Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Goodbye GSA

Today I attended my last meeting as sponsor of Rich East's Gay/Straight Alliance. We've had a turbulent history and remain the school and district's "unofficial" club--they let us meet and function as a club but the sponsors are unpaid. But that doesn't matter. What matters is the kids can meet and feel safe.

The GSA began in 2002 as a result of District 227's Multicultural Committee's work on helping gay students. A small committee grew out of a second summer teacher's institute which dealt with training teachers to be more sensitive to the needs of gay students. Ultimately I was selected to be sponsor with Katie Stadt as my co-sponsor.

One of the statements a gay young man at the workshop said was that in his entire education no teacher had ever spoken favorably about a gay author or artist or athelete. "Don't deny us our history," was his empassioned summation.

To learn more about creating the club and the kind of student I would be supporting, I attended a conference that July called Sexual Minority Youth in the Heartland: Issues and Methods for Youth-serving Professionals, at Indiana University, sponsored by the Indiana University Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Student Support Services. The two-day conference covered such topics as Theories of Sexual Orientation; Safe Schools, Safe Kids, Safe Teachers; Serving Gay Teens at the Library; Cultivating Leadership Skills in GLBT Youth. Former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders gave the key-note speech on “Leave No Child Behind: Let’s Get Serious.”

Our first meeting began with five students and six adults. The biggest issue on the kids' minds was the need for a safe school environment for all students, especially gays. The structure for the meetings was established and included: snacks, a sharing of concerns, then discussion of things the club is working on, and finally, a history lesson. Students were assured from the beginning that this was an environment where they could feel safe with any issues.

Eventually the club came up with their purpose:

  • to create a healthy, supportive environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and straight students and staff;
  • to increase physical and emotional safety for GLBTQS students and staff;
  • to value and affirm GLBT history and provide educational resources for the Rich East community through text, technology, and teaching;
  • to have lots of fun.

In September the students participated in the AIDS walk/run in Chicago. The safe school issue became a political football in January when the school board voted to take down rainbow stickers teachers had placed on their doors to designate "safe zones" for students. Contentous public meetings only emphasized the need for protection of gay students rights. Many of the civic minded students rallied against what they preceived as an injustice and by the end of the year we had had 30 students attend the meetings. The club won the Student Council's Outstanding Club Award--which they've done every year since.

The students elected to designate the rainbow triangle as their official club logo.

The GSA meets every Tuesday (with the exception of the two weeks before a play production). The students remain politically active and have done not only the AIDS walks but The Day of Silence also and displays at the Village Hall during June. While they have learned that often the system doesn't give them what they want, they have also learned to work to change that system.

I'm proud to have been a role model in the process. I had to fight back a lump in my throat as they left.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Facing Retirement

I am retiring from 39 years of public school teaching this Friday, May 26, 2006. It’s a daunting thought to leave Rich East, which has been my teaching home for 36 years. I still believe I have years of teaching to go, but my daily commute involves an hour drive twice a day. Needless to say, the wear and tear on my body and my car is considerable. And after 11 years of it, I need to move into a new phase of my life.

Among the students I teach were seniors who were also facing this expulsion from the womb with a view with trepidation. The last day of class I gave them my words of wisdom… what I’ve learned in the process can be summarized in the following ideas:

Man is a sum of his actions. So say Sartre and Camus in defining existentialism. It is our actions which make clear who we are, not our dreams nor our thoughts. I tell the students a story I read sometime in the distant past (I think it was by Guy Du Maupassant, but don't hold me to it). In the story, a man knows his soul is black, something others would not like. So he dons a mask in public and wears it all the time. The mask is that of a man of virtue—and he goes about doing good constantly, but he know that in his heart he is not. He never takes the mask off. When the man dies his mask is removed—and his face has become the mask. His actions made him who he was... and the man of good was so because he acted like a man of good.

“Acceptance on someone else’s terms is worse than rejection” (Mary Cassatt). For years I spent my life trying to be who others wanted me to be—and the most common feeling I had was discontent because of it. It was not until I broke with my past and began living on my own and accepting who I was that I could really appreciate Cassatt’s advice.

Life is all about change. The world we inhabit changes constantly. As Samuel Beckett says—it oozes and it flows. We sluff off layers of skin; the sun changes position; and the rocks get worn away a little bit more. Relationships daily redefine themselves. And we move forward because that’s the only direction we can go. If we’re lucky, we can smile in the process of following that move.

So when I say goodbye to the room which has been my strength for the last 14 years and the students which have sustained me for much over twice as long, I hope to move on with a sense of awe and wonder at this new chapter in my life.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Guardian for a New Millenium

Guardian for a New Millenium by David Claudon
Here I was playing with Photoshop CS2, using layers and brushes and a vintage photograph from my collection.

© 2006, David Claudon.

Young Englishman, ca 1890

This portrait uses both Corel Painter IX and Photoshop CS2. The portrait is based on a cabinet card from around 1890. On the back of the card was an advertisement for artist/photographer George Stone, 72 Baron St, Gloucester, England.

© 2006 David Claudon.

Medieval Mourner Pastel Digital Painting

Last year, I visited my friend Jon in New York and we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the pictures I took was of this Medieval Mourner statue from around 1450. Experimenting with Corel Painter IX and using Martin Addison's book, Painter IX for Photographers, First Edition : Creating Painterly Images Step by Step , I made this pastel of the picture.

© 2006 David Claudon

Monday, May 01, 2006

Family Album: Britiannia Bray Van Dolah

Britannia Bray Van Dolah My great-great maternal grandmother, Britannia Bray Van Dolah, was born in 1841 in Spencer County, Indiana. In 1853, her father moved to McLean County, Illinois, and proceeded to outlive three wives. Besides farming 160 acres in Martin Township, he taught in a country school.

In 1864, Britannia married Lexington livery and live stock businessman David Hyatt Van Dolah. He supposedly (according to family tradition) had recently paid his brother $300 to fight for him in the Civil War. Britannia and D.H. became doting parents of two sons: James Walter (1865-1936) and Lewis Sheridan "Tad" (1867-1919).

In 1868, D.H., Ike Harness and others founded a bank in Lexington (Harness, Vandolah & Company). As a banker, Van Dolah was a shrewd businessman and amassed a fortune buying and selling land both in Illinois and Missouri. A one point he was said to have owned 2,000 acres in McLean County.

D.H. Van Dolah & Tad From 1878 to 1889, Van Dolah imported French Percheron and Norman draft horses, going to Europe seven times (his wife two). In the picture at left, D.H. is the one with the long beard, while his son Tad lies rakishly at his feet.

According to family tradition, during one such trip D.H. brought back three large diamonds hidden in feed sacks. (Each of my siblings and I inherited one of the diamonds.) It is told that another gift brought from Europe was a beautiful large music box which plays about 8 tunes. The box was a gift for one D.H.'s tellers, Hop (William Hopkins) Kennedy, who had become son James' father-in-law in 1887. (I still own the music box.)

Having traveled abroad, D.H. preferred French crepes for breakfast. One morning "Sis" (as D.H. called her) served him regular pancakes. He stormed out of the house and got in the buggy and began riding around in a circle feeding the pancakes to the pigs. "He was a Tartar," laughed my grandmother, telling the story.

In France around 1897, Britannia admired the French chateau and decided she wanted her husband to build her one. During 1897-1898, the new house--known in Lexington as the "Castle"--was built. Located just west of Lexington the house was the work of Pontiac contractor C. W. Mathewison. Estimates placed the cost of the house between $35,000. and $80,000. Payrolls showed workers earned from 15 to 25 cents per hour. Scaffolds were not permitted to go up outside the house, so they were only used inside the structure.

The 30 room structure had a double-wall constructed of Indiana limestone, Maine granite and Missouri buff brick. The roof was slate.

The house consisted of four stories, complete with a circular oak stairway leading up to the fourth floor grand ballroom. The entrance hall chandelier was brass and custard glass.

According to a news article, "English flocked wallpaper and a pecky cypress ceiling decorate the south drawing room. Special supports were installed for the 300-pound chandelier from a French chateau." The dining room had a Belgian chandelier.

The castle tower contained two round rooms, one used as a study. The second room was a bedroom.

The house was said to have one of the first working elevators in McLean County.

In January 1903 at aged 61, D. H. Van Dolah died of a heart attack.

Britannia on an alligatorBritannia outlived her husband by 27 years, remaining the dominant matriarch of the family throughout. She traveled yearly, but was plagued with ill health the last few years of her life. At right she can be seen on one of her winter trips to Florida around 1912. She sits astride a stuffed alligator. To her right is Ella Kennedy Van Dolah, her son James' wife.

Britannia was 89 at the time of her death in 1930. Said her obituary in 1930:

During the days of her robust health she was a leader in the religious, educational and social affairs of Lexington. She was a member of the Christian Church, the Order of the Eastern Stars and a charter member of the Lexington Woman's Club.

The Van Dolahs are buried in a family section of the Lexington Cemetery (originally known as the Porteus Cemetery). Standing at Britannia's tombstone you can see the house she had her husband build up on a hill to the south-east.

Colorized tintype of Britannia Bray Vandolah, ca. 1868 © 2006 David Claudon. "Castle" picture from Lexington Unit Journal.