Blue Cereal's blog

Causes, Triggers, Events, and Results

This is something I lifted from Rhonda Johnson who used to teach with me in Tulsa and who’s still kicking young minds towards greatness there. Rhonda is one of the most entertaining and intellectually challenging people I’ve ever known, and I appreciate her agreeing to let me sponge off of her in this way.

Then again, why should this be any different than anything else I’ve borrowed from her over the years?

Those Circle Things

Those Circle Things - MesopotamiansI started using variations of what I’ve come to simply think of as “Those Circle Things” in workshops, in class, and sometimes just to annoy friends at parties. They make great bellringers, discussion-starters, and I’ve even used them as informal assessments.

They’re also pretty easy to use with Google Slides or Pear Deck or whatever technological platform makes you tingle, and work equally well for synchronous or asynchronous discussion. They're especially useful when you need ideas for "e-learning" on snow days, or when you’re huddled at home hiding from the coronavirus and wondering if you’ll have to throw out the bottled water and granola bars you left in your desk three months ago when you assumed we’d be back in a few weeks and god I need a haircut...

Hammurabi, King of Babylon (from "Have To" History)

Three Big Things:

1. Responsible for the best-known and arguably most influential set of legal codes in the ancient world. Key issue: they were written down and publicly posted.

2. Brought Mesopotamia together as a more-or-less united empire (this time with Babylon as the seat of central authority) for the first time since Sargon six centuries prior.

3. Seriously, the written law thing. It’s just huge. “An eye for an eye”? That was his. Innocent until proven guilty? Also his, although not phrased quite so smoothly. A chance for the accused to defend themselves? Punishment fitting the crime? Throwing people in rivers to see if they float? That’s Hammurabi, baby.

The Swahili Coast ("Have To" History)

Three Big Things:

Blue Dhow1. The Swahili Coast was an important part of the Indian Ocean Trade Network in the 12th – 15th centuries. It’s a useful historical example of trade networks, cultural diffusion, and interaction between man and environment.

2. Over time, the people of the Swahili Coast evolved into a series of independent city-states sharing a common language (Swahili), a common faith (Islam), and a coherent economic system (er… “Trade”) – all of which were adapted and substantially modified to fit their local needs and collective culture.

3. The Swahili Coast declined after the Portuguese tried to take over Indian Ocean trade and mandate adherance to their superior Euopean whims. It didn’t work, but it did enough damage that the glory days were no more.

Make Me (Lessons from the Classroom in a Time of Corona)

Mount Rushmore-19As I write this, the nation is getting restless with all of this Covid-19 “shelter in place” stuff. The daily body count is a constant feature on any 24/7 news channel, and there are some real concerns about how we survive economically even if most of us eventually get through it medically.  I’m not going to argue the science, the economics, or even the politics of the thing at the moment.

"Have To" History: Stone v. Graham (1980)

Ten CommandmentsThe Supreme Court’s decision in Stone v. Graham was announced on November 17th, 1980. Less than two weeks earlier, Ronald Reagan had been elected President of the United States, initiating what would later be called the “Reagan Revolution” – a resurgence of conservative values and policies anchored in an idealized past. The events leading to Stone began years earlier, but its outcome sent a message to the faithful in the 1980s similar to that of Engel v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp two decades before: American’s fundamental values (meaning public promotion of Christianity) were under attack by intellectual elitists… aka “liberals.” And some of them wore robes.

"Have To" History: Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Walking Amish

Wisconsin law required that kids be in school SOMEWHERE – public or private was up to the parents – until they were at least 16. Yoder, Miller, and Yutzy were prosecuted for violating state law and the case went to trial with Jonas Yoder acting on behalf of the group. While he was no doubt a capable individual, the Amish and Conservative Mennonites aren’t big on using the court system to resolve their difficulties. They do not, by and large, sue people for damages or seek legal recourse for minor infractions. An “Amish Lawyer” would be about as common as a “Shiite Stripper” or a “Hindu Butcher.”

Scaffold The $#*& Out Of It

For English or Social Studies teachers (especially those frothy AP types), the Holy Hand Grenade of rapport-killers is the Five Paragraph Essay. Come out in favor, come out opposed, or simply mention it in passing, and off the rest of us will go. Only Wikipedia and Teach For America have achieved similar infamy for their ability to produce pseudo-intellectual chaos and mutual hostility, online or in the teachers’ lounge.

Honestly, you’d be better off bringing up religion, immigration, or abortion. Fewer emotions or deeply entrenched convictions in play that way.

"Have To" History: Zorach v. Clauson (1952)

The celebrations of freedom and democracy which lingered after World War II were rapidly fading in favor of fear, suspicion, and a sense of persecuted minority status among the straight white Protestants who still made up nearly 90% of the nation’s population (and virtually 100% of its leadership). Historically, it seems, nothing threatens entrenched demographic power like a handful of outliers thinking their lives matter as well.

"Have To" History: McCollum v. Board of Education (1948)

Three Big Things:

1. McCollum v. Board of Education was the first Supreme Court case to test the idea of “released time” during the school day for religious instruction by outside groups or religious leaders.

2. The Court’s four different written opinions demonstrate the complexity of applying absolutist rhetoric (“wall of separation”) to specific circumstances without trampling on the rights of local decision-makers.

3. The issues debated in McCollum reappeared in various iterations long after this particular decision and still come up in only slightly modified forms today.

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