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 | 26 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 | 16 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 | 30 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

To Exempt, or Not to Exempt

Like lots of other schools, the school my kids attend offers exam exemptions for students who have an A average before the final, or who sell certain numbers of magazines, raffle tickets, etc. 

At first glance, the academic strengths and traditions of MSMS would seem to discount exam exemptions as a possibility. But I’ll ask anyway: are there circumstances that would open the door for exams to be exempted? Would granting them adversely affect the school’s reputation?

Posted in Education | 42 Comments

The Toughest Compromise

After I complained to my fourth period class that they agree with each other too much, and that I find that stifling, they requested a chance to blog on something more controversial. “Like what?” I asked.

“Abortion,” they said.

I suspect that people will be discussing the legal and moral implications of abortion more often now that Pres. Trump has placed two justices on the Supreme Court. Consider this, dear bloggers, an opportunity to contemplate a perennially divisive topic in a civil forum. However, I do have one rule: that discussions aim to produce a compromise between pro-life and pro-choice factions. How can we craft laws that respect the reproductive rights of women, and what should those rights be? At what point should the government recognize the legal rights of a fetus, and what should those rights be?

Posted in Gender Issues, Politics | 45 Comments

Endgame

This year’s seniors have no memory of life without America maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan. Results from last month’s elections in that country won’t be certified until December, but fears concerning fraud and coercion already threaten to bring escalating levels of discontent and violence once they are announced. Some Western governments, including the United States, don’t want to negotiate with the Taliban until it stops using violence as a means to legitimize its rule; the Taliban insists it won’t stop using violence until it is recognized as legitimate. We seem to be at a decades-long impasse.

U.S.-trained Afghan forces have again proved less than effective in deterring the Taliban, much less defeating it in combat. This in turn emboldens the Taliban–not to mention Islamic State advocates. Add this to the current administration’s strained relationships with Afghanistan’s neighbors, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, and the specter another decade of ideological war-by-proxy looms.

So my question, dear bloggers, is this: at what point do we simply throw up our hands and say enough? Should we worry about a graceful exit at this point? Does pulling out of Middle Eastern conflicts produce a good end, or further destabilize an area where atrocities run rampant? What moral obligations might we have to that region after seventeen years of military conflict?

Posted in Politics | 26 Comments

Another Admissions Wrinkle

Advocates for MSMS have long described it as the most diverse city block in Mississippi. However, a lawsuit against Harvard University, brought by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, challenges the assumption that diversity enriches an educational experience. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that Harvard has violated their rights by using a quota system for admissions. Oral arguments ended last week, and observers expect the Supreme Court, which has taken a turn to the right with the appointments of Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, to reshape the ways that schools can use race and identity in the admissions process.

What I’ve learned about admissions suggests that it is more an art than a science. Should a well-rounded student–a nice person with a letter of recommendation from both research mentor and the school’s custodian–be selected over somebody with higher standardized test scores and grades? How should we measure an 18-year-old’s preparedness for college? It all depends on the college, and on the way it wants to be perceived. 

However, “it all depends” doesn’t exactly satisfy plaintiffs in cases like these. They want a standards and formulas; they want certainty. This strikes me as somewhat ironic, as there are few things less certain than the directions in which a college freshman’s life will go. Perhaps the larger issue posed by this lawsuit involves how it will result in broader changes to affirmative action.

Posted in Education, Politics | 31 Comments