Letters

Letters from the week of January 22, 2004

Brain Dread

Adult education: I suppose sensationalism sells. I won't even argue that behind most fallacies lie some truths. However, it is simply unfathomable that the January 15 article "Brainiacs" (Jimmy Magahern) could ever achieve any credibility. In what appears as a David and Goliath account of the obnoxiously elitist International Baccalaureate kids versus the innocuous, neglected mainstream, only one difference can be detected between the sometimes-sparring parties. This time, neither side came out on top. Truly, the article stirs up conflict where no conflict is to be had.

Through the humiliation of my friends, my peers, and the general masses of North High School, I feel taken advantage of. North is not the epicenter of all things unjust in high school politics. We were little more than the host, the face, to a predestined tale. With a bit of editing and more than a few twisted quotes, "Brainiacs" is ultimately the equivalent to a game of Mad Libs. Fill in the name, choose your adjective, and bam, a finished product. Yet this product is one I certainly would never buy, or buy into. It is not so much the content that is offensive, but the gross interpretation and liberties taken to "enhance" what simply is not there.

After being invited into our classrooms, our conversations, even our homes, the utter disrespect for our lives and, well, for truth, astounds me. In school we are promised safety, and an assured comfort that almost every adult has our interests as top priority. It was only natural, if not naive, to extend this trust to Mr. Magahern. However, in what I can best describe as irresponsibility, one reporter has consciously agitated the thread-thin balance between the populations of North High School. I can't even call it a cheap read, because after all, it was free.

Kate Glantz
Class of 2004
International Baccalaureate Program
North High School

A point of pride: I was briefly mentioned in your article on the IB program. Having read the article a few times, I keep returning to one question.

Why?

What made you, or your editor as the case may be, decide to go gunning after a group of people whose main crime is achievement? These are kids who've dealt with pejorative labels like "nerd," "geek," "poindexter" and, yes, "brainiac," for much of their educational careers. Upon finding a relatively safe haven to study, they now find a major citywide publication not only reiterating the same taunts, but also adding a new one -- "elitist" -- to the list. Painting the entire group with a wide brush, and dismissing the lot as a bunch of privileged snobs, is a kick in the teeth to this collection of young people from a variety of economic and ethnic backgrounds who have chosen an academic path already fraught with its own mountain of stressors.

Do the IB kids hang out together? Yup. But since when are benign schoolyard cliques newsworthy? Are some of them jerks? You bet! People can be like that. Do some display poor judgment? Show me an adolescent who doesn't, at some point or another.

But what have they, or the IB program, done to deserve the kind of "investigative" scrutiny and damning subtext in your article? The answer isn't clear from what was printed. What most of the IB students took from the article is, "If you're smart, you're stuck up and need to be knocked down a peg, so take that, brainiac!" To hear that from the nose-picker in middle school is one thing, but to hear it from the news media is quite a different story.

My students have been processing the article over the past couple of days, each dealing with it in his or her own way. Some make jokes about anthrax and computer viruses, some are angry (no doubt this letter has company in your inbox), and some are simply quiet. But all are shaken and suddenly self-conscious in a way that borders on shame. They feel like they did something wrong, are accomplices in some sort of scandalous behavior, and are unsure how it came to be. Haven't their parents, teachers, governor and president been telling them to work hard to get the best education they can? Aren't they supposed to avoid gangs, drugs, booze and sex and hit the books? Aren't they supposed to take up extracurricular sports, participate in school clubs, and volunteer for community service? Aren't they supposed to be colorblind? So they go about trying to fulfill these expectations, many with a sense of relief because they tend in those directions anyway, and for their efforts are "officially" branded as elitists. Shouldn't these choices be a source of pride rather than shame?

Charles J. Cavanaugh Toft
Tempe

Out to lunch: When I read Jimmy Magahern's article "Brainiacs," I had to ask myself what his motives were in attempting to pass off an extremely unscientific poll of lunchroom politics as investigative reporting. His technique of interviewing students does nothing to reflect the true nature of the IB system. If he truly wanted to show the effect of IB on the emotional and cultural sensitivity of its students, he might take a look at some of the incredible social work performed by its graduates. Instead, he focuses only on students who have yet to complete and benefit from the IB program -- a program whose curriculum emphasizes tolerance and social responsibility. He might also note the community service requirements of IB and the simple fact that Spanish, "the language of poverty" according to one of his sources, is the most popular of the two languages IB offers.

Magahern's lazy reporting shouldn't bother any of the wonderful teachers and students who participate in the IB program, as any person with even a passing association should be able to see it as the empty hate-mongering it is. His laziness transcends into sheer lunacy, however, when he comments on the IB students' supposedly stunted social life. His suggestion that being "heavily into keggers" is not only a "typical teenage rite of passage" but something suspiciously lacking from the sheltered lives of IB students, is completely revolting. Are we to assume that abstaining from underaged and, therefore, illegal drinking is some kind of character flaw? Even the "mainstream" students he appears to be championing should be offended by this idea that underaged drinking is somehow a part of their domain when there are so many sober, responsible students on every campus in every type of classroom. Shame on you, Jimmy Magahern, and shame on this paper for being willing to publish something so obscene.

Kim Whitley
Via e-mail

IB friendly: Well, I'm not going to send an angry letter, I'm sure you're getting quite a few, but there are a few things that I, as a North High IB student, disagree with in your article. I fully understand your right to your opinion and the journalist's need to create controversy (my dad is a reporter for the Arizona Republic). However, just to let you know, not all IB kids are as you portray them in the article. I'll admit a few can be a bit elitist, but that's a select few. I myself sit at a lunch table with two IB kids on the other side of the quad from the students you interviewed (Sam Campbell, Jacob, etc.), and I'd say 70 percent of my friends are mainstream and/or non-white. I, for one, don't think of myself as better or that I should be treated differently, but of course there are certain factors that create that illusion. For one, teachers tend to offer more opportunities to IB kids because they want them and ask for them, whereas a good amount (not all) of mainstream kids really don't care much. The mainstream kids who do care enough are given the chance to join one or two or even all IB classes if their grades show they can do it and if they want to do it. I realize that this was just a way to get a rise out of people and write a criticism of a program that usually gets nothing but praise in the press, but there is another less elitist side to the IB.

And just to let you know, schoolscum.com is a ridiculous Web site on which I, and almost all other IB students, post sarcastic and cynical (as you said was our language) comments on the site to make fun of it and/or the people who make asses of themselves on it. The story was well-written, though, and it did a very thorough job of sticking it to the IB. Just thought you should know, though, that most of us aren't elitist bastards. Thanks.

Max Mattern
Phoenix

Dramatis personae: I really enjoyed your IB article. My son is a 2001 graduate of the North High School IB program and I thank the heavens every day that he had teachers like Toft, Bueller, Lowes, Campbell and Cady (to name just a few) who were mentioned in your article.

I'm writing this because I would like to point out that there is one place at North High where all the students did come together while my son was there. It was because of the fine work of North High's Mr. David Helmstetter who directed the numerous productions in North's old, yet pretty cool, theater. My son, through the theater program, made some of his best friends at North. And they weren't necessarily fellow IB students. And the portfolio that my son built up, independently of the IB program, earned him acceptance in the technical theater programs at Carnegie Mellon University and the North Carolina School of the Arts. To be sure, his IB education played a large role, but it was his non-IB activities at North that earned him acceptance. David Helmstetter's "drama kids" at North High are respected at places like Phoenix Theatre where my son volunteered as a crew person and sound and follow spot technician.

And I really do believe, in part because of the diversity of North's campus, that my son continues to feel a part of a bigger world and is comfortable in his skin.

Bridget Carroll
Berea, Kentucky

Character flaws: Sounds like some of the IB kids could use a curriculum in relationships (with all peers, not just other IBers), humility (as in a proper perspective of their place in the world), gratitude (for their God-given gifts that some IBers apparently think they conjured up on their own), and general lightening up (the world will survive, indeed flourish, with or without you).

Perhaps the so-called educators at these institutions should take a serious look at expanding the curriculum to include character development. If indeed the article gives an accurate portrayal of the typical IBer, then there are some seriously underdeveloped students coming out of this program.

Patrick Mertz
Phoenix

Under pressure: I am a 2001 graduate of North Canyon High School's International Baccalaureate Program. I read your article in New Times and I felt it imperative to call to your attention a giant issue that the entire piece seems to neglect -- immaturity.

You charge through that story like a champ. You wrote an article that would make any English professor proud -- topic sentences, support, a neat conclusion. The whole thing was really very tightly woven and easy to read. However, you seem to be writing about some strange society of adults. Because you never chalk anything up to their age, which is, by the way, young.

Do you recall high school? I do. I recall the IB experience. Being pressured by parents to work hard. Being made to feel like you, unlike all of those other kids, have already found your niche and now it is your responsibility to stay on that path. It is four years ruled by fear, immaturity and, yes, work.

And you won't get this information from the kids at North. Not the current ones. Because at the time, you feel great. So cool. You do get special treatment. And you are better, in most cases, at something than almost everyone around you.

I am not saying that your article was wrong. It wasn't. There is elitism there. There are kids who feel that because they excel at school, they needn't try their hand at anything else. There are even kids who genuinely believe that all they need to do is what's expected of them to have some mainstream kid mowing their lawn one day. Sick as that may be.

I am simply writing this to ask a favor. Write an article, a follow-up about how fear of failure, immense pressure, and natural immaturity are at the root of most IB behavior. Write an article about what happens to us IB kids when we graduate, grow up, and find a touch of individuality and enough free space to run with it.

Andrew Goldwasser
Via e-mail

A chip off the old block: If there are few blacks or Hispanics in the IB program at North, perhaps it is because media outlets like yours perpetuate the myths that it isn't cool to pursue academics and that bright, motivated students are elitists. Shame on you. Instead of ridiculing these students, who work much harder than required to actually learn while in school, you should be highlighting their many accomplishments. They perform community service in addition to their studies, and are by and large nice, wholesome, mature kids who are actually anticipating the future, instead of smoking dope, skipping class, having babies or getting arrested, like so many misguided mainstream kids. Most also come from homes with two parents, who care about their kids' educations, which is a rare thing today. And, yes, my son is an IB student.

Joseph Feldman
Phoenix

Let kids be kids: Colorful article on the IB kids. I bet, though, if you took any subgroup at any school, you could paint them as being just as horrid. They're kids, after all, and if it comes as a surprise to anyone that they say irresponsible things, well, consider the source.

I do question the value of referencing a vile Web site like schoolscum.com. Lots of nasty, anonymous things get posted on these sites by all kinds of kids. Racism, classism, homophobia, and ad hominem hate messages are the hallmark of this dreadful site, and inviting conclusions based on it says more about Jimmy Magahern than it does about the IB program.

I've been teaching in the public schools for 20 years, and I could poison-pen an article on the general population, the remedial kids, the ESL people, the parents, heck, even the faculty if I were so inclined. But it would be just as much of a distortion as the "Brainiacs" piece because life, as always, is more complicated than that.

IB is the right program for some kids and the wrong one for others, just like every other school program. I, for one, wouldn't mind a semester or two of multitasking superlearners, but hey, a job's a job, and if I have to face masses of slack-jawed, hostile, immune-to-learning/allergic-to-work/afraid-to-be-smart teenagers, then that's just life in a school. You work with what you're given; you build bridges where you can.

Magahern hits home, though, when he points out that North is leaning on these kids to keep its AIMs numbers in the acceptable range. I think the public has no idea how badly high-stakes testing has gutted the mission of public education without providing a single benefit to kids. Here in Arizona, we live, breathe and dream test scores, so it wouldn't surprise me if the administration at North were doing a ballet with the numbers in order to avoid some obnoxious label. It's happening all over the country. Instead of focusing on what specific kids need, we drill the tests because that's all that counts. It's mind-numbing. The myths we have about accountability could fill a library of fairy tales.

This idea that test scores and labels are going to improve public education -- it's not based in any reality I know from the trenches. It's a delusion.

Tim Furman
Apache Junction

Broken Record

The song doesn't remain the same: Thanks for the update on Zia Record Exchange ("Spun Out," Brendan Joel Kelley, January 15). I have watched the chain for years because I had relatives working for the store. Zia was so cool when serving its original purpose. When that older "Chicago" style of "we don't have to know music, just business principles" management was installed, it was just a matter of time before the dirt started falling on the coffin! They never could understand why Zia was never a Sam Goody or Wherehouse type of store. Now maybe they will find out as they lick their wounds and retire back up north.

Paul Pittman
Tucson

The last word: Zia is the last real record store like Circle K is the last real grocery store.

Hilarious!

Great article. A couple small things, though. Operation Ivy only had one full-length release, and why no mention of Eastside Records or Stinkweeds Records or even Tracks in Wax records in Phoenix?

Aside from my minor quips: good, good, good, good, good, good.

Name withheld by request

Food Fight

A real Lemons: I think you, Stephen Lemons, have been kicked in the head one too many times. Your recent review of Pronto Ristorante ("Volare, Oh No!," January 1) was not only rude, it was totally unprofessional, not to mention inaccurate. It seems as though you are trying to be a comedian (a very poor one at that) more than a restaurant critic. Maybe you should try putting your mouth up to a microphone instead of a fork because it's obvious that you are not qualified to review restaurants.

Pronto just celebrated its 22nd year in business, which means that it must be doing something right. This Valley isn't one for mediocre Italian restaurants. Being Italian myself, I know good Italian food when I taste it.

I have been frequenting Pronto for at least 10 years. The food, the service and the atmosphere have always been superb. I eat there at least once a month, if not more. They have had repeat clientele since the day they opened their doors, and new clientele is always walking in. And yes, even leaving with a smile.

As far as Mikey is concerned, if he knew his vodka as well as you claim he does, he would have known to order or at least ask for the brand he likes. When I go to a restaurant, I don't say, "I'll have a glass of red wine." Maybe it's me, but I'm pretty sure there is more than just one wine maker out there.

Does making fun of people's appearance have anything to do with a restaurant review? Last I checked, it didn't. Maybe by doing so it boosts your self-esteem some how.

I think your taste buds have been marred by one too many lemons.

Jacqueline Greazzo
Via e-mail

Film Schooled

Chewing scenery: Critics of the Valley be praised -- the proletariat uprising has been crushed ("The Reel Deal," Robrt L. Pela, January 8). I mean, who knew that having an informed opinion extended beyond simply viewing a film? Robrt Pela knows. He is the bourgeois voice of the common people. We just didn't realize it.

Perhaps there is yet still a deeper level of cinematic understanding -- something akin to method critiquing. As such, we poor heathens might never fully grasp the sheer magnitude of the reel truth. Robrt Pela can. And may he stride down from atop the local multiplex (tablets of reviews and showtimes respectively in hand). For we have placed worship unto a false idol. We have trusted in ourselves. Worst of all, we have forgotten the printed word.

Trust in Robrt Pela. People do not want to see these intelligent movies, we must be told. We are bathed under the projector of ignorance. Because there is no such thing as a "good movie." Meaning there is no such thing as a bad movie. Just a . . . movie.

All right, I'm a little lost. So, wouldn't that actually negate the purpose of a film critic? Since theirs is a position of taste. Opinion. Recommendation. Bias. If one cannot truly affix a value to a certain feature, then, in effect, you are quantifying nothing. Your review is meaningless. Thereby you are wrongfully employed. A fraud.

Such cannot be the case, though. I just may not be applying that critical thinking. Me brain dumb. Need Robrt Pela for guidance. To put it yet another way: The moviegoing public is Icarus searching, Robrt Pela is the sun. Sadly, we all got burned on this one.

Scott C. Myers
Glendale

In critics we trust: The article "The Reel Deal" sparked my interest because I am also a movie lover. I watch movies as much as possible and try to broaden my movie perspective through foreign films, too. I have enjoyed and would recommend watching Run Lola Run, Amélie and Ran. These foreign films are all good movies. They are also all movies that were recommended by someone whose movie opinions I trust. Accepting a friend's recommendation is the only sure way to help you choose a movie to watch. However, accepting a stranger's recommendation, like Andrew Ramsammy would do on his Web site, can be best described by Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction: "an act in futility."

Matt Toney
Scottsdale

The critic critiqued: Robrt L. Pela seems threatened by the idea of a popular film review service that bypasses professional critics. What is he so afraid of? A cultural dictatorship of the proletariat? Surely that already exists in the research groups and formulaic, bottom-line driving values of corporate Hollywood. By promoting awareness of a broader selection of films, Andrew Ramsammy's organization is, whatever its biases, contributing to a more diverse public appetite.

Pela's own biases are evident, if peculiar, from someone advocating critical thinking skills. He expresses astonishment that anyone might be dissuaded from seeing a film because of a poor critical review (can he really be this naive?) and engages in a fashionable if incoherent equivocation about value judgments, incredulously asking Ramsammy if he thinks that either of two opinions (popular and critical) are "right," asserting that movies are neither "good" nor "bad" but merely of different subjective value to different viewers.

On the other hand, Pela writes disparagingly of popular opinion ("Do we really care what laypeople thing about films?") and implies that the opinions of professional critics are superior because of their training. Someone should explain to Mr. Pela that by qualifying the critics' opinions with adjectives like "informed," he is in effect electing them to a position of "rightness" above those of "Middle America."

Pela seems to believe that people (as a general class) are stupid and biased, yet seems to think that the institutions they create (i.e., academic film studies and the media which hire its graduates) transcend these foibles rather than enshrine and inculcate them.

Exceptions notwithstanding, many critics fall into two general camps (polarized in the film industry but overlapping the fine arts): the touts, whose bland approval seems conditional upon commercial viability as much as anything else; and the knee-jerk iconoclasts, whose addiction to bad taste and perversity exists primarily as a reaction to "convention" rather than anything in its own right, but paradoxically is so well established as to constitute a dominant convention as "counterculture." Though both are half-witted, the former is at least inoffensively so, and serves a comprehensible economic function. The latter, often tinged with a sophomoric rebelliousness, is forever twitting its metaphorical parents.

We see much of this in New Times' arts reviews, whose authors seem to be writing for each other rather than the general readership, and who seem obsessed with demonstrating their cynical wit (generally unsuccessfully) rather than enlightening the public. But to be a genuine "renegade" in this society means judging things on their own merits rather than adhering to the dogmas of either the established church or its nonconformist offshoot.

Mark Adkins
Phoenix

The Doctor Is Out

Of two minds: Dr. Brian Finkel was convicted of taking advantage of vulnerable women ("No Choice," Paul Rubin, January 8). Was he, who'd called himself a "servant of women," a sort of split personality?

I heard him testify at his trial that having an abortion is likely "the most difficult decision a woman ever makes." He said he'd lecture abortion repeaters because "one abortion is enough in my opinion for any woman." But he'd do four or five abortions on the same woman "if circumstances demanded it."

Finkel said he'd estimate gestational age by looking at "the fetal head" on ultrasound, then after the abortion would look for the "fetal parts" and weigh them. Finkel said he was like any emergency room physician, not a family-practice doctor, and "abortion patients aren't like regular OB-GYN patients."

If he was in the trenches for freedom of abortion, was he also shell-shocked from providing them?

Dexter Duggan
Phoenix

Poor treatment: I just had to write you about your article in New Times. It sure pissed me off. Not at you, but how much of a hypocrite Brian Finkel is!

It sounds to me like Dr. Finkel was on his best behavior for this portrayal of his bedside manner!

I had an abortion performed by him around 1999, too, and mine went nothing like the cutie with the big rock on her hand.

What Dr. Finkel did was nothing illegal, but his treatment of me in a time of utmost vulnerability was so unprofessional and degrading.

Name withheld by request

Aural Intercourse

Genitalia on my mind: Why, why, why do you and so many of your fellow movie "critics" find it necessary to inflict your own preoccupation with sexual deviancy on the rest of us ("Upper Middle Earth," Gregory Weinkauf, December 18)?

Why does a giant spider represent a vagina? Why is a Fell Beast a phallic extension?

Do you honestly believe that J.R.R. Tolkien or Peter Jackson were thinking (consciously or otherwise): "Sure it's good, but I think we need some sexually explicit ambiguity in the action scenes. A couple of monsters that look like genitalia should do it."

If a Fell Beast is a phallic symbol, then what is a giraffe? If Shelob having saliva in her terrifying mouth represents a vagina, then is the same true for a St. Bernard?

Maybe, instead of analyzing this movie (and many others) with the Freudian eye of someone so grossly affected by the sexual saturation of this world, you could take a step back and appreciate entertainment (and life in general) without a sexual subtext. You may find it refreshing.

Jeremy Langworthy
Via e-mail

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