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by Cynthia Fuchs

18 Sep 2012


“We have no discipline, and this is one of the fundamental problems,” observes Abu Muhammed. “They don’t follow directions; we make plans and they don’t abide by them. If they follow 15% of the plans, that is great.” A rebel leader in Syria, he’s trying to coordinate disparate forces in the ongoing struggle for control over Aleppo. As he rides through neighborhoods where battle frontlines change by the hour, he delivers ammunition and a series of plans to an assortment of fighters, “the Islamists, the Jihadi, the secular, the village based units.” Abu Muhammed is at once determined and matter-of-fact. He keeps track of how many bullets and bombs her has in a ledger, he keeps in contact with his soldiers by cellphone.

by Cynthia Fuchs

17 Sep 2012


“I would like to point out that for me this is a very, very strange experience.” No kidding. The speaker is a marionette of Theodore Gottlieb, and as he may or may not be looking into the camera, you’re more than aware of the strangeness of this experience. “Frankly,” the puppet goes on, “I don’t know what I’m dong here. Frankly, I don’t know what you are doing here.” You may have an idea about this, at least in the sense that you’re watching the aptly titled film, To My Great Chagrin: The Unbelievable Life of Brother Theodore.

by Cynthia Fuchs

4 Sep 2012


Editor’s note: ‘I Was Worth 50 Sheep’ is streaming on PBS Video Player through September.

At 16, Sabere is trying to divorce her husband. Golmohammad beats her, she explains, and she’s had four miscarriages, at least one caused by an especially severe beating she describes in detail for I Was Worth 50 Sheep. At a safe house for women in Mazar, Afghanistan, she finds both sympathy and legal help.

As Nima Sarvestani’s documentary reveals, however, she also finds complications. First, she remains fearful of her husband, a Taliban in his 60s who killed his first two wives. And second, she’s at risk with her stepfather, Khalegh, who takes her in to live with her ten-year-old half-sister, Farzaneh. The haven he offers is dreadfully uncertain: “War is everywhere,” he says more than once, meaning that he can’t guarantee the safety of the girls living with him, that they may be sold for sheep if something happens to him. Moreover, Khalegh feels pressured to sell Farzaneh. When Sabere protests that the girl is too young to be married, he asks, “What can we do? He is violent.”

by Cynthia Fuchs

4 Sep 2012


“It’s absolute life or death stress, where basically, people’s lives are hanging with every decision you make.” Dr. Andrew Dennis smiles and shakes his head as he describes his work in the trauma unit in Chicago’s Stroger Hospital. The daunting violence in the city has made headlines this summer, and Chicago Trauma makes clear at least one cause, the “roughly 100,000 gang members,” who also take their work seriously.

by Cynthia Fuchs

3 Sep 2012


“There are about 40 desks in this small classroom,” says Denver middle school English teacher Amanda Lueck. “I’ve got students sitting on the counter.” She worries about limited resources and escalating needs. “If there were three of me,” she says, “I might be able to get it done.” Like other teachers interviewed in American Teacher, Lueck attests both to her dedication to teaching and the frustrations that come with it. The job is hard. “Almost nothing harder,” points out Brad Jupp, the US Department of Education’s senior program advisor, “because teachers are constant active decision makers, they make thousands of decisions a day, they do it about the life of a child in that moment.” In Texas, history teacher Erik Benner’s students love him, in part because, as he says, “I try to treat the kids like young adults,” even as he’s unable to support his family on his teacher’s salary at Trinity Springs Middle School (he also works as an athletic coach at the school and has a second job at Floor & Decor). And Rhena Jasey, in Maplewood NJ, remembers friends advising, “Anybody can teach: you went to Harvard, you should be a doctor or a lawyer, you should make money.” After six years teaching in public school, she took a position with the Equity Project Charter School (T.E.P.), in NYC’s Washington Heights, a change she

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