Saturday, December 27, 2014

Skills, De-skilling, and the Happy Workers Problem.

Audrey Watters year-end reviews on the state of ed-tech are required reading.  But the one on skills really struck a chord with me.  Essentially, Watters points out three interconnected problems.

1.  More students are graduating from college with more debt.

2.  Unemployment for recent college grads continues to be high.  People blame "a skills gap."

3.  There is a huge pressure on colleges and high schools to teach "job-skills" and ditch the "not-useful stuff".  See Florida.

What we have here is a variation on what I call "the happy workers problem."  The happy workers problem is essentially a way of framing the debate around education.  According to the logic of happy workers proponents,  the point of education is to produce highly skilled workers that will be happy in their jobs.  Highly skilled, happy workers will lead, according to this logic, to a prosperous economy, a strong nation, national greatness etc. etc.. 

What happy workers proponents misunderstand is well, pretty much everything.  People aren't necessarily happy because they are well-paid, skills taught for today's job market may be useless tomorrow, schools can't and shouldn't replace job training programs, and advocates of getting schools to do the work of job training are generally trying to drive down wages in their employment sectors.

What education should do (and generally does well) is help create what David Hollinger called in a different context, a  "wider circle of 'we'".   School's main job is to expose students to a world beyond their parochial experience and engage as human beings with the wider world of both imagination and reality.  Real science, the humanities, and math form the core of this curriculum because they expand our ways of knowing the world around us and teach us disparate but related modes of thinking and of asking and answering questions about the nature of the world around us.  These are precisely the questions that happy workers advocates don't want their workers asking.  A worker who has learned about labor unions might want to organize her workplace.  A worker well-versed in math (and thus logic) might question why workers instead of executives or common shareholders are getting such a big share of corporate profits (despite the fact that CEO performance does little to increase profits).  And on and on. 

It's not really a conscious plotting, mind you, it's just that happy workers advocates don't see the point in what they consider useless knowledge.  And useful knowledge is only that knowledge that is measured by economic productivity.  Anything that cannot be monetized has no value.  It's a short-sighted ethic, but as we've seen in Ferguson, in civil forfeiture cases, and the housing crisis, we're heading towards a future where anything can be monetized.   And those monetizations of traffic violations, of the war on drugs, of risky housing policy, all came from good intentioned but short-sighted-policy efforts.  They were supposed to make us happier. 

And yet, we all are so unhappy. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Audrey Watters is freakin' awesome or where can I find a gear to jam.

When I started this blog, I wanted to write about the gap between ed-tech claims and ed-tech reality.   I quickly discovered that there was somebody on that beat who did it much better than I ever could.  Ladies and gentlemen (and the rest of you), if you haven't already met Audrey Watters:  
This summer, America’s premier education expert Bill Gates explained why ed-tech fails. “New technology to engage students holds some promise, but Gates says it tends to only benefit those who are motivated. ‘And the one thing we have a lot of in the United States is unmotivated students,’ Gates said.”
The problem, according to Gates, is not that ed-tech is crap. It’s not that many ed-tech entrepreneurs are snake-oil salesmen. It's not that people make these ludicrous claims about ed-tech revolution and ed-tech magic. It’s not that education policies are ridiculous. It’s not that the market-forces skew what gets pegged as a “problem” and what gets sold as a “solution.” It’s not that school is often boring and schoolwork often meaningless.
It’s that kids don’t give a shit. It’s their fault.
Ed-tech, on the other hand, is awesome.

And then she links to the Lego movie song.  Go read the whole thing along with all the Top Ten trends in ed tech list.  Then weep, weep quiet tears of grief for our profession.   Between a post on teaching skills that describes the de-skilling of American teachers and the creeping idiocy of a nation that sees education only as a tool for employment and not for making a better country (or even for nurturing competing ideas about what that phrase might mean), to a despressing account of how big businesses has been skimming money from school budgets for private profit with little to show from it on the results side.  I don't generally go for the full-blown Jeremiad, that's generally Withwindle territory,  but after that Top Ten list we have the moment where we despair.  If that  top ten list is the future, than we all are in a heap of trouble.  But than, I remember I am a history teacher and that for better or worse, many people saw a guy talk about his education and it helped launch a movement.  Here in Philly, the movement has started.  It's started in Chicago, and it's linking up with other movements.  We still have hope, it's not too late.  As long as your realize:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Crossing Rick Perlstein's Bridge

I recently finished reading Rick Perlstein's The Invisible Bridge:  The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.  Below, you'll find my review, but first some disclosures.  Rick and I were at the University of Michigan together in the early 90s.  We were in different departments, but ran in the same circles.  We were - and remain - friends.  I cannot pretend objectivity here for a man who recently bought me drinks when he was in town.  I contemplated changing all the "Rick"s in the text to "Perlstein"s but that would be disingenuous.  At the same time, as a friend, I feel obligated to give Rick the most critical of readings.  He wouldn't expect less.  Also, I read the Kindle edition.  No page numbers available.  Sorry.  If you don't have time to read the rest of the review here's the TL;DR - Read the book.     

I was born in 1967, and grew up in a Democratic household in a neighborhood on Long Island in which such folks were rarities.  It was Al D'Amato's Nassau County, or more properly, Joe Margiotta's Nassau County.   It was the kind of place where, if you're aunt ran as a Democrat for Town Council, you were liable to have your family phone bugged.  It was Nixonland writ small, and whatever operative that was listening in was treated to lots of calls to neighbors houses by me asking if my school friends could come over for play dates.*  Among my earliest memories were of family arguments over Watergate in which my grandmother defended Nixon to the bitter end, learning the words to the Fixin' To Die Rag, wondering why everybody was freaking out over my oldest brother's lottery number (it was 1973, his was low but they weren't drafting anybody), and the Ford-Carter election.  If I remember correctly, Jon Hilsenrath (now of the Wall Street Journal) and I were the only two kids in our class who supported Carter.  My father, who worked on Wall Street, would return from Manhattan with crazy stories from those dark days as the city teetered on the verge of bankruptcy.  None was crazier than the bombing of Fraunces Tavern, a few weeks after he had taken our family for breakfast there on a day off from school.  The bombing, by Puerto Rican activists in 1975, killed 4 and injured 50 but only earned a half a sentence in Perlstein's book.  That's how crazy the 1970s were.  A bombing of THE Wall Street breakfast spot barely made an 800 page book on how America was falling apart from 1973-6. 

I suppose that's one of the reasons the book appealed to me.  In the book, for the first time really, the chaotic world of my childhood is fully explained.   Some critics have accused Rick of overkill, but I needed every word here.  I needed to understand why my impersonation of Jimmy Carter killed in a class election in 7th grade ("Hi, I'm not Jimmy Carter, but I do want to be your President," I speechified to my class mates in 1979).  I only know The Exorcist from MAD magazine.  I loved Happy Days, and covered my schoolbooks with bookcovers featuring Fonzie.  My mother disapproved of the show, although she approved of Fonzie because Henry Winkler was Jewish playing against type.  Rick explains my own childhood to me.  And this is the book's greatest strength.  It's also the greatest weakness of the book.  Childhoods run through the book thematically.  Specifically, Reagan's and America's.  Rick explores Reagan's childhood to find the future adult, somewhat successfully although he does not identify the source of the magic Teflon quality that everyone identifies with Reagan.  Bur Rick also uses childhood and innocence as a complaint.  Throughout, there is subtext that too often Americans don't want to deal with their problems, that they want to play innocents, that that they won't act like grown-ups.

No where is this more evident than in his disdain for the Bicentennial celebration.  I was there, of course.  Dad worked at 1 New York Plaza at the edge of Battery Park and his firm hosted a party for the families of the stockbrokers and other workers.  I watched the Tall Ships through borrowed binoculars.  We bought crazy souvenirs, among them plastic American flags with Lincoln on them that had a quote about government "of the people, by the people, for the people."     The Bicentennial made people feel good about America. Rick wants them to grow up, his sympathies are with the complexities of (war criminal) Henry Kissinger (!), rather than the Reaganites who see the world strictly in terms of good and evil.  He likes Betty Ford, Gerald less so, and there's a veiled disdain for Carter who comes off as the Democratic version of Reagan.  One suspects that Rick would have liked to have seen Mo Udall, "second-place Mo", "the man too funny to be President" win out.  Or maybe that's just me.  And always, there is Reagan.  Shifting from being a New Dealer to a Goldwaterite.  Selling out the Hollywood craft unions.  Stumping for GE.  Edging ever closer to the right people.  Or at least, the right people of the Right.

Perlstein's Reagan lacks any real convictions except the rightness of his own views, no matter how often he changed them.  And change them he did.  Reagan saw the world in binaries.  Good and Evil.  Commies and capitalists.  Housewives and feminists.  Binaries make for great TV but make for lousy governing.  And, argues Perlstein, that was Ford's problem.   He had to govern in the real world while Reagan and Carter got to spout platitudes.  (By implication, of course, he's also discussing Obama's problem.)   Ford is the grown-up in the room.  "Damned if he did, Damned if he didn't." 

And as the book closes in on it's Final Act, the chaos of the 1976 Republican convention, I started to recognize the names that shaped my adulthood: Rove, Helms, Rumsfeld.  And of course, this is Perlstein's point.  By the end of the convention, we have the birth of the modern Republican party: anti-ERA, pro-gun, anti-abortion, and anti-government.  Perlstein doesn't need to tell us what happened next.  We Gen-Xers are old enough to know what comes next.  But he did an exceptional job explaining my childhood to me and why somebody would tap our phone.  When you divide the world into good and evil, you'll do anything to stop evil, even if it means listening in on "Hello, Mrs. DeStaebler? Can Todd come over today?" 

*Years later my mother would get her revenge.  She and other family members, I wasn't present,  were vacationing at the same hotel as a Nassau County Republican retreat, a few years after my aunt's retirement from politics.  In a reverse ratfuck, she dug up one of my aunt's old bumper stickers and - with family help  - plastered it on Margiotta's car, the one with the GOP 1 plate.  He drove back to Nassau County before he knew it and was apparently livid when someone pointed it out to him.  He died never knowing who did it.   I suppose that Margiotta also did jail time for some of his crimes is also some sort of justice.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Students do cool things

Like this:

Or this from some kids I taught or are currently teaching (not my class): 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

80s teen movies ranked

Last night I caught the end of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is, undeniably the best of the 80s teen movie flicks.  However, most of my students have never seen it, although they've almost all seen most of the John Hughes films, including Ferris Bueller, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.  Some of this has to do with what gets played in heavy rotation on cable.  The Hughes films are easy to watch, kind of funny, and very flattering towards teenagers.  Their whiteness and casual racism are selling points not distractions.  Fast Times, however, is a far more complicated film.  It's central relationships are flawed and end badly.  One of them culminates in an abortion (and the parents aren't told).  This is a warts and all view of (a still pretty white) teenage world.

Below please find my favorite 80s teenager films.  With a tasty quote from each.  Feel free to discuss in comments.

1.  Fast Times at Ridgemont High - An exceptional film, regardless of genre.  Human and heartbreaking. 

2.  The Sure Thing - Everybody remembers John Cusack, but this is as much Daphne Zuniga's film.  "I have a credit card."

3.  Heathers - A dark satire.  In a post-school shooting era, it would hit too close to home.  "I love my dead gay son."

4.  Say Anything - I'm a huge John Cusack fan.  (As will become even more apparent).  This is one of my favorite movies of all time.  "By choice".    "I gave her heart and she gave me a pen."

5.  Valley Girl - I love this movie as much for the soundtrack as for the plot, which is warmed over Romeo and Juliet.  Still, there is a lot more going on in this movie.   "If they attack the car save the radio."

Other films that I considered that didn't make the top five.

Risky Business - The movie that made Tom Cruise a star.  "I have a trig exam tomorrow and I'm being chased by Guido the Killer Pimp."

Footloose - Kevin Bacon dancing.  Lori Singer dancing.  Chris Penn dancing, eventually.

Movies that aren't so good that I am irrationally fond of in this genre.

Adventures in Babysitting.- "Nobody gets out of here without singing the blues."

Better off Dead - Another John Cusack vehicle.  More notable for individual scenes of surreal brilliance:  the Asian guys who learned to speak English by listening to Howard Cosell, Ricky's mom, a French person who is good at auto repair but most importantly a paper boy who is obsessed with his "twooooooo dollars."

The Patrick Dempsey Trilogy - Can't Buy My Love, Loverboy, and Happy Together.  Patrick Dempsey ought to dance in all his movies.  His extended dance sequence in Happy Together is terrific.  Can't Buy Me Love is a bit overrated.  My father was enamored of Loverboy and would watch it every time it was on.  "Extra anchovies."

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - "So-crates"  And the whole mall sequence.

The Science Movies:

Weird Science - This was the one with Anthony Michael Hall.  A lad fantasy.  "The family jewels?  The family jewels."

Real Genius - Actually put a geeky looking kid in the lead.  And tried to make political points at SDI.  It didn't really work.  No memorable quotes.

UPDATE:  Commentators on Facebook mentioned two movies I missed.  Wargames, which I loved when it came out, but has not held up well.  I find the antiquated technology distracting.  The other movie is Vision Quest.  Nice little flick.  Good Madonna song.  

UPDATE 2:  How can I forget Gregory's Girl!  "That's not how you spell Caracas anyway."  "Do you know when you sneeze it comes out your nose 1,000 miles an hour." 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Build your own DBQ for students

By request, here is the build your own DBQ assignment I created for my History of the Middle East class last year.  

Mongols and the Middle East
Creating a DBQ

Purposes:   1.  To gain a better understanding of how historians gather information and use it to make arguments.  2.  To understand the impact that the Mongol conquest had on parts of the Middle East.  3.  To develop research and citation skills.

Overview:  You will create a DBQ that would allow students to answer the question:  “How did the Mongols change (or not change) the Middle East politically, economically, socially, religiously etc.”  This is a type of essay known as a CCOT which stands for continuity and change over time. 

Your DBQ should have
·      at least 6 and no more than 8 documents.
·      at least one document must be a chart or graph
·      at least one document must be a visual image of artwork or material culture (an object). 

For each document you will provide: 
·      a citation of where you found the document as well as the original source if applicable. 
·      A short paragraph that explains why you included the document. Whose voice is represented?  Who is the audience? What does the document show?  How could it be used as evidence

Other parameters:
·      At least one document needs to show continuity.
·      At least one document needs to show change. 

Rubric:  Proper citation for the (documents further rubric to follow) 20 points
Documents and paragraphs.  80 points (further rubric to follow). 

Research sources:  Check the library Haiku page for electronic databases for starting places (ABC-CLIO, Gale World History). 

Day 1.  HW:  Overview readings on the Il-Khanate using ABC-CLIO, Gale, Wikipedia and other encyclopedias. 
Day 2.   HW:  Identify main themes for continuity and change
Day 3.  HW:  Identify a range of documents 10-15
Day 4:  HW:  Settle on 6-8 documents start paragraphs.
Day 5  HW:  Finish paragraphs.
Day 6 HW:  Proofread paragraphs.  Make sure each document is labeled with author (if known), title, date authored, name, where the document first appeared (if known).
Day 7:  HW:  Bibliography of where you found sources.  Everything ready to hand in.  

One of the interesting things about the assignment is that documents were really hard to source.  They found lots of quotes and documents in teacher created sources but it was often hard to track down the original source.  Each section of the class ended up pooling their resources and then choosing from the pool to build their DBQs.  For material objects and art, we primarily used the Metropolitan Museum of Art which has a great website.   The project was very successful and when students did DBQs later in the year they were very successful at them. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Reasons to read conservative blogs #26

Withywindle asks "How do solve a problem like Ebola?"

And Prof. Mondo responds with this.  Genius.  Utter genius. 

A teaser: 

How do you solve a problem like Ebo-laaaa?
How do you keep the virus from your door?
There's not much you can do once you've seen it ain't the flu
And you're squirting blood from each and every pore!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wineburg Watch

Nate Kogan over at The History Channel This is Not gets in on the Wineburg Watch action first in a comment and then in a whole blog post. 

So after reading Dave’s post tonight, I was reminded of an incident last year where I sought to adapt a HAT about the execution of Louis XVI for my Western Civilization classes and gained some insight into the sloppy and (ironically) poorly sourced lesson plan material that actually made meaningful historical analysis less possible as a result of the assignment’s structure.

Go read the whole thing!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Urban History Association (for Teachers)

I'll do a write up later on my full impressions of the Urban History Association conference that was here in Philadelphia this weekend a bit later, if I ever finish these letters of recommendation.  But in the meantime, here's some quick hits. 

First.   Three amazing websites I learned about.

A National Directory of HOLC maps  Sadly, Philly isn't on there yet but maybe my students and I can figure out how to fix that.  But you can see how this is a game changer for helping students understand things like Ferguson, suburbanization, urban renewal, and whiteness. 

The Roaring Twenties  This is part of a larger project to get us interested in the sounds of the past and the history of sound.  Absolutely incredible print, visual, and sound resources to create an aural portrait of what New York City sounded like in the 1920s.  Spoiler:  It was loud. 

The NOLA Oral History project  Oral histories of Katrina.  Transcripts, recordings, video.  If you are teaching Katrina, you need this site. 

There were two high school teachers there, as far as I know.  If you teach high school history and you've never been to a real academic history conference (NCSS does not count) you should try to get to one.  I liked the scale of UHA, and because it's every other year the panels were very high quality.  But really any conference would do (maybe not AHA as it is primarily for hiring). 

Sam Wineburg Watch - A New Ongoing Feature

Hi faithful readers.  We here at Looking Out From the Panopticon are pleased to announce a new feature:  Sam Wineburg Watch.  In this feature, we will keep tabs on Wineburg and his Stanford History Education Group which is rapidly becoming one of the most influential places for teachers to find lesson plans and information about how to teach history.  But there's a problem with Wineburg and SHEG.  They apparently don't prioritize the last 30 years of historiography.  They fetishize documents at the expense of other types of sources and that means they also prioritize the rich and powerful, the white and male, at the expense of others. 

Today was a good example of that.  Wineburg tweeted out a link to this article he wrote in 2005 when Berkeley stopped celebrating Columbus Day and started celebrating Indigenous People's Day.  In the article, he inform us that Columbus' legacy doesn't really matter because what Columbus Day is really about is getting urban Catholic votes for Benjamin Harrison and the Republican Party.  By coming up with a Catholic hero and nationalizing him as a figure of importance, Harrison hoped to persuade new immigrants to become Republicans. 

OK, so far so good.  But that's where Wineburg stops.  Missing from this analysis is the larger question of how immigrants that weren't white (he uses the term "swarthy") became white and the answer isn't just about politics.  As many, many studies have shown whiteness is predicated on differentiating the European from the "other" typically Native Americans (as in King Phillip's War) or African Americans (as in the Jacksonian creation of universal white male suffrage and simultaneous disenfranchisement of African Americans). 

Thus by picking someone closely associated with genocide, Harrison located Italian immigrants into the long tradition of killing Indians to become white.  That's an important part of the story and Wineburg, as is typical for him, totally misses the point.  He assures us that Columbus Day is just about politics and urban voting in the 1890s and a celebration of immigrants becoming American.  He somehow neglects to mention that the proclamation came a mere two years after the Wounded Knee massacre that ended the Plains Wars once and for all.  Visions of European Conquest and as Richard Drinnon put it the sub-title of an early book on the topic, "The Metaphysics of Indian Hating and Empire Building." 

So in other words, Columbus Day is all about the pattern that Columbus started.  And it is time to change the name.

In related news, if anybody hasn't seen Erik Loomis' #GenocideDay tweets, they really are worth a read.   

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Historiann's New York Times Book Review Challenge

Blogger Historiann has challenged her readers to answer the questions that James McPhereson was asked.  His answers were kind of predictable.  If it were 1985 maybe.  Is Bernard Bailyn still writing books?  He's still alive? 

What books are currently on your night stand?
Invisible Bridge, Rick Perlstein; Dead End in Norvelt, Jack Gantos
What was the last truly great book you read?
Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal.  I'm a little behind but Andrews did amazing things with sources in that book. 
Who are the best historians writing today?
Jill Lepore, Laurel Thacher Ulrich, Richard White, and Bill Cronon. 
What’s the best book ever written about American history?
There isn't one.  Duh. 

Sorry–I didn’t realize.  Maybe I should ask if you have a favorite biography?
I don't really like biography.  The Kingdom of Matthias if that fits.  Or Midwife's Tale.  Neither is really a conventional biography. 
What are the best military histories?
Michael Sherry The Rise of American Airpower
And what are the best books about African-American history?
Not my area.  Let's talk multi-cultural history - that is history that treats more than one minority group at a time.    I think one of the best is still Sylvia Van Kirk's Many Tender Ties.  An amazing book that still holds up in my mind.  The Unequal Sisters series always impresses me.  Great teaching resources for my HS students there.  Just in Navajo History I really like both Colleen O'Neill's book on Navajo workers and Erika Bsumek's book on selling Navajo culture.  
During your many years of teaching, did you find that students responded differently over time to the history books you assigned?
Duh yes.  Do you really get paid to ask these questions?  Of course kids are different now than the were 10 or 20 years ago. 
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I read a lot.  And I reread a lot.  My Side of the Mountain and The Boxcar Children were huge escapist fantasies from my suburban upbringing.  Free to Be You and Me which I read most of when the stories ran in Ms. Magazine and my mom cut them out for me.  The Meet series.  (Meet George Washington, Meet John F. Kennedy, etc.)  Science Fiction as I got older:  The Tripod Series for example.  And lots of Life histories of World War II.  And 50 years of Life. 
If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
At the time I read it I didn't think I was going to be a high school history teacher, but a professor.  That said, Graham Swift's Waterland is a book I returned to many, many times and I took different lessons from it each time.  And I had a 5th grade teacher who made me read Macbeth because I was very squirrelly in class, especially when I finished my work.  It took me all year but ever after I was like "I'm an intellectual, I read Shakespeare".  I'm pretty sure I was an annoying prick in Junior High. 
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott for hubris.  Lizabeth Cohen Making a New Deal for understanding why the State needs to step it up sometimes. 
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
I would love to have dinner with Wallace Stegner and Joan Didion.  
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I finish books.  I even finished Twilight.  And that sucker was a piece of crap.  I wanted to like The Corrections but I hated it.  Hated it.  I've been slowly working my way through Mark Fiege's Republic of Nature but the font is so small I can't read it. 
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
So many.  I'm like 10 years behind in terms of historiography.  I never read Foner's Reconstruction, not even the abridged.  I am ashamed. 
What do you plan to read next?
Andrew Needham's Power Lines:  Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Known, Unknown

Somebody knows me really well, as noted here.    Russell hit pretty much all my sweet spots with that one.  But on the Robert Duvall interview that's circulating he missed the boat badly. 

The disagreement between us is over whether Duvall's movie Tender Mercies is a Western.   

In the yes column:

1)  The movie is as much about Duvall's Mac being redeemed by the Slater Mill boys as it is about his being redeemed by Tess Harper's Rosa Lee. 

2)  The movie is also about Mac being redeemed by Alan Hubbard's Sonny.  

So far it sounds like the plot of Red River.  And since the Western is almost always about men's love for other men (sometimes negotiated through women) this makes total sense as a Western.  But wait there's more:

3)  The Western landscape is itself a character in the movie. 

All those shots of prairie, isolation, and wind.  Really how could anybody doubt it. 

In the no column. 

1)  The movie is modern? 

Maybe I'm missing some things - let me know in the comments.

And oh yes, my students are convinced that RAF is the most elaborate catfish every created, just because we have never met in real life.  I tried to explain to them that lots of people met online back in the late 1990s and early 2000s at places like Invisible Adjunct and 11D but they don't believe me.  Hell, Erik Loomis of LGM once had to remind me that we had been a panel together well before we started interacting online.  I'd totally forgotten.  The world is a very strange place. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On Boys to Men (Not a Music Post)

Tonight I got to hear a wonderful talk by Rosalind Wiseman, author of many books including, Masterminds and Wingmen:  Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfrends, and the New Rules of Boy World.  You might know her as the author of the book that inspired the movie Mean Girls. She's been doing a lot of work on boy culture of late and the talk has inspired me to finally commit to a post I've been writing in my head forever.  I'll hit on what I believe to be the boy crisis, #gamergate, deconstruction, and histories of masculinity.  Hang on, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Fairly early in the talk Wiseman pulled off a move that we, in the cultural studies biz, call deconstruction.  (Deconstruction is not a synonym for analyzed and anyone using it that way will be roundly mocked in these parts.  You have been warned.)  Rather deconstruction is a particular analytical technique wherein the critic shows that the assumed dominant category is, in fact, the absence of the assumed subordinate category.  In this case, Wiseman was talking about the ways we structure the discourse around parenting boys and girls.   Working from my notes I understand Wiseman to argue that when we say "Girls are hard, boys are easy" we are actually loading tons of meaning into the category of girls.  That is, we understand girls to be conflict-ridden, emotional, and subjects with deep authentic feelings that we might antagonize.  And we understand boys to be "notgirls".  Wiseman points out that this means that "Adults don't allow boys to have the emotional lives they deserve."  This is absolutely true.  And it's a nifty bit of deconstruction.  We don't define girls as notboys, we define boys as notgirls.  Wiseman's talk was largely about how to get boys (and girls) to be conscious of, articulate,  and act on their feelings so that they can create more positive social worlds.  That's all well and good.  Her talk was amazing in this regard and she had many helpful ideas that I could totally see working with my students and my own kids, especially for my middle child.*

But I'm not going to write about that.  She wrote about that and you should by her book.  Go do it now at the link above, I'll wait.

What I am going to write about is this idea of boys being notgirls and the larger implications of it.  Since the rise of separate spheres ideology (and at times and places before that all the way back to the Greeks or earlier) we in the United States have typically coded activities as being for boys and girls and set aside those for boys and whatever was left was for girls.  Thus, with the rise of the Market Economy when all this was working itself out, boys and men claimed the world outside the home: the professions, politics, and the marketplace all of which were ok because these things could and would corrupt one and men were already corrupt.  Women were left with the home and morals and primary education.  Women were notmen.  (NB:  this required a shift in thinking about women's morality.  Women were now thought of as innocents to be corrupted by men, which totally inverted traditional Christian thinking in which women were primarily Eves corrupting innocent boys and men.)

Now at some point fairly recently, within my lifetime perhaps, boys stopped identifying themselves by positive traits and starting identifying themselves as notgirls.  Anything girls did, boys defined as feminine and not worth doing.  As a 6th grader, I loved disco music but quickly learned to disavow it publicly lest I be called "faggot" or "girly."  I asked for a copy of Bruce Springsteen's The River and tried to man up, but it went unlistened to for many years.   As girls claimed more and more cultural space, boys shrank their worlds.  Virtues that used to be considered masculine - like working hard in school - are now associated with girls.  I teach many boys that are "secret studiers" because they don't want other boys to know that they are trying.  There is a whole culture of "Chill" that disavows both feelings and effort.  Meanwhile, boys now apply to and attend college and graduate schools at lower rates than girls.  I know many little girls that are ambitious enough to want to be President (as I did when I was in 1st grade).  No boys I know make that claim.  They all want to be rappers or athletes, or perhaps, professional gamers, if they know such a thing exists.    These are basically three professions where there are not enough girls to matter (at least not widely visible girls in these sub-cultures). 

If you are wondering why the fake scandal of #gamergate is getting traction or why gamer critic Feminist Frequency is getting death threats it's because men who define themselves as notgirls are threatened by the mere presence of girls in their self-defined domains.

So, for those of us who care about boys (and by that I mean all of us, people) we have a tough road ahead.  We need to define a positive masculinity for boys to aspire to.  We need to announce loudly and proudly the values that we believe are necessary for boys to grow into men.  And we need to stop defining boys by what they are not, and affirm them for what they are:  human beings.  

*The middle child is the one whose life is like a reverse of the dinner scene in Annie Hall.  He's eating dinner with four other people who won't shut up and consider dinner conversation a competitive art and he doesn't want to say anything.    

Monday, September 29, 2014

More diversions

Watch this: 

And think how far Native American rap has come from here:

Seriously.  "Come do my body good like milk" was once the cutting edge of rez rap.  And no, nobody ever called it rez rap. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I'm buried under summer reading stuff and generally need to pay attention to school.  In the meantime, enjoy the travelogues of my colleague, Matt Noricini.  Funny stuff:

Picture, for a moment, your fondest – or most horrifying – memory of a middle school roller skating party. The intense awkwardness. The desire to impress. The gawkers and the showboaters – the whole intense, adolescent mess that was the rollerskating rink at that moment. That is giro in Albania, and it happens every night.
Read more here:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Yik Yak Yuck

Anybody have any bright ideas on how to deal with Yik-Yak in schools?  For background see here.  We will do the usual exhortations to not be jerks on social media (which has worked somewhat well in the past) but this is a whole new level of yuck. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

More on SHEG

So if you're teaching a lesson on the Philippine-American War and you go to the SHEG website, you get this lesson.  On the surface, it's okay.  It presents two views of the War from a supporter of the war and someone who opposed it.  So far so good.  But the questions that go with it are kind of horrible. 

Here's the second source:

Document B: The following is an excerpt from a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Journal by Colonel Frederick Funston on April 22, 1899.  Funston, who was a war hero for his extensive service in the Philippine-American War, wrote and spoke often about the Philippine-American War in order to increase public support for American involvement in the conflict.
“I am afraid that some people at home will lie awake [at] night worrying about the ethics of this war, thinking that our enemy is fighting for the right to self-government ... [The Filipinos] have a certain number of educated leaders – educated, however, about the same way a parrot is.  They are, as a rule, an illiterate, semi-savage people who are waging war not against tyranny, but against Anglo-Saxon order and decency . . . I, for one, hope that Uncle Sam will apply the chastening rod good, hard and plenty, and lay it on until they come in to the reservation and promise to be good ‘Injuns.’”

Now this source raises a lot of questions in my mind.  Like, "what does the source tell you about how racial ideology played into justifying the war." or "How did recent experiences with Native Americans effect Philippine policy?"  or "What similiarities do you see in this document to recent justifications to end Reconstruction?"  You know what question is pretty far down that list?  This one:

Question 2: How does Document B also provide evidence that many Americans opposed the war in the Philippines?

No questioning of the ideology apparent in the document, no disclaimer about Aguinaldo (who is compared to a parrot).  Nothing.  It's like the last thirty years of history writing never happened.

By the way, here's one of the documents I use to teach the War.


After reading the review and the comments the only question left is how soon until Sam Wineburg wonders if there might be some merit in the argument and leftists are over-reacting. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

School starts tomorrow....

so it's not like I'm going to sleep tonight.  What better time to compile the 10 book challenge.

Books and some articles, one soundtrack.
Waterland - Graham Swift A wonderful book about teaching, history, the environment, men, women, families, pain, memory and forgetting.
My Side of the Mountain - I read it at least 50 times. Along with the Boxcar Children (the first one) it shaped many of my fantasies about wanting to run away and live in the woods.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I spent days one summer looking for a passage to Narnia. Mom had to ruin it by pointing out that Aslan was Jesus and books were never the same again. But in a good way. Reread the series recently and was appalled at how bad and preachy the books were. Still, lifelong fantasy and sf geek here and probably because of that book.
And while were on Jesus books, Stranger in a Strange Land. Because apparently I'm a sucker for SF/fantasy books about religion (setting up my later fascination with Orson Scott Card. Mom "ruined" this one too by helping me analyze it, though I appreciated it much more at the time. (While we're at it, I can still remember mom watching videos with me on early MTV and analyzing them. "That Sammy Hagar - it's just the angry young man trope" (on watching "I Can't Drive 55") I still can't decide whether this has ruined pop culture for me or made it that much better.
William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis. Michigan had no Western historian my first year of grad school. I read this instead. It was better than almost any class I ever took.
Allesandro Portelli - The Death of Luigi Trastulli You'll never look at memory the same way again.
Susan Lee Johnson - A Memory Sweet to Soldiers: The significance of Gender in the American West. David - gender. Gender - David. Nice to meet you. Oh and by the way, Susan, be my advisor? She said, Yes.
Keith Basso - Wisdom Sits in Places. Place - David, David- Place. OHHHHHH!.
Edward Abbey - The Monkey Wrench Gang. I regret my Edward Abbey phase now. And Desert Solitaire is better. But when I was 16 I loved this one more.
Sweeney Todd - The moment when I went from a kid who likes musicals to hardcore fanboy. I had the soundtrack memorized before I saw it. And then I saw it. From "the birthday seats." Wow.   It's very tempting to put South Pacific in here, because it was the first musical I loved.  Or West Side Story, which was the second (and I got to act in one summer) but this was Soundheim and a whole new world opening for me.  Again, the criticism thing from mom and my Aunt Naomi helped me understand this show so much better opening new worlds to me. 
Harry Potter (all of them) - duh

10,000 somethings

Is getting 10,000 page views like doing 10,000 hours of practice?  Can I officially call myself a blogger now? 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The most loaded question evah.

I was very fortunate to participate in some fabulous training today by the Stanley H. King Institute.  As part of the training, Sam Osherson ( told a story which I’ll paraphrase the gist of:

Growing up in Westchester County, I went to New York City a lot.  And as I would walk down Park Avenue, I would think:  I want to work in one of those office buildings.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in there, in fact, I had no idea what I might do, just that I wanted to work in a New York City office building.  People would ask me “what do you want to be when you grow up and I couldn’t really answer them.” 

And apologies to Sam, but I don’t know what came next because I had an a-ha moment.  If you’d asked me in elementary school, what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have said one of the following:  President of the United States, rabbi, or archeologist.  

By high school, I’d added actor, writer for Saturday Night Live, and stand-up comedian to the acceptable choices.    Needless to say, I’m not any of those things.  And that's ok.  I like my life, and I'm happy with the choices and accidents that led me to where I am now. 


 I’m disturbed by the whole conversation in our present moment.  It might have been cute to ask an elementary school kid in 1976, “what do you want to be?”  Now it feels like another high-stakes test.   Pre-professionalism pushes into lower and lower grades.  Our national conversation around education has moved to the point where we can write parody articles about kindergartners not having their act together.  We waste all this time talking about “preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist” and other predictions that we miss the main point. 

I’m 47 years old.  I’m a father and a husband, a scholar and a teacher. 

I may be a grown-up, but I don’t think I’ll ever finish growing up.  What do I want to be?

My answer, indeed what I have come to realize is the only acceptable answer, is: “Good.  I want to be good.” 

I’d like to think, I’m part of the way there.  Anybody who has ideas on how to finish the journey, leave them in the comments below. 

Thanks to Sam for encouraging me to blog this. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Book of Mormon

I don't have time to do a full post but I saw it in Philly tonight.  It was awesome.  I'm not sure the audience got all the jokes, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  As a Jew who has a bad case of Mormon envy, it celebrated everything I love about the Latter-day Saint community.  And the LDS church had three full page ads in the Playbill (including one whose tagline was "the Book is always better") which strikes me as an appropriate response.

The play nails a lot about the Mormon church:  the centrality of faith, the importance of doing a mission, and how (for lack of a better term) gay the whole Mormon thing is.  For those of you who may not be conversant with Mormon culture, it's been deeply immersed in show tunes for  a long time.  The first building in Salt Lake was the Temple.  The second was a theater.  And there's a reason that half the contestants on So You Think You Can Dance come from the Great Basin Kingdom (and that's why they now have auditions in Salt Lake City, since season 2).  And High School Musical was shot in St. George, Utah because they could find a lot of dancers there.  Hell, no less than Orson Scott Card once wrote a screed against basketball and in favor of musicals as an appropriate youth activity.   (You gotta scroll down to read it).    And then there's the homosociality of the mission experience itself which is something like the theme song of Two and a Half Men (whose only words are "Men, Men, Men, Men, Men").  Certain parts of gay culture and certain parts of Mormon culture are congruent.  Which freaks both sides out, I think. 

With school starting next week, it will probably be school blogging for the upcoming months but I wanted to get this out tonight . 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Constructing Race and Gender Syllabus. A Junior-Senior elective

This came up on twitter the other day.  So here' s my syllabus for Constructing Race and Gender which was a spring elective for Juniors and Seniors.  It's not really complete because I don't have the specific article names on here because they are at school and I'm working somewhat from memory and somewhat from shorthand calendar notes. 

Social Constructions of Race and Gender
Spring 2014
Course Description

The Social Constructions of Race and Gender is a course designed to explore race and gender as social constructs.  We will begin the semster by exploring definitions of these social constructs.  Perceptions and mandates of gender and race have informed the political, economic, and social ordering of human societies.  We will examine these societies to understand how they used race and gender to construct power relations and impose social order.  Throughout the year, students will investigate how gender and racial identities and relations become daily realities.  We will explore these ideas throughout the course of history, across time and place.  We also look at the concept of intersectionality (how race and gender intersect with each other and other identities such as sexuality).

This course will be conducted as a seminar.  This means that most classes will be organized around the articles you will be assigned to read.  I will expect you to be ready to interpret and analyze the material, to ask questions of it, and to draw conclusions about how it fits into the larger picture of race and/or gender construction.  These discussions are vital to your understanding and ownership of the ideas of the course.  Often the assigned articles will be longer than a one-night reading assignment.  When this is the case, we will have classes designated as “reading sessions.”  This means you will sign in and read in the classroom, unless otherwise directed.  Other types of classes will be designated as “project sessions.”  These will occur quite frequently when you are pursing information for a research assignment or when you are looking for data in response to specific questions.  At other times for project sessions you will need to collaborate with teammates.  Sometimes you will work independently and may sign out of class. 

In this course, as in all history courses, reading, writing, note-taking, thinking, and discussions are essentials.  Therefore, reading assignments are to be done carefully and closely; this means taking notes and thinking.  Writing assignments must demonstrate your thoughtful reflection and must follow the expository format you have learned.  Discussions are valued because each voice is important; they are valuable because they help you to formulate your understanding of an issue.  Evaluation of each of these skills will help to determine your grade.  This means that every written assignment will be graded and will count toward your quarter grade.  Open class discussions will constitute a part of your quarter grades and be evaluated every two weeks, as will more specifically designated graded discussions, research assignments, and reading quizzes.  I will give you the points for each graded exercise as well as a rubric to explain the criteria used to determine grades on major graded assignments.  Our most important work will be group projects that are designed to teach the concepts of the class beyond the classroom. 

I expect each of you to be committed to the duties of studentship.  This means that you will:
  • Read all assignments carefully and employ active reading techniques to help you learn relevant information and to be able to relate the story accurately.  This means attention to annotation as you read text and source materials and taking notes to help you anticipate in the discussion about the material. 
  • Remain on top of assignments; be punctual and prepared for class.  If something  interferes with you completing an assignment, let me know and realize that you will have to double your efforts the next night to catch up.
  • Participate in class dialogues by asking questions, offering ideas and/or confusions, defending your positions, and exploring ideas of history.
  • Work on your writing for legibility, clarity, cohesion, and sound conclusions (making sure you provide supportive data for positions).
  • Work to determine points of view when reading documents, articles, etc.
  • Memorize facts to help you own the material, understand cause and effect, see connections, and draw your own conclusions.
  • Take effective notes in class during discussions and from reading assignments.
  • Remain current about what is happening in our world – 10 minutes regularly listening to or reading news.
  • Hand in all written assignment on time.
  • Open your thinking to see all sides of a situation to help you better understand the past and the present.

Initial Discussion:


                                                                                                            Orlando Patterson, Freedom, pages 41-42

Course outline

The Social Construction of Race and Gender:  What is it?

Possible readings and activities include:
Identity Activity
                  "Sex and Race"  William Chafe (Rothenberg)
                                   [The Male Privilege Checklist by B. Deutsch]
                                 PBS Identifying Races Activity
                  “Race the Power of an Illusion”

The Origins of Race in the United States  (Note for all readings below not everybody will read everything.  We will sometimes jigsaw readings).

                  King Phillip’s War, Bacon’s rebellion, and the ideas of race-making. (Lepore article)
                  American Slavery, American Freedom excerpt
                  Gosset, Race the History of an Idea

Project:   How did people make race in the colonial era?  Which people did it and why?  Was race different in different places?  New England, New France, Virginia as examples. 

The Market Revolution or Why Men are or are not White but Women can become White (sometimes).
Research Project. 

Project:  How did race or gender change in the antebellum period?  How did people resist these categories?

Jim Crow, Gender, Resistance and Assimilation North and South (and West)

                  Ida B. Wells and the Anti-Lynching Campaign (two readings). 
                  Sanchez Go After the Women
                  Vicky Ruiz Star Struck

Culminating Project: Race and Gender in Our Own Time.


Some of the assignments.                

Unit 1
Chafe “Sex and Race:  The Analogy of Social Control”
Graded Homework 50 points

                  William  Chafe’s article is a discussion of how and why hierarchies of race and gender  operate.   Your assignment consists of two parts.

Part 1.  Define what Chafe means by social control.    You should write a short paragraph that, in your own words, explains what Chafe means when he uses the term social control. (10 points)

Part 2.  Explain how Chafe believes social control operates in societies.  To do this you can write a long paragraph, draw a diagram, make an idea map or create another form of description.  Remember this is a graded assignment; appearance counts!  (40 points)

Due date:  At the beginning of class, Monday. 

Follow up:  On Monday, you will be expected to critique (explain the extent of your agreement or disagreement) with Chafe’s model and provide evidence to support your views.   You will have to do this without your model on hand, so make sure you have good notes.  Feel free to note key points before hand on and be prepared to use them in class.

Race in Early America Project

For this project you will read either the chapter from American Slavery, American Freedom on the after effects of Bacon’s Rebellion or the article by Jill Lepore on King Phillip’s War  Then, working with a partner, you will make a project that will show the similarities and differences between the events in regards to the history of race in Ameria.  This representation will be in a form of your choosing (chart, prezi, powerpoint, imovie etc.)  However, it should meet the following criteria:

·          It should contain an overarching thesis that explains the similarities and differences of the two events.
·          It should show similarities
·          It should show differences
·          It should do this in a way that makes the argument clear
·          It should be interesting and the format should match the argument and evidence.


Group work: (25 points total)
·          Thesis 10 points
·          Appropriateness of format to thesis, argument and evidence 10 points
·          Aesthetic appeal and design 5 points (If a visual is it readable?  Is writing clear and easy to read?)
Individual work (75 points total)
·          Your section thesis (identifies author’s thesis for your section) 10 points
·          Evidence that proves the section thesis 20 points
·          Connection of evidence to  thesis 10 points
·          Meets minimum criteria for similarity and differences and overall complexity (multi-causal explanations, ability to take in and process layers of evidence) 25 points
·          Originality and overall excellence 10 points  How much does your work stand out from what others do?  Does it successfully take risks?  What insights are new and or original to you?

Due Date:  Monday, February 23rd.

Mothers and Fathers in History
American Culture
Due Date:  Monday March 3rd at the beginning of class

The purpose of this assignment is to help illuminate the gender ideals for mothers and fathers at a key point in US History.

You will be working on this assignment individually.

Your end product will be a presentation in a format of your choice that has both audio and video components.   (Prezi, Powerpoint, i-movie, photobooth etc.)

You will research either men or women in the 1830s-1850s (separate spheres era).

Research Questions
You should ask:    

What were the gender ideals for mothers and fathers?
What was the historical context that made these seem like the right ideals at the time?

The better projects will ask:

How did racial ideology play into ideals about separate spheres

The best projects will ask:

In what ways were these ideals contested by people at the time?  Did they apply to some people or all people? 

Resources:  I have a number of history textbooks in the classroom available.  In addition, you might find resources available in JSTOR via our library subscription.  I will also show you how to find appropriate sources online via other search engines using both the library subscription services and larger (but targeted) google searches. 

Things to keep in mind: 

Gender is a social construction.  It is not biological (that’s sex ie: male, female, hermaphrodite, intersexed, etc.).  

Your presentation should include a mix of visual and written sources as evidence. 

Time period matters.  You can’t just pull random images off the internet and think they will work. 
A thesis that holds your presentation together.  10 points
Style and format of presentation.  Does the format fit your argument?  Is it well-executed?  10points
Bibliography 5 points (feel free to use Noodletools or Easybib).

Individual Grade
Quality of research (Did you use a wide variety of primary and secondary resources?) 20 points
Depth and clarity of findings (Did you find out a lot about gender ideals and translate those findings into language we can all understand?  Does your evidence prove your thesis?  Are those connections made explicitly?).    25 points
Grammar, spelling of your piece of the presentation.  5 points

Total 75 points.      

 Final Project Instructions

Your Final Project

Your final project is an analysis of a current event or cultural product using the analytical tools you have learned in this class. 

You can focus on artist intent, self-presentation, audience reception, intersectionality, or any of the other theoretical tools we have used over the course of the semester. 

Your project must take no longer than five minutes to present and can either be a stand-alone, or involve you as an active presenter. 

There will be a q and a period in which you answer questions from the audience.  This will be part of your grade. 

The format is of your choosing. 

Presentations will begin April 21st and be determined by lot.  If you are not ready to go you will be considered late.