A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

April 18, 2009

The March of States Towards Gay Marriage

A thoughtful and sane analyis, written by Froma Harrop, of current trends of states legalizing (or normalizing) marriage between gay partners appeared in the Providence Journal.

In this article she posted many of the changes which have occured recently. 

She reported:  “The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a ban on same-sex marriage, providing a toehold in the heartland. And the Vermont Legislature legalized gay marriage, marking the first time that elected lawmakers, rather than state judges, initiated such change.”

This latter development is important and it is well that Harrop notes this.  While one may agree or disagree regarding gay marriage, the legislature making the move, rather than judges making a decision is an important step in this process.  Legislators are elected and can be held accountable.  The move towards democratization of the process is a positive step as the representatives of the people are in fact, doing their job.

She later wrote:
“There’s much to be said for letting states settle the question of gay marriage, one step and one jurisdiction at a time. This pragmatic approach does not always sit well with gay rights activists. They consider marriage a basic human right that should not be honored in one place and abridged in another.”

This is also true.  There is a deep divide whether marriage is a right, and one that the need for licensure seems to give weight that it is not an inherent right.  While one has a right say to free speech, they would have to obtain a license to exercise that free speech in certain conditions.  The same is true for heterosexual couples as for homosexual couples.  The states have statutory authority to restrict or grant licenses, and the people have a right via the legislature to express their voice.  Granting the rights of legal status are not analogous of limiting exercise of property rights, visitation rights, and expansion of benefits of employment, public housing and services etc. to homosexual couples.  Many gay activists understandably wish for the process to be expedited, but this is not in their long term interests.  Roe v Wade is still not accepted by large parts of the nation, and as Harrop reports, is still looked on unfavorably from a Constitutional vantage point by many “Pro-Choice” legal experts.   In the end states will make this decision, and for all parties this is the best remedy.  States are closer to the people and in that view are more democratic than federal interventions. 

Harrop also reports on the changing of cultural norms:

In a poll done shortly after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court threw out the ban on same-sex marriages, over half those residents surveyed said they wanted a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between one man and one woman. But a poll taken three years later found that 56 percent of the Massachusetts respondents would oppose such an amendment.

What happened in Massachusetts? Gay marriage had become legal, and the sky hadn’t fallen in.  People got used to the idea.

The strongest ally for homosexual partners who wish to become legally married is the changing of cultural perspectives on the norms of human relationships and sexuality.  Harrop does not report about another factor that leads to shifts in cultural norms and mores, the role of the media.  Right or wrong the media has framed homosexual relationships in positive light or at the very least in neutral lights.  This along with homosexuals become more visible and vocal in society has lead to the formation of new cultural perspectives regarding this aspect of human sexuality.  Younger people are more attuned to viewing homosexuality as an alternate form of human sexuality and not an aberrant or discrepant form of sexual expression.  The media has played a large part in this normalization process, and an occlusion of the old paradigm has coalesced with the formation of a newer paradigm. 

There is also the perception among many that this issue is a human rights issue.  Once that perception becomes the reality, in a democracy the outcome is inevitably going to side with the group that is seeking a rise in their status to acceptance.  This is not inherently a bad thing; while for some it may be emotionally painful.  It is merely the reshaping of the norms of a society and has happened throughout history.  Of course many will reply that homosexuality is the bane of a powerful culture and a sure sign its demise is imminent.  That is a ludicrous proposition based on emotion and not fact.  Homosexuality was practiced by segments of society that were rather formidable in history.  Cultures decline for other reasons, usually economic and military, apart from the practices of people regarding their sexual choices.

Harrop correctly concludes that the “straight path” to change is often not as beneficial as the slow steady road that this issue seems to be taking in American society.

Media and Framing of Culture

This is a paper I authored analyzing an an ethnographic study performed concerning the media and cultural occlusion vis a vis The Vietnam War.

This paper is the intellectual property of the author and may not be utilized in any form without proper citations and/or permission of the author.

The Media as a Framer of Cultural Norms

 

            In society today, as well as in the past, there is a constant shifting of oppositional positions.  One of the major functions of the media is to inform the general public of the relevant issues which are parties to the constant stir in the social and political realm.  The media – whether in book, radio, television, daily publication, movies, and most recently in electronic weblogs (blogs) – serve a dual purpose in society as a reporter of the events, and also as a framer of the discussion regarding those events.  Media can by the sheer volume of their voice call attention to or occlude reality, and thereby frame a discussion or limit discussion by eliminating it from the public discourse.  A common perception is that the mass media is a vital player in the framer of societal norms, values within a culture which supersedes the framing role of the educational system, family system, and the political system.

            How the media frames a cultural curriculum was the topic of a study (Wineburg, Mosborg, Porat, Duncan; 2004) performed concerning generational perceptions of the Vietnam War, and whether the history represented by the media formed a “collective memory”.  The study posed to answer the question how media and popular culture frame historical knowledge and how it is transmitted across generations. 

Over a course of 30 months, 30 members of 15 families were interviewed about how their conceptualization of the past may form a collective concept about a historical era.  One parent and one child from each family were interviewed about their knowledge and conceptual framework concerning American involvement in Vietnam.  Each member participating in the study was also asked to provide their interpretation of well known photographs taken from the Vietnam Era.  Each of these photographs had become iconic of the Vietnam War Era.

Prior to the interviewing the student’s perceptions of the Vietnam War and the instruction offered concerning the topic were analyzed by the researchers.  Despite the detailed instruction concerning the issues at stake in the Vietnam War by the schools of the students, as a group, had a similar perception of the Vietnam War – “A war without a reason”.

Using well documented photos, produced by the mass media, both parent and child were asked to write down their reactions to the pictures shown by answering open ended questions, such as, “What do you see in this picture?” and “What associations does this picture bring up?”  Later on the responses elicited by each respondent was coded with a graphic textual spreadsheet in order to develop emergent themes from the interview process. 

The first photo used was a picture of a veteran of the Vietnam War looking upon the names etched on the wall while his hand gingerly touches the wall.  Of all the photos presented, this one image was the most identifiable picture.  All of the teens and all but one of the parents (who had been born in the former Soviet Union) were able to recognize the memorial.  Every student also knew what the man was attempting to do.  For the parents, the picture brought back memories of loved ones or friends who had served in the Vietnam War, and the veteran took on a symbolic identification of long remembered people from their past.  However, the students’ answers were more general, with the man depicted in the photo not taking any symbolic meaning at all.  The experience for the adults in the study also reflected their own personal opinions concerning America’s involvement in Vietnam.  Words and phrases such as “resolution”, “respect that was deserved” appeared in the responses in the adults.  Interestingly, the man portrayed in the picture is seen by all as a victim of the war, and not as a perpetrator of war, who is worthy of respect and pity, not hatred.

The second photo is also an icon of the Vietnam War era, a photo of a young man placing flowers in the barrels of guns of soldiers in the 1967 March on the Pentagon.  The adults surveyed instantly identified the clash between the flower and the guns as a symbolic clash of war opposed to peace.  Terms used to qualify the event express the antithetical symbolism the picture displays, “Blocking soldiers with flowers”; Peace, not power”; and “a divided country”.  For the students there was a significant disconnect with the interpretation of the picture.  Only eight of the fifteen could identify the basic concept of peace versus might.  The symbolic elements of the picture were even less easily discerned by the youngsters.  One student thought the soldiers were North Vietnamese, another felt the incident was meant to mourn the dead. 

Interestingly, for the adults, while the first photo brought about feelings of the nation coming to reconciliation about the war, the second photo brought the sharp divide felt by their generation back to the forefront.  One parent spoke warmly of the camaraderie felt by members of the anti-war movement; while another contemptuously replied, “He’s a slime-bucket”.  Part of the student’s problems with this photo was their failure to identify the clean cut youth as a “hippie”.  The young man is clean cut and wearing clean clothing with an overall appearance which does not align with their perception of the prototypical hippie of the 1960’s. 

The third photo, a “hard-hat” rally drew strong responses and identification by the adults in the group, and almost universal misunderstanding by the younger generation.  The rally, which was a pro-war response by blue collar workers in New York City in support of the war in 1970, elicited two polarized replies.  One reply stated that “although there was confusion about the issues in the war, these guys, typical working men, were going to support the government”.  This picture also drew a rather strong comment by an opponent of the war, “These men are a bunch of assholes, guided by their penises”. 

The majority of students were unable to interpret the photo.  One person identified the type of people represented, “blue collar workers”, but had no idea what the purpose of the rally served.  One thought that a sign, which referred to “Building America”, was an anti-war sentiment, as it contrasted the destruction which was going on in Vietnam.  Many of the students were surprised to learn that people actually protested in favor of the Vietnam War.  More than one of the students cited the movie Forrest Gump, which had framed their perception that all of America was against the war, when in reality, as late as 1972 a Gallup Poll showed that 70% of the nation felt a renewed confidence in the prosecution of the war.  However, the media through a repeated message – that the Vietnam War was without support and baseless – had constructed a framework of history apart from the reality of fact.

The findings of this study concluded that the younger people perception of the war had not been formed by instruction or by a true understanding of the concepts involved, but had been formed by images found in media such as movies about the Vietnam War, such as Forrest Gump, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, which were frequently cited as sources of history.  Despite various ethnic and cultural variances, a consistent perception about the war had been formed in these young people, and their perception about the war was remarkably more similar than those of their parents, who had experienced the war from a more personal vantage point.  The young people’s perception allowed no room for pro-war demonstrations and “the silent majority” that supported the Vietnam War.   In the eyes of this generation, removed by the war from time, the Vietnam War was one fought without supporters.  In a real sense cultural occlusion has come about with regard to this historical event, and in effect, the icons of the Vietnam War have been selectively used or occluded to create a historical construct and the largest framer of that occlusion has been the media.

The findings of this study have vast implications for the transmission of knowledge to a society by the media.  The demonstrated ability of mass media to control the flow of information, through a mode of entertainment, gives it the ability to form a cultural curriculum, and a view of historic events which may be anything but a view which is based upon the truth. 

The challenge facing educators is one of coalescence.   In many areas, in particular to this study, The Vietnam War, a common belief about the war has become imprinted upon the framework of the nation.  Any idea which challenges this view reached by occlusion, must take on a cognitive dissonance, which precludes any view other than the one which is currently held.  The common belief of a culture, particularly when spurious, must be challenged by other sources to allow students to use inductive reasoning to frame a true understanding of historical consciousness.  The real danger resides when educators themselves have bought into the common belief of history, which is often formed by ideology rather than reality, and are no longer capable of presenting historical information apart from the vantage point of merely spewing out what other sources have programmed them to say.

 

References

Wineburg, Sam; Mosborg, Susan; Porat, Dan; Duncan, Ariel; (2007). Common Belief and the Cultural Curriculum: An Intergenerational Study of Historical Conciousness. American Education Research Journal, Vol. 44, No 1. pp. 40-76.

Ambivalence….if you care…or don’t….

Filed under: blogging,General — avoiceofreason @ 3:38 am

A great deal of ambivalence in my life right now, and there shouldn’t be.

I am on the very of  a capstone achievement in my education.  My disseration is at long last finished; all 285 pages – which caused my committee quite a bit of discomfort at times.  I have been told I have a lifetime of work ahead of me investigating or furthering this study.  I’m happy, but not as much as I should be with this achievement.

I resigned from my job in December as it just wasn’t working out.  I leave it at the end of June.  I don’t have a job waiting for me, but I do have a few interviews lined up.  I’m concerned about the job situation, but am dissatisfied with my career in many ways.  I don’t see what I do making much of a difference.  I guess it’s hard to be motivated when you know you’re on the way out.

I have a game I play too much as a hobby.  Lately, it’s been more of a job managing events and dealing with personalities.  It’s an OL game and no, I won’t tell you what it is.  It used to be a lot of fun…not so much fun nowadays.

I see what is happening in the world of politics on a national level, and am not overly happy with it, but also, just don’t care anymore.  What’s the point.   No reason to be a spoil sport or to be a nervous Nellie.  But mainly, I really don’t care too much about it anymore.  At least for now.

I guess I can tell I’m bored to go back to blogging.  I doubt I will stoke up enough motivation to care, and figure these posts will be rare and random.  Who can tell.  I know I can’t.

Just right now…things are so blase…that I don’t feel too much of anything.

Other than ambivalence.

November 7, 2008

Quote of the Day

Filed under: Conservatives,Election '08,General,Liberals,Obama,Philosophy,Politics — avoiceofreason @ 4:47 pm

Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.
Alvin Toffler

November 6, 2008

Reg Day is November 8

Filed under: Adoption,blogging,Culture,General,Politics — avoiceofreason @ 7:22 pm

Remember that Reg Day is November 8.

Reg Day is sponsored by volunteers who work to help people (mostly adopted) gather information about their birth origin. I am not an adoptee, nor have I adopted, but I am married to an adoptee. Imagine my surprise when I have found out about the difficulty she has in obtaining “her” birth certificate and other vital information which directly impact upon her ability to learn about her health background, apply for Social Security benefits, obtain a passport, and in some states obtain a legal driver’s license.

Shouldn’t a person have the right to know and have access to the information regarding “their own birth”?

Consider that court cases have granted Dog Owners the right to the records concerning the birth details of a canine to people, but states routinely deny human beings access to knowledge about their own birth details.

My wife will be sponsoring a Reg Day site, which I am “not” including to protect her blogging anonymity (she has a major league blog and doesn’t wish for these blogs to be entwined). However, if you are a person who is interested in participating or supporting in Reg Day please go to this link, http://www.isrr.net for more information.

And remember, people should have access to their birth information if a dog has that right.
What a country.

Quote of the Day

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.”
-Aristotle

I enjoy reflecting about these random thoughts. I am constantly trying to give this type of sentiment to those I work with, the student I interact with and of course to myself. I have demanded of myself anew, a commitment to excellence in my work, in my interactions, and in my areas of personal life. Join me.

Five Ways to Improve Your Child’s School Achievement

A little bit about me and why I post these tidbits. I am an Assistant Principal of a fairly large, 1256 student, middle school in New York. Prior to taking this position I had served as a teacher in elementary (primary, intermediate) middle school and high school for over 20 years. Throw in five years in the US Army and five children, and you have a pretty varied life experience profile. Everyday I deal with children who are usually struggling in school due to discipline and academics, and yes, the two are usually related.
If I could give advice to parents, particularly of parents of kids in the middle school range, here would be my top ten tips. Remember, as a parent you are ultimately responsible for “your child’s” education. It is not solely up to the school.

1) Make time to talk about you children’s day at school everyday. Do not accept this standard conversation which takes place probably EVERY night in 90% of the homes in the US.
Parent: How was school today?
Child: Fine.
Parent: What did you do today?
Child: Nothing.

Make your child talk about what they learned today. Ask them how the lesson was taught. Ask them about their homework and if they understand their assignments.

2) Set a designated time and place for homework assignments. Do “NOT” let your child work in their room unsupervised. You, the parent, have no way to see if in reality your youngster is truly doing their work, or going through the motions. Make sure that this designated space is relatively quiet and that you have adequate supplies available. You the parent set the environment, not the child.

3) Regularly go through your youngster’s agenda and planner book. Make sure that he/she is filling it out accurately and that there are assignments written down in some consistent manner. Most students will have independent work opportunities three to four times a week (that’s homework). Insist that homework be completed.

4) Make a calendar for tests and major projects. For students transitioning from elementary to middle school, the task of having one teacher delivering content instruction, to having four to five teachers who deliver content area instruction is overwhelming in “most” cases. Make sure that you know when the tests are given.

5) If you have a question ASK THE TEACHER. I am amazed at how many parents accept “I don’t know” from their children when they ask a question. You’d be amazed at how many times educators hear that also. If you can’t get a straight answer from your child, call the school and ask the teacher to call you. You’d be surprised, it is rare that a teacher will not be “thrilled” that you want to know what is going on so you can support your teacher.

Parenting is work and a responsibility. My feeling is that in a child’s education is analogous of a three legged stool, which are composed of the parents, the teachers, and administrator. We all agree that we want the child to succeed. Of course there may be conflict. Just remember you’re a team and that means you need to work together to succeed. That means mature conversations and shared expectations.

Maybe this is a bit oversimplistic, but if your child is not meeting their potential put checks next to what you are doing. If you didn’t check four or more, your grade failed.

Don’t worry, I talk to the teachers next time!

May 10, 2007

What do you Value?

As I’ve been mulling over resumes, and the course of my life, interspersed with reading about how an American icon, IBM, is on the fast track to screwing over their workers, most of whom happen to be my fellow citizens, I realize that my values may be out of sync with the rest of society.

I value my family.  I take great joy and a small sense of pride in knowing that my children are decent kids.  Yeah, they have problems, but they are overall doing well.  My eldest daughter is a tremendous source of pride.  She has taken a position as a Social Studies teacher, just like her Dad.  I can’t tell you the joy that brings me, that perhaps she saw maybe something in me, that maybe nudged her towards that.

That brings on another thing I value, community.  To me it was shown when I volunteered and enlisted in the 82nd Airborne, a decision I think was one of the best I have ever made.  In that action, I feel I made a slight downpayment in the debt that I owe those members of my family, and those who served, and often sacrificed more than I was called to do, in order that I may live in a world which they may only have dreamed of.  I am a lucky man indeed to have the knowledge that I was fortunate enough to serve my country.

I think that my desire to teach and be a leader in a public school is also a part of that value of community.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel I am underpaid, and I don’t mind that either.  I also know that I put a great deal of effort into my students, and that I take a particular joy in seeing the progress they made.  Today, when I was reading their essays about how our government used ancient Rome as a model, I took a great sense of satisfaction in knowing that my love of history, and probably a deep love – although I guess it is true that “Love Hurts” – for my country has been shared with them.  I value their learning, and I value what they teach me daily.  I learn more from them than they would ever guess.  I am lucky for that.

I value community, and I think that extends from the home to the schools and churches that so many of us enjoy.  I value the happiness of my community, and hope that my neighbors feel the same way.  I value the aspect that God plays in my life. I am not so sure as what I believe as when I was a younger man, but I think that my understanding that I need for the grace that is offered to man, as a part of my life.  I like that, and admit that I am happy to say that most times, I truly understand that God calls me friend.  I value that.

I understand money, and of course it has a value.  I guess what I don’t get are those entities that value a buck more than the people that labored to make that dollar for the company.   I know things are hard, and a business has a right and the responsibility to make profits for the shareholders.  I guess it’s not in my values however, when that company still makes money, but outsource jobs from my neighbors, and yours, and sends them over to nations which are our economic rivals, who would never give something towards us to help out our economy.

I have a feeling that most who regularly read this blog would say that they value the same things.  If that’s the case, why aren’t things different?  After all there are more of them than there are of those other bastards.  I am thinking about Governor Al Smith, of the fifth ward, a son of immigrants, who rallied the day laborer and the common person of New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and forged a movement that was founded on that idea, that there are more little people than big people.  Maybe we just have to remember that.

I guess its a question about what we value.

May 6, 2007

In the Course of a Lifetime, A Family Does Matter

Filed under: Adoption,blogging,children,Culture,Family,General,Inspirational — avoiceofreason @ 7:43 pm

As you know my wife was adopted, and I have posted about the trials and trevails that this has brought to her and at times to myself as she has dealt with the confusing, but oh so real emotions that an adopted child has about their place in the world any everything.

My wife knew nothing about her biological family and had been searching for information off and on for the past 25 years.  In some ways, in a very minimal way, I hope she has felt that although she is alone in this, that she has felt some support.

Recently, the drive and need to know had been growing within her.  For the past few years I’d been telling her to hire a detective agency and see if that would yield any information.  She would resist, citing money problems, which are often real, but really I believe showing a fear that maybe they wouldn’t be found, or what to do if they were found.  Last week, I guess she had reached a point and told me she had been saving money for this end.  I told her the hell with saving money, just do it, hire the agency.  She balked at the cost, and I asked her, in the course of a lifetime what does the money mean as compared to knowing.  She contacted an agency, and within 48 hours, she had a family, a name, a past, a mother – who does not yet know she is found, a sister and brother, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles.

The next step is establishing contact.  This is not as easy as it sounds, and this is nerve wracking for her – as there is always a very real possibility of rejection.  There is also a flurry of information that she has – a past – complete with the knowledge of the job that her biological great grandmother did – she worked  in a poultry store, the county in Ireland where her great grandfather emigrated from in 1914.  She has even found on the internet photos of her family.

My role in this is minimal.   I occassionally post about adoptees, and it is because of my own thin connection with my own wife that I  am made more aware of how it touches my own family’s life.  However, this is not about me, nor my family, nor is it wholly about my wife.  Though I am happy for her, I know there are many who are in the same shoes she was in out there, and maybe some few happen across my blog when I post.  All I can share is that, I am happy for her, and I hope that you are successful if you are an adopted child, or a mother who surrendered a child, and now yearns for contact.  While it may take great effort, and it may even cost three to four thousand dollars, ask yourself what I asked my wife, “In the course of a lifetime, what does it matter”.

In the course of a lifetime there are probably few things that matter.  I think finding out that you have a famliy is one of them.

If you have exhausted all means, please leave a comment and my wife or I would be able to give you a list of resources to use in finding your birth family.

May 3, 2007

Where You Stand Politically

So, you want to  know where you stand and how you can get that cool little icon like I have on my blog?

Well, just go to this site and take the quiz.  I would put no opinion if you are not sure about something.

Please post your results, and you get BIG TIME BONUS POINTS for reasonableness if you score Moderate, Conservative or Liberal!  I “hope” I have constructed a place where divergent views are allowed and where we gain from seeing each other’s perspective.  I also hope that sometimes someone will say, I see your point, or something like that.

So often politics are too personal, so maybe this would at least bring back agreeable discussion and dissent to the forefront.

I’m posting this on all topics to hopefully get maximum participation.

IF you wish to take the quiz it is here.

Thanks!

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