By Ron Hertz: We entered the teaching trenches during the agonizing Vietnam era, full of hope that we might help transform our nation, and here we are, thirty-something years later, retiring from the noble profession as our country stands embroiled in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We teach our children how to question
Where their truth comes from —
But our government keeps asking them to die ..."
Through poetry, narrative, and song, "Subversive in Suburbia" tells the story of my public high school teaching career, but it also tells the story of many of my colleagues. We entered the teaching trenches during the agonizing Vietnam era, full of hope that we might help transform our nation, and here we are, thirty-something years later, retiring from the noble profession as our country stands embroiled in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet as Pentagon budgets have soared, our students' skills and motivation levels have tumbled.
So in a way, despite successes with individual students, my story, or the tale of my generation of idealistic colleagues, is a sad one. Our nation, founded on egalitarian dreams, drifts ever more overtly into empire, while we teachers attempt to open minds that seem ever more apathetic about their education. Bombarded with the "benefits" of technology — their iPods, cell phones, DVDs and video games — an increasing number of students find the act of reading slow, confusing and boring, something to be avoided. It's not just that they miss out on enjoying Shakespeare and fine literature, their reading deficiencies prevent them from reading and comprehending science, history and current events.
Thus, 200 years after the birth of Darwin, half our citizens fail to accept the basic principles of evolution, and just about the same number believe that Saddam Hussein, aligned with Osama bin Laden, engineered the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — despite all evidence to the contrary. We have become a "factually challenged" society. Yet as the most powerful country in the world, the consequences of our dullness crisis are immense.
We elect Nixons and Bushes. We invade the wrong countries. We flirt with nuclear war. Our greatest leaders are killed mysteriously. Our greatest skyscrapers collapse mysteriously. Our economy crumbles before our eyes inexplicably. But to minds over-blasted with mega-entertainment and personal concerns, it's all too jumbled, complex and confusing. Sorting through the junk to the significant represents the greatest challenge of making education meaningful and not irrelevant today. Nobody said good teaching was easy.
Teaching peace in these times of perpetual war is especially challenging. That's why we're doing this show. I'm fortunate to have some great help in this opening production. Almost everyone in the show has been a career teacher. The cast consists mostly of some friends from the Rogue Valley Peace Choir Ensemble — Avram Chetron, Laurie Danley, Mike Dunn, Annie Funkhouser and Marilyn Havill — as well as my wife, Donna Hertz, and our friend, Francie Ghidinelli. Besides our love for good songs and meaningful education, all of us share the deepest longing for peace.
"Subversive in Suburbia" will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 19 in the Ashland Community Center. Our local Peace Choir Ensemble, conducted by Dave Marston, will begin the show with a few songs. We'll have refreshments and booklets of the poems and songs performed. The cost is $5, with all proceeds going to the Rogue Valley Children's Peace Choir.
I hope we'll have a full house of open, inquisitive minds.
Ron Hertz taught English in California public high schools for 30 years. He's been visiting Ashland since 1973 and moved here four years ago. For more information about the performance, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.