Just outside of Seal Rock, I looked out the window of a yellow, magic bus loaded with 30 students from Newport High School and caught a glimpse of the ocean. A pacific feeling swept over me — but only for a few seconds — because we were cruising south down Highway 101 to Yachats to stage a spectacle that I envisioned as a cross between The Partridge Family
, The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
, and School of Rock
The good people of Yachats had asked me to bring ace performers from my Friday Lunch Jam club and put on a show that also included stunning black and white images from my photography class. Naturally, I said yes! What else did I have to do on a Friday night on the Oregon Coast in the middle of winter?
The Friday Lunch Jam began three years ago in my classroom as an open mic event. It features music and spoken-word performances by students (and some staff) and has become a campus sensation that provides a supportive and democratic atmosphere for teenagers to exhibit their talents.
So, there we were, on a sonic field trip. The kids were all right, pumped up, navigating ineptly or deftly the social watercourses that define that age, and I was trying to fathom my role as a teacher in this Brave New (corporate and government ? the most insidious of collusions) World of Standards in Education. The word complicit keeps coming up a lot, and I don't like it.
I did know one thing: I needed rock and roll! I needed it more than the beach! Some six hours earlier I had sat through one of the most frustrating faculty meetings of my 18-year career. I'll spare you the play-by-play. It will all come out in the novel. Just let me declaim: the idea of a public secondary school system that nurtures creativity and reflection and encourages young people to discover animating passions that enable excellent adulthoods is on the brink of annihilation by a machine that wants every child to become an automaton for the perpetuation of an unsustainable American economy built on nothing less than a house of marked cards.
And all I wanted to do was kick out the jams with the kids. On the bus, I recalled something Lou Reed sang about a wayward character: "She started listening to the fine, fine music, you know, her life was saved by rock and roll." That line perfectly describes about a dozen students who rode the bus with me to Yachats.
Not all students are saved by extra math and reading classes, more testing, and less recess.
We set up the equipment and ran through a sound check. In the green room moments before the show, we gathered tightly together, put our hands together, and all screamed on my count, "Let's rock Yachats!"
And we did.
An hour later, after performances ranging from blues to pop to poetry to opera to classic rock to a song in Italian, all the students stood on the stage and raised their hands in the air. The audience gave them a standing ovation.
Back on the bus, I paraphrased something Julius Caesar wrote after vanquishing some barbarian tribe: "We came. We saw. We conquered. We rocked."
On the way home after the crew ate pizza, I pulled the truck near the ocean to hear its Pacific feeling. I thought about celebrating perhaps the greatest experience of my teaching career by going to the beach, but I was totally exhausted, and it was blacker than black outside. So, I went home, took a bath, drank a goblet of wine, and slept better than I have in months.
I hit the beach with Sonny at sunrise the next morning and continued thinking about my role. That word complicit came up again, and I guess all I can keep doing to preserve my integrity and sanity while I figure things out is, to quote Neil Young, "Keep on rocking in the free world." In this anthem, Neil intended this phrase as irony. I don't.