A Quick Reminder; Callout Culture

As tempting as it may be to blog during class, I consider it bad form. Also, unless you’re highly proficient at multi-tasking, you’re not really getting the material being covered while you blog.

On to another topic: callout culture, which is the practice of publicly denouncing the biases of others. Chelsea Clinton recently attended a vigil in New York for the victims of the mosque massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand. On her way there, students from a local university accosted her for being contributing to islamophobia. Her crime? Expressing support for a congressional resolution against anti-Semitism.

The logic of Clinton’s detractors is a thin potation of name calling and conspiracy theory logic. It points to a broader, identity-based cultural issue: the inclination to “shame” people for having opinions that differ from our own. I see it as something that cuts against the grain of our nation’s great experiment in democracy, which largely involves listening to a broad plurality of voices to find the great middle way that does the greatest good for the greatest number.

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Welcome Back. Finish Strong!

Ponder this during the last nine weeks of the semester: some of you will attend colleges that admit students whose admission resulted from their parents’ strenuous–perhaps illegal–efforts to place them there, rather than on the merits of their own labors.

It isn’t fair.

It isn’t a surprise.

Parents will do amazing things to ensure the well-being of their offspring, from rewarding uninspired doodles with a place on the fridge to spending boatloads of cash on college admissions counselors. Such actions spring up from a natural impulse to see their kids do well. However, at what point do those parents cross the line between being pushy and doing too much? If you could counsel those parents about the best ways to encourage a child’s happiness and success, what would you tell them?

Posted in Education, Politics | 11 Comments

School Violence and Mental Health

Recent legislation to improve school safety not only involves active shooter drills and required training sessions for teachers, but also an expansion of the way schools and police scrutinize social media postings. Civil Libertarians fear that the latter provision takes us one step farther down the primrose path to a police state. However, I also know that things have changed from my high school days, when “school violence” meant a fight in the cafeteria.

I’m curious: if students were to draft legislation regarding school safety, what would they prioritize?

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An Information Society

Imagine a state where medical professionals had immediate access to information that would assist in diagnosing health issues. Imagine a state where science reduced the likelihood of wrongful prosecution and imprisonment. Imagine a state where all citizens could know with the click of a button where the branches of their family trees extended. DNA databases can provide all these benefits–and, perhaps, just as many threats. Civil libertarians have sounded the alarm on proposed legislation in Arizona would require a wide range of public employees–and recently deceased bodies that come into the possession of local medical examiners–to provide DNA samples. Their forced contributions to DNA databases would be invaluable to researches, but would turn some facets of jurisprudence upside down. What risks to civil liberties do DNA databases present? Do they outweigh the benefits? Does a person have the right to keep his DNA private? Do dead people have any rights regarding the use of their DNA?

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A Thousand Words–and Then Some

Last week’s revelation that two statewide office holders in Virginia had taken pictures in blackface–and that a third had been accused by two women of sexual assault–rocked the Commonwealth, and had trickle-down effects here in Mississippi: Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves belonged to a fraternity that hosted an annual Old South Ball, complete with members dressed as confederate soldiers, and dates dressed as antebellum belles.

All five men involved in these incidents have had notable careers in public service. So here’s the question of the week: at what point, if any, does a record of service outweigh the sins of the past?

Posted in Politics, Race in Mississippi | 24 Comments

And the Winner Is…

Below please find the nominees for Best Picture. Who’s going to win?

Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

On a related note, the oldest film festival in Mississippi, the Magnolia Film Festival, takes place in Starkville February 28-March 2. You should GO! Student tickets are only $5 per session.

Posted in Arts | 15 Comments

Objets d’Art and Objects

Roman Polanski cannot return to the United States because he pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, but skipped bail instead of serving his sentence. Bryan Singer has been accused of assaulting prospective actors and other under-aged men. Harvey Weinstein’s casting couch is too dirty to give to a homeless shelter.

All three men have put unforgettably fantastic films on the screen–Chinatown, The Usual Suspects, and Shakespeare in Love among them. I teach two of these films on a regular basis. All three approach stylistic perfection, and carry masterfully nuanced themes as far as a film can. Yet the way these men have behaved begs questions about whether or not we can–or should–separate the art from the artist. Your thoughts are welcome.

Posted in Gender Issues, National Politics | 31 Comments

Elbow Room

According to the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, a conservative think-tank, the state population experienced a modest decline last year–just over three thousand residents. Louisiana experienced an even greater decline, while all our other neighbors saw population increases. The article linked goes on to suggest that blame for the decline may be traced to high local tax rates, which are 0.49% above the national average, and well below that of our neighbors.

I’m curious: do you find cause for concern regarding the emigration of people from Mississippi? Also, what do you see as the underlying causes? How can they be remedied?

Posted in Education, Politics, Pop Culture | 26 Comments

What’s N a Word?

Last week, while reading a passage from Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, I saw a student’s jaw drop out of the corner of my eye. “Dr. E,” she said when I completed the passage. “You used the hard -er.”

I had indeed. The quote from the play reads, “Cal, if I catch a nigger in this town going shooting, you know what’s going to happen.” The character who says it is a coward and a thief–and a racist. His use of that word confirms the play’s dim view of his actions and his politics. I explained to the student that I do my best to read in character; that I read things the way they’re written; and that I don’t expect students to do the same if there are phrases that offend them.

However, that moment in class opened the door for a broader discussion of the n-word: how should we deal with its history? how do we place it in context? who can use it? who can’t? why isn’t it always offensive–or is it? what’s the difference between the hard -er and an -a?

The ensuing discussion kept even the droopiest eyelids wide open, but it hardly proved conclusive. If you’d like to present your ideas about the questions above, feel free to do so. Be forewarned, though, that you must employ a respectful tone. You should also know that there’s one particular train of thought that many in the class found immediately objectionable: that if a word can be used by one group of people, then it should be used by all. Finally, don’t be afraid to link research or other commentary in your posts.

Posted in Education, Pop Culture, Race in Mississippi | 29 Comments

This Mortal Coil

“Sleep is for wimps.”

“You have a long time to sleep when you’re dead.”

“What’s more important: giving in, or getting things done?”

I admit it: I’ve said all these things in reference to sleep. My own sleep habits have been terrible since birth. My mother says it’s a miracle she didn’t simply smother me to keep me from crying in the crib–she doesn’t think she slept for more than four hours at a time for the first two years of my life. (My mother, on the other hand, could be a professional sleeper, and takes great joy in a good night’s rest or a two-hour nap.)

At MSMS, of course, despite my efforts at levity, sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. Students regularly burn the candle at both ends in their efforts to earn the scores they want in classes, participate in extra-curricular activities, and maintain something of a social life. I’m not sure how to measure the cost to their physical health and mental well-being. However, I recently dipped into the subject of sleep studies and found evidence that the price is high

Sleep scientists have for years advocated starting school later in the day to accommodate the hormonal changes in teens’ bodies. That may work well for teens; it may not work so well for the adults charged with educating them. It may also be appropriate to rethink the “school-life” balance. Is it possible to have students do less and achieve more? 

Posted in Education, Science | 30 Comments