Saturday, May 16, 2009

What is your "green light"?

From The Great Gatsby:
[H]e stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward -- and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock (25-26; emphasis added).
The New York Times recently featured an article entitled, "Gatsby’s Green Light Beckons a New Set of Strivers". As you think about what it is that you desire most, consider the responses of these urban and immigrant students in a Boston high school.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Welcome, Louis Masur!

In anticipation of Louis Masur's visit to our school for American Studies Day, each one of our students took an original photograph of an American flag, gave it a caption, and uploaded to the web in a shared presentation. Afterward, I took all the images and set them to music using the amazing ANIMOTO website and Broken Social Scene's "Capture the Flag". See the fascinating results below by pressing "play".

Friday, May 08, 2009

Promote this!

We are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Louis Masur, for both his Tuesday evening presentation, displayed below, and his generous offer to spend the entire American Studies Day (Wednesday) with us for multiple sessions, including one on the music of Bruce Springsteen. Masur is the author of The Soiling of Old Glory and currently teaches at Trinity College.

In addition to hearing Masur’s keynote address on American Studies Day, students will engage with panel discussions which relate to the theme of the day, and which highlight student projects and research. We are also glad to include that day opportunities for the students to hear other professional speakers and artists, notably an AP photographer as well as the local blues band Mississippi Heat.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

American Studies is BACK!

A pyhsical proton proton chainImage via Wikipedia

Despite persistent H1 N1 rumors, and after several grueling weeks outside of class researching and writing the Junior Theme, both of your teachers were in clear agreement that it was a fantastic return to form on Friday. No matter where you stood on the issues, clearly, American Studies is BACK.

One thing I really learned in class was how important it is for us to continue to rely on face-to-face communication. Most of us love the tech, but looking back on the previous post, it was striking to me how quickly the virtual discussion (below) diverged from the intended focus.

But another important point was that even though the comments began to devolve into borderline nasty discourse, (referencing a beast of burden defined here), I still feel that we are all a pretty tolerant, respectful bunch of people. Doc OC and I briefly considered deleting a few comments, but realized that this is a teachable moment to remember that we shouldn't assume the worst, and that it's best to critique the ideas, not the person.

So, in the interest of debating the ideas, can we continue this discussion in a civil way?

My main concern is that there was a lack of critical thinking regarding the various terms we toss around rather casually. Can we agree upon certain "operational definitions"? For instance, the term, "theory". Here is the definition I will use, taken from Kenneth Miller in the On the Media piece cited here:

[theory]: a unified testable explanation that actually explains how different facts, how observations, how fossils, how facts about genetics or molecular biology, how these can all fit together.

So the interesting thing is that theory actually represents a higher level of understanding than fact. Fact is just a single isolated, repeatable observation. A theory is something that explains how all these facts fit together.

And we use the word “theory” like atomic theory, for example, not because we're not sure that atoms are real – we're pretty darn sure – but rather because atomic theory explains all these isolated observations and facts.

My other concern was with what is a common logical error, made by many of us in the heat of the moment. It's sometimes called a "negative proof fallacy", which basically means that if you can't provide evidence that my idea is wrong, then my idea is right. The problem with that, of course, is that we all know from many discussions that the burden of proof is on the person making the argument, not the person who is perceived to need convincing.

So, in a blog post that ended up being far too long, bring the evidence for your particular point of view. Stay focused on ONE thing at a time for clarity's sake. Be realistic about the limits of Church/State interaction in U.S. public schools. And, if you need help embedding links, you know where to find me!
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