Good discussions are such a treat. No matter the topic, a well informed debate has the potential for elevating your thinking and expanding your perspective. I regularly enjoy debating/discussing issues of both societal and social importance. So for some good food for thought, here is a selection of provocative pieces on everything from education, to the colonization of Africa, and to Banksy.
Banksy, the female street artist
Starting with the last, Kriston Capps at Citylab from The Atlantic tackles the mystery of Banksy’s identity suggesting that she is in fact a woman. The piece is well written and relies heavily on both the releases of HBO’s documentary, Banksy Does New York, as well as the mockumentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and on gender analyses of the art world. The piece was published last November, I know I’m behind the times in finally getting to read it, but it does an excellent job at both breaking down gender norms in art (especially street art) while also revealing the undeniable, over-the-top masculinity that is prevalent in most forms of art, and art appreciation. If for nothing else, this piece does a good job to hold a mirror to ourselves, especially us men, and ask why we assume masculinity in this street artist?
A friend recently shared with me an artists re-imagining of Africa as if it was never colonized. The artist, Nikolaj Cyon, is an up and coming star from Sweden. The piece is a map of Africa, or Alkebu-Lan as it is renamed, without the influence of Europe. The article, by Frank Jacobs, details the piece and acts as a jumping off point for discussion. If you are uninformed about the history of the continent, this piece is a good start. However, for anyone who has the least bit of previous knowledge on either Islam or the Congo for example, will find this article utterly preachy… it is as if the author is discovering Africa for the first time too. Unfortunately, both the artist and the author have little background in either the history or the demographics Africa or any one of the dozens of countries making it up. Though thought provoking, this is nothing more than another white voice “speaking” for an entire continent of people. Those out there looking to actually discuss the incredibly toxic and still very current effects of European colonization should read The Scramble for Africa by Thomas Pakenham or King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild. They are researched and well written.
How Strict is Too Strict?
I work in education and have taught in both traditional public schools and charter schools and have no shortage of strong opinions about what good teaching is. But more important than my anecdotal evidence and opinions, is the national debate we need to have on how to improve education for all Americans. Back in November (I know all of these great pieces came out in November) the Atlantic ran an article by Sarah Carr about the unique case of New Orleans. The focus of the article is on the strict (or maybe too strict) policies of what some call the broken-windows theory. The idea is that no offense is too small to be ignored, everything from stepping off the line when being marched between classes to slouching to dress-code violations must be met with strict discipline. I have many concerns about such intense discipline practices, especially after implementing them myself as a teacher. Chief among those concerns, is the idea of forcibly teaching obedience over curiosity. I’ve argued in the past that such schools are preparing graduates to be silent workers rather than vocal leaders. As true as that might be, the reality is that this model is offering success for kids who would not have it otherwise. The public options where the charters are excelling are decrepit failing schools. As much as we might have issue with the charter approach, it is working, and until the public option can be improved, we need these organizations like KIPP to come in and help give futures to our nation’s ignored children. What I really like about the article is the evolution of these policies within the charter organizations. They start out rigid and exacting and end more fluidly with a greater reliance on the relationship between the school, child, and family. I like to see that these organizations are listening to the criticism and responding. It’s an inspiring piece, and a conversation we should all be invested in.
State of the World
The World is Not Falling Apart titles this wonderfully optimistic and intelligently supported piece by Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack. The piece looks at an incredible amount of data from a plethora of different sources to analyze trends in different categories of violence across the world. In short, their thesis is to say that the world is safer, more democratic, and less violent than ever before in history. They go further to criticize news sources for the “big lie” of a world on the brink of chaos. Every fact they introduce and statement they make is well supported with evidence. In some respects, this is the sort of research we all need to be engaged in and aware of. Optimism and hope are the most powerful and beautiful tools of our time and are tragically underutilized by our most visible news sources. If you can only read one of the four links I’ve posted, read and appreciate this one.
I would greatly like to hear your thoughts on any and/or all of these issues and topics. Please share below…