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.