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The Listener

Never in my on again off again profession as a Teacher did the term School to prison pipeline resonate more to me since my move to Nashville and my work as a sub in their horrifically dysfunctional school district. Where to begin - from the endless line up, silent admonishment in lunchrooms, bathroom breaks at specific times, staggered release times, the endless scoldings, admonishments, the locked doors and the endless military like presence with schools bragging about former military leaders now as Principals, many who are security staff and my personal favorite the one high school with photos of former Cops that line the walls who were somehow connected to the school and the opening morning announcement that included a history of some Police Officer and a warning about staying off drugs. Okay then.

Which was followed another militaristic high school that in this advisory class they were reading an article about Police (natch) and the role of Black Lives Matter, Ferguson and the repercussions of that in social views. When we got to the question about Police shootings I shared my knowledge about the subject, the work of Radley Balko (a local writer), the documentary about the subject I just saw and the current stats in Chicago about those dead due to gun violence. The conversation was of course as I have come to expect and experience is largely one sided, me talking, no one listening and the one who is says nothing but I can tell and the same kids who are so desperate to be the "hood" kids (that Hillary Clinton idiotically called "super predators" but I just call in my old fashioned way - punks - it is truly one word that crosses colors, genders and economics) immediately launch into comparing the projects of Nashville and their killing ratio as if it something to be proud of.

When we got to the article about Europe and the Police that carry no guns it was again the same punks that went off about Cops not carrying guns and that they could get shot and how do they protect themselves and I tried to point out that it is a Catch 22 situation as we have learned since the varying terrorist attacks in Paris and Belgium and even the one in Australia which has the strictest gun control laws in the world but that in reality guns are the problem not the solution as not all the attacks used guns. But the most devastating attacks are people with guns and Dallas was a good example of how Police were there to protect the protesters they were the ones killed and since that time the respected Police Chief who was big on integrating his force and community policing has since left the job which again puts those strong elements of reform at risk. I wasted my breath as once again the kids seem fascinated that they could go to England and kill cops or commit crimes and be safe or both.  However, as they also had problems with the term Great Britain as they wanted to know where that was too,  I am going to assume the Police are safe as a result of their geographical idiocy.

And yes the kids are idiots - why? Because in the schools here there is little being taught. They are tested and disciplined and they are bused across town and they are then graduated into a world where their idiocy is expected and accepted. And yes we in Seattle did not have it any better but we were not as bad as this, this is surreal.

I am off to the "jail" school in an hour. I will see desperation and I mean by the staff, the kids have long given up caring and the staff pretends to as it is what they do. They scold, they yell, they threaten but they rarely do anything of value that might help a life.  I know this as I have seen the lesson plans, the behaviors and the approach to education by the kids so I can make this presumption I suspect they have little work to do to plan or correct papers and they in turn can say to people how hard they work by simply telling people where they work it is a viscous circle.  I only go there as it is literally down the block from my house and I quit caring the day the kid took a swing at me. Well actually before that but again commute time cannot be beat, metaphorically speaking.

And this play is something I must see and read as her voice is something I need to hear. I need to hear someones voice of reason right now so I can have hope as I only have despair.

Review: Anna Deavere Smith’s ‘Notes From the Field’ Delivers Voices of Despair and Hope

NOV. 2, 2016

Just listen, if you would, to how she listens.

That may sound like an odd way to invoke what Anna Deavere Smith does in “Notes From the Field,” her wonderfully energizing new performance piece about the cursed intersection of two American institutions, the school and the prison, in a racially divided nation. After all, Ms. Smith talks practically nonstop in the show, which opened on Wednesday night at Second Stage Theater.

But Ms. Smith speaking is, implicitly, Ms. Smith listening, paying scrupulous attention to the varied people she embodies with such precision. Though her command of different voices is what’s most obviously dazzling in theatrical terms, that mimetic talent wouldn’t count for much if it didn’t make us share the intent focus she brings to her subjects.

In “Notes From the Field,” which has been astutely directed by Leonard Foglia, Ms. Smith assumes the identities of 19 individuals. They appear separately to ruminate and ramble on topics that have made devastating headlines in recent years, including the 2015 death of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore police officers and the slaughter of African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., that same year.

You have probably already read (or watched) a lot of news and editorial accounts of such matters. But seeing Ms. Smith render others’ takes on these events and the culture that spawned them, you experience them with a fresh urgency that feels almost firsthand. The American theater’s most dynamic and sophisticated oral historian, Ms. Smith has personally interviewed many of the people we meet here: politicians and protesters, schoolteachers and prisoners.

But even when what she’s saying is taken from recorded public appearances, she recreates her speakers’ inflections and rhythms with an exactitude that comes only with hard study. Certain words leap out and sear: “har-RASS,” as pronounced by a protester from Baltimore, Ms. Smith’s hometown, when discussing street life in the shadow of the police; “barbaric” (pronounced, softly, “bah-BAHR-ic”), from an incarcerated Maryland mother, describing everything she wants her children not to be; the harshly aspirated “box,” by a pastor eulogizing Mr. Gray, summing up the captivity into which so many black men feel they are born.

We become vividly aware of nuances of phrasing and tone that we would be unlikely to catch if we were watching the same people on television. (Amy Stoller is her dialect coach.) And with our newly sensitized ears, we start to detect patterns and echoes within the separately spoken soliloquies. A conversation has been started.

That’s what makes Ms. Smith so invaluable. She creates a dialogue out of monologues among souls who, in real life, might never have occasion to speak to one another. And with an expert technical team — which includes Riccardo Hernandez (set), Howell Binkley (lighting) and Elaine McCarthy (projections) — and the eloquently understated musician and composer Marcus Shelby, who provides a gentle accompaniment on a bass violin, Ms. Smith draws us into an ever-mutating, ever-expanding discussion.

What the discrete people she brings to life here have in common is an awareness of the existential trap into which ethnic minorities fall in this country, often irretrievably. “Notes” is a part of Ms. Smith’s “Pipeline Project,” an investigation of what feels like a direct route between school and jail for underprivileged students.

The show begins with Ms. Smith as Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who provides a droll and sobering overview.

“It is impossible to talk about the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, without talking about education,” Ms. Ifill says with the bulleted emphases of a practiced public speaker. Boldly, the scene shifts to projected news footage of the beating of Mr. Gray in Baltimore, and we hear a splenetic account of that event from Ms. Smith as Kevin Moore, a deli worker who captured the chaotic arrest on video with his phone.

For the rest of this absorbing, two-act production, we find ourselves connecting the dots between academic theories — from a psychiatrist, a judge, a mayor candidate — and the messy immediacy experienced by those who have been among the war zones of the streets and the schools.
Ms. Smith, the American theater’s most dynamic and sophisticated oral historian, interviewed many of the people she brings to life in “Notes From the Field.” Credit Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

Not that these categories are mutually exclusive. That’s especially evident in the accounts of those who have worked in urban school systems, trying to maintain order and, just possibly, inspire a sense of hope among students who feel defeated from the day they arrive.

Some of these rule-enforcers are harshly pragmatic, like the former penitentiary worker now employed as a “student concerns specialist” in a Charleston high school. Others, like an “emotional support teacher” in Philadelphia, are so personally invested that you can feel their bodies contorting, as if in sense memory of a struggle that never ends.

Denise Dodson, the Maryland prisoner, suggests what might be the template for “Notes” when she says of her life before her incarceration: “I guess I can say that I just wasn’t connecting to everything, because I wasn’t given enough information to know that we all are connected somehow. To every living breathing thing.”

Her tentative manner is in vital contrast to the assured, rolling cadences of the pastor at Mr. Gray’s funeral, or to the fiery, spluttering rage of a man who was arrested during protests in Baltimore.

That you don’t feel despair at the end of “Notes” is partly because of the vibrancy of Ms. Smith’s bearing witness to characters bearing witness. (The role of cellphone cameras as a form of testifying emerges with compelling clarity.) It’s also true that Ms. Smith chooses to end her evening with two guaranteed stories of uplift.

“Notes” doesn’t have the bracing, abrasive, journalistic vigor of the two great performance pieces about urban riots that made Ms. Smith’s name — “Fires in the Mirror” and “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.” Ms. Smith is some 20 years older now than she was then, and her style would seem to be less confrontational and more conciliatory. She wants to leave us with a spark of hope here, and I’m grateful for that. It seems to safe to say, though, that she also wants us to leave angry, and restless, and aware that the conversation being conducted isn’t anywhere near completion.

This post first appeared on Green Goddess VV, please read the originial post: here

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