Friday, June 22, 2012

In response to the last question, "whether or not using biological or chemical weapons is any more immoral or considered a war crime, then using conventional weapons or nuclear bombs during WW2," I thought I would immediately have the correct and unequivocal answer, however, the more I thought about it the more I questioned the use of weapons and war altogether.  I have always been a pacifist and against violence in all forms.  I am a vegetarian, I never hit my kids, and I have never been in a fight in my life.  However, there is no denying that the world, especially America, is a very violent place.  Regardless of one's personal stance on violence and civil disobedience, such views will never be equally respected and left alone.  The fact is that some people will always want to take advantage of other people and will not hesitate to use violence to further their needs.  Therefore, I do support the military and understand its role and appreciate its effectiveness.  Despite this, abuses of power and wielding of massively destructive weaponry have devastated populations around the world for centuries.  It is hard to justify the use of massive firebombing, nukes, and chemical defoilage in the act of war, while condemning the use of other types of chemical and biological weapons.  The author brought up a good point of biological weapons going back as far as opposing armies catapulting diseased bodies over the walls of castle sieges.  The use of biological and chemical weapons have been used for a long time and on all side of conflict.  The point is, if the idea of war and weapons is to kill as many people as quickly as possible, then what is the difference between one kink of weapon and another.  So, to answer the question, I still don't know.  What I do know is that I oppose war and violence but realize it is a part of human nature and we must be able to defend ourselves and other innocent people.
I really enjoyed this book and I think that many high school students would enjoy reading parts of it as well.  There are definitely parts that are too technical and would surely cause some students to lose interest.  Despite that, Armageddon Science offers the opportunity for many great conversations that are concerns for many young students.  High school students are developing their own sense of politics and self identity and would naturally have questions and fears that are addressed in this book.  Specifically, the chapters concerning climate change, nuclear weapons, terrorist attacks, and robots are frequently talked about on the news and among concerned Americans.  Since they are developing their own sense of identity concerning political identity, students are sure to have valid and divergent opinions about these topics.  If they are to study political science, history, or enter into government or military work, then they will need to define their own ideas on what constitutes a threat and how to adequately deal with that threat.

I think the most recognizable threat brought up in the book is climate change.  Furthermore, this topic offers some great chances for discussion and research.  Subjects such as geography, civics, government, and history can all be addressed through climate change lessons.  Whenever an educator can combine a current topic with a similar event in the past, they should not pass up that opportunity.  Of course, lessons about nuclear bombs and WMD's are easy to have in a history class.  However, current events around the world are presenting difficult and important questions every day.  I think it is important to engage students in current events whenever possible

Armageddon Science would be a very interesting and enjoyable read for many students.  The fact that it is a little weird and presents strange topics, such as nanobots, grey goo, robots, and mad scientists would, in my opinion, draw more students to want to continue reading.  However, the teacher may want to assign specific and engaging sections so as to avoid any possible boredom with too much technical jargon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

This weeks reading was hard for me to engage with.  I completely understand why celebrity culture has reached the level it has and I do not fault anyone for being mesmerized with it, especially since the latest trend is that anyone can become a celebrity.  The notion of a Democratic Celebrity is appealing to many and as long as they can see that it does work for some people, the legitimacy of such a notion is enhanced.  However, I personally do not participate in most of the media culture.  When I was 16 years old, my family suffered a major catastrophe and I ended up couch surfing for a few months before I was able to find a stable place to live by myself and start a new high school.  Because of my situation, I worked several jobs to take care of my bills and keep a house and car.  One luxury that I quickly discarded was my t.v. and I have not had cable since.  Luckily for me, my wife grew up in a t.v. less household so we just continued the tradition.  I like t.v. and I know I could find interesting and entertaining shows to watch but since I do not have the option, I am not tempted and therefore I have avoided the reality t.v. phenomenon.  Let me be clear though, we do have a t.v. just not cable.  We get a few PBS channels, fox, CBS, and ABC for free.  Therefore, I can see the impact that it has on my kids.  They do like the shows that define celebrity culture, they listen to popular music, and they are quite adept at the Internet.  However, when I see them watching particular programs, if I hear something that is not entirely true, or aggressive advertising, I explain what is happening and how media tries to influence consumers. 

In addition to parents keeping a close eye and explaining the various aspects of media celebrity, it is very important for teachers to understand what their students are watching and who the majority role models are.  Even though I admit that I purposefully avoid most t.v., movies, and Internet crazes, I do know what is happening and probably have a better understanding then most people who actively participate in the culture.  The method I use to stay abreast is through reading newspapers, magazines, and listening to NPR.  Even though I don't actively engage with celebrity culture, I know what is going on and most importantly, I understand the background information and business side of it.  It is important for educators to know what their students are interested in so that they can relate and engage with them.  If students think their teachers are dinosaurs, then they will not fell as welcome in the classroom.  Lastly, it educators can use popular culture to their advantage in lesson plans and discussions.  Therefore, it is possible to disengage from celebrity culture but still understand what is happening and use it to one's advantage.
To answer question # 2, I definitely believe that technology is one of the biggest reasons for American obsession with celebrities.  However, it must be a part of human nature for people to be so consumed with celebrity gossip and cult of personality worship.  Although there is no denying that technology was the catalyst for this hyper-level of celebrity news, gossip, and fascination, I don't think it is fair to blame consumer products for what goes on in someone's head.  People for thousands of years have worshiped different types of celebrities, usually kings, philosophers, musicians, and warriors. The level of consumption and universal knowledge of celebrity is no doubt related to the global aspect of the Internet, cell phones, T.V., and many other devices that allow people instant access to news.  In pre-industrial times, celebrity worship and discussion was more localized and notoriety tended to take much longer to rise, whereas in today's society, one can become famous almost overnight.  Again, I don't blame technology for why people are so interested in celebrities, but it is the main reason for why it has reached a level never seen before on a global level.

It appears that the Internet, media, t.v., radio, newsprint, and any other forms of consumer interface with celebrities, consumers, and businesses have reached an incredible level of interdependence that relies on each other and uses every tool necessary to keep the system going.  Having access to so much new technology that allows people to instantly talk about something, send the clip or picture of what they were talking about, and then blog about it to everyone else, has created an endless loop of celebrity feedback that is exactly what the celebrities, media, and businesses want.  Although I don't think there is anything wrong with this, it does appear that many people are wasting a lot of time discussing the lives of someone else rather then trying to improve their own lives.  Lastly, I think it is important for adolescents to understand the hidden story of celebrity culture and appreciate that, despite the myth of anyone can be a celebrity, the likelihood is still miniscule.  Moreover, I doubt the authenticity of most reality shows, talk shows, court t.v., and many of the other media hits.  Just as people were shocked with the 10,000 $ pyramid scandal decades ago, I think news of fake shows and scripted reality will become more open and the high level of celebrity fascination will start to fall.  Or, it might turn into a nightmare scenario where it gets even worse and people start to live most of their lives online and the line between reality and fiction is impossible to discern.

Friday, June 8, 2012

In response to question # 3, judging by the discussion on Tuesday, I found myself in the minority in regard to this question.  Most people agreed that these companies with MIT engineers and PhD workers were indeed wasting their talent and contributing nothing to the greater good of the world.  However, I disagree.  First of all, who are we to tell others what they can do with their creative energy and capital that they worked very hard to achieve.  I think that maybe a sense of jealousy has clouded people's judgement.  If the roles were reversed, and they spent so much time in school and developing their abilities, they would not want to be told how they can use their knowledge.  Of course the examples of wasteful applications used were ridiculous and indeed useless, the beauty of capitalism is that if their is a market for it, people can provide what is wanted and make money.  I don't begrudge anyone for making money, as long as it is moral and doesn't hurt anyone.  As Milton Friedman said in his 1980 special about technology, capitalism, and the effects of each on the world, " The creation of products and the market demands for such products have done more to uplift people out of poverty then any government program created to do the same."  Even though such seemingly useless applications appear to do little to help the world, there are hidden benefits that effects that may not be apparent.  I know this trickle down theory is hotly debated, but I think we can agree that the freedom to create whatever one desires is preferable to being told that what you created is not desirable and you have to follow intellectual guidelines.  Eventually developing a "juvenile sense of financial gain instead of a greater investment in human history," will have a positive effect on human history.  The more people who create wealth will do more to uplift others out of poverty then developing an online application that is intellectually more stimulating than a kitten stuck in a jar or babies in a bathtub.
You are not a gadget is a great title. I enjoyed many aspects of this work as well as most of the points outlined and addressed concerning the over use and dependence on technology.  Although I am one of the least active members of the technological world and social community then most people my age, I do not restrict my access out of fear or concern that it is destroying our ability to conduct our lives without its use.  I am not pessimistic about its use, however, I firmly believe that educators, parents, and mentors should use technology to its best abilites but also teach its limitations, opportunities for abuse, and ways to avoid the negative effects that inevitably arise with any new technology.

I recently saw an excellent program, of course it was on PBS, about technology, capitalism, and culture.  The program highlighted how each has revolutionized the world but with each advance came negative side effects or by-products.  I viewed this book in much the same light.  I kept thinking about the parallels with this book and the episode entitled "Civilization".  With each great advancement, the world has been revolutionized and billions of people have had their lives transformed.  The advancements and innovations that are created help uplift millions out of poverty and improve the health and well being of many.  Of course with anything, especially if money is involved, the chance for abuse, greed, and inequality is a concern, but I believe the good outweighs the bad, we just need to be vigilant and hope that morality overcomes greed.

Many of my colleagues, through the discussion and their blog posts, mentioned many of the same sentiments, however, I'm not sure how much they appreciate the world wide implications that technology has.  Although most people in the U.S, especially teens, would consider the outage of internet, phones, and other devices to be devastating, the truth is that they would be fine.  The loss of technology would be an inconvience but not life threatening.  However, for some in the world, it could have devastating affects on people.  If people lost their phone access in our country, there is still plenty they could do to keep in touch and most likely it would not put their life in jeopoadry.  Such a loss would be merely an inconviencThink about the Arab spring uprisings.  Technology played such an important part in instigating, organizing, and protecting the members of the uprising.  How the Arab spring turns out is yet to be determined, but there is no doubt that its effects were tremendous and changed the lives of millions.  That is much more important and transformational than simply not being able to text or post to face book.  Another example is my friends in Jamaica.  I know a family of nine that live on the top of mountain, deep in Westmoreland Parish.  A simple cell phone is essential to their daily lives.  They have no electricity, water, or any of the simple comforts that most people take for granted.  However, they do have access to cell phones and use it in many ways that help them to earn a living and get rides for their kids to school or to the market for food.  Most importantly, almost everyone on the mountain also has a cellphone and since they live in the country, they pretty much know everyone else in the hills.  The police and army are particularly corrupt and abusive to many of the poor farmers and families.  The cell phone is a life line to them.  As soon as the police or army pulls onto the one way mountain road, the first person to spot them starts a chain call that alerts everyone to be careful and get out of the way.  Most Americans cannot fathom or even bother to think about what life is like in countries like the Middle East or Jamaica and how a simple cellphone, one that they wouldn't be caught dead with, could actually save lives.

I kind of went off topic a little but I wanted to point out that despite any negative side effects of dependence on technology, people living in economic and political comfort do not appreciate the role technology can play in making life easier and safer.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Question:  How does geography play a role in America's continous use of the death penalty? How do state and local issues, values, and circumstances affect whether or not a state adopts pro or anti-death penalty legislation?

In response to this question, I found the chart that listed the various states and the distribution of death penalty convictions and executions very helpful.  However, I took a different stance than many of the other opinions I read on various classmate's blogs.  Although there is no denying that the south has a considerably higher percentage and amount of convictions and executions, I do not believe the reason to be correlated with a rural vs. urban environment.  Texas stands out as the toughest state in the union.  While it is true that Texas is a huge state with many rural and conservative areas, the majority of the crime and convictions come from the big cities of Houston, Dallas, Fort-Worth, and the border areas.  Therefore, I am convinced that the social structures and poverty of cities has much more to do with rates of death penalty cases then a belief that racist, bible thumping, and confederate yokels are conspiring to murder black and Latino men.  However, I do not deny that there are people like that out there, but the good old days of mob justice and lynchings in the rural south are thankfully over.  

Growing up in the Northeastern states of P.A. and N.J, I witnessed much higher levels of crime then what I have seen in Florida.  Of course there are some very dangerous places in Miami, Jacksonville, and Tampa, but it doesn't compare to Philly, Newark, D.C., and New York.  The primary difference in relation to the death penalty is that these states are much more liberal and do not implement the death penalty nearly as much and is abolished in some.  Therefore, I would argue that conservatism vs. liberalism is more a factor in death penalty statistics then rural/southern vs. other geographic regions. Another example is California.  Although California has the largest amount of people on death row, the actual numbers of people being executed is much lower then other states.  California has some of the largest cities and being a border state, is also dealing with many of the same issues as Texas,  So why do they have less people being executed?  I believe they are conflicted with high crime vs. liberal ideology.  California is willing to act tough on crime and therefore convict many people of capital offenses but are hesitant to actually follow through and enter the ranks of Texas and Florida. 

Lastly, the argument that geography plays an important role in how people react to crime, i.e.  Northeast and Midwest cities are used to crime and De-sensitized  doesn't explain why Southern states with large rural areas are more likely to have high death penalty cases compared to many other states in our Union with large rural areas but with little to no executions.  One thing that is factual across our country is that are justice system needs to have serious and in-depth studies to determine why so many people, especially minorities are being persecuted and offered little legal help in their fight for justice.
This book is a goldmine of controversial topics that can be discussed in a classroom.  Of course, as with any such topic, varying and strong opinions will surface in the class.  While I am still considering my method of disclosure, a teacher's role as a facilitator of discussions is unquestionable.  I think disclosure may be dependent on the situation and the environment.  For this situation, I am firmly against the death penalty.  Moreover, the book raised many excellent questions and after thoughtful consideration, I believe this could be used effectively in a government or civic classroom.  First, there is no denying the racial and socioeconomic discrepancy that persists within the justice system at large, but even more so in death penalty cases.  For far too long, our country has demonized and marginalized minority populations.  Our prisons are unfairly stacked with such people despite their much lower proportion to our population.  There are many reasons why this is so, however, in response to this book, they are being unfairly targeted by the justice system, media, and society.  Because of this attitude and extra attention, they unfortunately make up the majority of death row inmates.  I firmly believe that many Americans think that the reason so many minority men are on death row is due to their culture, genetics, and upbringing.  Unfortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth.  The primary reason for such statistics are related to public attitude, governmental programs, societal segregation, and lack of opportunities that force self fulfilling prophecies. 

A major theme that kept surfacing was the relation of our country to others that implement the death penalty.  The United States is in some very bad company.  Besides our prison population being the highest in the world, our death penalty cases are equally high.  What does it say about our society when we are at the top of the list with countries like China, Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia?  One issue that kept getting raised was that we are one of the few Christian countries that still implement the death penalty, I find that equally troubling.  What do we need to learn or experience to come to the same realizations as so many other Christian nations?  I am not of any a particular faith, but I have been a student of world religions since my teenage years and this issue is a paradox that is hard to explain. 

Lastly, I am glad that so many of my colleagues had brought up valid and thoughtful questions and viewpoints during the discussion.  That was exactly the type of discussion that I hope to foster in my classroom.  With the right topic, environment, and preparation, meaningful discussions can take place and educators should not shy away from such issues.

Friday, May 25, 2012

In critiquing one of the learning objects that Jason, Gary, and Louis created I must say they did an excellent job with the power point/ timeline of events from the financial crises.  The timeline was very detailed, informative, and followed a sequence that was easy to understand.  I believe they did a good job of narrowing the most important topics of a very dense subject to its most relevant points. The pictures and images were nicely chosen and really added to the presentation.  The only criticism that I have regards the amount of text on the slides.  Some of the slides would be a bit much for students to follow.  In my experience, whatever you put up on a slide or board, students will desperately try to scribble everything down, even if you tell them they do not have too.  They will beg for more time on each slide and it would probably take 2-3 classes to get through such a dense subject.  However for our purposes, the power point was very well down and I appreciated the abbreviated version of the book.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

part 2
     In response to question #1, "What potential long term problems could you imagine coming as a result of this financial vehicle." i.e. mortgage-backed securities.
         I don't really see a problem with the idea of the mortgage backed securities or would I have imagined any potential long term problems had I been in the business 30 years ago and helped develop them.  The stock market has always had financial products exactly like this for many years, even going back to the beginings of stock markets in Europe hundreds of years ago.  The problem that caused the collapse and crises was that people and financial institutions were investing in these funds thinking that they were safe because they were essentially backed by the U.S. government.  This would have been fine had the executives not allowed for the sub-prime boom.  Far too many people were given loans that everyone knew they were not qualified to get. However, the investors did not know this was happening or they would have re-assessed the risk involved with these funds.  One reason the housing market got out of hand was because of the massive investment and speculation during the 1990's.  I remember reading many books in the latter part of the decade proclaiming how I could become a millionaire with virtually no investment money or risk, simply by buying houses with no money down and flipping them.  I was hooked and read endlessly about financial advice, housing and stock markets, and many of the endless amount of get rich quick books around at the time.  I still have some of them and occassionaly laugh at how ridiculous the advice and strategies were, almost all of them are obsolete in their advice.  That time period is over, however, people will find other means of get rich quick schemes legal or not.  However, the basic premise of the mortgage backed securities are fine with me.  Retirement accounts, 401 K's, and many government programs are set up in similar fashion.  The importance in safety comes in diversification and the people who suffered the most in this crises were the individuals who ended up with foreclosed homes because they feel victim to predatory lenders or lost their jobs because of downsizing from the fallout.  The major investment firms were diversified and the top executives left with millions of dollars.  As usual, it was the little guy who got the shaft. Hopefully people will realize that they are ultimately responsible for the choices they make, and need to realistically judge their ability to repay a loan.
Part 1:
           I was fascinated with the interview that the author did on CNN. It was very informative but also depressing because there were so many warning signs that could have prevented the catastrophe.  In a previous interview in 2005, Mrs. McLean stated that she feared the corporate culture was corrupted by an attitude of get rich quick and get out  I definitely agree with that mindset.  Instead of instilling an attitude of good stewardship of a company and the people who work there, many top executives and CEO's of companies seem to do business in a way that maximizes their stock options, retirement bonuses, and that of the top shareholders.  As long as the stock of the company is doing well and quarterly earnings are being met, any underlining problems at the company as far as long term longevity or the stability of jobs for the lower level workers are ignored.  With the collapse of Enron and World Com, many of the problems that surfaced at Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and major Wall  Street companies had already been revealed with those two failures and the massive fallout for employees and investors. 
          What made Fannie and Freddie so difficult to understand and foresee was that the top executives and officers were largely unknown.  There was a shroud of secrecy and very little oversight.  To complicate matters even more, the top executives were a mix of people from many different backgrounds, including government appointments.  Furthermore, they operated with a false sense of security since they were essentially backed by the U.S. government.  Surprisingly, the author mentioned that Fannie and Freddie are still the only companies that can still sell bundled mortgages.  Since very few private lenders or banks are willing to underwrite a loan, there is no choice but to go through  Fannie and Freddie. An essential question still persists with these companies; are they there to make money for shareholders or are they commissioned to support the housing market?  Lastly, an interesting paradox of this crises was that many of the "too big to fail firms," got even bigger as a result of the government bailout. Will this all happen again? I really hope not, Americans desperately need a reversal of the economy.  In some respects, we are turning into a third world economic status with the gap between the rich and poor growing wider every year.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The reading from Susan Cramer, "Update your classroom with learning objectives and 21st century skills," was a refreshing  validation of technological use that I am excited to use in my classroom.  Every new generation will become more adept and comfortable with using technology. As teachers, we need to harness their abilities and use that to our advantage.  Furthermore, many of the learning objects, lessons, web quests, and research projects enable the students to employ many skills in order to complete the project.  Furthermore, the opportunity for students to create the content and teach their peers what they have learned will ensure that they have a better grasp of the content. Whenever, students teach what they have learned, then they are at the pinnacle of Blooms taxonomy of knowledge retention. Moreover, using learning objects online will allow for teachers to present their students will materials and viewpoints that are often ignored in textbooks.  The only problem I envision is universal and equal access to the equipment needed to complete the projects.  One part of the her argument that I really liked was Mrs. Cramer's insistence that if the technology does not exist or permission is not granted then teachers should go to the principal and plead their case, after all it is the principals job to facilitate the needs of teachers and students to do their best.  Students really appreciate the change of instructional methods and since they are familiar with technology, this is a logical way to inspire their participation and interest.  However it is important to not replace teaching with the use of technology but to use technology to facilitate and encourage students to explore the learning opportunities available. 

 The article on teaching social issues had some great ideas on group discussion models.  Some of these I have used in my class and many others I will use in the future.  I never was afraid to discuss controversial issues and use non traditional methods when teaching.  The authors give some valid advice which is critical to the peaceful and considerate implementation of a discussion.  For instance, the classroom must be a safe place for students to freely express their opinion without the fear of being yelled down or ridiculed.  Moreover, the discussion should promote fairness, critical thinking shills, learning oral expression shills, listening skills, and the promotion of the democratic process.  In order for this to occur, teachers must put a lot of pre-work into setting up the classroom and the activity.  It may seem easy to just "talk" but organizing a discussion, debate, circle, fishbowl, etc... requires a tremendous amount of preparation.  Most importantly, to engage the students interest and desire to participate, topics and group work must be relevant to the kids and be a topic that they can relate to and will excite them to participate.  If no one cares about the topic, the discussion will go nowhere and it will be very boring will little learning taking place.  However, despite the amount of prep work and difficulty finding relevant topics may seem like a lot of work. Teachers will miss out on tremendous amounts of discussion opportunities and will lose a chance to learn about the viewpoints of their kids that they would have never have known otherwise.  Many of the strategies presented in this article I am familiar with but have not had the chance to implement them.  I can't wait to get started.

Brad Lavan