Ms. Moffett's
First Year

Becoming a Teacher
In America

Abby Goodnough
(Public Affairs/Perseus)
At the age of forty-five, Donna Moffet decided to give up her legal secretary job and go to work for the New York City public school system. She was part of a new experiment to send 350 gifted amateur teachers into the worst public schools in the city. The program was called the New York City Teaching Fellows program, and this is her story of trying to teach reluctant and bored first graders, teach them by the book.

It's just what you would expect. She's given a bunch of misfits for her first grade class. She has run-ins with suspicious administrators who don't like, and don't think they need, some la-dee-dah Teaching Fellows program. There are the disinterested parents, some of whom will not even respond to requests for meetings.

At one point, after a particularly bruising brush with the students on the one side and a stony-faced vice-principal on the other, Donna is ready to throw in the towel. And, I have to say, at this point, any sane reader should be ready to throw in the towel, too.

There isn't much around to make us fall in love with or even care for Donna, or her students, or most of all, the author. Goodnough wrote all this as a reporter for that MEGO [mine eyes glaze over] daily grind, the New York Times. She wrote for "Education," the MEGO-squared section, a writing sinecure not exactly bubbling with light and fun.

Ms. Moffett's First Year is a wonky report on a silly experiment to rescue the New York's public schools from the state legislature, the teacher's union, and the school bureaucracy. All agree that changes --- deep changes --- are necessary. Students may already be starting the process of burning down the school buildings (excellent sentiment), but, unfortunately, many of the old ones --- both buildings and administrators --- are still around.

The state and local authorities are busy dumping even more money --- your money, my money --- into that proven blowhole of a decaying institution instead of passing a few laws that would allow the teachers to beat the shit out of recalcitrant, noisy, and out-of-control students.

Perhaps the school system could invest in a few dozen new rulers: When I was a student in the Bronx, fifty years ago, a swift swat across the knuckles was all that was needed to keep us interested in the proceedings. Our Ms. Daugherty was not at all interested in back talk, and she certainly wasn't stupid enough to try to plead with us to behave. She also didn't have to put up with the likes of a prison-guard clone vice-principal looking over her shoulder because she didn't need one.

She could handle us just fine: A whack or two was all that was required to keep us on course. In the principal's office downstairs, the back up, a wooden paddle called a "fanny-warmer" was always available in times of dire emergency .

Too bad that Goodnough isn't a enough of a visionary to suggest this most appropriate solution. It's so simple, and being simple, everyone overlooks it. My advice: stop bringing in martyrs like Ms. Moffett to plug the failings of the Teacher's Union and the dead weight of bureaucracy. Get the state legislature to establish ten schools, ten model schools based on the standards that were in use fifty years ago. Give several hundred worthy teachers the power to kick ass and run the classrooms as they should be run. Accept students only if the parents sign agreements to allow the teachers to be in charge. Do not permit anyone from the teacher's union or any school board members or bureaucrats to get in the front door. Ditto reporters from the tendentious Times.

Just let the teachers teach, and at the end of the year, compare the accomplishments of the students in our Retrograde Model School with those of the remainder of the school system --- private and public. Let the best one win.

Outside of this, if you want the real skinny on teaching in New York --- one that's wise and has some life to it --- read Elizabeth Gold's Brilliant Intervals of Horrible Sanity.

--- Lawrence Singer
Go to
another viewpoint
on corporal punishment

Rosario Tijeras
Jorge Franco
Gregory Rabassa

(Seven Stories)
Antonio is in love with Rosario. Emilio --- Antonio's best friend --- is in love with Rosario. Ferney the hoodlum is in love with Rosario. The Cartel is in love with Rosario --- after all, this is Medellín. The Cartel also takes Rosario off every few months to service the dope jefes.

Everyone loves her ... except Emilio's rich parents. Can they get their love-sick son to leave her and seek a normal life, not on the edge? Not a chance. Unlike Emilio or Antonio she grew up surrounded by the thieves and pimps and she's a fire-pot, pure dynamite. Who can resist? (I couldn't).

No one knows her last name and she won't tell. They call her "Rosario Tijeras." Tijeras means "scissors," as in nut-cutter. Literally. After some looking, she was able to catch up with Cachi, a man who had, many months before, raped her. Since he didn't recognize her, she lured him into her bedroom.

He's undressed, lying on the bed, opening his arms to receive the naked, lovely Rosario. Quickly, she pulls out the scissors, gives him the old snip. A screaming, ball-less ex-rapist. Antonio tells us her kisses are icy, like death.

You know that old story of the woman of supposed easy virtue, the ones that drive men batty? It is a combination of looks and love-ability and personality and sauciness and pith and something else, something special, that makes them impossible to forget (or to get too close to).

Rosario is Bizet's Carmen. She's Shakespeare's Cleopatra. She's one of those women out of Lawrence Durrell, the ones that end up naked drunk dancing on the hood of the car, at midnight, dancing madly, dancing with herself, never needing anyone else to dance with. Ay, Rosario. Why can't we forget you.

§     §     §

Author Franco catches us right off:

    Since Rosario has been shot at point-blank range while she was being kissed, she confused the pain of death with that of love ... "I felt something flowing all through my body. I thought it was the kiss," she told me on the way to the hospital, as she grew weaker.

And there we are in the emergency room for the whole of Rosario Tijeras, where the clock is stuck at 4:30. Will she survive? Antonio tells us that he only cheated his friend Emiliano once, only slept with Rosario once. But it's his memory of memories, drives him crazy with love, the fire and shadows of it.

    What follows has been my most beautiful and painful secret ... it will forever be more secret and even more intimate and painful. I'm going to review it every day so that it will always come back fresh, as if it just happened. That's why I'd like to kiss her now, to remember her mouth again, taking advantage of the fact that her kisses will always taste the same. To kiss her now with the certainty that she won't lay the weight of her sins on me.

And then, as Antonio is basking in the sweet dreaminess of having made love with the woman he loves most in the world, she turns to him and says, "Emilio's is bigger than yours."

Ay, Rosario.

It is art, a good art, to capture the reader with but three characters: Emilio, to whom she always returns, the man who is "as affectionate as a piece of coal." Rosario, who every time she killed someone, would go on a binge, get grotesquely fat. And Antonio, our sad narrator, the one in the waiting room of the hospital, stuck at 4:30 a.m.

He once asked her if she was afraid of death. "Not of mine, no," she answered, "but other people's, yes." He then says,

    When I emerged from the shock of finding out that Rosario killed in cold blood, I felt an inexplicable sense of trust and security.

A line right out of Genet, on the level with Genet's three great virtues: thievery, treachery, sodomy.

"It was us," says Antonio, "the three of us, because the relationship was supported by three pillars, as is always the case: the soul, the body, and reason." He's wrong. There is one more, and that is the city of Medellín, the character that captures them all, the one that Rosario moves so easily in ... lust and drugs and easy murder. When she is going off to commit yet another, Antonio calls out to her, "Rosario. Don't do anything that'll hurt me." But she will, and he knows she will. That is her world, Medellín. The new city in the new world of the New World, from which comes all our pleasures; and all our pains.

--- George Bell Ball

Time Stands Still
Muybridge and
The Instantaneous
Photography Movement

Phillip Prodger
When a horse is racing is there ever a time when all of its feet are off the ground? You and I know now that indeed the feet can and do all leave the ground; but back there in the dark ages, before photography, one could never be sure. And, if you think about it, the very question has a philosophical edge, in the same vein as "If a tree falls in the forest, etc etc."

One of the first to try to resolve this weighty horse question was Leland Stanford, founder of Princeton University. Wait: that was Fred W. Princeton, III. Stanford founded Stanford, and when he wasn't busy founding schools and building railroads and in general, being a 19th century rogue, he was breeding and racing thoroughbreds.

Which brought him (and brings us) to the famous all-four-feet-off-the-ground question.

Stanford's noodling on this subject brought him to artist Edweard Muybridge. Also known, Prodger informs us, as Edward Muygridge, or Muggeridge, or Maybridge, or, when he went south of the border, Eduardo Santiago. And he did go south of the border. For an extended stay. As a remittance man.

Seems that when he wasn't conducting horse photography experiments for Leland Stanford, he was stalking a Major Harry Larkyns who, it was said, was conducting experiments on his own. And not on horses but on Muybridge's (or Muggeridge's) young wife, Flora.

Through a purloined letter, Edward (or Edweard) found that Larkyns had fathered a child by Flora, and then had fled to Calistoga. Muybridge mounted a horse, perhaps one that had been the subject to his photography experiments and high-tailed it off to the Yellow Jacket Mine where he found Larkyns playing cribbage. He called him to the door, and called him to task by delivering the following speech, in full Victorian rotundity:

    Good evening, Major. My name is Muybridge. Here is the answer to the message you sent my wife.

And bam! --- he plugged Larkyns right in the old ticker. And promptly turned himself over to the police.

You may be thinking I am spending too much time on this Victorian love drama when, instead, I should be joining in the controversy as to whether Muybridge was an early perhaps the earliest inventor of what we now call motion pictures ... even before Edison and the Lumière Brothers. After all, with his quick action photos, done for Stanford, breaking time into pieces, as it were, did indeed prove that a horse can lift all four feet off the ground and not collapse in the process.

The reason I spend time on the workings of Muybridge's passion is that in this lengthy tome, with its almost three hundred pages, along with 100 photographs --- unless you consider multiple-shot photographs as more than one, so a case could be made for the fact that there are more than 500 photographs --- the reason we concentrate on this love stuff has to do with Prodger being so wordy.

A stolen kiss (and a stolen letter), a breathless ride, a shot in the chest is wonderfully dramatic, and the lawyer's closing speech (which got Muybridge off) is even more so.

Imagine yourself in a stuffy courtroom in the California gold country, jammed with members of the press from around the world (it was the O. J. trial of its day). And there is the attorney Wirt Pendegast, making a speech that brings tears to all eyes: "The debaucher holds the woman in his arms, kisses her lips on the night of the birth of her child, calls her 'his baby,' intrudes himself into the sacred precincts of the birth chamber, and afterwards exchanges ribald jokes at the expense of the older man whom they have wronged."

    I cannot ask you to send this man back to a happy home --- he hasn't any --- the destroyer has been there and has written all over it, from foundation stone to roof tree, "Desolation! Desolation!" His wife's name has been smirched, his child bastardized, and his earthy happiness so utterly destroyed that no hope exists for its reconstruction. But let him go forth again among the wild and grand beauties of Nature in his present beloved profession, where he may, perhaps, pick up again a few of the broken threads of his life and obtain such compensation as may be attained by one so cruelly stricken through the very excess of his love. Or send him to the gallows. Ye are the judges.

Great stuff. Much more interesting than all this nonsense about acid baths, "gelatin dry-plate," experiments with single lenses, ether vapor, and f-numbers.

--- Ingrid Duarte
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