Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Today in class we read Robert Pinsky's poem Shirt. (Wait for the play button to appear): Listen to Pinsky himself read the poem. Feel free to read the poem again several times on your own. It's surprisingly dense and makes some stunning imaginative leaps.

Remember: your extra credit assignment is to:

  1. choose an article of clothing you were wearing today;
  2. determine the country of origin where the clothing was manufactured;
  3. investigate the working conditions in that area (feel free to use the web here, but also consult our expert librarians. you might also consider interviewing people from the region or people who are familiar with the civil or labor situations in that country) — yes, even if the U.S.!
  4. determine U.S. trade agreements/restrictions with that country;
  5. relate your findings to the poem and to Frederick Douglass;
  6. write your investigative and imaginative findings in an original poem of your own, a dialogue, a short or an online multimedia creation — 2 page max — essay (on, say, the question of whether one can be free without being economically free), or by choosing some other genre to convey what you've learned. You might take a tip from Pinsky and invent a character in order to relate part or all of what you have to say.
Of course it's complicated. That's why it's called Extra Credit. Remember this outside project is due Monday (though we will give you extra time if you have a plan for an idea you'd like to pursue by then). NOTE: Pinsky's poem appears below.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Construction Sites

Plans to construct a new Wal-Mart in a depressed community in central Virginia have caused a stormy new controversy. The proposed location, the Wilderness Battlefield, was the site of a fierce Civil War battle in which Grant faced Lee. In the two day battle, 30,000 soldiers died. Local residents were divided on the issue -- whether to preserve the land as holy ground or to accept Wal-Mart's offer to revive the sagging local economy -- but historians were nearly united in their opposition of the proposal.

Yet after a year long court battle, the super-store has now been given the green light.

Where do you come down on this issue? How can we -- or how should we -- balance our current needs with our obligations to the past? 

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Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11/01: the Questions

Today is the 8th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Since the members of our class were relatively young at the time of the event, we are curious about your questions regarding 9/11.

To some, it might seem like a waste of time just to ask questions, but I am reminded of this quote by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner from Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

Once you have learned how to ask questions — relevant and appropriate and substantial questions — you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.

What are YOUR questions about September 11th? Click on the comments link to contribute to the discussion.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Careful, this may be banned in your school.

Until the President's address to school children is available via live stream on Tuesday, please watch this very short PSA (Public Service Announcement, featuring various NASCAR drivers, which I found on the official White House web page promoting the Tuesday speech. Why do you think this video is featured?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Just Another Labor Day?

United States or Soviet?Image by Jo Peattie via Flickr

Although for most of us it's just another day off or an extended weekend, Labor Day is an excellent time to reflect on those men and women (and children!) who came before us, helped build this country, and whose lives continue to reverberate in this new century.

Think about it in today's context. Even though today's economy is said to be in recovery, according to Bloomberg News, "the average workweek held at 33.1 hours, six minutes...that was the lowest since records began in 1964, [and] the unemployment rate rose to a 26-year high of 9.7 percent."

Perhaps now, more than ever, it would be instructive to closely examine the nature of work in the USA. Toward that end, curators at The National Archives have designed some wonderful virtual exhibitions that pay tribute to American laborers and many others. From their website:
Imagine working in a coal mine.
Or in a steel mill.
Or at a telephone switchboard.

Work and workplaces have gone through enormous transformations between the mid 19th and late 20th centuries. You can view these changes through photographs held by the National Archives and Records Administration.

My own contribution was to download a video from their site, and make it into something new and (hopefully) more compelling. Although the video was completely silent, I changed the work by simply adding a soundtrack. This video now features a soundtrack by Thievery Corporation, who remixed a song from the Doors, a band popular many years ago. See the parallels?

Hopefully you'll understand this "secret" message: don't be afraid to respond to media that usually is intended to be one-way. The internet and computer technology has made it possible for anyone to become a creator and to "talk back" to media. "Work" such as this can be very fulfilling and meaningful. Hopefully, this small "labor of love" will encourage you to think about today as more than "Just Another Labor Day".

Lastly, since we are starting our course with a "Stories and Histories" theme, what narrative do you see being weaved through this video?

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Friday, September 04, 2009

Link "The Facebook" to your blog!

We know how much effort you have put into the blogs so far, but we also know how much you love Facebook. As featured in the technology blog, Mashable, Facebook now allows you to share your Facebook content on your weblog. Just go to Facebook's "widget page" where you can share a name or photo badge in the sidebar of your own blog. See? (click on image to see full size)

But could this kind of cross-posting be an example of "crossing the line"? Consider the words of danah boyd, social media researcher and blogger, who states:

Many teens have ZERO interest in interacting with teachers on social network sites [eg., Facebook], but there are also quite a few who are interested in interacting with SOME teachers there. Still, this is primarily a social space and their interactions with teachers are primarily to get more general advice and help. In some ways, its biggest asset in the classroom is the way in which its not a classroom tool and not loaded this way. Given that teens don't Friend all of their classmates, there are major issues in terms of using this for groupwork because of boundary issues.

Breaking News: danah boyd will be speaking at Wilmette Junior High School on Wednesday, October 7th, at 7:00 pm.