son the same age. That changed the whole attitude in the death house, that night, letting him call me that. Carlos said, “Thank you Daddy. Thanks for being with me, Daddy. I wish I had you when I was a boy — I would never have been a problem at all.” He asked, “Daddy, would you pray?” He was in the cell, on his knees. I put my hands through the bars. That is illegal but I did not pay attention to those rules. While they strapped him to the gurney he said, “Daddy, I appreciate you being here today.” I never will forget those big brown eyes looking at me. He kept looking up. I don’t know what he was trying to say. I was hoping he would say, “Thank you, Daddy.” That’s the way I would like to believe. He was a good kid. I would have taken him home forever.
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