Sunday, March 29, 2009


Ever have the feeling you're being looked at? No...more than that. PERUSED ? So I started wondering why she was looking at me that way. Then I realized. She's reading my mind. She knows my innermost thoughts. And she's saying "Aren't you supposed to be writing something ? And I reply "I AM writing something. Blogs are 'something'. Go to sleep."

But I know that she knows. Because I AM supposed to be writing something, and it's not a blogpost.

Yesterday was the Regional State History Day competition, and we went as Judges (we've done that for a few years; it's quite the experience). This year I judged "Documentaries". These are kids from all over the state who've probably succeeded in some school event and now they've come to The Capital City. The ones who succceed here advance to the State competition (it's in May, also here). And the winners THAT day go to the National Competition, in Washington DC. I can tell you that Wisconsin sends on some awfully fine work - I've never followed up to see how we do in the Nationals but it's hard for me to imagine work better than what I see.


OK - "Documentaries" means they've put together a film - they're allowed ten minutes. It has to be along the lines of something seen on PBS, more or less. The theme this year was: The Individual in History: Actions and Legacies. That's it - it could be ANY individual, not restricted to Wisconsin or even America, actually. The mind reels. Charlemagne! Queen Elizabeth I! Steve Irwin! Even movie stars could be the topic, if one could prove up some legacies. Might I add, the topics are ALWAYS some form of this, and the thoughtful or creative student would have almost no limits.

Last year I judged "Exhbits" and there was one brilliant one done by a girl perhaps 12 years old on Polio. She had the facts, she had illustrations, conclusions - it was really splendid. In her interview I asked how she happened to decide on her topic. She said, "I came upon the word 'polio' in something I was reading, and I didn't have any idea what it was." Think about THAT! I instantly recalled those television spots showing Sister Kenny exercising the atrophied limbs of little children who were crying in pain........and this child did not know what the word meant. See why I like to go judge?

OK, this year I had "Senior Individual Documentaries". That means that each was the work of a kid between 9th and 12th grade, working alone. (There are strict guidelines about how much - and from whom - they can have assistance.)

It was not lost on me that this little kids were producing technology that I'd never heard of in school. I was prepared to be knocked off my pins. I always am. This year - I wasn't.

(I think blogs need pictures, even if they don't relate. Sue me.)

Oh, the technology wasn't bad for the most part. They were films, they had fades and music (some of 'em) and illustrations. Only one had text - the rest were slide shows, pretty much. I put myself in a frame of mind to envision watching a documentary on television: I should learn something about the person, I should see how their actions or experiences had an impact on their community, or state, or country. Before we watch the films we (oh - judging is done by teams of three people) look over the students' process paper and bibliography. This should indicate an idea of how they decided on their topic, something about their methods of production - and then the list of primary and secondary sources.

In this day and age we have to be watchful -- 34 citations from Wickepedia? Nawww. And I noticed very FEW citations from actual books, perhaps only one or two from newspapers. The rest were ALL from the Internet, not necessarily a failing, but come ON, boys and girls. There was a lot of material out there before there WAS an Internet and the information is still valid. It almost seemed like the kids think that, unless it IS on the 'net, it's dubious. Oy.

Two of the expected entries didn't show, leaving us with five. I consider an entry (in any category) a success if it either piques my curiosity, makes me want to look up some of their sources for more information or leads me to want more information.

One of the programs was on Steenbock, a university scientist responsible for the establishment of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). That was the best of the lot.

There was one on Amelia Earhart, which had SO MUCH potential! It wasn't bad but it didn't even touch on what it might have. There was one on Steve Jobs (of MAC fame, infamy and fame again). It was fair. Zona Gale was represented too - and again, it could've been tighter and more informative; it was mostly pictures of the subject.

And there was one that presented a problem. Now - allow me to say this: what I AM going to be writing today is the Comments. We judges get sheets on which to tick off points for various things, (Analysis and Interpretation, Historical Context, Wide Research) and then we must write a sheet of comments - things that we liked, ways in which it might have been a little more polished, &c. The thing is, these kids work hard, and long - for months - and then come to Madison .... sometimes from tiny schools upstate, and it's a HUGE DEAL for them. If their work isn't impressive, the labor behind it is, just the same. And one of the main things is that we want them to have enjoyed the entire process, and perhaps develop an interest, an enthusiasm, for history along the way. I'm good at writing positive, inspiring, appreciative comments, even for the ones that are pretty lame.

But one in my group - is going to be more of a challenge than I've faced before. It was a documentary about a girl named Sylvia Likens. Here's a link to the entry in Wikipedia: about her and it pretty much tells the same story shown in the documentary. The recorded narration was just that...didn't include any conclusions. The process paper concludes that this girl's legacy was that she stayed strong to the end and became "one of the most iconic victims of abuse in the United States." (I haven't gone through her citations yet, but I'm sure to find that phrase.)

Thing is - there was no information in the documentary about the victim's character, and nothing about the solution other than a mention of the penalty given to the main abuser (a jail term). I was waiting for some information about a law passed, or a change in methods of reporting or investigating abuse....nothing. Oh - and the girl died in 1965. There are six pages of bibliography - and every single citation is a website origin of one of the images used. Not one single newspaper article, no reference to a newscast - the only exception is the citation of the film made (fictionalized) that premiered at the 2007 Sundance Festival (to some acclaim)about the incident. Now - we judges, in talking later, had a couple of wonderings: where was the student's TEACHER? They're supposed to provide guidance, assistance and support - did a teacher KNOW she was using this topic? And if so, W T F?? Also, the student said that she'd decided on her topic after watching the film about the incident with her mother. I repeat, W T F??

Now, most of the judges fill out their judging forms at the site in the afternoon and turn them in. My husband and I have gotten dispensation - we bring them home and TYPE them up, turning them in early Monday morning. Our feeling is that we want to put some serious and thoughtful work into the comments, considering the time put into these projects by the youngsters. So that's what I'll be writing today (procrastinating?? who said that?!?!?!).

I'm saving the Sylvia Likens one for last, because I'm going to have to drag out the BIG BAG of words to form sentences of encouragement and gratitude for doing the project at all. I'm going to have a tablet next to me on which I can scribble the things I can't say to her: Is something unhappy in your own home, that led this girl's story to appeal to you? Are you fascinated with this story - beyond the usual delicious interest all kids have in the Grotesque? Have you talked to your mom or a counselor? I won't say any of that and have no reason to even think it. But the whole documentary and the whole process paper and the whole (lame) "bibliography" made me feel really, really sad. Need I add that her film is NOT going on to State competition?

A picture of HOPE, from last summer


Jen in CT said...

Sylvia's story is so sad. I have to say that, having known someone who survived a lifetime of the sort of torture and abuse that Sylvia succumbed to, I can see why this young lady might be curious about her story. That said, I find it *extremely* sad that she wasn't able to draw any meaningful conclusions from it. Good luck with your comments.

Jamwes said...

I love to comment on a post about comments... Good luck on writing them.

This was a very interesting post. The bit about the last video watched drew me in. I agree, WTF indeed.

In case you care, I include blog posts in writing for the day. Look at how long your posts are. That totally is you 16,667 for the day. :P

Shan said...

A few notes from your woefully lagging follower (it IS following if I can still see you, right?)...
1) I saw the movie in question. It was an exquisitely painful movie. I imagine that I'd have changed the channel if my nearly 16 year old son happened into the room during it. No child needs to know that those kinds of evil are possible.
2) This competition sounds *awesome*! My husband and a few friends judge an annual contest for ROP (not sure if it's just in California, but it's an occupational training program aimed at high schoolers). Regardless of the level we are helping out with, it is immediately evident which area the students are from. High Desert food services program? Outstanding! And you brought cookies/some other magnificent confection as your portfolio exhibit? You're going to give us a plating demonstration and copies of your recipe? LOVE you! Palm Springs food service? You're happy that you found the place and that snacks were provided? You're not sure why you had to wear a tie? Alrighty then... and so on. We have often wondered about the teachers, too, believe me.
3) Every other year my family drives to Illinois to be with my husband's family for Christmas. We also trek about two hours into Wisconsin to see my aunt, uncle and cousins. The aunt and uncle are in Wales and the cousins are in Eagle. It seems that Oconomowoc is a town we've been near or through or maybe even to. Next time I'm in the vicinity, I'll send a mental howdy your way. Hmm... I've read and reread this post and don't see the city anywhere. Maybe it's from a different post. I've been trying to catch up.
And 4) my son uses as many Internet citations as he can get away with. I assume it's more a matter of quick and easy rather than believing more in the 'net. Lazy McCrastipants would be a good name for my son, too, haha.

Happy day,

Shan :+)