Thursday, February 05, 2009

Once again, LeVar Burton affects my life.

ARTIFICIAL PRE-ADDENDUM: So, there's a deal that needs explaining about this entry. I wrote it today, intending to publish it with an attached .MP3 of the read through. However, I couldn't find a good way to record without getting a lot of room echo or breathing, so that's tabled for the moment. The formal premiere will have to wait, but I ended up writing some meaningful (to me) things later on, so I'm publishing it as is.

First point: yes, I *did* have to look up to make sure I was using the correct affect/effect case.

Second point: I'm trying out some new technology. My brother Ben got me a nice quality audio headset with microphone for Christmas and I've been trying to use it in as many different computer applications as I can. I'm already debating whether or not to drop my land line phone in favor of a "virtual" land line from Skype. That's probably going to happen.

I'll also be using the headset to record audio versions of blog entries. It most likely won't be every single entry and it definitely won't be instead of an entry. I'll only ever use them as audio transcripts (is there such a thing?).

I already read the entries out loud before I publish them; it's been that way from the beginning. I do that because it's the best way I know to catch spelling mistakes, unidiomatic grammar, awkward turns of phrase, and produce a good entry in general. The "concept" (if you wish to call it that) of this blog has always been that it's basically a one-sided conversation. In the space of an entry, I try to have a conversation with a person who isn't right here, sitting next to me. The other participant in this conversation is not just one particular person, so I try to craft the entries in such a way as to be familiar to many people.

This "read along" is really just the record (so to speak (heh)) of something I do already, so it's no great complication. Occasionally over the years (!) I've been writing this blog, I've wished to have a particular emphasis on certain sentences. These particular words may change the meaning subtly if they're stressed or weakened, or make it funnier or more emphatic. This effort is a method of tackling that issue, too.

What it's not is a complete audio duplicate of everything I write. This is a writing effort, my blog is, so I'd be doing it a disservice to glom a podcast onto it. I can think back to particular entries I've written that are not particularly suited (in one way or the other) to being read aloud. The list-based ones would be boring, I'd think. The "previous journal entry" category would be strange, since it would be "now-me" standing in for "then-me". And some things are just too personal to try and capture twice.

Third point (yes, I do have one!): I got the push to do this from LeVar Burton. Not directly, of course: he and I have never met and certainly aren't on friendly terms. Yesterday, I stumbled across Mr. Burton's Twitter log. For those not in the know, Twitter is a scaled-down dormroom sign. In 140 characters or less, the Twitterer captures the mood of what they are thinking or doing. These thoughts are then published to a public space, where anyone can visit. It's basically like a blog, but they are confined to the character limit, so they end up being concise and more frequent than blog entries. As a rule.

Anyway, LeVar Burton "twitters", as they say. And Mr. Burton found that he may have ideas that don't fit into 140 characters, so he created a blog. And this blog has a cool in-line audio player that features him reading his entry. I suppose this wouldn't have had anywhere near the effect on me that it has, had it not been for "Reading Rainbow". Listening to Mr. Burton read his entry immediately took me back to those by-gone days of watching PBS and hearing him read books. He even ends his first entry with the "Reading Rainbow" catchphrase, which made me laugh in remembrance.

I really like LeVar, though I didn't realize it until yesterday. Isn't it funny how that works sometimes? It feels strange to say that I've respected him since yesterday, because that implies that I *didn't* respect him on Monday. In actuality, it's simply that the lines that he and I live haven't exactly crossed lately.

On the nostalgia wagon, I browsed through YouTube yesterday for "Reading Rainbow" videos. That's when I realized what I've seen in LeVar that I hope I bring to my own teaching: the importance of being earnest. Whenever I've seen him interviewed, he's always earnest about whatever he's doing. It doesn't matter if he's talking about the technology involved in his "Star Trek" props or listening to a little girl explain why her boots are the best. He respects himself and others enough to pay attention.

It's basically the same thing I do with little kids. I don't really know much about how to interact with them, so I treat them like I do all my other friends: if they have something to say, I listen and comment on it. Even if it's telling me that wheels are round, or that the Ninja Turtles are attacking the couch, or something I can't even understand because the words aren't *quite* there yet (Hi, Alana!).

I treat students the same way. I don't find it condescending at all to say that I treat them the same as little kids, because I treat little kids like I do adults and so forth. It makes teaching them much easier if I listen to whatever it is they have to say about what we're working on. Sure, maybe it's just complaining. Maybe it's nonsense ("No, Brad, I do NOT want to see your Transformers again in our tuba lesson!"). But it shows them respect and that's never bad.

My old Boy Scout leader, Mr. Neu, always called each scout "Mister". So, all through high school, I was "Mister Schwartz". That was a kick, because the only "Mister Schwartz" I knew dressed in a suit and went to work each day. But in exchange for this courtesy, he expected us to be just as responsible as the adults he referred to us as. I didn't want to let him down and hear him say "Mr. Schwartz, this tent setup is not acceptable."

I don't think that I'm trying to "be like" LeVar Burton. I think it's more that he and I are inadvertently trying to be like some phantom archetype, in one way: affecting respect does a lot for you.


  1. aaaaaaaasdxssddxszsxsd

    (Hi Andy!)

  2. Levar Burton just pointed me to your blog. Well done!

  3. levar put a link to your blog on twitter! well done! :) "levarburton This is the reason I do what I do. Thanks Andy." ~amy.

  4. This is a lovely thoughtful post. As a parent, I've always endeavored to treat my children with the same courtesy and respect I afford adults. As a result, they are articulate, confident, independent girls. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I am raising my eighth child - and it was always my practice to treat them as respectful people, not as mindless infants. I, too, believe that treating a child with respect encourages them to behave in a more respectful manner.
    Five of the children came to me as foster children in their teenage years - consistency, respect and lack of hypocrisy were important. To this day they tell me that the biggest deterrent was to "not see Mom look disappointed". (grins)
    Guess it works.

  6. I treat my kids like human beings first, with the respect that comes along with that, and *then* I factor in the parental authority thing. We have a great relationship as a result.

    via Twitter... enjoyed the post!

  7. Excellent post. The great thing about technology (specifically Twitter, in this case), is its ability to connect. A quarter century has passed since I first saw LeVar burton on Reading Rainbow, and now, in 2009, childhood heroes like him are just a text message away.

    The best part? Sometimes your heroes even write back :]

  8. I just wanted to add my voice here. I found your blog entry, via LeVar's tweat, and was glad I read it. I wholeheartedly agree with your communication with children as equal citizens and especially listening to what they say. I feel your respect for LeVar Burton. But I now must add: I respect you and what you're doing and the message you are conveying. Thanks.

  9. I have a fantastic relationship with my mom because she always took the time to listen. That punishment in third grade when she said she was disappointed in me has stayed with me all the way into my 30s.

    LeVar Burton on Reading Rainbow is a big reason for why I read for a living today.

  10. I also saw this on twitter. I have a great deal of respect for LeVar Burton. I didn't realize until I got into youth ministry/volunteering with children how many children's books for me are forever associated with him reading them on Reading Rainbow.
    I met LeVar Burton when I was about 6 years old and still remember it. He was doing one of those PBS mall tours with Mr Rodgers and someone else. Apparently I climbed all over him & made him talk to my stuffed cat. After a few decades of that I'm amazed he still likes kids.

    You make a good point about communicating with children. I see how important this is in my ministry but also how rare it is for adults to do this. Children are great at absorbing everything around them and how adult interact with them has a big impact on what kind of adults they become. One thing I learned in ministry classes is that you have to be authentic with children or they will never take you seriously. Kids can smell a fake a mile away and they will call you on it.

    On a far less serious note, I've been getting teased by several of my friends for friending LeVar Burton on twitter. This could have something to do with the fact I had a major crush on him all through elementary school, at a time when everyone else was obsessed w/NKOTB, 90210 etc. Embarrassing, yes. But at least the person I hero-worshiped as a child didn't turn out to be a drug addict or hollywood cliche 20 years later. (One of my best friends says the same thing about following Wil Wheaton on twitter.)

  11. Hey just thought I'd let you know that the inline audio player that Mr. Burton uses on his blog is the player. If you search around though I'm pretty sure that you'll either find a mini hack to get it to work on blogger or you could just simply look up an mp3 player widget.

    I also have to admit that it is great to find so much buzz in the twitter world about LeVar Burton. Just brings me back to my elementary days where we'd watch his show right after recess.

    Good Wishes,