Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Myths of Rules and Incentives

Now that we have viewed and discussed Barry Schwartz's TED Talk, think about how the mythology of rules and incentives applies to your own life. Schwartz mostly related his ideas to the financial crisis, but what about applying these to school rules and incentives?

For example, I was at an educational technology conference last week in which many of the presenters argued for the integration of cell phones in the classroom. These educators strongly believe that the policy of banning cell phones in school is wrong-headed because it is based upon a "myth". According to proponents of this idea, the myth is that cell phones disrupt the learning process. Instead, they argue that cell phones in the classroom would actually enhance learning. I am undecided on this issue: what do you think?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Childhood Myths

Historian Steven Mintz's book, Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood sees Huck's journey on the Mississippi River as a metaphor for childhood in the United States — the "youthful wonder" and the "unsettling underside" found in the novel's "more sinister aspects." However, Mintz warns, "a series of myths have clouded public thinking about the history of American childhood." He lists the following six myths:
  1. the myth of a carefree childhood
  2. the myth of home as a haven a source of stability
  3. the myth that childhood is the same for everybody
  4. the myth that the United States is a particularly child-friendly society
  5. the myth of progress (children keep learning, developing and growing in a straight slope) and
  6. the myth of decline (children start off perfect, pure and become corrupted)
Which of these do you see in the novel? Which of these do you see in your parents' attitude toward child-rearing? Ask your friends and your family (especially people from the older generation, like Mr. Bolos) if their views on children and parenting have changed in past generation or two.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

cowboy presidents

This week we talked about the "Myth of the West" in art and how President Ronald Reagan made use of the cowboy myth in advancing a new narrative of America (and a new narrative of his presidency). George Bush has both used and been accused of playing with the same myths.

The on-line American Popular Culture discusses Bush and the cowboy myth this way: In an address to the nation, on March 17, 2003, George W. Bush declared, “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” The ultimatum aroused a multitude of commentary in editorials and news articles that depicted George W. Bush as a cowboy sheriff who told outlaws to get out of town or face the consequences. On March 19, for instance, Reuters ran a story titled “High Noon for Cowboy Era” in which the lead sentence declared that, for Arabs, Bush's ultimatum was a throwback to the Wild West. Bush's language struck many observers as dialogue straight out of a Hollywood Western: "You have until sundown to git out of this town."
Eric Baard, writing for the Village Voice in 2004 offered a piece called "George W. Bush A'int No Cowboy." Here is an excerpt:
George W. Bush is a fake cowboy. From media accounts, you'd reckon that the president was a buckaroo to the bones. He plays up the image, big-time, with $300 designer cowboy boots, a $1,000 cowboy hat, and his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas. He guns his rhetoric with frontier lingo, saying that he'll "ride herd" over ornery Middle Eastern governments and "smoke out" enemies in wild mountain passes. He branded Saddam Hussein's Iraq "an outlaw regime" and took the vanquished dictator's pistol as a trophy. As for Osama bin Laden, Bush declared, "I want justice. And there's an old poster out West, I recall, that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.' " Britain's liberal newspaper The Guardian noted that "such language feeds the image overseas of Mr. Bush as a hopelessly inarticulate, trigger-happy cowboy."

But many commentators also point out that the cowboy image became a potent means of coalescing support for George W. Bush as a fast-acting, straight-shooting, brave president. Regardless of your political stance, it is clear the cowboy will not die with Bush.Remember, John McCain was a "maverick" and the Iranian government has accused now President Obama of using "cowboy rhetoric" in warning that regime of its nuclear ambitions.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Myth of Cowboys

With your peers, write down as many characteristics as you can of the American "cowboy" as he is portrayed in American popular culture. See what our class generated below (thanks to the typing talents of Christy!):

After reading E. Martin Pedersen's "The Dreary Life of the Cowboy: Memoir and Myth in Cowboy Ballads", use it as a source and please post comments that you believe contradict the myth of the cowboy. What most surprised you about the "reality" of cowboy life?