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edu180atl: bart griffith 1.11.12

I am thinking today about Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, a story about Gil Pender, a conflicted screenwriter on family vacation in Paris.  Beset by a loveless marriage and the seeming absurdities of the 21st-century, Gil longs to live with the expatriates, bohemians, and artists of 1920s Jazz Age Paris, an epoch he perceives as more honest, pure, and transcendent than the present. Through some surreal combination of fantasy, imagination, and magic, Gil gets his wish, going back in time to rub elbows with the icons of the era. He shares manuscripts with Hemingway and drinks with Dali. Along the way, oscillating between the romance of the past and the very real challenges of the present, Gil discovers self-knowledge and a renewed sense of purpose, his maturation marked by the recognition that nostalgia, when tempered, can promote insight and growth.

Nostalgia plays a central role in the conversations that my colleagues have about school change. I find that sometimes educators, much like Gil’s antagonist, dismiss such sentimental yearning “as little more than a flaw of the romantic imagination for those who find it difficult with the present.” Quite to the contrary, Gil’s immersion and reconsideration of things past stands out as a source of love, purpose, and voice in the present.  Of course, obsessive commitment to “Golden Era Thinking” will paralyze a schoolhouse, but, on occasion, let’s grab a baguette and walk the Seine together, shamelessly summoning the chalk dust of the past. Who knows what its myths might teach us?

Bart Griffith is an English teacher, husband, and father in Atlanta, GA and enjoys hearing the funny, insightful, and nonsensical things that teenagers have to say. 

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks Bart! I think your words represent a balance view for placing value on “looking back” into the past for insight and reassurance, but also recognizing that change requires looking ahead. Both views can help change find a path of least resistance. Honoring both views is important.


    January 12, 2012
  2. Thank you for this thoughtful and nuanced post! Memorable: “his maturation marked by the recognition that nostalgia, when tempered, can promote insight and growth.”

    January 12, 2012
  3. Bart,

    I echo Ross’s comment above. Tempering our nostalgia and our wide-eyed obsession with the merely new, we shall find a wise path. Here’s to hoping our schools can chart those waters with shared learnings and growing wisdom! Thanks for a beautifully written and thoughtful post.


    PS: Indeed, it was an interesting movie…

    January 12, 2012
  4. Thank you, Bart, for your thoughtful. eloquent and balanced piece. Your reflection encourages my own. As I do reflect, I wonder what about my past school experiences, as student and teacher, might provoke nostalgia. This wondering reminds me of Neil Postman’s book, Teaching as a Conserving Activity. His earlier book, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, was one of my handbooks as a young teacher. In the spirit of these two books and your post, we need the creative tension between remembering and inventing. Genuine student engagement and growth are the benchmarks, as far as I can see.

    January 15, 2012

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