Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Old Kentucky Home

Bobbie Ann Mason, a wonderful short story writer from Kentucky, is probably the most famous literary personality in her state. (If you're looking for a great summer read, try In Country, a beautiful novel about a 17 year old girl trying to understand her father who fought in the Vietnam War). Because of her celebrity, she was asked to write a series of pieces in the New York Times on the current state of Kentucky. Read her short opinion piece -- by clicking on the highlighted links -- and see if you find any connections with the play we're reading, with other current issues in the news, or with anything we've studied this year.

Monday, May 24, 2010

TV Tokenism: A Follow-up

Last week, Mr. B presented a provocative look at tv tokenism: a practice whereby under-represented groups (women and people of color) remain largely absent from network dramas.

A quick recap: When the under-represented actors do appear, they are often marginalized (literally in advertisement photos we examined), receiving much less screen time and narrower, two dimensional characters to portray. In an attempt to placate opposition — such as the NAACP opposition we examined — network dramas often reserve apparent positions of power to under-represented actors (judges on Law and Order, police chiefs on every police show you can think of) all the while minimizing the screen time and complextity of these characters. If anything, these characters are mere obstacles for the white male leads to hurdle. At the end of class, we wondered whether the tokenism we observed in tv dramas mirrors such marginalization in our society. That's why the following story about minority contracts in Chicago caught my eye:

$1 billion in contracts that were supposed to include projects of firms led by minority and women were circumvented so that they appeared to comply with federal guidelines even as they perpetuated the practice of "whites only" contracting.

Consider Republican National Chairman, Michael Steele, who is African-American. He is the party's first minority leader. Yet many see many see him as a figure-head, a cynical attempt to attract votes from people of color (since roughly 5 out of every 6 black voters are Democrats) without any real clout of his own.

At my old school, which was on the South side of Chicago, there was only one African American teacher on a faculty that was over 100 people strong. There were three people of color in the entire faculty. Women fair better in education circles — slightly more than half the faculty were women. How does New Trier do by this measure? Do you think television networks, city government projects and public schools have an obligation to represent the American society in which they reside?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

American Studies Day

See James Fallows, editor of The Atlantic Monthly speak at the Cornog Auditorium at 6 pm as a preview to New Trier's 2nd Annual American Studies Day. The Cornog is located at 7 Happ Road, Northfield, IL 60093.

This year's theme is "Media & Democracy", based on Fallows' book, Breaking The News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy.

We have an exciting line-up with many opportunities for participation. Our keynote speaker will be Maria Finitzo, an award-winning filmmaker producing and directing documentary films for network television, public broadcasting, cable TV and the Internet. We are also privileged to feature two outstanding slam poets, Kevin Coval and Idris Goodwin, performing at around 1:00 pm at the Northfield campus. Finally, we will feature student- and teacher-led panels, presentations, and discussions. Please stick to your individually-assigned schedule for the day because some of the sessions are very tightly packed.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Data-Driven Determination

After listening to this NPR report on possible SCOTUS (Supreme Court) nominee Elena Kagan (click to listen below), it reminded me of two connections to our class.

"Should Kagan's Lack Of Judicial Experience Matter?"
  1. Our brief discussion on Kagan focused on her qualifications to be a Supreme Court Justice. There was a question as to what exactly those qualifications are. Here's what the Constitution says:

    "[The President]...shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme [sic] Court" (Article II).

    This is something most of us already know — it's the President's choice, as long as the Senate approves. But what about specific qualifications? Here's all I could find:

    "The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office" (Article III).

    "good Behaviour"? It's fascinating that there isn't even a qualification that the nominee had been a judge. Furthermore, only a single justice from the landmark Brown v. Board decision had served previously as a judge.

  2. One of the main reasons recent SCOTUS nominees previously have been lower court judges is that "by looking at a lower court record, a president, or a senator for that matter, can get a reasonably good idea of what a nominee's views are." I connected this notion to the near-obsession that some of our students have with their own "record" (grades, activities, etc.) accumulated in school.
    Are we in danger of becoming a purely "data-driven" society? Think of our previous discussion of how in the future sensors will be embedded in books and shoes to measure everything. Then read this post about overcoming data with the power of stories. Does your own "record" function as a decent measure of how you want people to see you?