Beautiful Girl & Mr. Holland’s Opus

Beautiful Girl & Mr. Holland’s Opus

By Kevin Stoda

I was watching Mr. Holland’s Opus on HBO tonight and was struck by the same issues Americans face in terms of the (American) politics of school and university budgeting that we see in 2011, especially the continued attack on the arts, humanities, and teachers.

Before I get back to the politics of today at the end of this piece, I want to share that I had taken American Sign Language (ASL) in my college days at Bethel College in Kansas in the 1980s. In fact, I started at that college in 1980, the year John Lennon was assassinated. In the film, Mr. Holland’s Opus , the slaying of John Lennon at the height of his comeback, plays a small but important role.

Later, in another seen, the main character Mr. Holland (played by Richard Dreyfuss) sings a sentimental song that John Lennon had written for his last child: “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” from the Double Fantasy album—also from 1980. As he sings the song, Mr. Holland uses ASL to communicate to a deaf audience the words to the text. Mr. Holland was singing the song before a very large audience to his own son, who also happened to be 90% deaf.

What surprised (and pleased) me most was that I still recognized 80% of the ASL used—nearly 28 years after I took the class

At this point in this writing, I will appropriate the John Lennon text, and rewrite it a tad for my daughter, Kenzenia. (You can sing along if you know the tune!) I hope Yoko doesn’t sue me.

Beautiful Girl (Darling Girl)
John Lennon and appropriated by KS
Close your eyes
Have no fear
The monster’s gone
He’s on the run and your daddy’s here
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way
It’s getting better and better
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Out on the ocean sailing away
I can hardly wait
To see you come of age
But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient
‘Cause it’s a long way to go
A hard row to hoe
Yes it’s a long way to go
But in the meantime
Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you’re busy making other plans
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Before you go to sleep
Say a little prayer
Every day in every way
It’s getting better and better
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful
Beautiful Girl
Darling, darling, darling
Kenzenia Girl

One reviewer wrote the following about the film and its failure to get an Oscar (while nominated for 4).

“I love this movie because I had a fantastic, inspirational teacher in high school that all the students admired and looked up to. Even though I was in high school when this movie came out, I still carry the memories. Nicolas Cage deserved to win his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, but I still would have loved to see Richard Dreyfuss win. The whole cast was wonderful, and you actually felt like you were in the 60s and 70s, unlike other films set in that time period. How often does a film come out that generations relate to; and a film so touching about a teacher who cares about his students, and vice versa? Will always be one of my favorite films.”


I had several inspirational teachers in my life and the one who encouraged me to be the most courageous in trying out new things was my band teacher from my junior high and high school days back in Sterling, Kansas in the 1970s.

A major lesson of the film seems to have been lost on the reviewer (above) and by too many other Americans over the past 40 years, i.e. since Proposition 13 was passed in California in the late 1970s and marked 4 decades of under-spending and under-support of many American educational institutions, especially as concerns training in the humanities and arts.,8599,1904938,00.html

The film, Mr. Holland’s Opus , spends half of its narration focused either indirectly or directly on teachers and good holistic educational programming in America. There is a beautiful and touching scene at the end of the movie whereby many students from 35 years of studying under Mr. Holland “Music Appreciation”, “Band” and “Orchestra’ classes. Everyone—from the governor on down come down to participate in this send off of Mr. Holland at the age of 60.

What viewers too often forget is that Mr. Holland, whose “real Opus” is to be found in the music of the many lives he has touched over the years, is the fact that Mr. Holland was forced into an early retirement one or two scenes earlier. (Mr. Holland only retires under protest and certainly goes out kicking and screaming before the school board—i.e. letting the community where the school is located know that they have their educational priorities and city school budget practices all out of whack!)

I recall back in 1978 my father in Kansas ridiculed our friends and relatives in California for throwing so many school commitments to kids out the window through the Proposition 13 tax limitation initiative that passed that year. My dad noted at the time that people who did not have kids in schools involved in band, sports, etc. had been allowed to vote on issues affecting millions of youth in schools. (California sports and music programs were actually canceled for one or two years in most places.) Since 1978, the country has paid a great price in the area of youthful initiative and in the areas of the arts—both which are encouraged by non-essential school programs.

Mr. Holland rightly noted that the biggest cost to the loss of the arts and humanities was the potential future losses in creativity in and among American students (at a time when it was needed, especially as America needed to be more receptive to global market and global communications.)

Looking at the 2010 election results many Americans still cannot think out of the box they have put themselves in over the past 4 decades. This lack of an ability to make long term budgeting commitments in our society must be overcome if improved educational practices and more creative & effective problem solving activities in our society can be encouraged.


About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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9 Responses to Beautiful Girl & Mr. Holland’s Opus

  1. Denise says:

    Well stated. I often worry about the loss of creativity and the education of the whole child due to the NCLB and the focus on standardized testing that only concerns itself with the development of one side of the brain. What a disservice to the students who could be excelling in the arts but don’t have the opportunity because they have to take extra math and reading classes.

  2. Pingback: Chris Hedges: “Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education[al] System” « Eslkevin's Blog

  3. eslkevin says:


    Original Content at

    April 12, 2011

    Why Americans Are So Easily Conned

    By Phil Rockstroh

    The technologies that inflicted upon the world the ongoing tragedies in both the Gulf of Mexico and Japan serve a dangerous addiction, an addiction to blind optimism, a habituation of mind that allows us to dwell within provisional comfort zones but renders vast spaces of the world into death realms.

    After each catastrophe, there ensues a scramble to contain the damage leveled, as, concurrently, the apologists of the present system explain the anomalous nature of the event.

    Yet, this much should be obvious: Attempting to clean up the mess, after it occurs, as oppose to altering the way of life that incurs the damage, is analogous to an addict believing a few days in detox will serve as a solution to his addiction.

    In the same way drug dealers are reliant on an addict’s unwillingness to reflect on the carnage created in his life, as well as the havoc reaped in the lives of those near him, engendered by his addiction, the small group of hyper-wealthy elites who benefit from the current system rely on collective cognitive dissonance (or, as it has been termed, the fear of fear itself) to dissuade the public at large from peering deeply into the pernicious situation.

    One of an addict’s biggest obstacles is his optimism i.e., he is convinced he can figure out somehow, someway to use his drug of choice in a less destructive way ” and, by reflex, rebels against the deepening sorrow that he must change.

    This is your brain on the present paradigm. by none

    When large, powerful corporations create messes beyond their ability to control the damage wrought by their institutional cupidity, those in charge spare no expense aggressively confronting the problem ” that is, of course, by means of public relations blitzes aimed at the general public, while tsunami-sized waves of campaign contributions flood the coffers of elected officials.

    Apropos, a school of thought has developed in which framing the perception of a catastrophe supersedes all other considerations. An after-the-fact casuistry, possessed of crackpot optimism similar to the following, is affected: Dated technologies were at fault in that particular mishap, but, not to worry, in the near future, new innovations will safeguard against similar calamities.

    Sure thing: The future will be bathed in the benign light of new technological wonders; our dread will be washed away by sparkling clean coal. Magical technological innovations will soon render nuclear power so safe that the only danger to the general public will be posed by the risk of being smothered by its profoundly huggable properties.

    Such are the free market capitalist’s versions of End Time belief systems, a variation of the type of magical thinking that induces an individual to scan the empty sky, waiting for Jesus to float earthward and redeem the ceaseless folly perpetrated by mankind.

    If we are willing to accept being lulled back into our comfort zones by such fantasies (that are as craven as they are preposterous), we might as well wait around for hazmat crews of leprechauns atop flying unicorns to arrive on the scene and clean up the messes that corporate capitalist greed-heads inflict on our increasingly besieged planet.

    In a manner similar to how the indefatigable salesmen of the consumer state sell optimism, but, in reality, deliver anomie, the propagandist of the neo–liberal paradigm promise peace and prosperity — yet their shock troops, comprised of the political and media elite, instead level class warfare at home and perpetual war abroad that renders landscapes blighted and mindscapes shell-shocked.

    Among their most pernicious contrivances has been to convince the passengers seated aboard the runaway train of the corporate state that the blur of landscape out the train’s windows is caused by their own poor vision and the impending crash will be due to their negative thoughts.

    The implicit message imparted is: “If only you would have thought more optimistically and worked harder, you’d have been one of life’s winners and you would have been cruising above the impending carnage in your private jet. How sad for you, loser. And, by the way,” they lie, “did you know socialists are manning the controls of the doomed train?”

    While these practitioners of the art of weasel word wizardry insist they sell hope, in reality, they sell shame.

    Growing up in the Deep South, being raised, as we say there — not brought up, but raised — like corn, hogs (or Lazarus or zombies from the grave) and socialized there, shame is a subject with which I’m well acquainted; it has taken me a lifetime (and it remains an ongoing process) to sort through and shake out the shame-based sensibility acquired there.

    “If you think that I am dumb, There is another universe of stupidity that I can show you!” — comment posted on my FaceBook page when a stubborn, inconsiderate fact would not yield to his rightist umbrage.

    What is the origin of such an outlandish, inadvertently self-satirizing statement?

    Shame (its flip side being Southern pride) arises, descends, converges and intermingles from manifold influences and multiple traumas: The bizarre-as-a-talking-serpent concept of sin passed down through Calvinistic belief systems; the legacy of degradations inflicted from being on the losing (and morally wrong) side of the Civil War; as well as, the degraded social milieu that circumscribes the lives and fates of large numbers of the permanent white underclass residing in the region.

    Shame stains Southern sensibilities like red clay on Sunday whites.

    A large number of the blustering, willfully ignorant, Southern men that I grew up around, whether they are khaki clad, country-club smoothies or leather jacket-donning punk rock belligerents, were twisted inside out, kicked and stomped insensate by shaming authority figures before they shed their baby teeth. If one listens closely, one can detect the voice of shame-bearing demons hissing in their every utterance.

    Yet the knowledge of the origin and source of their suffering remains buried deep within these men. To acknowledge shame (even to oneself) is considered a tacit admission of having something to be ashamed of i.e., “If you ain’t got nothing to be ashamed of, you miserable peckerwood, then you wouldn’t have no need to feel it.”

    So, more or less, the line of thinking — or rather the train wreck of pathology passing for thought — goes.

    Accordingly, a strong impulse arises to explain it all away — to claim the entire episode is a misunderstanding, or to dismiss their feelings as being trivial, or merely an indulgence of weak-willed, thin-wrist losers, or impugn the motives of those who find grievance in the situation.

    This mode of mind has made multi-millionaires of the dark magicians of rightwing talk shows, experts at performing emotional sleight of hand tricks that displace the shame of their listeners on a host of targets.

    The cordiality of my fellow Southerners is as facile as it is fragile. In Southern culture, a great deal of psychic energy goes into distancing oneself from shame.

    Brooding beneath Southern culture’s superficial charm and gentility is the unspoken threat: “Be nice, now.” That often translates to, “ya’ll do as I say — and there won’t be any trouble.”

    More often than not, it is all made personal. Affronts are long remembered and resentments cultivated, and being confronted with information outside of one’s realm of experience and field of reference is regarded as condescension.

    Being made to feel “less than,” by insults, real or imagined, can bring on a noxious cascade of shame and its concomitant host of desperate evasions and violent displacements to mitigate the feelings of unease engendered.

    This is how it was explained to me on FaceBook recently by a feller named Frank who was addressing the issue of his loathing of liberal/socialist tyranny:

    “My facts are correct. The far left is nothing more than the new set of communists looking to take over. Just a call me a southern god fearing commie killer who cannot wait to put more notches on his weapon if the day ever arises again. I did enjoy killing them so. Your sheep I will never be. That’s a fact. [R]eal Americans have better things to do that listen to your drivel. I’m out of here.”

    Just what kind of demented cultural circus produces these crack-brained battalions of killer clowns for Liberty? A culture with a brutal and rigidly enforced (but furiously denied) class structure that inflicts constant humiliation, yet, because of its nebulous structure, remains hidden from view.

    Therein exist the allure and tenacity of neo-confederate hagiographic nonsense. Pride is held near, and clutched closely to oneself, because the corporate state has left the white underclass bereft of little else.

    It is painful to admit to being powerless and devoid of a means to change the trajectory of one’s fate. One feels demoralized and diminished as a result.

    Moreover, nationwide, under the present system, riddled with vast economic inequity, the negative repercussions for disobedience and failure are more than most people can endure, economically as well as psychologically.

    In a culture where success is deemed the end all/be all of all things, failure is devastating. In a corporate structure rigged to benefit a privileged few, and upward class mobility is merely a mind-fogging, cultural myth — then failure is altogether likely.

    Combine this, with the pernicious, puritanical/Calvinistic notion that failure is due to flawed character, and you have a troubled population ” staggered by self-doubt, roiling in the unfocused rage of the humiliated, and primed and stoked for demagogic displacements.

    While nice liberals retreat to their comfort zones, the forsaken laboring class constructs insulating walls of resentment.

    In the U.S., more and more, the criteria that forges personality and informs our condition is wrought by the calculus of enclosure: guarded-gate communities; isolation in motor vehicles; the insular pixel fiefdoms of the Internet; long work hours, often spent in cubicles, comprised of meaningless labor, and cut-off from both the norms of nature and resonate human contact.

    These conditions create an existence as redolent of the aromas of existence as plastic covered cheese-food. In cultural terms, it is as if the people of the U.S. have become mummified in plastic packaging wrap ” have been rendered — Body Bag People.

    Of course, one yearns for the void to be filled. But with hearts and minds mortared closed, sealed off from the shock and humiliation experienced from the daily economic exploitation of a hidden, intractable class system — what penetrates these self-constructed prisons is loud, stupid, even fascistic in tone and theme e.g., violent video games; the empty spectacle of steroid-fueled professional sports hype; the exercise in Rock and Roll imperium that U.S. militarism has become; fundamentalist sermons that long for the blood and thunder of Armageddon.

    In short, all the Sturm und Drang necessary to pierce protective walls, yet, at the same time, insure one remains ensconced in one’s comfort zone.

    Yet the sense of powerlessness is not mitigated for long, a nebulous sense of unease nettles. The world appears to bristle with threats ” a low-grade hysteria is maintained and ceaseless war is both convenient and inevitable.

    Yet all the ramparts and fortifications of the national security state still do not create a sense of safety; instead, its siege mentality increases the interior void of the U.S. populace, and, as a result, the vitality of life is barred entrance.

    Blood sacrifices must be made to the god of the inner abyss … corpses are tossed into the void.

    Over the top? Given the fact of the hundreds of thousands of corpses the U.S. empire has lain under the native soil of nations from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia (and now North Africa) in only the past decade up to the present — which, in combination with a government that practices and a general public that is indifferent to the use of torture — the image limned above doesn’t seem hyperbolic in the least.

    At what point, does it become incumbent upon an individual to seize back his identity, to reject being defined by the exploitive, dehumanizing demands imposed (and small bribes proffered) by corporate/governmental elites?

    The ongoing tragedy in Japan reveals how dangerous it can be to refuse or defer the challenge.

    Author’s Website:

    Author’s Bio: Phil Rockstroh, a self-described, auto-didactic, gasbag monologist, is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: Visit Phil’s Website

    Other Articles by Phil Rockstroh

    Listen Up, You Christo-Fascist Bullies — You Apostles Of Perpetual Psychosis — It’s High Time Somebody Called You Out

    The United States of Dixieland: Corporatism, Jesus, and the Death Genes

    The Rise of Pharmatopia

    Baby George In The Land Of The Bubble People

  4. eslkevin says:

    Here is another beautiful girl about my daughter’s age.

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