Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Justice: Man's Best Friend?

Former pro quarterback Michael Vick was sent to jail on conspiracy charges for forcing dogs to fight to the death. Vick and his friends gambled on these fights and many dogs died or were badly injured. Vick was sentenced to 23 months in jail and lost tens of millions of dollars in salary and endorsement deals.
This July he is eligible to leave prison and hopes to rejoin the NFL. As part of his "reformation," Vick was asked to take an empathy test that followed a film of horrific animal abuses. Above is a link to the test along with Vick's answers. (Vick earned a 73.5 out of 100)! Wait for it to load: it's worth seeing it in his own handwriting.

For me this process raises many questions: Was Vick's sentence -- far stiffer than many people who have been found guilty of killing human beings -- too harsh? What do you think of Vick having to submit to a PeTA empathy test? Can empathy be taught? How does the Vick story relate to our study of mythology -- Vick's and ours? Will Vick's story follow the redemptive arc?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Myth of Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks on a Montgomery bus on December 21,...Image via WikipediaBefore listening to the excerpt below from On the Media, think about what you believe to be true about Rosa Parks' historic refusal to sit at the back of the bus, and her subsequent arrest. Americans commemorate this 1955 act as the catalyst for the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama, an early success of the Civil Rights Movement.

But what do we really know of this historic event? Better yet, what do we believe about it? To what degree has Parks' act been mythologized by the press, popular culture, and even educators? For example, as yourself the following:
  1. Approximately how old was Rosa Parks at the time of the event?
  2. Where did she sit on the bus?
  3. Why exactly did she refuse to move from her seat?
  4. What were her views concerning non-violence?


Why is it that we believe so strongly in the myth of Rosa Parks? For more about the details of this event, see Rita Dove's article in Time magazine. Read it carefully: your own biases may prevent you from truly understanding what happened.
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Monday, January 19, 2009

The Forgotten King

The title of this post is intentionally ironic. Of course, today, we are away from school because Dr. Martin Luther King is commemorated by name with his own national holiday. And just about everyone alive is familiar with his "I Have A Dream" speech. However, as we look forward to tomorrow's historic inauguration, we invite you to compare and contrast what you have learned as a school child about this man, to this particular speech (about the Vietnam War, in an excerpt from a sermon given at Ebenezer Baptist Church, on April 30, 1967) Why? Because:
...after giving the speech...King was dropped from Gallup’s annual list of the most admired Americans and was ridiculed by the New York Times, among too many others. Soon after, he was murdered (Robert Scheer, Truthdig.com).
Although it is over 20 minutes long, you are encouraged to listen to as much of it as you can (it's audio only). We know what amazing multitaskers you are. Press PLAY and have it on in the background as you IM your friends and surf the net ;) Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Why is this post called, "The Forgotten King"?
  2. Why was this speech so controversial?
  3. How does it relate to our course themes?
  4. Can you make connections to today?
A full text version of this speech is available HERE.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Our Biases?

In the hopes that we can further facilitate your efforts on the final exam, here is an interesting Wordle ("word cloud") I created on Friday. Basically, I fed the entire text of this year's "An American Studies" blog into the program. I made sure that I took out content generated by the students, such as the American Values word cloud, which, due to the repetition of the words, would unduly bias the entire content of the blog. I also limited the word cloud to under 30 words. Keep those factors in mind as you analyze the content of this image.