Thursday, December 11, 2008

Handmade Pledge

Thinking of a topic for this last post on Democratic Principles has been difficult. Thus far I've talked about the importance of individual contribution to the whole, and the importance of the whole supporting all the individuals. I suppose what's left is individuals helping individuals. The trick is, wouldn't that be more anarchy and less democracy because then there is no whole? But then could that be seen as the democratic ideal? Just individuals contributing to each other, with no need to a governing body? I'm not sure, but we'll go with it for this post.

This Christmas I am buying only things created by individuals, a sort of handmade + indie pledge. I developed through this decision since last holiday season. I appreciate spending a little extra money to help out someone who has a small business, or no business. I like anything that decommercializes and personalized the holiday season. Shopping handmade feels like leaving a large tip at a restaurant, it uses a small amount of money to create a connection with a person and makes both of us feel better.

The trick is, what is handmade, what is indie? Sure something bought off of or Poppytalk is fine. Anything website with a handmade pledge patch is in the green. Ten Thousand Villages was an obvious yes. But what about, say Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? It was made on a very small budget, independently marketed, but at the same time in mentioned in tons of magazines and is sold through I ended up voting yay, but there was some unease over the decision. Still, the purchase made me feel as if there was a connection formed. Perhaps that was only because of the Dr. Horrible twitter feed or other things that feel so intimate despite being mass produced.

The Dr. Horrible purchase made me, however, question the whole handmade pledge. It made me look at the underlining hypocracy. Sure if feels like decommercializing, but it is still me purchasing products, even if I get a hand written note by a jeweler on etsy, but I still don't know her. The connection is weak at best and delusional at worst.

Then I listened to some Mates of State and Santogold and decided I needed to be less cynical and problematic. Shopping handmade is still shopping, but that's unavoidable and I might as well make the best out of the situation that is Christmas shopping.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Encouragement and Honesty

Early this semester I found myself in a funk over wether I truly wanted to become a teacher. A job in public history was beginning to sound desirable, and my field placements at schools were leaving me unsatisfied. I tried to talk to some of my friends about this, but they could not really understand, and therefore were not helpful. In my search for advice or an ear, I sent an email to one of my old High School teachers.

He addressed all of my concerns, and really gave me the emotional boost I needed. He reminded me how so much of teaching is about the relationships with students and how short field placements really do not allow for much rapport building.

Another portion of his email that was helpful was an admittance that teaching is hard and at times is more unsatisfying than satisfying. This was important for me to hear. I have often heard from teachers (and all kinds of professionals) that the day they wake up and don't feel like teaching is the day they'll find a new profession. Well, that's just not accurate or helpful, and I'm glad that I found someone who can offer me the right mix of encouragement and honesty.

Mrs. A. Non

Talking about past teachers is tricky for several reasons: a)I'm the not the person I was when I was a student b)They are not the person they were when they were my teacher c)The internet is public.

The first two are really the most important, the third problem just keeps me from naming names.

When I was in High School I was mostly indifferent about most of my teachers. However there was a teacher I really did not like and several teachers that I did like. When looking back however, I believe that I would not appreciate my least favorite teacher.

She tried to give us lots of freedom in our projects and assignments while also having high expectations. She made references to popular culture. She allowed for more artistic vision, and she tried to encourage the girls in the class.

She was in retrospect a lot like how I would like to teach. She lectured, but kept it interesting and more like a dialog, she allowed for great differentiation in assignments, she believed in personal and societal responsibility.

She was my least favorite teacher.

I did not want a class that encouraged me to invest into assignments, nor did I want someone trying to make me more introspective or, well, do anything hard. So though she was a very good teacher, I was a very lazy student. But here's the real trick. I wasn't "normal" lazy, or her differentiation would have accommodated to me. I was academic lazy. I wanted to follow clear guidelines that reigned me in and kept me from thinking to much. Or well, maybe that is normal lazy. Anyways, now in college clearly defined rubrics frustrate me to no end and I love to have classes with teachers that were like her, and that's hard to get my head around.

Maybe I should write her a letter, cause I'm sure I made her class more difficult.

For extra credit for the one person who reads this blog regularly and who went to High School with me: Guess which teacher I'm talking about. Hint: You loved her

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Back in High School when I taught Karate, my studio had a banquet/potluck thing in which we all got to see each other in a social context. Part of this was also introducing myself as an instructor to all of the families and students who might not be familiar with me or in my classes. When it came my turn to say a few words in front of everyone I found myself thanking the parents who drove their kids to class each week and who supported and enabled both their children and us. In many ways the relationship between instructor and parent and teacher and parent are the same.

I'm not really writing this post just to say that parents are important and contribute to the learning process, but to suggest that parents are underrated and underutilized. Yes, they can sometimes be frustrating, but they also contribute in many ways when asked. Field trips often require parents to come along, PTAs raise extra funds, and even little things such as getting their child up each morning and sending them off to school. You know, small things.

I'll admit, my experience with parents as a teacher is nill, because I'm not yet a teacher. Also, when I was an instructor I really had a love/ hate relationship with them. They were especially frustrating when they blamed me for their child's struggles. But at the same time, at a karate studio most parents sit in the lobby and watch each class, so they tend to feel more hands on.

As I've become older, and as I've seen how many teachers interact with parents, I believe they are a resource and ally that is often overlooked.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Wire

Despite a heavy academic workload these last few weeks of the semester, I have been finding, or rather, refinding, a good way to relax: The Wire (and How I Met Your Mother, but that's for another post).

For those of you unaware of this masterpiece show about the systems of the city of Baltimore, well watch it. I could extoll its many virtues for a very long time, but again, that's for another post.

This time around, I was brought in particularly by Season 4 which focuses with the school systems of Baltimore and the lives of middle schoolers. Though the focus of the school scenes are these students, ample time is also spent on the various teachers, especially one new teacher who will be unnamed due to spoilers. Anyways, while watching this season I noticed a lot of things about what is and is not effective in such a classroom/system.

A form of tracking happens at the school and is shown as being fought by the administration, but allowed by the parents. Now this tracking did not involve giving worse resources to worse students, it involved giving worse students different goals. This in many ways reminded me of my field placement in a special education classroom at Goshen High School, those kids were not given less attention or resources, but they also were working towards being able to live and find a job whereas most general education classrooms are working students towards higher education.

This sort of tracking seems very beneficial for both sets of students. The trick is such a system of tracking requires more faculty and staff and could only work if the parents and students agreed to being tracked towards vocation instead of towards college. Now of course this was in a television show, but I thought it would be a beneficial idea could it be implemented well.

Throughout the season the new teacher struggles. First he has to keep the students from being violent, he attempts a token economy, social contracts, and several other forms of behavior modification. In the end he more or less settles on changing the curriculum to foster rapport building between him and his students. After a time of this he transitions back into the normal curriculum. While I think this was a little extreme, it illustrated well how important rapport is and how creativity and flexibly is also key to teaching effectively.

The trick with rapport is that sometimes personal attachments can become too strong. Near the end of the season this new teacher struggles with several students being socially promoted to High School. He argues with the administration that the students are not ready yet, to which the administrator replies that the goal is to help as many students as possible and that the teacher needs to keep in mind that next year there will be a whole class of students who needs him as a teacher just as much.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What I've Learned This Week

Chronology is a really fun boardgame.
This coming Friday is the 75th Anniversary of Repeal Day.
Save Darfur Now doesn't give money to on the ground aid.
Writing a paper about anti-genocide NGOs and treaties over Thanksgiving is really really sad.
The dryer sometimes shakes the floor of my room.
Emma Thompson is dreamy.
How to speed cup stack.
Subvocalization is key to speedreading.
Footnotes are suppose to be tabbed and spaced, but I think spacing makes them look silly.
Taking a week off can help one focus on schoolwork.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What I've Learned This Week

“Instability” would be a great name for a speed based superhero
What the WTO does
That Bangledesh use to be East Pakistan
Strawberries are not berries
Pineapples are not fruit
Dan Deacon should be on Sesame St.
Neil Patrick Harris has been on Sesame St.
How to make california rolls
That I can find a job after college
The magic of 10,000 hours

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Schools and Community

This past week I watched both “Word Wars” and Dave Egger’s TEDTalk presentation. Word Wars is a documentary about competitive Scrabble playing and follows four players during the nine month journey to the 2002 National Scrabble Tournament. Dave Egger’s presentation has to do with local and community people pitching in to help students succeed. What do these have in common? Well, the documentary several times follows one of the players, Marlon Hill, to a local high school where he starts an afterschool Scrabble club where he gets kids together and gives the students tips and attention.

Now not every community will have members that are as obsessive about their particular gifts or interests, but each community will have dozens of people who are very good at a specific, and often quirky and interesting, skill.

So what connects this to Dave Egger’s talk is an idea: administrations always need more time to push school wide plans and teachers can always use more time for professional development and interdisciplinary collaboration. So why not give administrations and teachers extra time by having a community skills day? There could be an opening assembly that would then break down into seminars and demonstrations throughout the building that students would sign up for in advance. Community members who don’t feel like leading a session could be in charge of getting students from one session to the next.

Such a day event could happen each semester or trimester or whatever. Not only would it give faculty and staff some extra time to work on development, such a community day would foster, well, community and show that many talents, not just academic, are recognized and appreciated.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Change We Need

Two days before the Elections I wrote about why I was a supporter of Obama: he was a marketing campaign that could change my nation’s attitude and mind set. Well, turns out change sort of scares me.

Obama’s campaign and message resonated with many Americans. In fact, it resonated with most Americans. Hope and Change are the catchphrases of our nation right now, and this has larger implications then just changes in politicians’ rhetoric. Just as Jill Thompson tried to sell herself in Indiana with Obama’s message so might new cellphones and cereals. Strokefire’s blog discusses Obama’s effect on marketing:
Marketers are moving away from the wry approach - and are even dropping the sexy sales pitches. Heck, even luxury isn't selling.

If I'm right then Samsung is probably going to regret their recent name choice. I'm guessing the Rant isn't going to do well in this market. Instead look for new names to pop up that speak to our hopes and dreams. Phones with names like Breathe, Lift, Give, and Chance are going to be here in a matter of months.
This attitude change is not just going to affect the United State’s marketing. The change in marketing simply illustrates more foundational changes in our sense of humor and our world view.

As mentioned before, I’ve grown up with George W. Bush as president. Incidentally, I also grew up with irony and sarcasm. I grew up with Jon Stewart who now jokes that soon The Daily Show will be out of business. Turns out hope and belief tend to replace wryness and sarcasm: the two attitudes I am most familiar and comfortable with.

Now this does not mean that I don’t want change. I’d vote for Obama again if given the chance and I still do hope that he changes my nation’s attitude. I just didn’t think through how he might change my attitude, nor did I think about how scary change can be.

I like my sarcastic safety blanket.

What I've Learned This Week

How to tie a balloon animal
Dave Eggers can be very inspiring
When emailing a professional starting with “Dear Mr./Mrs.” helps
Kung Fu Panda is surprisingly good
The Wire is consistently good
Nick Hornby just published a third collection from his Believer column

Sunday, November 9, 2008


This past week I participated in a mock interview for a teaching job. The first question that I was asked was why and when did I decide to become a teacher. Well, I became a teacher in order to do two things: interact with young adults and to contribute to my country. For me, teaching social studies to a way for me to fulfill my civic duty by helping create the next generation of effective citizens. In a democracy, especially one of so many cultures such as the United States, a multicultural education is key to helping form and encourage effective citizenship.

Multicultural education really has two main components: empowering students and teaching the skill of critical reflection. Empowering can be accomplished by any number of things. Students could be given vast artistic agency to perform a drama or some slam poetry. They could also be empowered through the simpler and less consuming poster project. The key is voice giving. This requires creative control and an audience.

Students can, thankfully, also be empowered by arguing, an activity that encourages critical reflection. Critical reflection can also be encouraged simply by critical lessons or by metareflection lessons when students can practice diagraming and somewhat deconstructing the aims and flaws of advertisements or political speeches.

The key really is to make multiculturalism a priority during instruction. Sure specific lessons and exercises will help greatly, but if a teacher is reflective, critical, and empowering students will pick up on that. And they will become better citizens for it.

What I've Learned This Week

Roger William has an amazingly sad, but also uplifting, sermon against coercive conversion
Indiana can surprise me, even if my county did not
Japanese tubs are cozy and spatially effective
Pudding and cubed Pound Cake is a great dessert
Kibitzing – Unwanted advice, such as during a card game
Petrichor – The smell of the ground after rain

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


This semester I am taking a full load of upper level, major related courses. Needless to say I do not have a lot of free time, but when reflecting upon what I use my free time for, I realized that I end up thinking about nonhomework topics. For example, I am part of a fundraising committee for my old High School. The point is that I recharge myself not by doing nothing, but my intensely thinking and reflecting on other topics. One way I do this is by listening to podcasts.

Before I get into the specific types of podcasts I listen to, I'm going to talk about them as a medium. Firstly, they are amazingly convenient. Once I find a podcast, I subscribe either through iTunes or an RSS feed. From then I will automatically receive any new podcasts that I can listen to at my computer or through my iPod when I'm cooking or riding my bike to class. Basically I can take in new information whenever I'm usually not doing anything. I've read before about the power of audiobooks, well podcasts are just about everything good about audiobooks, but shorter and therefore even more convenient.

As for specific podcasts, I mostly focus on podcasts that will teach me something. I enjoy the stories from This American Life, as well as Radiolab, the TED presentations and other science based podcasts because they are the best way for me to learn something new about a field of study that I have little academic interaction with. I also use podcasts to keep myself updated about the news, or corporations/organizations that I want to keep updated about (Wikipedia Weekly, for example). Finally, and most importantly, I use podcasts to audit university courses. Many university's post recording of their class records. For example, right now I am auditing UCSD's East Asian Political Thought, Introduction to Western Music, and New Ideas/Clash of Cultures as well as Stanford's Geography of World Cultures. These are all courses that simply are not offered at a small liberal art's college such as the one I am currently attending. Because these lectures are available to the public for free, they are an inspiring show of the opening of academia. They have also become a great resource both for my education and my sanity as they provide me both knowledge and a respite from homework.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Democratic Journalism

The current Wikinews logoImage via WikipediaThis week I've been looking into techniques that social studies teachers can use to empower students and give them a voice. As I've been thinking upon this and reading about this I realized that there is another way one can empower a student: not by giving them an individual voice but by having them become part of something bigger than themselves. Now that isn't to say that we shouldn't give students a voice, but I do think we can supplement the individual soap box with a democratization of voice, or citizen writing.

In many ways, Wikinews can describe this better than me. Here is what they have to say about how they work and what democratic journalism is:

Citizen journalism is a growing phenomenon of grassroots participation in the media. Wikinews, a sister project to the highly successful Wikipedia, gives you the chance to be both writer and editor of the news you think should have a wider audience.

Wikinews has a strict neutral point of view policy, rigorously enforced by its users. It strives to meet traditional reporting standards and all reports must be fully sourced. This makes it an ideal training ground: here you won't be rewriting press releases or covering the local flower show but can wade straight into breaking scandal on a world level with an audience of thousands.

One thing you won't get on Wikinews is a byline. Your work could be ruthlessly re-edited and your reward will be satisfaction in a good story rather than cash. But your work will be freely available to anyone in the world with a computer, you won't be exploited by a commercial organisation selling news like peas and you will be working towards telling the truth as you see it with a team of thousands.

So if you don't get a byline, what do you get? Well, these skills won't do your career prospects any harm:

* news writing
* high standards to fulfil of source recording and note taking for original reporting
* proof reading and copy editing
* factchecking
* direct involvement in media production processes
* writing and enforcing high standards of neutrality in reporting
* teamwork with a wide range of contributors worldwide in a consensual environment
* strategy and policy development for an international media outlet
* basic programming syntax of a widely used online system

Starting at Wikinews is easy. Just create an account and a community member will give you some tips - or if you can't wait that long: hit edit and get going.


the Wikinews community

I'm a historian so much of my work is individualistic and argumentative in nature. However I am more and more drawn to ideas such as this, ideas that if we all pitch in a little bit then we can all reap great benefits. I have not yet contributed to WikiNews, but I would encourage others and certainly will encourage my students to contribute to any of the WikiMedia projects, because I believe that such projects are great examples of democracy and in a way civic duty, and also are immensely satisfying.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Why Obama/Which Change Do We Need?

Election Day is coming up pretty fast and as a guy who gets teary over Starbuck's new Pro-Democracy ads, I've been looking forward to this day for sometime. Not just because I have not been pleased with Bush's terms, but also because it is my first time voting during a Presidential election. My excitement has led me to follow election news compulsively. Right now about a third of the websites on my Google Reader are election coverage. One thing that I've been hearing more and more about is Democrats for John McCain, a increasingly large group of Democratics unhappy about their party's nomination who have decided to actively campaign for McCain, particularly in Pennsylvania. Being originally a Clinton supporter, I would like to talk about why I am now a strong supporter of Obama.

When talking about Democrats for John McCain with my friends, many of them where surprised and angry. Name calling ensued. In a way such reactions make sense, why would a person go from supporting a Democrat like Hillary Clinton to supporting a Republican like John McCain? Well, they both are experienced, they both have demonstrated adherence to their personal values, and they both would use their experience and drive to change our nation's policies. Say what you will about how many times McCain has voted with Bush, McCain is still very much for change.

So even though Clinton and McCain differ on many topics, there is still an overall connection: they both would undo some of the bad done by Bush. This very reason was why I support Clinton early on in this election. She could actually change the government. She could change policy. However over time I became less sure that policy change was what our nation needs most.

I have not enjoyed Bush's terms, and Clinton (and now McCain) was a solution to that. But the bigger issue, for me, is that we as a nation elected Bush twice. Even after the first four years we collectively decided to keep him in office. This worries me more than his policy. Therefore I shifted by support to Obama. One of the ongoing criticisms of Obama is that he is a marketing fad. That he won't be able to actually change our government due to lack of knowledge and experience. In a way this is a nonissue for me, or even a good selling point because I feel that the bigger problem is our nation's identity and attitude, and Obama can change that. I believe that in office, he will be a far more effective figurehead than a policy former, but I also believe that a revolutionary figurehead is what we need. I'm not voting for Obama because of his agenda or policy. I'm voting for Obama because of him.

What I've Learned This Week

There are design firms that specialize in museums
Wikimedia has an open source quasi-P.R. firm
Saints pretty much universally have weird lives
Roger Williams was the unJefferson
Some dictionaries' corpora are public and online
The plural of corpus can be corpuses or corpora
Magnets do not have to be hard
Daytime trick'r'treating is a lot more fundraising
Starbuck's new ad makes me tearly

Friday, October 31, 2008

History and Faith

The very first post on this blog was looking at the role of subjectivity in the discipline of History. Well, time to look at one of my biases: religion.

When reading about Christian historians this weekend, I flinched away from it. Though I am a Christian and my faith and my faith community is very important to me, I did not like thinking of my faith influencing my more scholarly pursuits. While working through a majority of the essays edited by Ronald Wells in History and the Christian Historian, I dismissed much of what I read. I blame this on my being raised during a time that the Religious Right was on TV and radio constantly. I grew up seeing people who believe in my same God celebrating that the victims of hate crimes where going to Hell. I suppose that I’m just a little more John Winthrop than William Brewster, but I like deeply religious groups to have some self confidence issues or at least a strong tradition of humility.Therefore after reading and thinking about Christian historians, I felt that my faith did not influence my approach to history in any significant way. The only problem is that is not quite true.

In the past two years almost every major history paper I have written has been connected to religion: Augustine’s influence on marriage, the role of Huguenots during Richelieu’s France, Lincoln’s Calvinist upbringing. That is not to say all of my papers were about Christianity, in fact the paper I’ve spent the most time and effort on was about the effects of traditional Kikuyu beliefs on Kenya’s independence. So though I don’t just write about Christianity, I do certainly seem to look at religion. More specifically I seem to take a topic already covered by others I look at it with a religious lens, much like the aforementioned Marxists or feminists might do with their own lenses.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rubik's Cube

Rubik's CubeImage via WikipediaThis weekend my roommate got a Rubik's Cube. Though this could easily become a post about possible destroyers of productivity, it's not (I was actually very productive this weekend). No, today I want to talk about how I learned to solve a Rubik's Cube and how that reflects upon methods and types of learning.

First of all, I just messed around with the cube, I figured out how to drop cubes out and how to get at least the first layer put together.

Then, I had my roommmate show me how he gets the second layer consistently and how he even holds the cube. See, he holds the cube at an angle and turns the cube as if the mostly right side is the front. Though I'm sure it works for him, I kept my holding method that I developed during my initial “play” phase.

Finally, I decided to look online for more complex and complete thoughts on solving the Rubik's Cube. Online I found lists of algorithmic move sets that would allow me to solve any cubes. These lists would move only part of the cube without the rest. After a little bit of time I learned many of these algorithms and was soon almost solving a cube in minutes.

However the catch was I memorized the lists of moves but I stopped paying attention. I was no longer thinking “I need to move white around and down” but was instead thinking “ok after two right turns I have to....”. Now this was not all that bad ounce I realized what was going on. Once I started self checking, once I started learning why the algorithms worked at the same time I learned the algorithms. As with most things, a balance was necessary. A balance between play and knowledge.

So what does this have to do with education? Well hopefully that's self evident, but just in case not: a balance between play and knowledge is key to education. Not just teaching or classroom education, but also self-education. When I'm preparing a lesson plan for someone else, or researching a topic myself. And the balance found during my time with the Rubik's Cube was not the only part relevant. I needed to play, I needed to memorize things that experts had figured out, but I also needed to connect what I memorized to what I had learned during play.

Also, a friend was very key to the experience. Without my roommate I won't have gotten my hands on the cube in the first place, and I also won't have obtained a social aspect to my learning, which was also very key. I learned from him, but I also connected the cube to my relationship. After the relationship was there I wanted to solve the cube not just for myself, but so I could show him and show him what I had learned.

To summarize:


Sunday, October 26, 2008

What I've Learned This Week

The Komono Dragons and Sharks can reproduce asexually
That Komono Dragons can be transgendered can give you free stockphotos
TEDTalks are awesome
How to solve a Rubik's Cube
That neither Judaism or Islam believe in original sin
In Harlem there is a thriving community of Senegalese
Subscribing to two dozen podcasts in one day might not be a good idea
Pragmatic Communication Disorder is now considered a syndrome
Swollen tendons can indicate tendonitis or a fractured wrist
The college Health Center doesn't feel qualified to tell say which my tendons indicate
End of school breaks can be rough.
Erin McKean is awesome, really awesome.
Erinaceous means pertain to the hedgehog family or of the nature of a hedgehog.
Erinaceous is not in the New Oxford American Dictionary that is preloaded on my Mac.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Voice Finding: Coda

Neil Patrick Harris photographed by Eric SchwabelOne time last year in a sociology class a friend of mine commented that she wished that she could think as fast as I do. After talking to her briefly about what she meant by that, I commented that I did not think faster than her, I simply started talking sooner than her. While she would sit quiet until she knew what she was going to say, I tend to start talking and figure out what I'm going to say as I say it.

Last week I briefly reflected on my aims and objectives about this blog. However, I did not really know what I wanted out of the blog until I posted about it. Therefore now I'm going to again post about what I want out of this blog.

Simply and concisely put: this blog is not about me becoming a better teacher or a better historian. This blog is a way in which I will become a better teacher and a better historian. It forces me to sit down and think about my obsessions and then write about them. Now this does not really change any of my objectives for this blog, but it will change how I write and what I write about.

Also, I'm going to start holding unto blog posts for a few days until I know what I'm going to say so I don't end up posting twice about everything.

On a unrelated note: Just realized that Neil Patrick Harris in not only in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, but also in Assassins, my favorite musical, which maybe sometime I'll blog about.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Brief Overview of the Debate

This blog is about my experiences becoming a history teacher. It is therefore assumed that I care about history, particularly United States history and probably civics. This assumption is true, I care greatly for the United States and in fact feel motived to teach largely due to feelings to civic duty and contributing by helping create the next generation of effective citizens. Though this post won't delve deeper into my feelings about patriotism, civic duty, or government I do feel compelled to comment on tonight's debate.

Disclaimer: I am a capital D Democrat, but I am also a capital C critic.

To John: I am not your friend, please stop claiming me as such every few seconds. And while you are stopping your lying about my feelings for you, please stop lying about Obama's comments about Pakistan. I understand how there was room for pronoun confusion when he said, “take them out,” but after he clarified that he meant Bin Laden not Pakistan, why did you repeat your belief that Obama is threatening Pakistan with a military attack?

To Obama: Yeah, I understand that John tends to stretch the truth, or even out right lie. However, you have to move past that. Correct him, call him out, but don't spend three minutes re-explaining your position. In fact, please become more concise in general. I follow politics, I think, more than most and am versed in political vocabulary, but even I had problems following your answers at times. For example: your answer to United States response to hypothetical Iranian aggression without UN approval. Sure, you gave the impression that you would act without approval but would also seek approval, but you never really came right out and said so. I appreciate your balanced and nuanced views, but you need to give concise, simplified answers in a debate format. Being long winded does not do you any good.

To Tom: Great job. Love you on Meet the Press and I hope you remain active in the media for years to come.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Start of Coalescence

I thoroughly enjoy cooking. Though it was a hobby I did not pick up until recently now that I have a kitchen I look forward to making dinner for myself and my house mates. Cooking for twelve people leaves little space for elegance or fancy but I try to bring my cuisine up a level with some sauces including some beef stock that I made a few weeks back.

Now so far, I've never combined my newly developed love of cooking (particularly from the French side of the spectrum) and my longer developed enjoyment of history. This week I'm planning on looking into the history of sauces and stocks. On Friday or Saturday I'll post what I find.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Voice Finding

So if people have bothered to read the previous post, then you know that I planned, and later failed, to write several posts this week about collaboration in the classroom. That is, ways that teachers could use new technology to connect better with other teachers, students, and parents.

However, when push came to shove, I lost passion. This was mainly due to lack of experience. I love using technology, effective collaboration, and teaching, but I haven't spent enough time as a teacher to really know what teachers need technological help with. I was trying to push my passions together, and while that can often produce something wonderful, this time it felt forced.

This forcedness is evident in the previous post that is not nearly as natural sounding as my first post. Upon reflection, I've decided to not follow through with the planned series.

Also, I'm going to take a few days off to figure out what this blog is for. At the most base foundation, this blog is a homework assignment, but it also should be more. Blogs need a voice and a passion and this weekend I'm going to plan how to give this blog what it requires of me while still being able to fulfill the assignment's requirements.

Just be a little bit more patient.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Using Collaboration in the Classroom: Preview

Teachers are always striving to be effective.

This statement can mean many things. Teachers want to instill in their students passion for their subject, they also want to be able to use their time effectively. I believe that one of the keys obtaining both goals is to collaborate. Luckily, technology is increasingly making collaboration easier.

Over the next week I will be writing a series of articles about how to easily set up collaboration both with other teachers and with students. Most of these will be new forms of collaboration that are made possible with new technology. I think collaboration through technology is also a good way of making students more passionate about your subject: kids like having power and responsibility, but also like technology. Well, kids with enough material means to have access to technology. Therefore, I will be ending this series with a reflection on the ethically ramifications of bringing potentially classist technology into a classroom and how to remain effective and inclusive.

Coming up next: Collaboration with other teachers

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Objectivity Question

Most people believe that history is fact, is capital T Truth. Is that possible? With the various biases of sources and historians, can a historian ever write the objective, complete, and unbiased truth of what happened in the past? If so, how? If not, what are the implications?

Few children want to be historians when they grow up. Though I'm not claiming to be an expert in children's dreams and wants, I do work at a day care and the general rule is that younger kids want to be profession athletes, performers, civil servants such as firefighters, or marine biologists. Heck, I've seen more kids dream to become a twin or a fish than become an historian.

Thankfully sometime between kindergarden and graduate school, something happens to a certain portion of the population that inspires them to become the next generation of historians. In Junior Seminar, most of us were inspired by a teacher or even a particular subject of history. For me, I was inspired by an author: Sarah Vowell. Sure I had always done well enough in social studies and I might have become a historian without her, but for my money the day I read Sarah Vowell for the first time was the moment my passion for history was lit. For those not in the know, Sarah Vowell is an ironic, glib, but ultimately deep author who began her career working at NPR. Though her books are typically focused on historical events, calling her a historian would be like calling her friend Jon Stewart a news-anchor: true or false depending on perspective—subjective.

Subjectivity is everywhere, or least I and most of my generation seems to think so. I grew up knowing to take everything with a grain of salt, to challenge what others told me. If Fox News tells me that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance is a national epidemic, I don't wonder if they are right or wrong, instead I ponder why would they think such a thing. I think about possible experiences their anchors and audiences have had that would lead to such a bias. The question isn't if the statement is true, because the lack of objectivity is a given. Of course a news station isn't going to be objective. But should our historians be objective?

I have a friend, Tyler, who is a great supporter of postmodernism. Often when talking to him about, well, anything he will quip “that's not necessarily true.” His whole hearted embrace of postmodernism makes him a good conversationalist but when he tries to write a thesis driven paper, he often gets writer's block. I would guess that his writer's block is not because he can not think of a possible argument, but because an argument is a personal thing and though Tyler loves the subjectiveness that comes with postmodernism, he has been instilled with the belief that a professional, thesis driven paper should be objective.

Really I don't believe that a thesis paper, or a history paper, should be objective. I don't believe it can be objective, so historians should accept subjectivity. I believe this makes for better history anyways, as I said before arguments and theses are personal, a good historian is moved by their research and feel compelled to write. Conversely, if historians think they can and should be objective then they must snub out their emotions and passions. This would also make history a very dull discipline with littler discussion or community. A community of subjective historians care about their subjects and are constantly communicating with each other, not just interacting but actively relying on each other.
Because if objectivity is no longer the goal, a community of rational historians are required to keep history respectable and plausible. Just because we agree that history is a subjective discipline does not mean it is no longer a discipline. Try as I might, I shouldn't be able to write a professional thesis describing how dragons where used effectively by Russia to keep Napoleon from Moscow. Others might argue that without objectivity history becomes the same as literature, fiction. I believe that just because history can't be Truth there is no need to go diving into the pool of fancy. Historians should strive to produce histories that are plausible and historians should be the ones who judge what is plausible. In another way: I am a big fan of peer reviewing.

Not only should historians be plausible, but they should be honest about their biases. As previously mentioned I don't really trust anything until I mull over it a bit, but what about the less paranoid? For example, when I watched The Birth of a Nation I understood the biases behind it: That Thomas Dixon wrote the movie's inspiration as a response to Uncle Tom's Cabin and that both Thomas Dixon and D.W. Griffith, the director, grew up in a failing post-Civil War farm and whose father was a Colonel in the Confederacy. But what about less informed people who might agree with President Wilson that “it is all so terribly true”? There are several ways to be honest about your biases. Most historians talk about it in their introduction or in a preface. Others mix their research with their personal reactions to their research. Both are fine and are really more of an atheistic decision and secondary to the decision to be honest about their subjectivity in the first place.

Being openly subjective is a hard thing to be. It requires a historian to be accepting of their subjective nature, bucking against the German tradition and the Enlightenment in general. It also makes writing history more personal, a historian is more open to not only attacks about methodology, but also personality and value. To collect old census records and hide behind the falsely objective social science born of the data found is a lot safer than taking that data and be honest that the final project is subjective, is a product of a individual's imagination, creativity, and reason. In the end, I believe that the risk and extra effort is worth it. I believe subjectivity creates more compelling writing and a more intentional, personal community of historians. How you feel is up to you, but I won't be putting the works of Sarah Vowell on my American Fiction bookshelf, but in American History.