Initial Ponderings About Power

So far this semester, we have primarily focused our attention on introducing and defining power as an ideal, and broadly tracing some of the key political and historical developments in terms of power structures from the ancient world through the so-called Renaissance. And by the time you write this first blogpost of the semester, you also will have been exposed to some of Plato’s philosophical ideas about power and justice. For your first written homework of the semester, then, I’d like you to build on this early work, while also starting to make some connections to things we will be covering in the coming weeks. To do this, you are going to respond to three question sets, which are designed to get you to think critically about some key elements of power, past and present. Below are the three question clusters you should answer carefully and thoughtfully, through (at least) a well-crafted, detailed paragraph per section. Your blogposts are due before classtime on 9/18, and I look forward to reading your responses, and learning more about you as a result!

1)  The first two full class sessions were designed to introduce two key concepts for us this semester:  power and critical thinking.  And then we spent a day covering a broad overview of various historical and political systems and structures of power.  As you think back to those classes, I want you to reflect on them and consider what you learned. What is it that seems most important to you from those early days in class? Why so? How might you use/apply this learning to the rest of our semester’s work (if not your work in other classes or other social environments)?

2)  Now that you have a better basic sense of just what power IS, I’d like you to offer some thoughts about how it is manifest in your own life. On one hand, what are some of the ways in which you, as an individual, have power? And why is this so important to your life, your own well-being and prosperity? On the other hand, what are some key ways in which you are disenfranchised in American society, or at least relatively powerless? How does this lack of power make you feel, and what might be done about it (personally, locally, or globally)?

3)  For class today you will be examining brief excerpts from Plato’s Republic – a monument of Greek philosophy and world literature. The main focus of these passages is the topic of justice, a premise that is varied and complex. To explore the theme of justice in the Republic, I would like you to do two things in this section of your blogpost. First, I’d like you to select a single passage from the Republic that you find to be interesting, provocative, or somehow problematic as it relates to the topic of justice. Then, you should analyze the passage itself and try to place it within its historical context.  How does this statement fit within Plato’s broader discussion of justice and power, and how does it fit within the political and intellectual climate of ancient Athens? Secondly, what do you think about the viewpoint at hand concerning justice, and why? One way to answer this question would be to consider Plato’s reasoning, and then provide a modern-day example as a test-case. What does your example show us about justice (or lack thereof) in the face of social controversy, and how does it illustrate your own view of justice? What might Plato have to say about your example?

Surf Music Analysis

Education commentator John Taylor Gatto has asserted that “Close reading of tough-minded writing is still the best, cheapest, and quickest method known for learning to think for yourself.” It is with such a premise in mind that we want you to complete this final Blogpost of the semester. The topic of your Blogpost will be a specific piece of surf music (in other words, a song – probably one chosen from our class material from last Thursday). Critical thinking is varied thinking, and in that spirit we want you to conduct a three-part analysis of your chosen song, which will require you to practice and apply separate, but equally important, intellectual skills.

Part One – Summary: Listen to your chosen song several times, and take a look at the lyrics online. Then, summarize it by briefly telling its surf-related story. What, in general, is the song about? The answer to that question should not be an interpretation, but a short explanation of the contents of the song. To help write this summary, you could possibly consider working with/using the 5Ws and H idea made famous by journalists (who, what, where, when, why, how).

Part Two – Synthesis:  To synthesize means to combine or connect, and in this section we want you to synthesize the contents of your piece of surf music with key ideas and premises that we have covered so far this semester.  Put another way, we want you to draw specific connections between your chosen song and specific social, historical, scientific, commercial, or political topics that we have covered in class this spring.  How does your song relate to our coursework, and what do these connections highlight or reveal to us as “consumers” of surf culture?

Part Three – Interpretation: We usually think of music in terms of its entertainment value, but the fact is that music – especially music with lyrics – is deeply meaningful, much like literature. And in this section, we want you to analyze and interpret the meaning of your chosen song. To do so, you must break down the song’s lyrics and focus on specific details that might have deeper significance. Therefore, you might take
into consideration such things as: the “theme” of the song; the historical, cultural, and technological context of the music; the songwriter’s background and experience; the genre of the music and its importance; the implications of key images, words, metaphors, or other minute details found in the lyrics. Reflecting on these details, what does your song “mean,” and/or what does it say about surfing and its place(s) in society?

On Scientific Developments in Surfing (etc.)

For our next Blogpost, you will have several options to choose from.  The main idea here is to riff a little on some of the material we’re covering during Unit Two (on the science and technology of surfing).  But we also wanted to give you the chance to back up a little and talk about a really key element of our course that we haven’t done much with during classtime:  our fieldtrip to the New Jersey Surf Museum at Tuckerton.  All told, then, you should let your thoughts go and see what there is to see with regards to TWO of three topic options.  For each topic you choose to tackle, you should write a paragraph — so, two total paragraphs is the goal. 

Here are the three topic options that you might choose from:  1)  Follow up on our class fieldtrip.  What do you remember most?  What did you learn?  How did it help to illustrate or raise additional questions about stuff we have been doing in class?  2)  Address the age-old question of whether shaping is truly an “artform.”  You might consider such things as:  Is board shaping really an “art”?  Why or why not?  And who cares if it is “artistic” or not – what difference does it make? Is it “wrong” somehow to ride a mass-produced surfboard?  3)  For your final option, you should consider the controversial “Surf Ranch”.  What do you think of Kelly Slater’s famous man-made wave (and others like it)?  Is this technological development the latest, greatest example that surfing today has “lost it soul”, or does it represent an ingenious example of forward progress? 

On the Historical Growth, Globalization, and Politicization of Surfing

Since your first Blogpost of the semester, our class has covered a lot of historical territory (literally and figuratively speaking). This second Blogpost is designed to encourage you to think more about key aspects of that history, and to view it in a new and different light. It is also aimed to invite you to think visually a bit, something you will be doing soon for your first Middle Stakes writing of the semester (due the following week). For this Blogpost, then, you will bridge the past and the present, and think historically and visually, by doing the following:

1) Pick two historical topics covered since our last Blog that you think are interesting/important. You may choose from the following list, subjects which you may want/need to narrow a bit in order to have something thoughtful to say about them: Alexander Hume Ford, the Outrigger Club, Duke Kahanamoku, the Hui Nalu Club, the “Massie affair,” surfing & Apartheid, Tom Carroll, California’s “surf Nazis”, Aboriginal surfers, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, South China Sea Surf Club, Michael February, or Surfers 4 Peace.

2) Write at least one robust paragraph about both of the historical topics you choose (so, two paragraphs minimum). In each paragraph, you should explore the meaning and broader significance of your subject, and draw some conclusions about it in terms of the history of surfing. To do so, you must offer: a) A quotation that somehow encapsulates and addresses your subject. You should not only find and present this quote, but somehow use and interrogate it in your discussion. b) An image or video that represents your subject. You can offer us this simply by providing a link. Then, here again, you should tell us what is notable about that image, and discuss how/why it illustrates key issues related to your topic(s) and its role in the history of surfing.

Thoughts About the Birth, “Death,” and Rebirth of Surfing

‘Surfing and Society’ is a course that will deeply explore the history, politics, and development of surfing in America, and beyond. So far, our class has focused on the development and early history of surfing, and for your first Blogpost of the semester you will be asked to do a few (relatively) simple things to get you thinking about the assigned reading for 1/30, and ways in which it connects up to what we did in the previous two classes. For this initial trial run, there are three options for you to choose from, and you should choose two of these prompts and respond to them (with your writing amounting to at least two robust paragraphs overall):

1)  One of the very first things we did on our first day together was define and discuss “the stoke.” For this option, you should apply your notions of “the stoke” to one of our recent readings. It would certainly be sensible to articulate how “the stoke” is seen, articulated, and examined in one of the literary/historical accounts we have read so far (by Captain Cook, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and Jack London). But if you would like to apply this premise to a historical event or colonial topic mentioned in ‘The World in the Curl’ instead, that would be fine.  Whatever text or topic you wish to discuss, you should explain where and how “the stoke” is seen, and why this particular reference serves as an important and illuminating example of the early history of surfing.

2) The four historical/literary texts listed above (by Cook, Melville, Twain, and London) are fun and quirky and provide an interesting window into the premodern world of surfing. But there is a darkness lurking beneath the surface when it is realized that they are also products of colonialist expansion and exploitation in Hawaii, and the islands nearby. For this option, then, you should choose one of these works and consider it as a kind of political document, a text about war and peace, kingship and rule, imperialism, xenophobic hatred, and so on. To do so, you should focus on a particular passage where issues of power and authority are quietly at issue. How does your chosen passage bring to the page such notions as violence, religion, hatred, justice, misunderstanding, authority, and/or negotiation? Place the passage specifically within the colonial context of the day, consider its meaning and significance, and by all means free to offer some thoughts about what YOU think about the topic, text, and theme in question.

3) An important intellectual skill is comparison, and in fact one of the things we will do frequently in class is compare ideas, sources, places, and people from the broad culture of surfing. So for the third and final option, you might do some comparing and contrasting and see what comes of it. For example, you might compare and contrast such things as: Christian missionaries vs. Hawaiian religious leaders; native surfers vs. the white settler population; the morals of Polynesians vs. the morals of tourists; the US government vs. Hawaiian kings; surfing in Hawaii in the early twentieth century vs. surfing in California and other mainland locales; and/or premodern surf techniques and ideals vs. the “modern” notions of the sport that arose in the United States. Whatever topics or ideas you choose to compare, your paragraph should articulate some of the notable similarities and differences but, more to the point, what is learned through the comparison. What does your comparison reveal about early surfers and the rise, “death,” and rebirth of surfing?

It will be very interesting to see what you all have to offer in this first Blogpost of the semester!!

On Pliny the Elder and the Monstrous (Natural) History of the “Plinian Races”

For students in my ‘Meaning of Monsters’ course, the time has come for your
first Blogpost of the semester. In this initial trial run, I want you to do a
few simple things to get you thinking about the assigned reading for 1/30, and
also to do some additional work with the important “monster theory” of Jeffrey
Jerome Cohen.  More specifically, I’d like you to do two specific things
(which should amount to at least two robust paragraphs overall):

1)  In his chapter on “The Plinian Races,” John Block Friedman makes
some interesting comments about the (supposed) monsters of the ancient world,
particularly from the perspective of the Greeks.  He includes a variety of
examples of human groups (from India and Ethiopia) who are (mis)understood by
ancient authors as having mysterious, monstrous qualities.  He also offers
some analysis of these beings, and draws some interesting conclusions about
them.  For part one of your Blogpost, then, I’d simply like you to offer a
specific quotation from Friedman’s discussion that you feel is especially
interesting or important.  Then, discuss it by explaining what you find so
intriguing about your chosen quote?  Why does it seem so noteworthy as a
window into the culture (and monsters) of ancient Greece and Rome (or India and
Ethiopia)?

2)  For part two of your response, I’d like to do a bit more work with Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s crucially important essay “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”. Here, I’d like you to apply ONE of Cohen’s theses to ONE monster outlined by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History. If you apply and use Cohen’s ideas as a way to explore or understand Pliny’s varied discussion of monsters found both on land and in the oceans, what
connections or ideas arise by using Cohen’s model? The point here is to
further enhance your understanding of Cohen’s complex essay by working closely with it and using it to help you understand another complex piece of monstrous writing.

I’ll be curious to see what you all have to say for this first Blogpost of
the semester!!

On Single Stories and Master Narratives

In this Blog post, I want you to practice “reading between the lines” by analyzing crucial, controversial material that is NOT found in a particular story of your choosing.  Specifically, you are to write 2 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis on the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow pointedly from Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk), OR two paragraphs on the related issue of “master narratives” (as outlined by Derrick Aldridge in the article assigned for this dat). 

For your topic, then, I want you to respond to either the TedTalk by Adichie, OR the article by Aldridge.  So, you will either present an alternative “single story”, or a different “master narrative” told by historians about notable figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. (the focus of Aldridge’s article).  If you want to respond to Adichie, I want you to pick out a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  If you want to respond to Aldridge, you should locate an account of a notable historical figure, and then see how that figure is shaped, framed, limited, or idealized into a simplified “master narrative.” 

Because the goal is to use and build on the ideas of (one of) these writers,
you might very well quote them and use their ideas in your analysis, as you
explore the ways in that historical and cultural stories often create “stereotypes,
and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are
incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (as Adichie mentions in
her lecture).  So, in looking at your chosen “single story” or “master
narrative”, you might ask/answer the following questions (in some way):
 What other stories are there but do not get
told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your
chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are
the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the
“reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society, political idea, or
historical personage in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you
“read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is
seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??
 To answer these questions may well require a bit of research, and the key
is to bring some intellectual nuance to an overly-simplified “story”
that will, in the process, allow your reader to more fully see the “big
picture” in regards to the situation in question.

‘Factfulness’ and the Freshman Convocation Lecture

This year’s Freshman Convocation lecture will be given by Sister Dierdre Mullan, who has served the global community in a number of notable capacities, such as working for the United Nations as Director of the Mercy Global Concern (MGC) and also as the Executive Director of the Partnership for Global Justice at the UN.  She is one of the founding members of the NGO The Mercy Girl Effect, and in recent years she has worked with UNICEF, focusing on childrens’ and girls’ education.  Based on her considerable experience, Sister Mullan is well-positioned to speak about key global crises and, specifically, to enlighten us further about some of the major topics covered by Hans Rosling in Factfulness. In this Blog post I’d like you to draw connections between Sister Mullan’s lecture and the book itself.  And just as importantly, please offer a response that comments on Sister Mullan’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation event (on Thursday, Sept. 26th).  You might tell us, what did the speaker say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about her lecture, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of your FRST 1002 class?  Also, what was invigorating about the entire Freshman Convocation event?  Why?  We are lucky to have Sister Mullan coming to speak with us this week, and I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about her presentation! 

On Language, Images, and “Reality”

For this Blogpost, I want you to consider the ways in which the language we use shapes the way we think and, in turn, I’d like you to ponder the deeper “truths” of an image of your choosing.  So, to practice both types of applied critical thinking, I want you to write a thoughtful Blogpost that is at least two paragraphs long.  Your first paragraph(s) should tackle the issue of language and reality, and the second paragraph(s) should address the “reality” of a particular image.  More specifically, here is what you should do for both parts:

Part One:  For this section, I want you to demonstrate that language does indeed serve to limit and/or shape our understanding of the world.  To do so, you may well have to get a little bit creative to come up with a suitable subject, and then make sense out of it.  To choose your topic, you might take a cue from our recent readings.  Thus, your discussion might do such things as:  examine “the use of metaphor” in a specific cultural discourse; explore “the invention” of a new term for a particular social phenomenon; assess the impact of the PC “word police” on modern language; consider the controversial “meaning of a word” in a particular usage or context; comment upon the distortion of “reality” in the language of politicians; address the ways in which vagaries of legal language might impact criminal trial proceedings; compare the impact of a translation or discuss the challenges of “code-switching” for a second-language speaker.  Once you have chosen your topic, your job is to illustrate the linguistic phenomenon in question and draw some logical conclusions about it.  A nice way to imagine this investigation, perhaps, is to see it as “uncovering the iceberg” – going deeper to illustrate ways in which the “reality” of the world as seen in various linguistic circumstances is merely just “the tip of the iceberg” and a more complex story remains somehow “beneath the surface.”

Part Two:  In the second section of your discussion, I want you to find and examine a visual image that somehow makes an argument, and that you deem to be interesting. By “interesting,” I mean that the image/video in question should have a degree of sophistication – it should be intriguing somehow and potentially effective at (persuasively) reaching its audience.  The visual “text” you choose to examine is entirely up to you. But, here are some general ideas of the kinds of visual resources you might choose to explore: a poster, photograph, political flyer, a piece of art, public graffiti, an Instagram image or Facebook post, or a comic strip.   Once you’ve chosen your visual image, your task is to explore and explain how the image works to persuade its audience.  In other words, your brief account will “interpret” the meaning of the image and explain how that idea is conveyed.  To do so, you might consider:  what is the image arguing, and how is the image making that argument through rhetorical appeals and the careful positioning and selection of different parts and details.

On “Single Stories” and the “Realities” of Language

For your second Blog post of the semester, I want to build on our work from last class, and also look forward a bit in anticipation of our work for class on 10/17.  So, with that in mind, I would like you to put together two sections of response here, which should be at least one paragraph each.  The first section should engage with the topic of language and reality, and the second section should consider the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow deliberately from Chimamanda Adichie’s well-known TED talk). More specifically, here is what I’d like you to do in these two sections:

Part One:  In this section, I’d like you to explore one of the age-old questions of linguistics and philosophy:  How does our language shape our reality?   In order to develop your answer to this question, you should try and provide a specific example of language and “reality”.  The idea here is to address the ways in which the language we use shapes the way we think and influences the ways we understand things like race, gender, sex, politics, commercial products, and a host of other topics.  To do so, you should discuss a particular example that illustrates specific ways in which language serves to limit and/or shape our understanding of the world.  For example, you might: address “the use of metaphor” in a specific cultural discourse, consider the “invention” of a new term for a particular phenomenon, assess the impact of the PC “word police” on modern language, think about the controversial meaning of a word in a particular usage or context, comment upon the distortion of “reality” in the language of politicians, compare the challenges of “code-switching” for a second language speaker, and so on.

Part Two:  In this section, I’d like you to respond to and extend Adichie’s ideas about “single stories” by addressing a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you might want to quote her TedTalk and use her specific words and ideas in your discussion.  As Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer questions of the following type (in some way):  What other stories are there in society but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader or global citizen perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?

Stockton University Students “Visit” Station Eleven

Thursday, September 27th is the date of this year’s Freshman Convocation lecture. On that date, we are very lucky in that we will be visited by Emily St. John Mandel, the author of Station Eleven. If you are reading this post, you are probably a student in my fall Critical Thinking course, and as such you have spent a lot of time picking apart Mandel’s novel in recent classes (not to mention writing a handful of journal entries in response to the book).  In terms of this book, my hope and expectation during Unit One has been that students will read the novel, and then attend this lecture.  With that in mind, for your first Blogpost of the semester I would like you to respond to Mandel’s talk.  Specifically, I would like two paragraphs of discussion about what you saw and experienced during the Freshman Convocation.  You might consider such things as:  In the wake of this event, what stood out for you?  What did you find enjoyable (or not), and why?  What did the writer say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about her talk, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of our class?  How did this discussion enhance your understanding of Station Eleven in terms of its themes, characters, or style?  Also, looking at Mandel’s lecture critically, why do you think this kind of event is useful and important for all of you as First Year students at Stockton? Having spent so much time together reading and examining this excellent novel, I’ll be very curious to hear your thoughts about Mandel’s visit to Stockton!

Applying Adichie’s Ideas About “Single Stories”

For this Blog post, I want you to practice “reading between the lines” by analyzing crucial, controversial material that is NOT found in a particular story of your choosing.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis on the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow pointedly from Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk).  In general, the goals here are for you to:  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon Adichie’s ideas from her popular lecture; and practice your skills in critically reading a notable historical or political story – skills of the very kind you will be working with for your Unit Two projects.

With these goals in mind, here’s what I would like for you to do in your Blog post:

-For your topic, I want you to pick out a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  OR, as an alternative, if you would like to address a problematic “story” that has emerged in the world of politics in the age of Trump, that would be acceptable as well.

-Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you should quote her talk and use her specific words and ideas somewhere in your discussion.

-As Adichie says, the truth is that “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer the following questions (in some way):  What other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??  To answer these questions will likely require a bit of research, and the key is to bring some intellectual nuance to an overly-simplified “story” that will, in the process, allow your reader to more fully see the “big picture” in regards to the situation in question.

Truths about ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’

The 2017 Freshman Convocation lecture will be given by Ryan Holiday, the author of ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying.’  If you are in my Critical Thinking course, you will have spent some class time exploring some of the key ideas in the book.  If you are in my ‘Myth’ course, you will not have studied it directly, but the hope and expectation is that you have read it, since this was asked of all incoming freshmen.  In fact, Holiday’s book might actually speak in interesting ways to myths and myth-making (when seen from a twenty-first century perspective).  Whichever class you are taking, in this Blog post I want you to carefully respond to the common reading for Stockton freshmen.  Your response may do one of two things (or both!), and should be at least two paragraphs long:  1)  Offer some commentary in the wake of Holiday’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation (on Thursday the 28th ).  Tell us, what did the writer say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about his lecture, and how/why does it connect up with the themes and topics of your class?  Also, what was invigorating about the entire Freshman Convocation event?  Why?  I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about this talk!  2)  If you aren’t able to attend the lecture or would simply rather discuss the book itself, then I’d like you to do just that.  So, choose a particular moment in (or idea from) ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’ and make some insightful connections between this text and our course themes, or assigned readings.  To make these connections, you might quote from the book itself, and then discuss what Holiday seems to be saying and doing in your selected moment (relative to truth, lies, and journalism) – and why?  Also, what thoughts do YOU have about the subject – how do YOU respond to the issue(s) raised in the book based on your own knowledge or experience?

Tragedy, the Monomyth, and Stories of Creation/Destruction

This week, we are working to lay important intellectual foundations for our class by introducing the classical theories of Aristotle (on the subject of tragedy) and the recent scholarship of Joseph Campbell (on the “monomyth” and the mythical hero).  To more fully comprehend the theories in question and the first mythical stories on the syllabus – myths of creation and flood/apocalypse stories from the ancient world – I want see how you can tie them together in a very specific way.  You have two options for this exploration.  1)  In the first case, you may apply specific ideas from Aristotle’s theories of tragedy to a specific myth (assigned for Wednesday) of your choosing.  I was particularly thinking that it would be interesting to see how the plot of your chosen tale fits certain “tragic” modes (such as leading toward a “catharsis”), or to consider how the characters fit Aristotle’s ideals – especially of the “tragic hero.”  2)  On the other hand, you might work with and through key ideas from Campbell’s influential scholarship.  If, for example, you would like to explore the notion of a “monomyth,” you might compare/contrast the similarities between several of the creation tales.  Alternately, it might be interesting to think about how a given story depicts the stages of the hero’s journey according to Campbell’s terms (i.e. separation, initiation, return).   For this first Blog post of the semester, it’s all about applied critical thinking – and it will be interesting to see what kinds of intellectual connections you can make by utilizing the ideas of Aristotle or Campbell.

On the Dangers of “Single Stories”

For this Blog post, I want to build on our work from last class by “reading between the lines” and working to analyze and examine crucial, controversial material that is NOT found in a particular story of your choosing.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis on the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow deliberately from Chimamanda Adichie’s well-known TED talk).  In general, the goals here are for you to:  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon Adichie’s ideas from her popular lecture; and practice your skills in critically reading a notable historical or political story – skills of the very kind you will be using for your final writing assignment of the semester.

With these goals in mind, here’s what I would like for you to do in your Blog post:

-For your topic, I want you to pick out a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  OR, as an alternative here, if you would like to address a problematic “story” that has emerged in the wake of the controversial 2016 presidential election, that would be acceptable as well.

-Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you should quote her talk and use her specific words and ideas in your discussion.

-As Adichie says, the truth is that “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer the following questions (in some way):  What other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??  To answer these questions will likely require a bit of research, and the key is to bring some intellectual nuance to an overly-simplified “story” that will, in the process, allow your reader to more fully see the “big picture” in regards to the situation in question.

The Rhetoric of Rebellion

In recent days, we have been perusing the argumentative writing of rebellion.  To borrow the famous phrase used by one of our authors, you have been exploring influential writers who used words as a powerful form of “civil disobedience.”  For this blog post, I want you to think carefully about one of these assigned readings (by Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X).  For your post, I would like you to consider one of these works in two different ways.  First, I want you to really think long and hard about the words and written approach of your chosen author.  Why, exactly, is their writing so powerful, so engaging, so convincing?  Be as specific as you can be in considering how your writer makes their point, and makes it well.  Then, I want you to talk about your personal view of their argument.  Do you agree with their “rebellious” perspectives, and why?  How, exactly, do you feel about their “disobedient” contentions and social challenges?  In total, your Blog post should be (at least) two in-depth paragraphs long.

On “Truth”, Christopher Columbus, and MLK, Jr.

I will not be able to meet with you all on February 4th, but we can still do some vital work with regards our unit theme of “truth” – and that is precisely what I want to do through your first Blogpost of the semester.  For “class”, you are to choose one of two well-known articles to read, written by Howard Zinn and Derrick Aldridge, respectively.  Then, for your Blog post, I want you to respond and share what you found to be most striking about the “truths” illuminated in your chosen article.  Please note:  your response should be no less than two robust paragraphs in length.  If you choose to respond to the Zinn article, you might consider, for example, the question of what, exactly, the “truth” is concerning Christopher Columbus’s journey?  What are some of the main obstacles to really knowing the “truth” on this contentious subject?  Also, does Zinn’s account demonstrate that it is “inevitable” that the writing of history takes sides?  Alternately, if you choose to respond to the Aldridge article, you might explore the ways in which Martin Luther King, Jr. is characteristically (and narrowly) portrayed in the mass media, working to identify which of his ideas are most commonly communicated to the public – and to think about why he is portrayed in this way.  Furthermore, what gets lost for those who aren’t able to see beyond the “master narratives” that Aldridge describes concerning King?  For both of these articles, what are the broader implications for our perceptions of the “truth”?

“Reading” Art

Artist Francis Bacon noted directly that “Everybody has his own interpretation of a painting” and he is also quoted as saying that “I don’t believe art is available; it’s rare and curious and should be completely isolated; one is more aware of its magic the more it is isolated.” Bacon has had a famously contentious career, and his work would be a fine choice for a critical reading exercise.  A week ago in ‘Readings’ class, we spent a day analyzing and interpreting photographic images.   For this final Blog post of the semester I want to do a similar activity, or at least to practice similar skills – a focused type of reading that is especially important for some of you doing your final projects on the topic of art.   In this case, I want you to choose a favorite piece of art and “read” it, examining its various parts and details in order to “deconstruct” the artwork and make meaning out of it.  To do so, you might refer to the photography handout given to you in class, which provides a series of cues and questions you might ask when “reading” an artistic image of this kind.  For your Blog post, I want you to think critically about your chosen piece of art and “interpret” its cues as you deem fit, providing us with two detailed paragraphs of analysis and discussion.

Reading Between the Lines (or, the Dangers of Single Stories)

For this Blog post, I want you to “read between the lines” and work to analyze and examine the material that is NOT found in a story.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis, and the aim here is for you to:  1)  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon the ideas of Chimamanda Adichie in her well-known TED talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”  2)  Practice your skills in critically reading a story of your choosing – skills of the very kind you will be using for your next formal writing assignment.  With these goals in mind, here’s what I want you to do for your Blog post:  First up, I want you to pick out a narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  To borrow from Adichie’s words, in reality “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, what other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??

Interrogating Social Identity

In recent ‘Readings’ classes, we have been considering the challenges of “stereotype threat” through the ideas found in Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi. In hand with that exploration, we have been introducing the Critical Thinking concepts of ‘paradigms’ and ‘assumptions’. This Blog post is an extension of that work, and in many ways the hope is that you tie these various threads together in some way by offering up your response to your Interview and, in that response, negotiating the assumptions and paradigms at hand as well as exploring the stereotypes or “threats” felt by your interviewee.  As mentioned on the assignment sheet, your task is to explore the experience of someone with a different set of social contingencies than your own, and to report what you’ve found in an insightful way.  So, taking into consideration the additional details found on your assignment sheet, please present your interview and share your thoughts about just how we ARE all living “under a cloud” (to use Steele’s terms) as a result of our identity contingencies.