Educating you so you don’t educate yourself

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According to National Day Calendar, today is NATIONAL DO A GROUCH A FAVOR DAY. Of course the website, which we assume is authoritative, doesn’t offer any insight into the history of this observation. We imagine it has something to do with the most famous grouch in the world, Oscar.

We learned from Carroll Spinney in the must-see documentary I Am Big Bird that Henson, collaborator Joe Stone and he named Oscar for the tavern in New York and based the character off an exceptionally disdainful waiter. Spinney has performed the character since his first appearance (as an orange grouch!) on Sesame Street in 1969.

Oscar has performed numerous acts of kindness throughout the years, although he would never admit to them. He is known to dote on his pet worm, Slimey, and has always said the only people he can be nice to without ridicule from his fellow Grouches are human children. When Big Bird goes missing during the original Christmas Eve on Sesame Street special, Oscar goes out of his way to help find his friend. And in a more recent Muppet Family Christmas he allows Rizzo the Rat to stay in his trash can for the night. Still, his holiday song is “I Hate Christmas,” which we posted way back here.

Its been nearly a decade since Oscar’s girlfriend Grungetta derided television’s grumpiest grouches with a dig at ‘Pox news’ (“Now there is a trashy news show!”) prompting conservatives to call for a crackdown on the partly publicly-funded program. Sesame Street has long been a focus for those looking for liberal leanings in the media, an argument which hit its fever pitch two years later in Ben Shapiro’s book Primetime Propaganda. The book also broke the *shocking* story that MASH had an anti-war agenda.

If we can learn anything from the ‘Pox News’ crisis, its that we can’t learn Oscar’s politics. He plays his cards close to his chest. Besides, anyone who really understands Grouch lexicon can recognize the bit contrasting CNN (parodied as ‘GNN,’ the Grouch News Network) and Fox cast the latter in kinder light. Grouches love trashy — it’s a compliment in the same way that Michael Jackson’s “Bad” was good — but this sort of nuance is entirely lost on the sort of people who didn’t see that the larger story that day was about expressing your emotions.

By the time Sesame Street‘s 45th anniversary rolled around a few years later, the news network had forgiven the children’s program (maybe they’d been watching all along, after all) and Abby and Grover were guests on “Fox and Friends.” Oscar, always the iconoclast, was no where to be seen. Later that year he was embarrassed when shown a reel of clips showing the various times Oscar had done something to help the environment.

There’s no shortage of mean people in this world, but true Grouches like Oscar are a rare breed. If today is their special day, we hope it rains.

Actually, it’s “Book Sale Day” at our kids’ school, but parachute day was always pretty awesome.

parachute time LP

Bean bag day is fun, too!

bean bag activities

Winter break is over and bleary-eyed kids all over the City of Minneapolis are rising to alarm clocks and Mom’s admonitions. Soon we’ll all be back in the rhythm of our routine, such as it is, for the remaining 103 days of school.

To celebrate (as this is a very different kind of day when you don’t have to get on that school bus), here is the most unusual educational record we have ever posted here on the Hymies blog, borrowed from a 2014 post.

little red 1little red 2A remarkable relic from China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Songs of the Little Red Guards is a 10″ album from the late 60s with a similar package to the Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger records American children were putting on their Fisher Price players at the time.

Although sung by a children’s choir, the songs reflect the turmoil of the times, in particular the re-establishment of Mao-ist orthodoxy. Titles such as “Let’s Help Pick Up the Rice Left in the Fields” and “Growing Vegetables for the Armymen’s Families” hint at the legacy of the famine which followed Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Foward while others enforce the Communist Party’s doctrine.

One of the most interesting songs is a tribute to Lei Feng, a relatively unknown soldier whose memoirs were published after his death in 1962 as Lei Feng’s Diary. The book expresses his admiration for Chairman Mao Zedong and the sacrifices he has made for the revolution in the form of selfless acts. The soldier was the subject of a propaganda campaign, and his story became part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.

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An iconic poster of Lei Feng

The Red Guard was a student movement which began in 1966 in the middle school attached to Beijing’s Tsinghua University. After receiving recognition from the CCP the group quickly established itself in nearly every school in China. With the Chairman’s personal endorsement at a rally that summer, the group became an essential part of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Party leadership in Beijing struggled to control the Red Guard, which became increasingly divided into factions as it grew, potentially out of control. The campaign against Capitalist or bourgeoisie remnants became violent in places, where assaults on Chinese cultural relics quickly became assaults on individuals. The People’s Liberation Army began suppressing the Red Guard’s most radical elements in 1967, and it was entirely eliminated, often with brutal force, by the summer of 1968. The Chairman, whose enormous personality cult was greatly enhanced by the Red Guard, was alleged to have a tear in his eye when he last spoke to Red Guard leaders.

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A Red Guard poster featuring the watchful Chairman

If you’d like to learn more about the Red Guard or start such an organization in your own school, you will likely enjoy Carma Hinton’s 2003 documentary about the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun. If you still think it’s a good idea, we have a little red book for you.

This year’s presidential election is historic for many reasons, most notably for lowering the standard of public discourse to previously unimaginable depths. The major party candidates are possibly the least popular in American history. This has inspired some interest in third (and fourth) party candidates, who unfortunately do not seem so appealing if you take a closer look.

The Libertarian and Green Party campaigns were skewered by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight, who reached the conclusion that the lack of media coverage they lament may be doing them a favor.

minority-party-in-americaBy coincidence, we recently came across this middle sixties Folkways album on the subject of third parties. The bulk of The Minority Party in America is taken up by an interview with perennial socialist candidate Norman Thomas, and from it we can only assume his perceived role for the third party in American politics is to be so absolutely boring that one is forced to take a closer look at the major parties before plugging their nose to cast a vote.

witches brew

If you’re old enough, you remember when the gym teacher would take out a big Califone turntable and a crate of albums, and the whole class would do activities along with the music. We can’t recall for certain if one of the records we imagined, moved or danced to was a Hap Palmer, but his albums on Educational Activities Records make us feel like kids again.

The last time we posted one of these was a few years ago, but maybe some of you found the activities so enjoyable you’ve gone back and done them again and again. Witches’ Brew is not as awesome an album as Movin’, but its pretty good.

Action:

Line “dead leaves, seaweed…”

Movement: Children pretend to throw ingredients in cauldron

Line: “Stir them in my witches’ brew”

Movement: Children do stirring motion

Line: “I got magic, Alakazamakazoo”

Movement: Make any sudden, scary movement

Fill in the blanks: “If you were making a witches’ brew, what would you put in it?”

List on the board the pairs of things that go together from the lyric. Children read and sing each pair along with the record. The singing is simple, since the pairs are all sung on one note.

Fill in the blank: “Can you think of some other things that go together?”

Variation: Think of some body movements that go together, such as swing and sway, wiggle and jiggle, etc. Then use these to fill in the blanks. Movements are performed as they are sung. And two movements the children want to do are fine.

Educational and enjoyable, here is “The Gravity Song.” It was sampled by Man or Astroman? in “F=GmM(moon)/R2” on their classic EP Your Weight on the Moon, but we prefer this OG jam from Ballads For the Age of Science.

singing science sampler

Beethoven started working on what became his 5th Symphony in 1804. If he’d finished it earlier, it would have supplanted the fourth. It was not debuted until December of 1808, and in the long interim he composed many other works: his Violin Concerto, his Appassionata sonata, three string quartets, his Fourth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto, and a first draft for his sole opera, Fidelio.

bernstein beethovenThis entertaining LP explores Beethoven’s composing process. In it, Leonard Bernstein provides insight by performing many of the sketches on the piano, as well as with the New York Philharmonic. Think of this as the “alternate takes.”

We are personally very partial to Bernstein’s recordings of the nine symphonies in New York. We are also well-known to be partial to Beethoven altogether, and own several recordings of each symphony. Bernstein’s study on this album reveals his sincere enthusiasm.

This exploration of a single movement touches on many of the remarkable qualities of Beethoven’s oeuvre, in particular the passion which propels his symphonies forward with unbridled passion.

This particular copy is in pretty poor condition, but we imagine there are many out there who will enjoy hearing it regardless. The second side of the album contains the contemporaneous recording of the symphony conducted by Bruno Walter, which can be easily found in much better condition than this copy.

 

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