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The Darkest Decade

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A museum when done right should teach, inspire and evoke an emotional response. There are some museums whose content and themes are so inherently powerful they must rely on the absence of stimuli to evoke a response. Often some section of the museum is devoid of audio or descriptive copy. There is a four-story glass sculpture of freedom, or a pile of suitcases or a melted police car. The power of these selected image(s) can be breathtaking and utterly unnerving.

The Newseum (in Washington D.C.) has not a single quiet space. It is like the topic itself, unrelenting, riveting and compelling. Headlines, newsprint, broadcasts, artifacts and photographs form a cacophony of meta and micro information. “Oh right, THAT event! And how was it covered?” No stone is left unturned in answering the question. (Did you know a journalist created the FBI 10 Most Wanted list? See that!) The Pulitzer Prize Photography gallery is an embarrassment of riches. There are 70 years worth of stunning imagery to be admired and absorbed. Factoring in that the prize was offered in two categories beginning in 1968, that’s a lot of photos. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and mentally mutter “Nice” “Well done” in a monotonous tone. But something unexpected happens by the time you reach the 1960s-1970s section. A theme, spanning over 10 years, begins to develop, and a lump in the throat and pit of the stomach forms.

We’ve seen (most of) these photos over the years individually. The image of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald (Robert H. Jackson) has become part of how we talk about Kennedy’s assassination. We’ve all seen, and perhaps turned our heads, from the image of a naked child running from napalm (Huyhn Cong Ut) and of the Saigon execution (Edward T. Adams). We may recall the university campus gun violence (Kent State and Cornell.) But it is the (1967) photo of James Meredith (the first African-American student to attend the segregated University of Mississippi,) shot on a Mississippi road displayed in proximity to a photo of Ted Landsmark being attacked with the United States flag a full ten years later that is horrifying. And that is the point of this startling decade of American history. There was simply so much, so very much violence. Even the uplifting photos are a reminder of violence and sorrow. The unadulterated joy on the faces of Col. Robert L. Stirm’s family upon his return is a reminder of the heartbreak of Viet Nam soldiers Missing In Action. The war, the assassinations, the racism, the plight of the migrant workers and the violence; it’s all there in obscene excess in those 10 years.

King

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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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College Affirmative Action

Higher education affirmative action is in the news again. It’s not all that surprising that in recent years people are more comfortable discussing its merits. It has been (almost exactly) fifty years since Ole Miss first integrated and fifty years is a long time. It’s enough time for people to forget and it’s enough time for generations to come of age free of the first hand effect of segregation. Add to that a shift in our collective attitude about college being for everyone; and it’s no doubt the subject of parity crops up. The continued need and efficacy of affirmative action is often discussed in academic circles. Lately, it is also often played out in the courts and media.

The lawsuits (or protests) that bubble up often have to do with a perceived lack of fairness. Thwarted students compare their own applications and numbers (i.e., test scores, grades, rankings) against those who were admitted. The would-be (white) students compare their own larger (or equal) numbers to that of a non-white student and feels there has been discrimination. All issues of affirmative action aside, that understanding of the admission process is deeply flawed.

Straightforward scorekeeping is the determinate in plenty of endeavors. When you play sport, or lose weight; numbers are all that matter. But most of life’s external accomplishments are much more subjective than a numbers game. The skyrocketed costs, four-star amenities, and assumption that college is for every high school graduate, has created a sense of a transactional relationship. There are thousands of four-year colleges/universities in this country. Before a student applies he/she has presumably poured over websites and determined; “Yes, I’d be a good fit.” The student knows the requirements for admission, knows the average SAT/ACT scores and class rankings, and knows they fit the bill. Rejection stings, and many struggle with trying to get past the hurt. Parents and children will rattle off admitted high school classmate’s rankings, and GPAs in their struggle to understand the rejection. Resentments and overall icky behavior often ensues. No one wants to be told; “Thanks but no thanks” particularly when the rejected was set to pony up (potentially) over six-figures for the privilege of acceptance.

But what these parents and their children might not realize is that those numbers are simply how one gets to be considered. Creating an incoming class involves much more than comparing numbers. The goal of creating a class is generally two-fold; the students should be able to succeed and the students should be able to add to their classmates’ educational experience. “Succeeding” can mean many things and varies according to schools and programs. What a student can add to the experience is dependent upon the historic nature of the school, the location, the discipline, and many other elements.

Whether our country is in need of creating equal opportunity for all based on ethnicity and race is a subject for another day. When we do engage in that conversation we should think long and hard about economic class and first generation students when we talk about equal opportunity. But until then let’s be crystal clear about college admissions. It is not simply a numbers game; (hint: that’s why there are essay components and pages of extracurricular activities on the application.)

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Education

 

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