Category Archives: lessons

On Meaning-Focused History

“Conceptual, not factual”–we were urged to prioritize it at the beginning of the year, and again at a faculty meeting this week. Yet we’re making MCQs and canned timed essay prompts straight out of 1970. Why?

Sent to my colleagues — many of whom will rightly say “He doesn’t need to preach this to me, because I’m in the choir!” — as we shift to planning semester 2. I’m curious how many history teachers out there are fighting the same battles, and am all ears as to tactics that have worked for you in this battle against the 1970s.

I have a dream that meetings planning semester 2 start on the conceptual and inquiry level, not the factual and knowledge level. (In other words, that they follow UbD as we’re expected to do.)

It could make for beautiful meetings if everybody came to a meeting with a response to an agenda item such as,  “What’s the most interesting, challenging, provocative, real essential question you can come up with for the Age of Imperialism*?”

I’d love to hear people offer their answers–especially if their angle is more exciting than mine. Off the top of my head, I would answer for this one, for example, Continue reading

Economist Blogs: Beyond Commercial Journalism

Google Reader Screenshot

Who needs CNN? (Click image for larger view)

I broke my own rule by sending the following to students in an email, rather than posting to the web:

[Student] and I had a talk about economics journalism, and how CNN and even Reuters and McClatchy are second-rate (for CNN, third-rate) compared to professional economists who blog their views regularly. Since you guys seem interested in figuring this stuff out, but don’t seem to have figured out that the hardest-hitting and most in-depth (and readable) analysis is in the top-tier economists’ blogs, I offer the following starter-pack. It’s multipartisan, from right to left (especially Economists Club).

You’re smart enough to figure out Google Reader and RSS feed subscriptions with a simple Google search (use those terms), so I’ll just share a few economics blogs that go way deeper than the mainstream media.

Subscribe to them, read them regularly, and you’ll feel your brain swell beyond the pop journalism dimensions:

Here’s a Google Reader Bundle of the Econ blogs I read. Click the image  to go to the RSS feed for all of them (and feel free to drop recommendations in comments) Update: As a perceptive reader points out, Matt Taibbi is not an economist — though he’s a valuable (and hilarious) investigative journalist specializing in the Wall St./Politics nexus — so I removed him from the bundle:

Economics Blogs Bundle

Click the image for the Bundle page, subscribe there.

I’d Give My RIght Arm for a Tool That…

Veins in my Right Arm.
…is cross-platform and collaborative, and would allow me to assign my current “fantasy unit test” in history classes. That unit test would have students create a conversation from home featuring images and texts that is recorded and embeddable on their blogs — call it something like a recorded Skype conference + screencast.

I’d simply want small groups of students (individuals would be easy) to discuss the big events of the unit like the newly-educated budding subject area experts I’m trying to create — and to do so in a relaxed, informal, and audience-conscious way.

I picture that audience being their parents, and the “synopsis” of their “talk show” to be along these lines:

In today’s episode, the hosts talk about the often mind-bending beginnings of Chinese history, how radically different that history is from all other major civilizations’, and what those other civilizations might learn from China’s ancient beginnings that could still be useful in today’s world — with several detours for laughs along the way.

I picture the audience being maybe their parents, who might be curious to learn from their kids where their tuition dollars are going.

The problem? I don’t know a tool. My school allows Macs and PCs, and I don’t know how three or four students could do an online session with a shared desktop and screencast-recorder that also records conference calls.

Shareski? Ira? Beuhler?



Communist TV 7, Capitalist TV 0

Cultural Imperialism Cartoon[Note: Skip the politics if you want, but don’t miss the TV series at the bottom for pure entertainment.]

A big TV censorship controversy is swirling in China these days, and for this American at least, it’s hard not to sympathize with the censors. It brings to mind an earlier Chinese government’s struggle to eliminate an earlier Western import from poisoning its people. Back then, the product was opium (seriously excellent link to click from M.I.T.). Now, it’s trash TV.

From The Guardian:

“People were told by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television [SARFT] that they needed to do less entertainment content and improve the balance, with more wholesome content or content conveying messages endorsed by government organs,” said [Beijing-based consultant Mark] Natkin, who focuses on media and telecoms.

“The way we heard it framed was that people feel increasingly that Chinese society has no moral compass. Contributing to the problem is the fact that the news and wholesome programming are getting drowned out by excessive entertainment programming with a commercial focus.

“[Official concerns] are that,  left entirely to the market, there are no limits to the levels that programme producers will sink to as they try to attract new audiences and good ratings.”

Dating show You Are The One became last year’s runaway hit, spawning a legion of copycats – and concerns that it was encouraging the increasing materialism of China‘s young people.

When one contestant told a potential match that “I would rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on your bicycle,” the remark became notorious. Officials stepped in and the programme reduced its focus on the contestants’ occupations and assets, instead drawing attention to their devotion to family duty. Authorities have also encouraged talent shows to include migrant workers as well as middle-class wannabes, in a bid to promote inclusiveness.

The article includes this depressing note about the masses’ willingness to limit their junk culture intake:

[A]ttempts to raise the moral standards of broadcasting in the past have often resulted in a decline in viewers.

Consider that all background to my discovery of what I presume — but can’t be sure, since last year the Bizarro World of the CCP also banned TV dramas involving time-travel as potentially subversive — may be an example of the “moral programming” the Communist Party would prefer its society take in. It’s a show about a 2011 Beijing girl who travels back to the height of the Qing Dynasty under the reign of the Emperor Kangxi around 1700. Here’s the description from the website hosting the series:

Zhang Xiao, a contemporary, ethnically Han Chinese young woman from the 21st century, accidentally travels back in time to the Qing Dynasty period during the reign of Kangxi Emperor after experiencing a deadly combination of traffic collision and electrocution, resulting her somehow reliving the life of one of her previous incarnations and forcing her to assumes the identity belongs to her past avatar: Maertai Rexi, teenage daughter of a Manchu nobleman, who also had a near-fatal incident in her own time which Zhang awakes from.

Being stranded in the past, in the body of a centuries earlier incarnation of herself, and believe by many of Maertai’s family and friends that the sudden change of her behavior and memory loss is resulted of her head injury, Zhang Xiao awares that there will be a dangerous power struggle known to history between the scheming princes for the throne, which will results Aisin-Gioro Yinzhen to succeed as the Yongzheng Emperor after his father’s death. Zhang Xiao tries to change the future outcomes for the better, hoping to prevents any casualty as written in the future without interfering a man’s destiny, while trying to find a way to return to her time period. However, Zhang ultimately realizes that, not only she fails to alter the course of the approaching events, but also, under a predestination paradox, she is fated to become an instigator of the tragedy she tries to prevent resulted by her actions in the past and the princess’ romantic affections towards her.

Though the premise is silly, the show itself is a history teacher’s dream. I watched the first episode just now, and was totally drawn in — and suspect students would be too. What more can you ask for? Modern teenage girl wakes up in the Forbidden City 300 years ago, where she discovers she’s being prepared for a concubine selection event in six months. She discovers she has a Buddhist big sister who deals with her virtual prisoner’s status inside the palace through her Buddhist faith. She also discovers she has no idea how to perform the ritual norms regulating everyday life.

Best of all, she meets historical princes, sons of Kangxi (he had about 50, if I recall correctly), and romantic attractions set in. Also best of all: the sets, costumes, and reasonably accurate historical verisimilitude. All in all, it’s bloody awesome, in short.

After watching an episode, you’ll probably be hooked. After that, ask yourself what I ask myself: is it so easy to condemn censoring [your US programming trash of choice here] in order to promote programming like this?

Click on the screenshot below to see the full series, with English subtitles.

–brought to you by the civilization that required its politicians to pass an intelligence test — something the GOP could bear to think about.