Thursday, December 1, 2016

On the Great Depression, 1929-39

On the Great Depression, 1929-39: Contrary to popular belief, the Great Depression was not simply a decade-long downturn of the American economy. In fact, the Depression occurred in other countries around the world as well. Additionally, there were even periods of prosperity during parts of the 1930s. Yet it was events at the beginning (Black Thursday in 1929) and at the end (1937-38 Recession) of the decade that caused the most economic hardship. Perhaps what best captured that hardship were the unemployment statistics. At times during the 1930s, nearly 25% of the American workforce had no official (wage) income. And two basic (complementary) reasons for this high unemployment rate have often been cited by historians and economists: overproduction and underconsumption. With overproduction, economists pointed to the massive output of industrial goods (in the 1920s) by car companies like Ford and steel companies such as U.S. Steel. Workplace advancements like the assembly line and scientific management had made the 1920s into a mass-production decade. But when demand collapsed in the early 1930s, many companies took awhile to scale back their outputs. Similarly, many consumers could no longer afford to purchase these goods. Yet if you could pinpoint two goods that Americans refused to give up during the Depression, it was their cars and radios. Houses became afterthoughts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On Substitute Teaching

On Substitute Teaching: Perhaps the scariest part of substitute teaching is figuring out if you can control the classroom.  At the middle school level, this is a particularly challenging aspect of the job. There's something uniquely rambunctious about having 25(+) 13-year-olds in one room for 5 or 6 periods during the school day. From the start, a substitute teacher gets thrown into the middle of a learning unit which he or she has to quickly adapt to in order to help students. And aside from being an adult, the substitute teacher does not command the same degree of respect from students as the full-time teacher. With these two key disadvantages, a substitute teacher can rapidly become overwhelmed. Nevertheless, there are certain elements of substitute teaching which can be quite rewarding. For instance, some students will embrace the substitute teacher as a welcome change of pace. While other students will start to trust the substitute, and thus, they will confide intriguing remarks. And with middle schoolers, there's little-to-no filter.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

On B. F. Skinner and Behaviorism

On B. F. Skinner and Behaviorism: Often considered one of the most important psychologists of the 20th century, Skinner was a pioneer in the field of behaviorism. And for the most part, behaviorism can be seen as a kind of 20th-century reaction to the 19th-century development of psychoanalysis. Whereas Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytical methods tried to uncover "meaning" behind deep dreams and repressed feelings, Skinner's behavioral techniques put forth that dreams and feelings were secondary concerns. What truly mattered to behaviorists like Skinner were social appearances and personal actions. With a limited free will (and a limited capacity for self-expression), Skinner argued that most people could be conditioned to act a certain way. By examining routines, and conducting experiments involving reward mechanisms, he believed that through the principle of reinforcement, people could be programmed to learn specific behaviors.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

On Genteel Racism

On Genteel Racism: Ever since French aristocrat Arthur de Gobineau helped legitimize "scientific" racism in the 19th century (with his writings), there have been numerous cultural consequences. First in Europe, and later in the Americas, the idea that people could be categorically separated and classified according to certain genetic traits or physical features spread like wildfire. From anthropologists measuring skull sizes to psychologists recommending lobotomies (eugenics), "scientists" started to take racial theories to extreme lengths by the early 1900s. Yet what was particularly intriguing about the rise of scientific racism was how much it permeated Western culture in song, dance, art, advertising, and cuisine. Regarding song and dance, minstrel shows ("Jump Jim Crow") and blackface actors were widespread well into the 20th century. As for advertising, the creation of a character like Bibendum (by the Michelin tire company) has dubious origins at best (esp. since tires are generally black). Perhaps most controversial with cuisine is the nickname "jimmies" for chocolate sprinkles, which remains popular even today throughout the Northeastern region of the United States.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Québécois Separatism

On Québécois Separatism: At the bottom of Quebec's license plates it reads "Je me souviens," which translates from French to English as "I remember." For decades, the meaning of this phrase has been debated among Canadians. The phrase dates back to the 1880s, when the architect of Quebec's provincial Parliament had it carved into the stone above the main doorway. That architect, Eugene Taché, never left an explanation of the phrase's meaning. But in the early 1900s, the phrase became adopted as Quebec's official motto. And early historians of Quebec's heritage began to reconcile the phrase with Canada's colonial past. Ever since Canada gained its independence from Britain in 1867, there had been a large constituency of French-speaking people in Quebec who resented ever being subjected to British rule. By the mid-twentieth century, however, Canadian historians started to see the phrase more as a rallying cry for the Quebec sovereignty movement. Thus, whenever the phrase "Je me souviens" gets uttered, it's a reminder for the people of Quebec to recall the days of Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, and New France. Days when French Jesuits missionized the natives while settling the St. Lawrence River. Days before Quebec became British.