Friday, June 22, 2012

Week 6 Readings

In response to the discussion question about whether or not discussions of earthquakes, volcanoes and aliens belong in a social studies classroom, I absolutely think they deserve to be touched on.  Science classes usually only teach you the how and the why of these things (well, not aliens I guess); they don't begin to touch upon the social impact and psychological consequences.  As time moves forward, it becomes increasingly likely that we or our students or all of us will experience some sort of earth-altering event at some point.  Whether that happens because of a rogue nation deploying nukes or because of an asteroid crashing into the earth, the social impact would likely be similar- I would probably expect there to be at least some period of worldwide panic and pandemonium following such an event.  Students should be mentally prepared for this type of scenario to whatever extent possible; it is ridiculous to think that these things could never happen, and living with the awareness that they can happen is part of being an adult who lives in the real world and paradoxically can help you to appreciate the relative normalcy of your current life.  I think the best way to approach these types of possibilities in a classroom setting would be to discuss them from a social impact standpoint: if X happened, how do you expect humanity to be behave in response?  Would it be better or worse in developed nations as opposed to third world nations?

In response to the final discussion question ("is there a moral difference between employing nuclear bombs, fire bombing cities, the use of unmanned drone strikes as opposed to using chemical or biological weapons?  Should these be banned by all countries?"), I believe there is a moral difference, although I believe that it has more to do with the degree of severity than the essential nature of the crime.  First off, drone strikes are on whole different level because of the relative size of the destruction they cause; at least these types of strikes can be targeted in a such a way that civilian deaths are hopefully minimized.  With a nuke or a large-scale chemical/biological weapon, you are automatically planning to kill thousands of civilians and, in effect, committing genocide against the people living in the area where the weapon is used.  The nuclear weapon is already on the table at this point- we have observed the long-term consequences in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and we know what radiation does to people long-term.  At this point, no country with nukes is going to leave itself exposed by getting rid of them completely.  The only moral difference with chemical and biological weapons, especially with the latter, is that the effects of these have never been observed on a large-scale before and the potential for creating an even bigger problem than the user even intended is far too great.  Let's say the U.S. government decides that we have no choice but to take out North Korea, and decide to go with a biological weapon that unleashes a very infectious disease on the North Korean people.  Not only would we have already have committed a deplorable act of genocide, but consider this- what's to stop that disease from continuing to spread into neighboring countries until it eventually makes its way back to the U.S. in the form of a worldwide pandemic?  At least a nuclear bomb is limited in terms of the total area that it can effect; biological and chemical weapons that make their way into the water supply could devastate even more massive populations.  For all of these reasons, I don't believe there is any justifiable reason to use biological and chemical weapons and I believe they should be universally banned.   We've already got nukes on the table- what more do you need?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Week 5 Readings

'Historian Leo Braudy stated, "Fame, which used to be connected to honor, and bestowed by achievement, has now become so separated from either that it exists in a category of its own, frequently valueless and often unrelated to anything resembling actual accomplishment."  Do you agree with this statement, and if so how do you think this new type of fame is affecting youth today?'

Given that we live in a culture that seems to be increasingly driven by the mere idea of celebrity with every passing year, I think it becomes very important for teachers to provide students with the chance to discuss popular celebrities from a critical standpoint.  So much of the media coverage of these people seems to be geared toward presenting them in a flattering light, or at least in a way that is design to arouse fascination with their lives and personalities.  I would die a thousand deaths  in my heart if I ever thought that my own (future) kids were idolizing celebrities like Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian or Snooki- I shudder to think of it.  One of the more disturbing effects of the modern-day western world, in the broadest sense possible, is that we are constantly being bombarded by stimuli that are usually motivated by some form of advertising or another, and I think that the effect that this has can be especially devastating for young people who have not yet learned how to discern people’s true motivations, reality from fantasy, genuine talent from mere celebrity, etc.  That’s why I love the fact that this author makes a point to distinguish the growing disparity between the overall fame of modern-day celebrities and their actual deserved level of fame based on their talent and contribution to culture/society.  I found the concept of ‘celebrity residual’ to be an extremely insightful and tragically hilarious observation about the modern concept of celebrity.  Of course this ‘residual’ would be impossible to quantify objectively for any individual celebrity, but it’s genuinely refreshing to hear someone actually talking about this disparity in our culture that most people just seem to accept tacitly.  For years, I’ve been watching in disgust as the cultural platform for emerging artists that once was MTV (anyone remember “music television”?) has gradually become devoted to the most worthless programming that America has ever been exposed to (The Jersey Shore and all related spinoffs, Disaster Date, Real World-Road Rules Challenges, My Super Sweet 16, Next, Jackass… the list goes on and on).  I almost feel like the idea of ‘celebrity’ in the modern collective conscience has become sort of a contest of who is most willing to humiliate and degrade themselves on television.  I don't worry too much about adults watching these shows for a brief moment of mindless entertainment after a busy/stressful day, but without the benefit of a firm grip on the realities of the actual adult world, I worry that young people may internalize the worst kind of personal values from their constant exposure to this type of programming, and I feel like this book could provide a powerful springboard from which to develop any number of lessons that give students a much-needed forum in which to develop their critical thinking skills in regard to the constant indoctrination of nonsense that networks like MTV are trying to feed them.  That many of the 'stars' from these shows have gone on to 'achieve' massive residual celebrity status (Steve-O, anyone?) demonstrates just how powerful the 'star machine' referenced by the presentation really is.  I mean really, Pauly D from the Jersey Shore came to Gainesville last year and I was shocked by how many people close to my age actually made efforts to go see him DJ (poorly, from what I heard).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Week 3 Readings

The Peculiar Institution definitely cleared up a number of misconceptions that I apparently had about the use of the death penalty in modern America.  Firstly, I had no idea how little we actually use it relative to the amount of punishment our criminal justice system actually hands out; the author's conception of the modern death penalty as "gold standard" used to underwrite the penal system as an ultimate consequence for criminal behavior really caught my interest.  I also never realized that the U.S. is essentially the only country in the western world that still uses this 'ultimate consequence' in modern times.  On the one hand, based on the state-by-state chart provided by our presenters this week, one could make the argument that the death penalty is successful in modern capacity as the 'gold standard' of the penal system based on the fact that kill-happy Texas seems to have so many less death row inmates that reluctant-to-execute California (though this may also have to do with the fact that Texas just kills them faster).  On the other hand, our presenters raised another good question about whether or not the modern incarnation of the death penalty is a failure in terms of another of its primary purposes; cathartic retribution for the victim's family and friends.  If a member of my family was murdered, I can't imagine getting much satisfaction out of seeing an apparently reformed inmate put to sleep 15 years down the road.  Plus, if retribution is such an important reason to perpetuate the death penalty, then why are we even putting up this farce of humane treatment with the painless injections and last meal of the inmates choice?  If revenge was really my goal, I'd want to see the killer hanged or fried or something, not merely put to sleep in roughly the same manner as a beloved family dog; where's the retribution in that?  To my mind, it's a joke to perpetuate the death penalty and then try to act as if you're treating the situation as humanely as possible.  In the end, this excellent book/ presentation kind of reinforced what I already thought; that the death penalty is an outmoded and archaic form of punishment that is rendered inhumane if even one innocent person is wrongfully executed.  Unfortunately, as the author pointed out, no such governmental mechanism exists in the United States whereby the death penalty was abolished in most other nations (from the top down, in spite of public resistance) because our Constitution gives that power to the states.  And I imagine that it will be a cold day in hell before Texas ever gets rid of the death penalty...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Week 2 Readings

While I probably wouldn’t ask any high school students to actually read All the Devils Are Here, reading it myself did provide me with a tremendous amount of insight in terms of what actually caused the economic collapse in 2008.  It’s still almost unfathomable to me, as I’m sure it is to most people who aren’t well-versed in the world of finance, that the banks who we pay monthly mortgage payments to are actually lumping our mortgages in with thousands of others given to people who may or may not be responsible with their money, and selling it off to outside investors in pieces.  It’s a baffling thing to try and wrap your head around, but in this day and age it’s apparently essential to even begin to understand how our economy works.  More than anything else, this book caused me to really question how many of us are forming political opinions and making important financial decisions based on outmoded economic theories.  I’m sure that a national economy was something that could have been comprehended by a human being when Adam Smith was alive, but with all that has changed about it in the last 30 years, I really have to question whether or not his free market principles of economics would even apply to the modern world anymore.  I'm not an economist by means, but based on what I've read it just seems like chaos theory- the prediction of unpredictability- is the only principle governing the modern economy anymore.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Week 1 Readings

In addition to appreciating the list of learning object repositories given by Susan Cramer’s article, I found the article useful in terms of my own understanding of what a learning object actually is; “smaller resources put together to support the curricular content your students must master” (127), most useful in illustrating complex processes and concepts.  I found it interesting that these learning objects are defined as such in terms of their relatively narrow focus in relation to particular topics, especially those which may be difficult for students to understand from explanation alone.  I was also intrigued by her identification of 3 distinct phases of technology use, underscoring the fact that too many classrooms are mired in the first phases of merely replacing paper-based formats.  Simply using technology does not make one a ‘21st Century Teacher’, according to Miss Cramer.
         I found it refreshing to read Passe’s and Evans’ assertion that attempts to convey teacher neutrality in controversial discussion settings are essentially a farce; I couldn’t agree more.  Students are more perceptive than even they realize themselves, and a neutral facade could actually be worse if students are not aware of the bias being fed to them.  Full disclosure and impartiality seem far more practical; no teacher can eliminate bias completely from their instruction.  I do remember being frustrated as a student when teachers refused to add anything to the discussions that I had worked hard to contribute to, as the authors predict.