Thursday, February 25, 2010

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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Does Every Voice Matter?

Consider our class discussion today regarding the statement: "We live in a democracy where every voice matters." Then watch this video, based on a speech by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig. Does every voice matter?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Race and Insanity?

Civil Rights March on Washington, leaders marc...Image via Wikipedia
Many of us are familiar with mental illness because these afflictions are so common they can strike our closest family members. Certainly, one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses is schizophrenia, which many mistakenly believe is "split personality" — it's not. Psychiatrist Jonathan Metzel, has written a provocative book that relates our recent discussions of race, discrimination, and perception to this particular mental illness.

In an interview embedded below, he argues that before the 1960s, schizophrenia was "a disease of docility", predominately affecting white women. But during the Civil Rights Movement, all that changed, especially in the media, movies and prescription drug ads.

But the key change was in the DSM-II, the handbook psychiatrists utilized to diagnose mental illnesses. Specifically, words like "hostility" and "aggression" were added to the definition of paranoid schizophrenia. And guess what? The actual diagnosis of schizophrenic African-American men climbed suddenly.

Since then, those words have been taken out of the latest edition of the DSM, but research has shown that schizophrenia had been over-diagnosed in African-American men ever since.

Think again about our class discussion on "invisible" factors and institutional racism. What conclusions can you draw now?

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pete Seeger at 90

In light of our Herstory project in class, consider the song "I'm Gonna to be an Engineer," sung by Pete Seeger, one of my personal heroes. The song appears in the "virtual i-pod" on the bottom right of the homepage or below on a groovy you tube clip from the 1970's. Listen carefully to the lyrics and see if you can relate them to any of the presentations you've heard in class.

I first heard this song when my wife -- then my college girlfriend -- and I went on our first date to a Pete Seeger concert. But Pete's not just a folk music hero to me; he's also a man of tremendous principle. Like Howard Zinn, he has lived his convictions. He married a Japanese woman in the 1940's when our country was throwing thousands of Japanese-Americans in prison camps. He fought for civil rights, singing with the great African-American baritone, Paul Robeson, when it nearly cost him his life. He inspired many famous civil rights leaders, including Julian Bond, who credits Seeger for opposing Jim Crow laws before the Movement really got underway. Pete even wrote some of the lyrics to "We Shall Overcome." He fought for unions and common working men (and women since he also advocated equality among the sexes). He traveled the world and recording world music like no one had ever done before.

For all this he was branded a Communist and banned from appearing on TV for 17 years just when he had reached the height of his popularity. When the ban was finally lifted he shocked everyone by singing an anti-Vietnam War song called "The Big Muddy." Since then he has sung to end apartheid in South Africa and almost single-handedly galvanized efforts to clean-up the Hudson River. He's 90 now and just last year was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of folk music.