Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Another month rolls down the hill like a Sisyphean bolder and a new month begins. What will this month bring? Last month, my 2014 campaign for State Representative began. What kind of impact can I have this time? I went to an event to reimagine the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. I’ve shared my reactions and wonder what sort of impact that will have. Meanwhile, I try to balance work and home.
As I try to pull together thoughts on reimaging both politics and religion in the twenty-first century, I keep in mind what a luxury that is. For too many, it is too much to just get by from day to day. How do we encourage those who are too exhausted from the daily grind to be more engaged in politics or religion?
For me, my relaxation often comes from trying to gain new perspectives, particularly through the arts. I’m trying to determine what my literary diet for the coming months will be. Should I dive back into poetry? From Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni to Billy Collins and Denise Levertov? Should I reread some Thomas Merton or perhaps the writings of some Great Awakening preacher?
How do I relate all of this to what I read on Facebook? I’ve been thinking of trying to post something upbeat each day, whether it be a picture of a flower, a great quote, or an inspiring article. I’ve been trying to highlight things going on around me where regular people make a difference. I’ve been avoiding jumping into many of the discussions where seem to be venting with no real solutions.
Saturday, someone posted a link to Download a Free Copy of Danah Boyd’s Book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. This led me to explore the Open Culture website for a while, and ultimately end up checking out their list of films by Andrei Tarkovsky that are online.
I ended up watching Ivan’s Childhood. One person describe the film this way:
First Film by the prophet of modern cinema Andrei Tarkovsky
While Sergei Eisenstein literally wrote the grammar of cinema by inventing Montage, Tarkovsky found the true calling of cinema with his exposition of long shot where the roving camera wanders examining stuff and through its eyes reach into the heart and soul of the protagonist. Through him film became what it was meant to be, the purveyor of dreams. All other developments in cinema are borrowed from other visual and literary developments.
The film is set on the front lines of World War II and traces the experiences of a child, Ivan. It is the sort of film to make you think, especially about the lives of people very different those of us living comfortably in the twenty-first century.
So, let’s see where the boulder rolls this month.
Recently, I attended the OMMA conference about videos at Internet Week. One of the best talks was by Gary Osifchin of Mondelez, the parent company of Honey Maid graham crackers. He spoke about their “wholesome” campaign. He spoke about how people see graham crackers as wholesome, but that people often associate “wholesome” with “old-fashioned” or “boring”. In order to stand out in this world of constant advertising and marketing everywhere, you need to present a strong point of view.
He suggested that to make “wholesome” relevant and exciting against this background, you need to look at cultural truths, for example, the changing face of American families. It is a risky strategy, because there will always be people who rebel against changes in cultural truths, but I believe that Honey Maid’s “Wholesome” campaign was very successful and helped to get people to look at how the world is changing.
He spoke about how he hoped other brands would follow suit and how the wholesome campaign is not just a single set of ads, but is a ten year campaign. On twitter, they are using the hashtag “#ThisIsWholesome”. It made me stop and think about how this could be done for other brands.
“This is…” I work at a health center serving vulnerable populations. What would a campaign about “This is health” look like? Would it talk about programs we do to help people eat healthier food? Get more exercise? Read more? Become more involved in their community? All of that fits into broader discussions about health, including social determinants of health and health equity.
What about my run for State Representative? Can we change “This is politics” into something positive? Can we talk about caring for the vulnerable amongst us, instead of how so much politics of today seems to be about grabbing what you can for yourself at the expense of everyone else around you? Instead of politics, should we talk about governance, citizenship, responsibility, or some related idea? After all, it seems like the cultural truths are currently stacked up against any positive image of politics.
As I think about the phrase, “This is…”, various phrases come to mind. “This is… American Idol”. “This is Spinal Tap”, “This is water”, “This is my body, which is given for you”.
What do we want to declare as cultural truths? What do we hope such declarations will bring about?
This was written a few days ago, but I never got a chance to really go over it. I've been pretty busy, so I'll put this up now, as is. More soon...
This weekend, I came across three distinct and interesting articles that, perhaps, should be considered in light of one another. The Hartford Courant ran the article, Top Nominees Announced For Ct High School Musical Theater Awards. I was very interested in the production of two of these shows. Amity Regional High School, in my hometown, produced “In The Heights” (See Lamentations and The Heights). It was a great production, as productions at Amity usually are. It received several nominations, as did “Rent”, produced by Trumbull High School. The Trumbull production of Rent, almost didn’t happen and I wrote about it a couple times: Trumbull for Rent and World AIDS Day and Learning About Bullying - Trumbull RENT. I was glad to see both production receive nominations.
Also this weekend, the New York Times ran an article, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm. Should students be forewarned about content in works they are assigned to read that might make them uncomfortable, or might trigger PTSD? To me, these two stories are related. How should have Trumbull High School dealt with the difficult issues that Rent brings up? Cancelling the show? Using some sort of Trigger Warnings? Some other approach?
I recognize the need for trigger warnings in certain cases, just as I recognize the need for warnings about peanuts for those with peanut allergies. For some people, these warning can be a matter of life and death. For others, they can be just an annoyance. I had the good fortunate to go to a small liberal arts college where the professors knew each of the students in their classes. In such a situation, I would expect the professor to be able to deal individually with students as necessary and to make wise decisions about warning students that needed to be warned. However, in large universities where there might be hundreds of students in a class, I can see where some sort of trigger warning might be needed.
Yet even in situations like this, it would seem that the trigger warning could be an educational tool. Prior to reading a text, a discussion about the difficult topics would seem beneficial. “This week, we will be reading The Great Gatsby, a masterpiece of American literature. The story depicts misogynistic violence, a problem that society still faces today…” and from their get into a discussion about misogyny in the twentieth and twenty first century.
This weekend, I’ve been thinking a bit about educational reform and have stumbled across several different interesting discussion. It started off when a discussion about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, tests which have recently been administered at our schools.
A board of education member was fiercely defending the SBAC tests. She believed that the concerns with the tests were overblown and that the tests were properly administered. I opted my daughter out of the SBAC tests for many reasons and the feedback I’ve received about the tests do not square with the board members assessment.
The board member did admit that there were some difficulties, but there are always difficulties with any changes, and we eventually need to test changes in the real world. Setting aside the issue of whether or not there is real benefit to the changes that SBAC brings, I question whether there was sufficient testing prior to using the SBAC tests, and, perhaps more importantly, whether using the tests on students was wise, or perhaps even, ethical.
Having worked with computers for years, I recognize the importance of different aspects of testing, moving from unit testing to systems testing and integration testing. To put it into more contemporary terms, when do you move a system out of beta? Were the SBAC tests really ready to be moved out of beta? Where they properly tested? It does not seem so, from my perspective.
Yet there is a bigger question, about the efficacy and ethics of the testing. Thinking in terms of the scientific method, what was the hypothesis being tested? How will this test of the SBACs help prove or disprove the hypothesis? I have not heard this properly addressed. Working in health care, I constantly hear people talking about the importance of double blind tests. The SBAC tests were very far from this standard of testing. In fact, students were told that the tests wouldn’t make a difference, it was just a test to see how well the test works. As a result, I’ve heard many stories of students making up silly answers on the tests, something that wouldn’t happen if it were a real test that mattered.
I don’t know how much this really happened, and how much these are the sort of stories middle school students like to tell, but it does raise serious questions about the validity of SBAC experiment.
Yet this takes me to a bigger issue. In 1961, Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram ran a series of experiments measuring people’s willingness to follow orders, even if it could cause harm or death to others. In the experiments, the subjects were told to give shocks to students who failed to properly answer certain questions.
Many have questioned the ethics of these experiments and the Milgram experiments are regularly brought up in discussions about institutional review boards, or IRBs.
As I thought about the discussion with the board of education member, I had to wonder, are SBAC tests being administered in a way that would be approved by an IRB? Are risks to the subjects, or children in schools, minimized? Do the benefits of moving towards SBAC tests outweigh the risks to students? Are students, and their parents, adequately informed and asked to consent in ways that are free from coercion or undue influences? What measures are being taken to protect vulnerable populations?
There is a role for testing students in our educational system. Yet these tests need to be well thought out and administered in a fair way that benefits our students. In my mind, the SBAC tests fails this.
It is a rainy Friday evening as I sit in the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. The Pledge of Allegiance and the prayers have been made, the convention has been called to order, but mostly delegates just spend time talking with one another. There isn't much suspence at this convention, instead, a chance for friends to reconnect and to talk about various coming elections.
I've been wearing my Google Glass which has been a good topic of discussion. Congressman Jim Himes tried them on, and the folks at the Kevin Lembo nerd table found the glass to be particularly nerdy. Unforunately, for some reason, low batteries, heavy network traffic, or the latest upgrade has caused Glass to be very slow.
After the nominating speeches for Gov. Malloy, they started playing a video. Almost no one seems to be paying attention.
It has been a while since I live blogged a convention, but I hope to have additional updates through out the day.
UPDATE 6:10 - I streamed some of Gov. Malloy's acceptance speech via Google Glass, after recharging it and then rebooting it. They are now nominating Nancy Wyman for Lt. Gov. and I'm recharging Glass a little bit more.