[end of update]
I was impressed with the first episode of This Is High School, a TV series that the CBC Media Centre (see link in the sentence you are now reading) describes as follows.
The episode, which I learned of directly at the CBC website or maybe through a link of Twitter, prompted me to reflect about things I have learned over the years about documentary filmmaking in Canada, and about high schools.
As a person who seldom watches television, I’ve made a point of watching this particular series. I found the first episode of This is High School of much interest.
“This Is High School a six-part series that gives audiences unprecedented access into the world of today’s teenagers. Producers put 50 remote-controlled cameras in a typical secondary school – and let them run for eight weeks.”
I don’t generally watch TV – I didn’t grow up with it, in the 1950s, when many people had TVs in their homes. We did not have a TV in our home until I was in my late teens. I never developed an interest in watching TV. Previous to watching This Is High School, the other TV production that I had the interest, to sit and watch, was the last show of The Tragically Hip Farewell Tour.
I much enjoyed that show – and I was also intrigued to read a Sept. 15, 2016 Canadian Art article, entitled “On the Politics of Staying in Canada,” which presented one writer;s opposition the message that the Farewell Tour entailed. An enjoyable feature of the Canadian scene, I would say, is that there remains the opportunity for people to present a wide range of view regarding any topic.
The Tragically Hip show was broadcast on CBC and was staged by Insight Productions, which was founded in Toronto by Pan Densham and John Watson in 1970, before they left Toronto to launch successful film careers in Hollywood:
I recall recently re-reading an article in Cinema Canada in which Pen Densham shared some clever thoughts about non-fiction film production in Canada in the 1970s:
A sensibility other than an NFB documentary sensibility
I have long been interested in documentary making as a genre of storytelling. One of the most widely visited pages at my website is concerned with a particular practitioner of storytelling, namely the Canadian social psychologist / sociologist Erving Goffman (sometimes described as an American academic, which is understandable given that his academic work was based in the United States); I refer in particular to a widely-read (as indicated by Google Analytics) post at my website entitled:
Why that particular page is of interest to site visitors escapes me; my speculation (for which I have a very small smattering of evidence by way of informing my speculation) is that there must be university students at the undergraduate or graduate level who need to find out about who Goffman was, and what his career was about, and my page about the launch of Goffman’s academic career covers a lot of group, succinctly.
In high school in the 1930s, Erving Goffman majored in science and math
The above-mentioned post notes that Goffman was born in 1922 in Mannville, Alberta, the son of Jewish immigrants. In high school he majored in science and mathematics. In 1939 he enrolled at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg where he studied chemistry. During his three years as an undergraduate in Winnipeg, Smith notes (p. 8), “his academic interests gradually shifted towards the social sciences.”
He then moved to Toronto and subsequently worked at the National Film Board in Ottawa where he met Dennis Wrong, a recent University of Toronto sociology graduate. Wrong, who encouraged Goffman to complete a BA degree in sociology at the University of Toronto in 1945, discusses this stage in Goffman’s life in Authors of their own lives: Intellectual autobiographies (1990). Other authors in the latter study also share recollections about his early career.
Wrong notes in the latter account (pp. 9-10; see link in previous paragraph) that as an undergraduate, “Goffman had studied philosophy and had actually read in full Whitehead’s Process and Reality. He argued in Whiteheadian language that reality should be conceived ‘along the lines on which it is naturally articulated,’ a rule he obviously followed in his later work.”
Smith notes (pp. 14-15) that “Goffman’s contribution to the war effort was to work for an agency [that is, the NFB] then heavily involved in the production of propaganda films. At that time the noted Scottish documentary filmmaker, John Grierson (1898-1972) directed the Board.
Decomposing ordinary life into elements, then putting the elements back together – reconstructing them as a representation of reality – with a particular communications strategy in mind
“While Goffman’s duties were mostly low-level and routine (boxing films for dispatch and preparing cuttings files from magazines), he could not have avoided exposure to discussions about filmic practices for decomposing ordinary life into elements that could then be reconstructed as a representation of reality [Y. Winkin, ed., Erving Goffman: Les moments et leurs hommes (1988), pp. 20-21].”
Toronto Telegram, Toronto Sun: Representations of reality, tailored for a target audience, with particular needs and interests
In the late 1970s I worked as a freelance writer, writing articles and reviews about 1970s Canadian films and filmmaking. I also worked as a ghostwriter for a Toronto Sun columnist. In both capacities, I learned a few things about storytelling, and about the craft of tailoring stories to connect with target audiences.
Writing an article for the Toronto Sun, by way of example, is decidedly different from writing an essay for a university professor. The main distinction, in this case, is that the person reading and grading a university essay is paid to mark the essay, and has no choice but to read it. By way of contrast, the person reading the Tor0onto Sun has a choice: the person is not required to read anything, and only reads material that captures her or his attention.
Ghostwriting for Lynne Gordon’s Consumer Beware-type column (maybe that was the title of the column; I don’t remember) at The Toronto Sun in the 1970s
From my vantage point as a ghostwriter for Lynne Gordon, a Toronto Sun columnist, I learned that the headline for a story has the purpose of stopping the reader in his or her tracks. Whether or not the headline has much to do with the content of the story is not of particular importance, in the circumstances. As well, the opening sentence has to capture and hold the reader’s attention; that is the sole purpose of the opening line. Whether or not the opening sentence or paragraph of the column has anything to do the rest of the column is beside the point, in the circumstances.
I recall a Royal Commission, or some other kind of commission many years ago in which a study was made of the newspaper industry in Canada, as it existed at that time, I recall a newspaper report in which an executive from The Toronto Sun made a helpful comment. The comment was that The Toronto Sun does not claim to be a “newspaper of record,” or words to that effect. I thought that comment was apt. That is, if you want a factual record of what is going on, look elsewhere.
The Toronto Sun arise from the ashes of The Toronto Telegram, as noted in a previous post:
Natalie Edwards at Cinema Canada
I also learned many things about writing in those years from Natalie Edwards, in the course of my visits to the Toronto offices of Cinema Canada in those years, in particular when the offices were at an address on Jarvis St. For some time, the magazine reunited several rooms at a large historic house on Jarvis; the office was a great place for me to visit and meet people connected with the magazine. Some years later, before the magazine folded, the offices were on Portland St. in Toronto.
In one of my first encounters with Natalie at the Jarvis St. office, she sat down with me and proceeded to tear a manuscript, that I had drafted, into shreds. She showed me how to say in a sentence what I had taken three, double-spaced pages to say.
Having my text torn to shreds didn’t bother me, in the least. I knew I was a good writer. I had graduated from high school with top marks in the graduating class in the two English courses (something like Composition and Literature) that all Grade 11 students were required to take. I had also served as editor of the student newspaper at Simon Fraser University, and had achieved a reputation as a writer and editor who was capable of ensuring that content, even regarding the most contentious issues, was accurate and balanced.
Writing well came naturally to me, and feedback that would enable me to improve my game was most welcome, from my way of seeing things. Natalie Edwards wrote beautifully – succinct pieces that, as she explained to me, required a lot of work and effort, so that they come off as effortless, off-the-top-of-one’s head compilations of succinct, emotionally engaging texts. I learned so many things from her and owe her many thanks.
I learned many other things, as a freelance writer, before I turned to a career as a public school teacher, where I could write report cards and other documents to my heart’s content, and get paid for it. In contrast, with rare exceptions (involving exceptional talent and being at the right place at the right time), making a living as a freelance writer can be a challenge.
Writing student report cards is a great way to make a living as a writer
Now, as a freelance writer working for Cinema Canada from 1975 to 1980, I saw a lot of NFB films, and met a lot of NFB filmmakers. In the years that followed my freelance career, I also saw a good number of more recent NFB productions. What struck me about every NFB production was the fact that, no matter what the topic – and no matter what the technical approach – every NFB film felt to me to be exactly the same.
There was an air of earnest didacticism in every production, and the thought, regarding what Erving Goffman learned at the NFB during the Second World War, has stayed in mind in recent years when I’ve made the attempt to make sense of this feeling, that I’ve experienced every time that I have seen an NFB film. It comes down to the concept that the name of the game, from an NFB perspective, is to take some slice of representative reality, and link it to some other slice, and then you typically hire a voice over person with a sonorous, authoritative delivery who intones whatever it is that a producer wishes to communicate, in the spirit of top-down didacticism.
This Is High School, a CBC production, has avoided didacticism of the kind that was a central feature of NFB documentaries
There is an element of didacticism in the first episode of the CBC TV series, This Is High School – but the didacticism is highly suitable, given the topics that are covered. It’s not a heavy-handed, top-down kind of didacticism that is, in my view, frequently featured as a central element in NFB documentaries. The CBC episode has an open-ended quality about it. Nothing is being rammed down your throat. You can view the episode, and can arrive at your own conclusions. You can reach your own sense of closure, whatever that sense may be, in the course of watching the episode.
Let me define my terms. A definition at literaydevices.net notes that:
Didacticism is a term that refers to a particular philosophy in art and literature that emphasizes the idea that different forms of art and literature ought to convey information and instructions along with pleasure and entertainment.
[End of text]
A more complete definition of “didacticism” in included in a Comment below.
Dashan – I may have the name spelled incorrectly; however for the purposes of my review let’s say his name is Dashan – is described, and presented in the first episode, as a “good kid” who likes to create disturbances at the school. The vice principal refers to a series of negative sanctions that do not produce the desired change on behaviour. A switch in tactics is presented: If Dashan can manage to get through a specified number of days, without being sent to the office, he will be able to play a leadership role in a rugby practice.
Dashan manages to get through the requisite number of days, without an incident that would trigger a journey to the vice-principal’s office, and thus has the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership skills in a socially appropriate – that is, positive as contrasted to negative – context.
The story about Dashan is provided in a context where there is a degree of didacticism in the message – but it entails a form of didacticism that makes sense in the best sense of what didacticism entails, as I view it from my perspective as a retired public school teacher. The following text, regarding what didacticism entails, which is applicable – applicable in a frame of reference that I, personally, view in positive terms – from the above-noted literacydevoces.net definition, notes:
Didacticism in Morality Plays
Morality plays of medieval Europe were perhaps the best exemplars of didactic literature. These plays were a type of theatrical performance which made use of allegorical characters to teach the audience a moral lesson. The most common themes that that were presented in morality plays were what are commonly known as the seven deadly sins: pride, lust, greed, envy, wrath, sloth and gluttony. Another theme that such plays exploited was that repentance and redemption was possible for a person even when that person intentionally gives in to temptation. Historically, morality plays were a transitional step that lay between Christian mystery plays and the secular plays of the Renaissance theatre.
[End of excerpt]
The story of a student we’ll call Pat: Social media exclusionary tactics, and the role of the school in addressing such issue
The second person featured in the first episode is a high school student that I’ll call Pat. I’m not good with remembering names. For the purposes of a review, let’s say the name of the student is Pat. That may or may not have been the name used in the episode.
The episode describes a scenario where a rumour, which puts Pat in a bad light, circulates. The resulting handful effects are addressed, in a manner that appears satisfactory for all concerned with the incident, by two guidance counsellors who set up a meeting with Pat and the student who was involved with the spreading of the rumour.
The incident brings to mind for me (1) the concept that bullying is a fact of life in high schools, as documented among others by practitioners of linguistic anthropology, and (2) that agency among high school students can take many forms, positive as well as negative as outlined in a previous post:
Advertising sequences on CBC’s This Is High School show
As I’ve noted at the start of this post, I don’t watch a lot of TV. Thus as an infrequent viewer of television I can add that the advertising that accompanied the above-noted TV show were in my view intriguing, The storytelling was put together with high production values – so many captivating mini-sagas – in favour of products such as Advil.
The Advil ads bring to mind CBC news stories related to Advil and similar products:
A Sept. 27, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Heart risks of anti-inflammatory drugs vary.”
An Aug. 25, 2016 CBC article is entitled: “Caution on chronic, high-dose use of acetaminophen in pregnancy: Occasional acetaminophen use in 1st trimester not a cause for alarm, professor says.”
A July 10, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “NSAID pain relievers’ heart warnings boosted in U.S.: Heart attacks and strokes can occur in the first few weeks of taking the drugs.”
With reference to the ubiquity of cell phones in the first episode, I was interested to read an Oct. 3, 2016 CBC article entitled: “Fed up with nagging, Toronto teacher asks parents’ help confiscating kids’ cell phones: ‘As hip and connected as you want to be, you need to be able to think clearly,’ teacher says.”
Also of interest, and value, is an Oct. 2, 2016 CBC article (with a link to an online interview) entitled: “When it comes to raising children, be a gardener, not a carpenter.”
I heard the interview on my car radio.
The Gardener and the Carpenter (2016)
The article refers to a book entitled: The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children (2016).
In the above-noted CBC interview, Alison Gopnik advocates learning situations for children where they are autonomous enough to be active in situations that entail some degree of risk, such that failure – from which a child can learn many things – is built into the situation.
In her view, the completion among high school students for university positions entails an attempt by individuals to gain a competitive advantage – in a situation where, when the dust settles, everybody is worse off in the long run.
She also speaks of Finland – where children are in early childhood education settings until the age of 7. That is, school as we know it does not begin until the age of 7 in Finland. Teachers are also very highly valued in Finland, a country that is consistently at the top range of international student achievement tests. Gopmick notes, as well, that Finland has an extensive, well-funding early childhood education system in place.
She also notes, in the interview, that she is not worried about all of the time that teenagers spend looking at screens. She add that we won’t know, until 20 years from now, what the results of social media usage will be, in terms of the effects that such usage will have on cognitive and social function. She adds there has been a cycle of horror stories related to the introduction of new technologies with each passing generation of children. The cycle begins with horror, she notes, followed by a realization that the alarms were nor warranted.
She notes, as well, that we learn things in a different way when we are children, as contested to when we are adults. When a child is learning information technology while she or he is growing up, that is, the technology is taken in stride; it’s taken for granted as a part of everyday life. In contrast, for adults the same technology is often viewed as strange and as a challenge to adjust to.
She says: The best question to ask, with regard to children today, is: “Are we / I thriving? Is there something that I can do, to ensure the thriving occurs, and continue?” We don’t need, she says, to think: “Will this person come out in a particular way.” She says as well that good and bad experiences, with the passage of the years, are the lot of all of us – these things are a part of being human, the author notes.