Friday, June 05, 2009

Runners High

Watched the movie Runners High the other night. Now, I am in education, and theater, but you don't have be involved in either to have been exposed to a million variations on the To Sir, With Love story. Devoted but flawed teacher - or maybe the teacher has no flaws whatsoever (and in that case is played insufferably by Robin Williams) and enters a blackboard jungle (hey, another good one) wherein they encounter a disengaged and even potentially vioent student population. Maybe the teacher is from the hills - or maybe they are froom this environment. Doesn't matter, the end is always the same. The teacher suffers, the students are inflexible ... until they suddenly aren't, and confess their hidden love for whetever it was the teacher was trying to get them to do. Write poetry. Act. Maybe run a marathon.

One of the greatest theater events I have seen recently was Nina's performance in No Child... at CPT. A teaching artist is trying to get students at Malcolm X High in the Bronx to perform Our Country's Good. Her performance sold me, I am not sure how the script would fare in others' hands. Everyone deeply wants to stand onstage and act, right? And would be amazing at it, if they only tried, right?

Unless of course, they don't. I think art is important. I am not always sure how important my particular art is. That's heresy, I know, but seriously, I think it's arrogant sometimes to insist students perform. I am currently working with at-risk youth in Lake County and some of them just have no use for the stuff. They may like music, though, or drawing. But speaking lines from a page? Out loud? What is?

I digress. Runners High, directed by Justine Jacob and Alex da Silva. Every year, students at Oakland Tech train to run the L.A. Marathon. I was unclear as to why they tried - were they tapped for this program? Some had a desire to complete it, others must have been talked into it, I could not be sure. But once they were in it, most expressed a desire to accomplish this goal.

It was frustrating to watch, and I mean that in a good way. A young woman, Ebony, had obviously never been expected to complete anything, ever, not even a complete sentence. And when anyone begins to challenge her, everything is someone else's fault. She's "trying", when it is apparent to all outward appearance that she is not.

Fred is a young man who has had a falling out with his mother, and is in the care of his grandmother. He is capable, and strong, and willing, but like so many others, it looks as though he has no comprehension of what a marathon is. The fact that he makes it to the race (those who cannot complete an 18 mile qualifying run are not permitted to go to L.A.) was a bit of a surprise, and in spite of my frustration with his inability to get it together, and the head shaking he produced in me, I was startled by my emotional reaction to what happens at the of the race.

There are other stories of people who have a clear picture of what they are up against, whose journeys are by turns poignant and heartbreaking. I loved all the different coaches, and their different approaches. It was like, a handful of bad cops and one good cop. There's a priceless scene, cutting back and forth between two of them talking about Ebony - one saying she's out, she's gotta get it together, she has one more chance, while the other coach speaks with great understanding and empathy for her. Who has ever expected, or asked her to do anything?

Most of all, the piece just made me wish I could run another marathon. I am not sure I ever will. But it is uplifting to think of a different high school class in Oakland, every year, having the opportunity to make that race.

Distance: 4(?) miles
Temperature: 49ยบ
Weather: cool & clear
Weight: 154 lbs.

Harris, Liz & Max are in town. Went for a run with Harris, it was his idea, actually. He's staying with a friend, only a half-mile from our house. I took him much further han I believe he would have gone on his own. Three miles? Ha, I laugh at your three miles.

You know, talking makes a run a lot ... longer. Really, I listen to music and I don't notice the time or the distance, but talk about politics, New York, Star Trek ... makes you aware of your breathing, of the air, of the cars. I guess it is because I am listening to the world instead of closing that sense off.

That, and Harris is really, really boring.

1 comment:

JB said...

Talking makes a run pass at warp speed for me but I have gone on runs with people who have stayed silent the entire 15 miles and any non running sound from me was met with a stare indicating me being a nuisance. I'll have to check out "Runners High"