Welcome to Culture Crash, where we examine American culture. What’s new and old in entertainment.
Back in 2000, author Dave Eggers became a cult hero with his memoir titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In it, he chronicled the death of both his parents and his role stewarding his younger brother in their absence.
Eggers is also the co-founder of McSweeney’s, a non-profit publisher that is known for its literary fiction quarterly journal, and has written an interesting collection of fiction and non-fiction in the ensuing years. In 2005, he was named a Time Magazine Most Influential Person. His 2012 novel A Hologram for the King was a finalist for the National Book Award and his myriad other books have been shortlisted and won prizes across the country.
Throughout his career, Eggers has pushed the boundaries of writing, and no book better illustrates his desire to innovate than his 2014 novel, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? It’s a book that consists only of dialogue. Each line is introduced with a single dash, and while it sounds complicated, the form actually makes it very straight-forward and easy to follow. It’s a revenge fantasy ethical debate featuring an unreliable main character who keeps kidnapping people.
Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is a fascinating and challenging book. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but it’s a provocative quick-read and it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Coming from an author with a pedigree like Eggers, it’s definitely worth reading and discussing.
There are millions incarcerated in American prisons, even many juveniles who were sentenced to long terms alongside adults. We talk to guests about how and why this happens, whether it should continue, and what life is like for young people behind bars.
Peter K. Enns, Associate Professor, Department of Government at Cornell University and author, Incarceration Nation: How the United States became the most punitive democracy in the world
Jean Trounstine, Professor, Middlesex Community College and author, Boy with a Knife: A story of murder, remorse, and a prisoner’s fight for justice
In the last few years, many high school teachers have changed how they are teaching civics in their classrooms. Rather than straying away from political discussions, many are using innovations in teaching to make their classrooms a space for students to engage with each other while discussing these controversial topics. Diana E. Hess, Dean of the School of Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-author of the book The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, and co-author Paula McAvoy, Program Director for the Centers for Ethics & Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, studied how classrooms engage in these activities. Their goal was to find out how to best facilitate these discussions and the positive benefits that they had on students.
During their research, Hess and McAvoy observed different ways to make class discussions conducive to learning. Hess explains that one way to ensure that students had a good experience was to inform the students beforehand of the topic, so they could do research and prepare. She also noticed that students had an understanding of how to engage in controversial discussions with each other, but still maintain relationships with each other after class. Hess states that it was also essential that teachers were capable of directing the conversations to ensure that all views were being expressed. Most importantly, instructors had to make sure that offensive statements were omitted. In order for political discussions to work properly in the classroom, both the teachers and the students had to understand how to interact with each other in a mature and educational manner.
So, what are the long-term effects that these discussions have on students? McAvoy explains that it encourages young people to get more involved with campaigns and take political action much earlier on in their lives. By encouraging students to think critically about controversial and political topics, teachers are able to foster development and excitement for political conversation in younger generations.
Diana E. Hess, Dean of the School of Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-author of The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education
Paula McAvoy, Program Director for the Centers for Ethics and Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and co-author of The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education
When it comes to respecting authority, we may face conflicts with our bosses or leaders if we are told to do something illegal or immoral. We talk with Ira Chaleff, founder and president of Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates, who says that sometimes it may be necessary for us to disobey authority in order to protect ourselves and others. “Some of us learn the lessons of obedience a little too well, and when the time comes to stand up to the boss we give in because we’re afraid of negative repercussions if we don’t,” Chaleff says. “We can take some fear out of the experience if we know how to say “no.”
Chaleff elaborates about Intelligent Disobedience: thinking consciously about the orders we are given, saying “no” in a calm, professional manner, and explaining why we chose to do so. He says this method works for anyone, from an office employee to a soldier on the battlefield. Even service dogs learn intelligent disobedience for when they are given a command that may endanger their owner.
Chaleff says that practicing intelligent disobedience requires the courage to assume responsibility, the courage to help a leader move past your decision, and the courage to take a moral stand. He also advises teaching children to think carefully about what they are asked to and how to determine the right time to obey and the right time to question authority.