Friday, January 13, 2012

Educate Emma: TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4

It's no surprise by anyone's standards that I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's a well developed show about a strong female character who kicks non-sparkly, soulless vampire ass. It has tight pacing, witty dialogue, compelling characterization, and all the delicious camp of the nineties. Well, sometimes the camp is less delicious and more hysterically awful, but I found a masochistic appreciation of the silly after watching Doctor Who.

I love Buffy and her friends, but season four was by no means the best season. I think its mediocrity is second only to season one, where the cinematography and episode plots were more ridiculous than intriguing. This is the second season where the antagonist doesn't really pack a punch. The Master in season one was Buffy's worst nightmare, and the amazing internal emotional conflict Buffy had during season two made the show reach to new heights. The Mayor in season three at least was humorous. But Adam in season four is kind of...boring. Not because he isn't a reasonable threat, but simply because Buffy's emotional conflict with the character is nonexistent.

So in terms of plot, this season wasn't one of my favourites. As for characterization, I liked how the Scooby Gang's feelings of inadequacy were finally placed as a forefront theme to the season. Buffy's new love interest was fairly dull, however, Joss Whedon knows enough to make him somewhat interesting by placing him in a mysterious situation. Buffy and Willow both had to emotionally mature in their romantic relationships this season, so that was fun to see. I'm loving Anya's frank nature and Xander is getting less and less annoying as seasons go on. In fact, how he helped Buffy in the opener made me love him a bit.

Mostly, this season is only interesting because Whedon seemed to realize that there wasn't a lot going on in the storyline and decided "Hey! How about we try ALL OF THE ARTISTIC STYLES?" Episodes like Hush and Restless remind me of the show's versatility, and while the season itself is fairly forgettable, those two episodes acknowledge the series' ever growing artistic maturity.

Watching Buffy is rather a different experience from watching Doctor Who. Somehow I was able to stay away from most spoilers through Doctor Who, and the show has never been couple-focused, so I got to experience a lot of the main story lines unscathed. With Buffy, I know most of the character arcs and relationships, - although I have no idea how it ends, so if you tell me, expect a samurai sword to your neck - and because of this, it's more about the journey of dialogue, cinematography and characterization than main story arcs.

I'm finding more and more that my overall preference is watching TV shows in seasons and less the weekly episode format we regularly experience. I'm not sure why this is, but I think it probably has something to do with viewing the season's overall tone in a packed amount of time. Less of my own problems or thoughts get in the way of the show as an isolated experience. Any comments on watching in seasons vs. episodes?

Favourite episodes: Hush and Restless for their unusual artistic formats. Hush made me challenge my ideas of communication, while Restless has become my go-to episode to watch when I need to go all floaty and dissociative for writing. Primeval was also just a classic Buffy finale format, and I loved how the Scooby Gang ended up defeating the antagonist.

Least favourite episodes: Beer Bad was completely cringe worthy, but in that kind of camptastic way that makes Buffy such a cult classic experience for me. A New Man was also lacking. Not quite funny or heartfelt enough, and it kept me detached from the storyline.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What About Mentors? prompted from Book 23 of '11 DIY U by Anya Kamenetz

Dust Jacket Description:

DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education is my new book about the future of higher education. It’s a story about the communities of visionaries who are tackling the enormous challenges of cost, access, and quality in higher ed, using new technologies to bring us a revolution in higher learning that is affordable, accessible, and learner-centered."

Introduction: I've been super behind on reviews. I still am, but I wanted to start the year off fresh, and decided I really didn't have anything major to say about the rest of the books I read for this year. Except DIY U. This book is a thoughtful lesson on the current American education system and our social ideals regarding schooling. It's fascinating, covers all the bases, and realistic of the kind of possibilities education can currently evolve into. I highly recommend it for anyone intrigued by post secondary education and its waiting revolution.

However, it's been so long since I've read it that writing a decent review on the matter seemed impossible. Instead, I wanted to share this opinion piece I wrote that was prompted by DIY U. Please comment if you have any thoughts, as I'd love to hear them.

Discussion Part of Post:

DIY U illustrates the sort of educational utopia I one day wish to live in.

But the most interesting thing about this potential utopia was how Kamentez visualizes technology taking over in place of teachers for things like grading multiple choice tests and giving lectures. All of the drudge work and assessment of students' capabilities would go to technology. Teachers' time would be spent on each student to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Prioritizing a teacher's experience like this would give an individualized, infinitely more intuitive educational experience.

Which got me thinking. Wouldn't this kind of teacher-student relationship echo a traditional mentorship: where students ask questions only professionals know the answers to, and those said professionals have the time to care about each student on a deeper level?

Doesn't this kind of relationship sound brilliant? And why don't more children, teens and young adults have these sorts of interactions now?

Yes, I understand that kind of contact seems like a far off dream currently. It's made clear by the current educational format described in Kamenetz's book that teachers do not usually have the time to have these connections with students - and who can blame them with all the grading and generalizing they have to do to maintain a hold on their classes?

But why don't these kinds of mentors seem to exist outside of academia?

I've had the great fortune to be immersed in these kinds of interactions for the majority of my life. Being a lifelong homeschooler, I've been taught that the most important skill you can ever learn is one you already have as a human being on this earth: the hunger to learn. Once you have that drive, all you have to do is find experts and resources to teach you how.

My mother was always very motivated to give me great teacher-student relationships outside of the conventional classroom. I've had a wonderful singing teacher who made me a lot more self aware and showed me the value of standing up for yourself. I have an incredibly spiritually rewarding relationship with the yoga teacher I've had since I was nine. Being a martial artist, my aikido dojo is the best demonstration of organic learning that there is to see. It's the perfect example of a community being taught by a person who is brilliant at what they do, as well as the people that expert trusts. The community encourages peer to peer relationships, so we can learn from those who are more advanced than us in our studies.

And obviously, as I've grown up, the responsibility of discovering new mentors has been mine. I have relationships with two of my very favorite librarians that have challenged and nurtured me over the past two years. Thanks to those two brilliant and forward thinking women, I now have much better leadership and organizational skills.

My important learning connections haven't just been limited to the organic, 3D world. I've also been able to have wonderful, intellectual stimulating conversations with the fantastic writing couple of Audry Taylor and David Wise. I've had enough conversations between the two to challenge, confirm and change my opinions all for the better. Not to mention all the new concepts I've been introduced to! There's also the lovely Jules, whose thoughts on feminist theory, gender expression and sexuality have often made a bad day turn wonderful.

I've been so incredibly nurtured by all of these relationships. I'd be entirely different without them. It makes me wonder why these sorts of connections aren't considered necessary, even mandatory, for the typical teenager's life.

Lots of parenting gurus will insist on the importance of a parental presence in an adolescent's life. This is clearly true. Still, I haven't seen a mainstream resource for teens that is concerned with mentorships.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It's also takes a village to shape an independent thinker's mindset. Why is it that in this age, that method of adult-child interaction is lost? Mentors can provide experienced insight that a teen can respect. They offer a different perspective than parents, and they also give teens another safe resource to discuss things that parents may just not understand.

These adults are super valuable. And aside from Harry and Dumbledore, we're really not seeing their importance.

I desperately want people my age to learn the skills of manipulating talented adults into wanting to adopt you - ahem, I mean, to learn the skills of finding mentors.
Mainly, this desire exists because in my ideal educationally oriented world, teachers are mentors to all. That desire may be a frou-frou concept, but I hope technology can one day make it possible. And until then, that maybe adults and teenagers alike can be aware of each generation's desperate need to learn from each other.

What are your thoughts on mentoring? Know any sustainable ideas to make this mentorship business a reality? Let me know in the comments.