Education reform would appear to be the next Obama administration effort to clean up another Bush-league mess — in this case, the educator-and-student-detested “No Child Left Behind” program. Susan Engel‘s New York Times Op-Ed outlines priorities in curriculum, namely the core skills a person needs to help them learn rather than the regurgitation of mandated facts. This portion jumped out at me:
During the school day, there should be extended time for play. Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning(…) A classroom like this would provide lots of time for children to learn to collaborate with one another, a skill easily as important as math or reading. It takes time and guidance to learn how to get along, to listen to one another and to cooperate. These skills cannot be picked up casually at the corners of the day.
An organization called Peace First aims to arm children with the skills to create peaceful communities and efficient group relationships. They foster the kind of personal empowerment that can only come from helping and collaborating with others. From their website:
Peace First has taught over 40,000 students critical conflict resolution skills; created over 2,500 peacemaker projects that improved communities and instilled a sense of civic engagement in students; recruited over 4,000 volunteers who provided 400,000 hours of volunteer teaching service; and trained 2,500 teachers in conflict resolution and classroom management skills. We have seen remarkable results in each of our schools: a 60 percent reduction in violence, but more importantly, a 70-80 percent increase in instances of children breaking up fights, including others and helping one another—resulting in better schools and better potential for each child in that school.
One hopes that their model of success will be recognized and applied to all grade schools as part of core curriculum. Right now, their methods benefit just four schools in New York and a number of others in Boston and Los Angeles.
In her Op-Ed, Engel also suggests the following criteria for thriving learning environments:
In this classroom, children would spend two hours each day hearing stories read aloud, reading aloud themselves, telling stories to one another and reading on their own. After all, the first step to literacy is simply being immersed, through conversation and storytelling, in a reading environment; the second is to read a lot and often. A school day where every child is given ample opportunities to read and discuss books would give teachers more time to help those students who need more instruction in order to become good readers.
Children would also spend an hour a day writing things that have actual meaning to them — stories, newspaper articles, captions for cartoons, letters to one another. People write best when they use writing to think and to communicate, rather than to get a good grade.
The idea of fostering enthusiasm for learning by including materials that “have actual meaning for them” is vitally important. Media literacy must take precedence in a cultural environment flooded with information. My first day teaching in an early childhood learning center, I noticed immediately that most of the children’s clothing and even diapers had licensed cartoon characters on them. I found that children as young as 14 months had distinct awareness of media commodities such as Mickey Mouse and Big Bird. However, many of the adults around had never considered the powerful subliminal associations formed through such deeply integrated visual stimuli.
In recent years, media and access to information has become omnipresent, and the ability to directly participate seemingly effortless. The use and distribution of images has become as important as verbal literacy skills. Yet the ability to assess and critique media, much less understand the legal implications of distributing content via new media, has not advanced at the same rate. A fine example of this is (at the time of this writing) 1,031 people’s willingness to participate in American Apparel’s “Search for the Best Bottom in the World.”
Organizations dedicated to the self-empowerment of girls, which aim to foster a healthy sense of self-image, such as Hardy Girls Healthy Women, make the following claim in their letter-writing protest of American Apparel’s “model” search:
American Apparel is directly and unconscionably undermining girls’ healthy development by equating confidence with looking sexy, winning with being judged on their appearance, and personal value with 15 seconds of fame.
So let’s talk about fame — either the kind that lasts 15 seconds, or the kind that gets people quoting that very phrase for eternity. Andy Warhol himself landed on Forbes‘ yearly list of top earning dead celebrities, which itemizes the amount earned in life and in death, typically on intellectual property but also on their own image. For example, James Dean, who commonly makes the list, acted in a mere three films during his life, yet his profile is ubiquitous. And licensed carefully by a crack team of copyright attorneys, I’m sure.
For years, feminists have complained that the female body has been commodified and exploited, associating a woman’s sexualized body (and in the American Apparel case, which is a pretty standard one, sexualized body parts), with something which can or cannot be owned according to the affordability of the product it represents. The argument is that when free access to a desired commodity is denied, the price inflates and violence is used to gain or deny access. This structure is commonly seen in the illegal drug trade, for example. A precedent of the correlation between women in media and pathological violence is described in Eldridge Cleaver‘s autobiography Soul On Ice.
Clearly, the motivation to enter these kinds of contests is not monetary (the top ten rated receive a grab bag worth $300 of American Apparel items! Whee!). The grand prize winner wins a flight and three-day stay in Los Angeles, where they will be required to participate in a panties-themed photo shoot, presumably to be used in advertisements for the company doling out the “prize.” All images submitted by any contestant become property of the company (again, that’s more than 3000 people). All monetary value remains firmly in the hands of the advertiser. They make millions and you might get a bag of panties.
I believe the key motivation here is inclusion, participation, a chance to be assessed favorably in a collective environment. Without the opportunity to participate in a cooperative group in school, and the alternative of having their use of sexuality condemned by a progressively prudish feminist “left,” young women seek a chance to prove that their physical, intellectual, and emotional property is theirs to control without mitigation from political interests. Yet where ideologies enforce codes of morality, businesses literally offer incorporation — albeit in a very, very bum deal.
My point is, if a cartoon of you is going to end wrapped around someone else’s bum, be sure you’re getting royalties. Your ass is worth it.