Sunday, November 29, 2009

Competing Narratives?

Recently, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman lamented how the shooting tragedy at Fort Hood was actually a product of Arab buy-in to what Friedman calls, "The Narrative". Though he addresses the other side by stating that Major Hasan (the alleged shooter) may have been mentally ill, Friedman claims instead that this 39 year-old American-born and educated killer was just another Arab who came to believe in the Big Lie:
Propagated by jihadist Web sites, mosque preachers, Arab intellectuals, satellite news stations and books...this narrative posits that America has declared war on Islam, as part of a grand “American-Crusader-Zionist conspiracy” to keep Muslims down.

Friedman argues that despite twenty years of US foreign policy, "largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims or trying to help free them from tyranny", most Arabs and Arab-Americans still cling to The Narrative. Read Friedman's short editorial piece, then skim the 600+ reader comments that follow, particularly those of "Phil in the mountains of Kyushu, Japan" and "Bill Nahay from Austin TX". Ask yourself to assess this writing in a critical manner, as we did in class both with the history textbook reading and the Fox News WMD article. You might respond to the following question: does Friedman propagate a myth in order to obscure his own storytelling?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Creative = Common?

Last Friday, I stayed in district to attend our school's annual Institute Day. This time I was "voluntasked" (worth copyrighting?) to co-lead a session on Creativity. With less than a week to prepare, a copse of papers to grade, and the nagging tug of my blogging duties in and out of class, I wanted to say no, but this is a topic I care a great deal about, so I agreed.

Hearing the alarming fatality numbers on PowerPoint™ presentations, my co-presenters (Murphy, Kajfez) and I decided to show, not tell. We asked the teachers in our sessions (about 60 in all) to play with pictures, language, and cartoon captions before we led a short discussion.

The conversations in sessions and afterward offered some interesting comments. I'm also sneaking in comments from parent-teacher conferences and some student comments here. Use any one of them as springboards for your own blog comments:

"Creative assignments are fine and good, but when do we start preparing students for college?"

"Who can be creative in a stressful, time-driven environment like NT?"

"When I was a young kid I was very creative, but that's not what gets rewarded in the real world of tests?"

"No one pays attention to human development in school. It's who you are right now vs. the national average that matters."

"School tells a story of how the world is, not how the world might be."

"Whenever a good enough idea emerges, people often stop thinking about new ideas. 'Why re-invent the wheel?' they'll say."

"Some people are just born creative."

"It's such a myth that creativity flourishes in isolation. It's all about working with other people."

"If we practice creativity we become more creative. It we practice routine we become robots."

"There are so many ways to measure creativity, but schools only measure a tiny fraction of these."

"Necessity is the mother of invention; we only truly create when we feel we need to."

"People should always have the chance to opt out of being creative."

Children of City Water, Light, and Power

After Parent-Teacher Conferences, most of my colleagues spent the next day in Institute Day meetings. But I, along with Mr. "LawDawg" Lawler, headed downstate to our State Capital, Springfield, Illinois for a conference on educational technology. The hotel hosting the conference featured the tagline, "The Place to Meet". When I explored the hotel website, I noticed that all of the building photographs, save one, featured interior shots of the facility. I didn't think to wonder to why.

When I arrived late at night after conferences, I used a provided "chip-clip" to tightly seal the curtains of my $85 "executive suite", and set my alarm for an early wakeup. When I awoke the next morning, I threw open the curtains to see this image, which I captured with my phone. (Click on the photo for a larger image)

I guess I was a little shocked and wanted to share this experience. Using "The Facebook", I posted the photo and got the following response from my cousin:
Cleo P
That's where I was raised. My father worked for the state.
Yesterday at 7:46am
Spiro Bolos
Cough cough -- sorry, Cousin!
Yesterday at 7:55am
Cleo P
Yes, everyone left as soon as they hit 18.
Yesterday at 8:13am
That last statement really hit me hard. It made me start to wonder about the life we provide for our own children and the choices we make toward that end. Certainly, I have made decisions about where to live based upon the welfare of my children, but it's undeniable that what I do for a living and where I work has also forced these choices. Talk to your parents. What sorts of choices did they make for you and why? What are the implications of those choices, either positive or negative?

Want to learn more about these structures in Springfield? The City Water, Light and Power (CWLP) smokestacks are the three tallest structures in our state capital, built originally in the 1960s, and may stand for another forty years,