Sunday, October 2, 2011

Becoming Dorothy

I was not at all surprised when I talked about "The Wizard of Oz" in my sophomore English class the other day, and found that all of my students had not only seen the movie, but they knew all of the characters, and what each one stood for.

Most of my students face daily - what shall we call it - complications, since I teach at a community day high school (expelled students, struggling students, foster children).   If you've been following this blog, then you know that my main character Shelley and I are both teachers (well, she's an aspiring teacher) who innately need to care for lost and hurting children.  Some might think that my students would have missed this historic staple of Hollywood film in the confusion of their everyday lives.  But in fact it was instant connection for them.

I knew they would know.

The Wizard and his pals have become iconic characters who reflect our greatest fears and our wildest dreams, both waking and sleeping, just as they lived in Dorothy's dreams.  Everybody within striking distance of a television, some 70 years later, has dreamed that dream, that nightmare, with Dorothy.  Who doesn't have somewhere in his life a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, a Cowardly Lion?  Who hasn't been pursued by the Wicked Witch?  Who hasn't craved the loyalty of an intrepid Toto?  Who hasn't felt abandoned and homeless?  Who hasn't aspired to be the brave and confident Dorothy, and find her way home?

If you've seen it, then you know that "The Wizard" (1939) explodes suddenly into Technicolor out of the black and white mist when Dorothy lands in Oz.  That moment gained it the reputation of being the first Hollywood film to use technicolor, even though that honor actually goes to "The Toll of the Sea," a silent film (1922).

So what was it about that color sequence that makes us think of it as the first color moment ever?

Because when Dorothy stepped out of that broken house onto those gleaming bricks, surrounded by Munchkins, she shed the dark threatening skies of the Great Depression, just as her country was doing in 1939, and walked into the true light of family, friendships, home.  Just that way, we can still today step into our own true light with her, out of whatever dark reality we may find ourselves in.  Out of the darkness, into the light, and home.  We can, if only we know where home is.

I have always though of myself as Dorothy, a little lost, but basically in charge of my own destiny.  I have marched - no, skipped - bravely out of whatever my train wreck du jour happened to be, trusty partner of the moment by my side, flawed friends in tow, loving family awaiting me when all was said and done.

I guess I expected all of my students to know they were Dorothy too, and that all they had to do was click their heels together and they would be home, because they had it inside all the time.

But then the class set out to journal and reflect on the question, Which character in "The Wizard of Oz" am I?  And I was surprised to find that they don't feel like Dorothy at all, with the exception of one extraordinarily brave girl who has one of the lowest flashpoints and highest IQ's I have ever seen.

I should have known this too.

Instead, one wrote that he feels like the Tin Man, because his heart is dried up inside.  Another is the Scare Crow, because he just knows he isn't smart (he's dead wrong).  Too many girls are Glynda, the Good Witch of the North, because they're in charge of taking care of every single person in their lives, except themselves.

One is the Cowardly Lion, because he's afraid whenever he goes out walking.

But I know that REALLY all the time they are Dorothy.  They DO have it all inside - I can see it there, but they cannot.  You know it's in there.  I know it.  But how do we get them to know it?  Right now they're fifteen, and they are stuck.  And for so many of them, it's SO VERY HARD to believe that they will ever, ever find their way home, wherever that is, whatever it looks like.

Every day I think on this, and every day I try my best to bring some vision, some image of the world outside their window, so they can see that right now each grade they earn, each thing they learn, is a clicking of their heels.  If only they could see . . .

So help me here - what are your thoughts?  What can we bring into public school classrooms that will conjure the ruby slippers for each and every child?  You tell me.

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