Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wisconsin State Journal interview about teaching "The Wire" at UW-Madison

I was lucky enough to be interviewed by the Wisconsin State Journal's Deb Ziff for the paper's "Know Your Madisonian" feature. We mainly talked about using The Wire in my course in the Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS) Program at UW-Madison, "Narratives of Justice and Equality in Multicultural America." The interview is available here.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Forthcoming book on The Catonsville Nine: CLR at St. John's blog

The blog of the Center for Law and Religion at St. John's University School of Law has written up a nice preview of my forthcoming book on The Catonsville Nine (to be published by Oxford University Press in the spring of 2012). You can find the posting here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Interview about teaching "The Wire" at UW-Madison

Here's a link to an interview I did with John Lucas of UW-Madison's News Service about my Integrated Liberal Studies course, "Narratives of Justice and Equality in Multicultural America."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Teaching "The Wire" at UW-Madison: Week Five

We're kind of settling into the semester now -- for better and for worse -- in my Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS) 275 course at UW-Madison, "Narratives of Justice and Equality in Multicultural America."

The good news: students clearly are engaged in viewing The Wire. The syllabus indicates that we're up to Episode Five, but several students have told me that they have shot forward and viewed the entire first season. I've also discussed with several the wisdom of buying the entire five-season series. (A great idea, in my book.)

The challenge involves getting them to do more than just marvel over how real and engaging the show is. We're reading Jason DeParle's great book American Dream, and I'm hoping for them to see the links between public policy, poverty, and crime. I've also assigned the game "Spent," which puts players in the position of trying to survive a month in poverty.

And then there are group projects: a class presentation and a research project. That's where the rubber will meet the road: they'll have to be creative and critical with less direct guidance from me. The opportunities for learning are much greater in that context, but so are the perils -- students can flake out, not meet expectations, etc.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Followers of Christ parents found guilty

Dale and Shannon Hickman, members of the Oregon-based Followers of Christ Church, have been found guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the faith-healing death of their newborn son. The Oregonian has all of the details here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jehovah's Witnesses and apostates: "Mentally diseased"?

The Independent is reporting (here) on a controversy regarding Jehovah's Witnesses and their views on former members of their faith. The paper reports: "The official magazine for Jehovah's Witnesses has described those who leave the church as 'mentally diseased,' prompting an outcry from former members and insiders concerned about the shunning of those who question official doctrine. An article published in July's edition of The Watchtower warns followers to stay clear of 'false teachers' who are condemned as being 'mentally diseased' apostates who should be avoided at all costs."

"Rift" over healing among Followers of Christ?

Television station KATU in Oregon has reported (here) some intriguing developments related to the crminal prosecution of the parents of David Hickman, an infant who died last year after being denied -- on religious grounds -- conventional medical treatment. Hickman's parents are members of the Followers of Christ, a church with a long record of involvement in cases of religion-based medical neglect of children.

The station is reporting that "testimony last week revealed that a doctor prescribed birth control pills and once gave a medical exam to a church elder, Karen White, who also happens to be the deceased child’s grandmother. Karen White is also married to Walter White Jr., grandson of church founder Walter White. Current and former church members told KATU News a major rift in the church is now brewing over the revelation and the issue of medical care."

Having followed the Followers for many years, my surmise is that this "rift" hardly is new. Although they are famously close-knit, the Followers -- like all religious communities -- have some diversity in terms of beliefs and practices; it's inevitable in any kind of community. (One need look no further than the Amish, who are anything but uniform in their ideology and practices.)

It's difficult to predict what these fissures might mean for the Followers and their healing practices. If nothing else, though, they indicate that change is most likely to come from within, rather than simply via state coercion.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Amish jailed in reflective triangle dispute

A variety of news outlets, including CNN, have reported the jailing of a group of eight Amish men in Kentucky for their failure to display reflective orange triangles on their buggies, as required by that state's slow-moving vehicle (SMV) law.

I'm curious to know how the application of Kentucky's SMV law squares with that of other states (some of which allow the Amish to use less garish white reflective borders on their buggies, thereby not coercing them into violating the strictures of their faith). I wrote about some of these issues at the end of my book The Yoder Case, and it's interesting to see how they remain contested in the public square.

Followers of Christ trial set to resume in Oregon

The Oregonian is reporting that the manslaughter trial of Dale and Shannon Hickman, members of Oregon City's Followers of Christ church, is set to begin again on Tuesday, September 27. The Hickmans are the latest in a string of church members to face criminal charges in cases of religion-based medical neglect.

There have been so many of these trials in Clackamas County (many of which I reviewed in my book When Prayer Fails) that it's almost tempting to treat them as old hat. But the chilling testimony in the Hickman prosecution should remind us of these cases are anything but ordinary -- and that the problem of religion-based medical neglect isn't going to vanish anytime soon, particularly in Oregon.

Last week, for instance, midwife Lavona Keith testified about the circumstances of the birth of David Hickman, the newborn who died without receiving conventional medical treatment. Explaining why the child wasn't taken in for such care, she stated that "it wasn't God's will for David to live."

Steve Mayes of The Oregonian is once again doing a great job of covering the Followers in court, and his latest effort is accessible here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Teaching The Wire at UW-Madison: Week Four

This semester (Fall 2011), I'm teaching a course through the Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS) program at UW-Madison. Entitled "Narratives of Justice and Equality in Multicultural America," it's an outgrowth of some of the nonfiction writing and composition courses I've taught over the last decade.

We're engaging a variety of texts, including Jason DeParle's great book on welfare reform in Milwaukee (American Dream), Elijah Anderson's classic Code of the Street, and Paul Butler's recent Let's Get Free. The real backbone of the course is Season One of HBO's critically-acclaimed drama The Wire. In my mind, the show provides a perfect window to the main issues we're engaging in the course: poverty, violence, criminal justice, and politics.

In an effort to engage students more completely, I'm teaching the course in a somewhat novel manner. The most obvious change in my teaching style is that I'm trying to minimize the amount of straight lecturing. Instead of putting students to sleep, I'm giving them the chance to engage our main text (The Wire) together and then respond in real time. To do that, we're responding to the show on Twitter; all of the responses are filtered into the hashtag #wire275.

Thus far, the results have been great. I've been teaching for over 20 years, and I've never previously had the experience of seeing (or hearing) instantaneous student responses to a text. Twitter gives students the ability to put their thoughts down quickly, before they are lost or forgotten -- or before the instructor takes the conversation in a different direction.

Reflection is important, too; the substance of the students' input can't simply be 140-character bursts of thought. We have meaningful discussions in class, and students are required to post weekly responses on our course website. Moreover, they will be working together on group projects inspired by our work. As I try to break the teaching/learning mold, I'm encouraging them to eschew the standard academic paper and instead work on performances, digital narratives, or educational games.

So far, the results are encouraging. Judging from what their Tweets, posts on the website, and comments in class, it seems that students are seriously engaged in our texts. And, purely on their own, they are making connections to things outside our course: one student referenced the controversy regarding a recent prizefight, while another posted a link to speech by Elizabeth Warren in which she invoked the social contract. As a teacher, those are the moments I really prize.

This week, it's on to Episode Three, "The Buys"....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

When Intense Belief Kills

An intriguing article in The Atlantic reviewing Sherry Adler's Sleep Paralysis: Nightmares, Nocebos, and the Mind Body Connection. Most interesting here is the discussion of how dozens of Hmong immigrants died in their sleep in the early 1980's. According to the piece, "Adler, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, comes to a stunning conclusion: In a sense, the Hmong were killed by their beliefs in the spirit world, even if the mechanism of their deaths was likely an obscure genetic cardiac arrhythmia that is prevalent in southeast Asia." Read it here.

Medicine v. Miracle

A great story here in the American Medical Association's on religion-based medical neglect. The story focuses on events in Oregon, where members of the Followers of Christ Church have been implicated in dozens of apparently preventable child deaths. (I focused on the church in my book When Prayer Fails.) There are great quotes from a variety of experts. The full story is available here.

The Warren Jeffs trial in Texas Monthly

Katy Vine has written an excellent account of the most recent Warren Jeffs trial for Texas Monthly. Her story, published in the August issue of the magazine, is available here.