VOLUME 9, ISSUE 4 (FEBRUARY 2012)

TEACHERISMS

Isabel Seckman Gadd ‘13

“This kind of function is like the British royal family when you trace it back far enough… maybe someone’s nephew is also their aunt, it gets complicated… Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot of Downton Abbey” – Dr. Youngren

Student: “So how long should this essay be?”

Dr. Birch: “It should be meaty. This book is really meaty, so just think MEATINESS. If you’re a vegetarian… well, just picture a nice eggplant.”

Mr. DuCett (to student): “Oh, you have no soul? Good. You’ll do well in life.” [Mr. Ducett has requested the following statement: Attributed to Mr. DuCett, though he has no recollection of it.”]

Dr. Clark: “The Romans thought men who wore pants were a little light on their loafers. Real men wore dresses.”

Teacherisms are published with the explicit consent of those quoted. If you overhear any funny quotes, post the on the BHSEC Teacherisms Facebook page or email to isabelseckmangadd@gmail.com

 

 

L.E.T.

James Marlow ’12 and Shannon Grant ’12

Welcome to Let’s Exchange Thoughts!

Do you have a random fact about cheese that you could share?

A fact about the official food of the LET column? Absolutely! Cheese is the most shoplifted food globally and with good reason.

I’m tired of crying to Adele. Is there any other music I can cry to?

Jmarlow and Sgrant strongly recommend any traditional Irish music. It runs the gamut from heartbreak to starvation. It should fulfill your need for melancholia and is just in time for Saint Patrick’s Day.

Why do birds suddenly appear every time that you are near?

You should get that checked out. That shouldn’t be happening.

Like OMG, will like Peter Donoso take me to prom??

“Maybe.”

Happy spring semester, y’all!

 

 

NEW AMSTERDAM

Nika di Liberto Sabasteanski ’12

The New York telephone directory is my favourite book. No plot, but what an amusing cast of characters-Anonymous

At 7:45 AM at least once a week, I stand at the front of moderately sized queue shivering. On certain days the line snakes around Bryant Park and ends on 40th St., but if you get there early enough your company consists of 10 or so people. The line grows as 8 AM approaches but it levels off at around 20. There are regulars, of which I am one, in the line and wild cards that change based on the weather or the hour. The true diehards, of which I am not one, like the US postal service cannot even be stopped by, “Snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night.”

There is the middle-aged man who wears spectacles and a tweed suit. He always stands next to the tall black man donning jeans and a knit hat that appears to have a scaly spine down the middle. At the very front, a small old Korean man hunches over himself supported by an invisible cane and bent knees. Directly behind him sit the three ladies who stretch and read the New York Times while they wait. I usually follow them sitting next to the Spanish man whose shoes remind me of the characters in a book called, “The Borrowers.” My notes tell me there was a blue woman in a long black skirt but I am no longer sure what I meant by that modifier.

One of the women, Carol, is from China, Maine and she worries about the Korean man when he doesn’t show up because “he’s so old.” She’s embarrassed because she doesn’t know everyone’s name on the line.

We stand for twenty minutes sometimes longer, listening to our iPods, reading with our briefcases on our shoulders and checking our watches every few minutes. At first glance, this line could be for coffee, a performance or entrance to a meeting but on closer observation one will notice that all of the line’s occupants are wearing ice skates. The man in tweed has black figure skates and the old Korean man at the front wears old leather speed skates, which he promptly takes off when he exits the ice in exchange for rubber flip flops. There are a few hockey skaters and then the rest are like me figure skaters.

When the doors open, we cram our bulky bags into the impossibly small lockers and rush towards the ice. I’m usually one of the first on through the sheer force of my determination and thus enjoy ten or so minutes of uninterrupted emptiness. The music that the rink plays is from the 40s and 50s and always includes Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. Lyrics like, “Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away…it’s such a lovely day, you just say the words and we’ll beat the birds…” magically complement the grand architecture of the New York City Public Library and the countless other buildings that border the park.

People on their way to work, tourists who have purposefully wandered over to take photographs, and the police that patrol the park all stop for varying intervals at the sideboards to breathe in the wonder. Embedded within a chaotic and crowded stretch of city blocks there is a spot where people slip and slide, twirl and jump and race each other. I skate at many different rinks throughout the city but have found solace in the outdoor rinks where non-skaters enjoy themselves and pedestrians stop to watch. Sometimes I catch the eye of a spectator and we smile at each other as I land a lutz and sometimes the homeless people that linger in the park applaud. There are a few older women that flit about the ice, hopping on with their toe picks and reaching their hands towards the sky. They turn into little girls that are giddy to feel so wonderful for an hour in the morning.

When I leave to go to school, I hear Ella sing the words, “That old black magic has me in its spell…those icy fingers up and down my spine…the same old tingle that I feel inside…In a spin, loving the spin I’m in, under that old black magic called love.” I know it’s about a lover, but I think that it’s quite plausibly about skating under the beauty of Bryant Park with that magical feeling that lasts all day long, a remedy for any bad day.

 

 

THE STATE OF THE UNION IS…NOT SO BAD ACTUALLY OP-ED

Jack Jenkins ’12

Though it’s old news, his State of the Union Address is worth considering as the current president enters campaign mode. To a certain extent, Obama has the right to brag about his establishment of a stronger America despite political and financial difficulties. Many still believe that Obama’s promises as a candidate were rashly and naively made, but the truth is that his administration has accomplished quite a lot for the average working American. As the president made clear in his speech, the American automobile industry is strong again, unemployment has decreased since the change in office, and the GDP is steadily rising. It was crucial that Obama defend himself on these points, which have been so irrationally debated to his political disadvantage. Obama’s policies have improved the economy, period.

However, some elements that Obama touched upon in his speech left a bitter taste in one’s mouth. He began and ended by appealing to our baser instincts; he commented on the possibility of our country’s moving forward as a unit by bringing up the major military successes in the past year and how that energy could be harnessed in other ways. First of all, the notion that a country can be run like an army is completely invalid although his strategic phrasing is obviously a ploy to win him sympathy from the GOP. Every member of Congress was impelled to stand and applaud when Obama reminded them of Bin Laden’s killing, but there must have been at least a few who noticed this somewhat disturbing side of his speech. Obama has a right, as the nation’s leader, to inspire the citizens to work for the benefit of all Americans. He needs to rekindle faith in the American way of life, since the state of the union is in fact improving under his leadership and is now worth investment in. At the same time, it’s discouraging to hear the leader of the free world speaking in such a way in a time that is for most Americans not defined by hardship in war, but by hardship at home, in the classroom and in the job market.

The date of the State of the Union just about marked the beginning of Obama’s reëlection campaign. It will prove interesting how Obama, with his remarkable resume and political experience, will take on whichever Republican candidate is nominated. But with a voice like that, how can he lose?

 

 

IRON LADY

Eliza Fawcett ’15

The title “The Iron Lady” reveals the two most important things about Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former prime minister: she was female and was uncompromisingly firm. The new biopic, a film directed by Phyllida Lloyd and starring Meryl Streep, takes its title from the nickname coined for Thatcher by the Soviet communist newspaper Red Star in 1976. The title is appropriate and ironic as it recalls Winston Churchill’s reference to the Soviet’s “Iron Curtain.”

Margaret Thatcher was notable not simply because she was one of the first women to penetrate the patriarchal British political scene, but because of her executive method: one of aggressive toughness and principle-based determination that was not known for its sympathy whatsoever. Thatcher was, and remains, one of Britain’s most controversial leaders because of the unrelenting approach that she adopted in running the country and in implementing her conservative policies. This reputation brought her both admiration and heavy criticism.

Although the film demonstrates both perceptions of Thatcher, it does seem to cast a sympathetic eye on this intimidating, impressive figure because of the format that it utilizes. The film addresses the definitive moments of Thatcher’s premiership by means of showing flashbacks triggered in Thatcher’s mind as she putters around her house, fluctuating between moments of confused dementia (which she is suffering through in real life) and floods of memories. One especially effective component is the ghost of Thatcher’s late husband, Denis, who drifts in and out of the elderly Thatcher’s consciousness. Denis, a supportive “power behind the throne” helps to tell the story of Thatcher’s life by means of their sweet relationship and his private reassurances.

The sympathy induced by the film comes from the portrayal of Thatcher’s mental deterioration—a formidable leader weakened not by opponents but by the flow of natural life. The irony of this depiction is, of course, that it is contrasted with the unsympathetic, unstoppable image of Thatcher herself, when in her prime.

There is no doubting Meryl Streep’s portrayal of this controversial figure. She plays the role persuasively and with her usual acting brilliance: even her British accent is articulated with impeccable naturalness. As Thatcher ages over the course of the film, Streep plays the developing role of the character beautifully: that of the tenacious young politician pushing into that male-dominated House of Commons; that of the resolute, demanding prime minister who, while claiming to understand the common people, seems out-of-touch with the social turmoil choking her country; and that of the old lady, who, fluttering between states of dementia and the hypnosis of memories, is both haunted and comforted by the ghost of her husband.

Thatcher’s steadfast determination, a quality that Streep superbly embodies, evolved from humble roots. Thatcher represents the young, motivated working-class type who “makes it”. Winning a spot at Oxford University allowed her to leave behind her father’s modest grocery store where she had worked during her teenage years. At Oxford, Thatcher began on the political road, as it was there that she was elected president of the student-run Conservative Association. She later ascended to Education Minister, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, and finally, three terms as prime minister.

In some moments, the film seems to be more focused on the old-age decline of a famed public figure, which seems to soften the harsh image of the handbag-swatting Thatcher, rather than an in-depth look at the policies that gave her that reputation.

The film does, though, cover the major issues which defined Thatcher’s terms: the bellicose labor union riots which exploded across the country, the Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) home-grown terrorist actions, and the Falklands War fought against Argentina as Britain defended its small, distant territory. However, in addressing these key events, the film assumes a certain amount of previous knowledge by the viewers. It could have benefited by perhaps adding more concrete facts about the events interspersed within the dramatic dialogue. For example, its dealings of the labor riots and public discontent consists of a flurry of historical television footage and the background image of garbage being piled up at Parliament as a protest. Although the film is meant to be a dramatization of Thatcher and her career, it should have incorporated a bit more simple explanation of the key events. When brief and shocking footage of a mounted policeman plowing down protesting civilians quickly cuts to another scene, the viewer is left with unanswered questions.

 

 

EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE

Hannah Frishberg ’13

Although it has now been over a decade since September 11, only a handful of directors have attempted to retell the day’s tragic events for the silver screen. The infrequency of representation in film makes the subway advertisements and billboards for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Incredibly Close all the more emotional, as we aren’t used to be being reminded of that day in these places. The commercials all promise a contemplative rendering of the “worst day” (as the film’s protagonist refers to it), a revisiting of both the harrowing events and the distressing aftermath.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Incredibly Close is based on Jonathan Safron Foer’s 2005 novel of the same title, directed by Stephen Daldry, adapted by Eric Roth, and starring Thomas Horn as 11-year-old Oskar Schell, with Tom Hanks as his father Thomas, and Sandra Bullock as his mother, Linda. The story begins at Oskar’s father funeral, with Oskar fidgeting in the back of a car and Linda weeping at Thomas’ empty grave. From there it progresses into a flashback laden introduction to Oskar’s world, where his father is both best friend and storyteller. Thomas understands his son perfectly, sending Oskar on a reconnaissance mission in Central Park and telling him tales of and imaginary “sixth borough”. The rest of the film is split between memory and a bizarre treasure hunt Oskar embarks on after finding a bag containing a small key labeled “Black” in his father’s closet. Hoping the key will lead him to someone who knew his father, Oskar decides to visit everyone in the New York City phonebook named Black. Since he is terrified of public transportation, he walks everywhere, and is eventually joined by his grandmother’s mute tenant, known only as The Renter.

Throughout his adventure, Oskar treks across impossible quantities of New York (at one point from his home on the Upper West Side to Fort Greene in Brooklyn), meets a great quantity of strangers, and sees seemingly every type of living condition. His ambitious journey is a touching display of humanity and a city united in sorrow (“Did you know my father? He was in the second tower,” Oskar asks every Black), but his character is exhausting. Somewhere on the autistic spectrum, Oskar is superior, petulant, and fussy, at times excessively nasty to his mother and doorman, and almost always irritating. And so the audience constantly faces the dilemma of being annoyed with a character, who they are clearly supposed to empathize with. It is clear why Oskar acts as he does, but it is not a pleasure to spend time in his company and this becomes a source of guilt for the viewer throughout the film.

Easily the most jolting aspect of the film is the footage from September 11. The deep emotional responses they trigger are surprising and upsetting, bringing up one’s own memories from that day. Snippets from actual news reports and a shot from Linda’s office window of the towers burning are vivid reminders of the awfulness of September 11, and many in the theater did cry. However, the obnoxious truth is that this film is not about September 11. It’s about exploiting a sad event to make the audience feel good. It’s an appalling adaptation, which turns New York’s wounds into a precious contrivance to milk tears. That Oskar’s father died in the towers is completely irrelevant to the rest of the plot, as the focus is not on dealing with the tragedy of the attacks but of a fairy tale land full of mysterious keys and friendly strangers. There are countless more plausible stories to be told of loss on September 11 than this impossible and irrelevant fantasy, where the audience does not ever really believe the key will lead to anything anyway. The scars from 9/11 are deep and unhealed, so while many leave the theater in tears, a more appropriate response is rage that our pain has been exploited.

Despite the offensive plot, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a well-done film with solid acting across the board, especially from newcomer Thomas Horn as Oskar, who manages to carry the film despite the creepiness of his character. The cinematography is also striking throughout, with many film locations easily identifiable to natives, such as Gowanus or the Rockaways. Oskar’s thorough exploration in the back alleys and private docks of these locations makes the audience want to further explore New York as well. Although the impressive cinematography and acting can hardly justify the exploitation of a national disaster (or an Oscar nomination), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a good memory, but a pointless journey. The film is irrelevant and dishonest, but at least it makes us feel good for a moment.

 

 

FINDING CHARACTERS IN 500 WORDS: THE COLLEGE ESSAY

Alyssa Freeman ’12

Attempting to conceal the surging panic racing throughout my body, I googled “500 word cut off.” I had submitted a few applications in early November not knowing that college admissions had become stricter about the 500- word limit. I learned later in the day that one could still get away with 620 words, although I would swear that my standing heart rate has been forever altered.

Five hundred words, approximately 3,000 characters, is the only opportunity to use a personal narrative on the Common App. Amidst one’s letter grades, standardized test scores, extra curricula’s, and recommendations this is the only way to communicate to college admissions directly in the application. Given that larger schools do not offer interviews, and some do not require supplements, the essay is, in these cases, the only opportunity to have a voice of one’s own.

I wonder how much could be communicated in 500 words. What could possibly be gleaned about a life? While we may not be able to identify one another through our chosen topics, character can emerge in 3,000 characters. Having talked with a few Y2’s about their essays, I learned that the process and the product are evidence of each person’s unique self. “I knew exactly what I was going to write about, wrote it in March, everything but the conclusion…” said one Y2 who most would consider intense and passionate, yet steadfast and reliable. This is a BHSEC student who many would have expected to have completed the essay well in advance. A few other Y2’s, did not know in advance what to write about. One in particular, creative and artistic beyond her years said “I wrote it the day before Simon’s Rock. Never changed it.” I had the impression that for this student, ideas were always brewing, making the one day essay a possibility although it is not recommended.

For others, the narrative process was evolutionary as well as self- revelatory. Said most succinctly by a Y2, considered to be an introspective and powerful writer “I realized the truth about myself and my situation while writing my essay, and that changed the course of the essay.” Another Y2 described starting out with a completely different topic in mind than the one she ultimately submitted. This student talked about evaluating her life globally, writing a personal statement and eventually “honing in on one paragraph from the essay and elaborating on it.”

From these interviews, I learned that BHSEC students, at least by the time we reach our second year in the college program, have developed our own ways of composing an essay. Colleges see the final, finished product. They do not witness each individual’s creative process. By far, the person who witnessed much of the essay composition, and offered the most direction, was Ms. Randall at the Writing Center. She deserves substantial acknowledgment for the emergence and creation of many characters.

 

 

INSIDE OUT BHSEC

Nika Sabasteanski ’12

I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world…INSIDE OUT. – JR

You may have seen the signs that were posted on the inside of bathroom stall doors and other less invasive spots inviting BHSEC students to have their portrait taken on February 15th, ten of which would then be selected for an international art project known as Inside Out. A French artist who calls himself JR, known for massive art pieces that span the globe, created the project. It has reached international renown and thus far (as of February 19th 8:06 PM and 20 seconds), 73, 687 black and white portraits have been submitted from 8,888 locations. The project’s motto is “A global art project transforming messages of personal identity into works of art,” which it achieves by collecting portraits and posting them both online and in public venues such as one that already hangs somewhere on East Houston. The funding for the posters come from suggested twenty dollar donations but groups, like Occupy Wall Street (who call themselves Occupy Inside Out) and BHSEC can petition to get free ones.

The theme for each group that chooses to participate in the project is indicative of the social or political climate of their country. Baghdad, Iraq chose the theme hope for their portrait collection, which consists of smiling children and young adults. Some choose goofy expressions with bulging eyes and silly wigs while others bear a hint of a smile with their eyes focused elsewhere as if they could not quite remember how. For the theme dignity, a group of seniors from East Harlem posted their photographs. Each person bears a weathered but sweet face and all are proud to assert their individuality through the project. The theme peace boasts a group from Tel Aviv called “The Time is Now Yalla” which created the mission statement “Time Is Now for those who want better government, which focuses common resources on social justice, freedom, and affordable living.” Other organized groups who have uploaded their photographs to the website http://www.insideoutproject.net include the Free Kuwaitis who each hold a dinar in front of themselves to protest the political corruption within the Kuwaiti government, El Narval in Tampiquito, Mexico which promotes community, and Eyes of Truth: An Athens Group Action, which uses only children’s portraits to highlight the perversity of governmental deceit.

The portraits are hung not only on walls and the sides of buildings but on stoops and churches, on tepees and the sides of mountains, on the tops of trains and in the slums of Kenya and in this newspaper. Instead of MOMA and the Guggenheim, the stage is the South Bronx and the sidewalks of Lima, Peru. The artists, just to fit in with the Y2’s Foucault reading (sorry I had to write it) and our post-modernism unit, are the subjects themselves and the audience is the entire world. BHSEC students Leila Selchaif and Samantha Persephone Mozes are organizing our school’s message with the help of the entire student body. Both are rallying the troops to raise money to fund the posters if they cannot be obtained for free.

BHSEC has an unprecedented opportunity to contribute our cause and to relay our spirit to the rest of the world that we will soon be entering into to make statements of our own. We turn the world inside out with our thoughts every day and now we will try with our portraits.

 

 

BHSEC ACCEPTANCE RATES

Juliet Glazer ’12

For the 2011 Harvard Yale game, Harvard students printed t-shirts that read “Occupy Yale” on the front, and “We are the 6%” on the back. The slogan was many things: a joke, a gross perversion of Occupy Wall street’s slogan, and also a not so sly reference to the stereotype of Harvard as the elite. As I contemplated college acceptance rates this fall, I wondered – is BHSEC the 6% (or 8%, or 10%), too?

This is not just another piece lamenting the changes in BHSEC’s student body as the school has gained popularity since it opened its doors in 2001. But what does being a very selective school mean? Should we applaud BHSEC’s increasing popularity and selectivity, or decry it?

In fact, BHSEC does not publish an acceptance rate. Technically this is because of the high school application process. BHSEC ranks students who apply in the order the school most wants to accept them, and the DOE ranks the students in the order that they most want to attend. A computer algorithm matches the students to the school. A percentage of students who were accepted out of those who applied doesn’t really exist.

Despite a lack of printable, satisfyingly small numbers, one thing is certain. BHSEC is becoming more difficult to get into. Last year, in 2010, 4,000 eighth graders applied to BHSEC. The school ranked 700-800. The students then ranked the school. BHSEC intended to admit a freshman class of 154 students, but ended up with a whopping 180. This is partly because more students who are admitted to both BHSEC and a specialized high school are choosing to go to BHSEC. The school has also become more well-known, said Dwight Hodgson, ’03, who works in the admissions office. Since more middle schools know about BHSEC, more students are applying.

Mr. Hodgson said the school still looks for the same qualities in prospective students that it has always looked for. Though math and writing assessments, middle school grades, and standardized test scores demonstrate basic proficiency, the interview process is important. Mr. Hodgson said BHSEC wants students who have a voice, and who are independent and creative in their thinking. The school also seeks to accept a class that is diverse in ethnicity, religion, and background, but also in perspective. As in BHSEC’s first years, however, most students still come from Brooklyn, and most are still girls.

In conversations about BHSEC being harder to get into, it’s not uncommon to hear a senior, four years past the high school admissions process, say, “I could never get in if I applied now.” That sounds strikingly similar to comments from baby-boomers who are forty years out of the Ivy League.

What does being an elite public school mean? It’s conceivable that BHSEC is accepting more students who are upper-middle class. But the admissions department’s attention to the diversity of the background of each class means this is not a big trend, if a trend at all. Elite in this context probably refers more to students who did well, academically, in middle school. And if the admissions department is still looking for students who think creatively, then elite doesn’t necessarily translate into book-smart.

So is there really anything wrong with being a high school of the academic elite? The rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street tells us we’re all the 99%. Though it’s just a technicality, BHSEC’s lack of published acceptance rates reinforces the school’s uncompetitive philosophy, and underscores the idea that we’re here because we want to learn, not to be the best. BHSEC is so unconcerned with being elite that it hardly matters whether it is or not.

 
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