Are You a Parent Feeling Overwhelmed By Remote Learning?

In the span of twenty-four hours, I have received no less than fifteen emails from my children’s schools, several recorded phone calls, and “suggestions” that they utilize six new e-learning programs. (By the way, my kids are eleven and seven years old.) We are getting messages from principals, superintendents, food services, music teachers, art teachers, homeroom teachers, science teachers, math teachers, social studies teachers, literature teachers, physical education teachers … it’s overwhelming.

By the way–I’m a teacher.

Not to sound pompous, but my wife and I are both veteran educators, have our Master’s degrees, excellent bandwidth, numerous devices that can access the Internet, three levels in our house for privacy, and are absolutely feeling overwhelmed. We are in about as good of a situation as possible, and yet we are feeling overwhelmed.

For example, I had a Zoom meeting this morning at 9:00 a.m. for work. My eleven year old had a voluntary Google Hangouts meeting at 9:30, and my seven year old had a voluntary WebEx meeting at 9:45. That word “voluntary” is kind of tricky. We are overachievers, so nothing is really “voluntary.”

Here’s the thing–I have never doubted for a minute that my children’s schools love them. They have always made our children feel important, special, and loved. Yet, even though I’m sure this was not their collective intention, I felt like they were overburdening us. I can only imagine what it must feel like for disadvantaged families or for families that cannot take time away from work to help their kids navigate six new computer programs all in one morning.

Maybe you feel this way, too?

I want you to remember that, in nearly all cases, state superintendents are mandating that schools do no harm. Illinois’ own State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carmen I. Ayala, has directed that “Remote Learning Days embrace the principle of  ‘no educational harm to any child … ‘”

So what does this mean? It means that you and I should relax. Our schools want our children to remain engaged. They want them to keep learning. However, they also want them to maintain mental health, and they want that for you, too. Overachievers like us have to make peace with the fact that there may be days when we just can’t help our children get their work done. I promise you, the world will keep turning, and your child will not fail out of school as a result. No matter how much it seems like the teachers are throwing at your child, they want the best for your child and they will ultimately do right by your child. 

Take a breath. Do what it takes to keep your job. Help your students as much as you can, but, most importantly, love them, give them security, talk to them, and let them be kids. If it comes down to choosing between a hug or homework, pick the hug.

We’re all doing the best we can.

Stay strong. Stay healthy. Love your kids. Love yourself. We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to do it together.

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Mute – A Movie Review

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Mute is a sequel of sorts to Moon, which you may remember I enjoyed quite a bit. Ducan Jones wrote and directed both, so it makes sense that they exist in a shared reality.

I have to admit that I did not enjoy Mute nearly as much as Moon. Mute has a run-time of two hours and six minutes, and because it felt every bit of that, I found myself drifting away. The movie is very slow to start and features Alexander Skarsgård in the beginning, which also contributed to my disinterest. In Mute, he plays the protagonist, and a mute hero at that. Skarsgård is a fine actor, particularly when he plays a villain, but he just can’t carry a movie as the star in my opinion.

The plot features a man living in Berlin in the near future. He grew up disconnected from technology and suffered a terrible accident in his  youth, which led to his muteness. He’s now a bartender, and when his troubled girlfriend goes missing, he desperately tries to find her. As he searches, he becomes mired in all kinds of villainy.

Like I said, the first half of this movie is rather slow. However, when Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux begin to dominate the second half of the film, it really picks up. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the last thirty minutes. Rudd and Theroux play former military medics, men who seem decent enough, but as the movie progresses, their depravity becomes more and more apparent. I enjoyed the end so much because I’ve never seen Rudd play someone quite as edgy as “Cactus Bill.” He fully committed to his role, and he mesmerized me much like Sam Rockwell did in Moon. In fact, had Mute featured only Rudd and Theroux, it would have been far more captivating (though it obviously would have needed a different title).

That’s really the main issue I have with Mute–it’s almost two different movies in one. One movie features a silent man looking for his missing girlfriend, the other features two men who are very likable but also really quite awful. Eventually their worlds collide, but only because they must.

If you want to see Paul Rudd do something drastically different from his usual fare, I highly recommend Mute–his charisma is no less potent even as a morally ambiguous miscreant. However, if you’re just looking for something to stream on Netflix, I wouldn’t settle on Mute. Pick Moon, instead.

 

Knives Out – A Movie Review

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I saw this quite a while ago but never got around to reviewing it. However, now that I see it is available on demand, and because quite a few of us have a lot of extra time on our hands, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First of all, if you’re looking for a compelling grown-ups movie, a movie that a couple might enjoy for a “date night,” this is the one for you.

It is funny, mysterious, thrilling, and–best of all–endlessly entertaining.

The general plot revolves around a famous author dying unexpectedly at home while his entire family happens to be visiting. Each member of the family stands to benefit from his death, and each is a suspect. They, consequently, believe that his home health care assistant–Marta Cabrera–could be at fault. Daniel Craig enters the movie as Detective Benoit Blanc, a seemingly inept investigator. He doesn’t even know who hired him, but he means to get to the bottom of this mystifying case.

The acting in this film is a hoot. Daniel Craig utilizes a ridiculous southern drawl that doesn’t take long to become charming. Chris Evans is at his absolute best when he’s playing a cocky jerk. Ana de Armas loses every ounce of glamour as Marta which makes her all the more sympathetic. And those are just the main players! The film also has excellent performances from Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, and Christopher Plummer.

The writer and director, Rian Johnson, reminds us that movies don’t have to have huge special effects, CGI, or muscular people in tights to be great. This movie thrives on an irresistible mystery, quirky details, and superb acting.

Like I said, if you need a movie that will appeal to a variety of grown-ups, you can’t go wrong with Knives Out.

Netflix’s Tiger King – A Few (Introductory) Thoughts

I’ve seen a LOT online about a documentary on Netflix called Tiger King. Even so, when I would notice the “poster” on Netflix, I always thought it looked ridiculous. It appeared as some sort of a mockumentary–I assumed it couldn’t be real.

However, I listen to a radio program called The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz and they could not stop talking about how absolutely nuts Tiger King actually is. I generally agree with LeBatard on a variety of subjects, so his opinion motivated me to give it a chance.

I’m only three episodes in, but this has got to be the wildest show that I’ve ever experienced. I simply cannot believe it’s real, yet it has to be due to all of the actual news footage included–decades of legitimate news footage. I’m pretty cynical about these kinds of things, but they show local news vignettes, appearances on late night television like Jay Leno and David Letterman, actual legal documents, newspaper clippings, real magazine covers, archived Internet footage. It’s quite convincing.

The documentary essentially details the lives and “zoos” of several different people that have a particular fondness for big cats. After three episodes, I’ve come to realize they are all insane in their own way, they are all criminals in at least some capacity, and they all yield the strange charisma of a cult leader. Two of them are obsessed with destroying the other, and it certainly seems like they are on a collision course.

Listen, this is not high art. While I do believe the documentary is well made with excellent pacing and superb edits, this is an absolute circus. It’s pure spectacle.

I have no idea where this train wreck is going, and I can’t look away.

If you’re looking for a new binge, I haven’t seen anything else quite like this.

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The Mandalorian – A Few Thoughts

This is probably my favorite show of all time, so there is no excuse for just now writing about it months after it debuted.

By the way, yes, I’m a Star Wars fanatic. And, no, I’m not capable of being objective when it comes to Star Wars.

However, even with that being said, this is still a phenomenal show for the following reasons.

First of all–it’s got heart. You can tell that the creators of this show wanted it to be great. It looks great. The acting is great. The costumes are great. The story is great. The action is great. They are trying very, very hard to make a great experience for the viewer, and it shows in every way.

Secondly–they nailed the characters. The Mandalorian himself is incredible. We virtually never see his face, yet we care about him. We care about his beliefs, his motives, and his well-being. Obviously, a young character appears that depends on The Mandalorian for safety, and this is partially why we care so much about The Mandalorian himself. A bond forms between this other character and The Mandalorian, almost like that of a father and child, which causes us to see The Mandalorian in a completely different light. This child, by the way, is the element that will capture the hearts of even those who don’t count themselves among the Star Wars faithful. I know this because I saw it happen on several different occasions with people who couldn’t care less about Star Wars or science fiction in general.

Thirdly–this feels like a Star Wars story. Sure, you can absolutely watch it without knowing anything. It stands on its own as a self-contained series. However, if you know Star Wars, it feels like it belongs to the original trilogy from the Seventies and Eighties–it’s got that kind of magic.

Finally–if you are among the enlightened and enjoy Star Wars in all its forms, you will revel in the tiny references, the brief cameos, and the clever in-jokes.

Whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not, this series appeals to everyone. As we’re all stuck at home due to the outbreak, I would put this at the top of your “must-watch” list.

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Keep Your Kids Fit With GoNoodle

Have you heard about GoNoodle? My wife has been raving about it for years as a great tool for brain breaks and as an in-class fitness tool.

Well, it’s been a little chilly in our neck of the woods during the last few days and our kids needed exercise, so I found GoNoodle on our TV’s YouTube app. (GoNoodle has it’s own channel.) The kids asked me to do it with them, and let me tell you that within three minutes I was sweating. Is this due in part because of my poor fitness? Sure, but it’s also a fun way to really get the heart pumping. It’s got the kids running in place, jumping, stretching–it honestly mirrors what you would do in an aerobics class. But, because it’s so entertaining, you don’t even realize how much exercise you’re actually doing.

GoNoodle is currently offering a free family service because of the outbreak. You can find it HERE, or you can locate their channel on YouTube.

Have fun, and keep moving!

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Amazon’s The Boys – A Few Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to write about this crazy show for a long, long time because I actually watched it last summer. However, it says something that even after all of these months, it still stands out as one of the best series I’ve seen in quite a while.

Based on a comic book, The Boys is about a group of normal men who have decided to take revenge against a team of super heroes. However, these super heroes are anything but altruistic. In fact, most of them are scarier than any villain you could imagine.

Super hero stories are no longer unique on the screen, but The Boys is absolutely original in that there are no “good guys” in this story–not really. Everyone is selfish, or brutal, or willingly ignorant, or–worst of all–apathetic. And while that certainly sounds like a bummer, the show manages to infuse a grotesque sense of humor. Despite all of its savagery, The Boys is a captivating watch.

In fact, Amazon Studios seemed to spare no expense with The Boys. The special effects are top-notch, the actors–especially Karl Urban–are excellent, the story is very well conceived and executed, and the characters never fail to surprise you.

However, as good as Karl Urban is, it’s Antony Starr who steals the show. He plays Homelander, a twisted amalgam of Superman and Captain America. I’ve never heard of Antony Starr before The Boys, but his Homelander absolutely terrified me. Every time that character appeared on screen, I got nervous. You’ll have to watch the show to see what I’m talking about.

Yes, The Boys subverts the genre in a way that feels fresh, but it’s the wicked humor, the interesting characters, and the relentlessly violent story that won’t let you look away. Even after all these months, I’m still thinking about it. Season Two is on the way, so now would be a great time to catch up.

Be warned, though, this is not a show for children. The violence is shocking. Believe it or not, they actually had to tone the show down. Supposedly the comic book is even more hardcore.

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