Sunday, May 1, 2016

On Special Education and IEPs

On Special Education and IEPs: Ever since the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, American public schools have been required by law to accommodate students with special needs. Indeed, the earliest needs focused mainly on physical disabilities such as deaf-blindness, diabetes, and orthopedic-related injuries. More specifically, it was Section 504 of this 1973 law that made way for "plans" to be incorporated into a student's public school schedule. This concept was further developed in the 1990s after the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) became law. By this time, mental disabilities had shot to the forefront of special education, and thus, individualized education programs (IEPs) were born. IEPs are effective mechanisms for helping students work around their disabilities, but not every student with a disability requires one. It's important to treat IEPs as a kind of "last resort" for students having academic troubles in school. General education teachers can make a variety of changes to their instructional methods and classroom set-ups before eliciting the help of a special educator. Lastly, the biggest misconception surrounding IEPs is that they serve as "remedies" for a student's disability. Unfortunately, that disability will probably still remain, long after the student has tested out of his or her IEP.

Friday, April 15, 2016

On the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial

On the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial: Legally speaking, there was nothing terribly shocking about the O.J. Simpson verdict in October 1995. After it became clear that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) tampered with evidence, exoneration of criminal liability was the only option for the jury. Culturally speaking, however, the Simpson murder trial had a major rippling effect on American society, especially in terms of race relations. At a time when affirmative action statutes were being deemed no longer necessary, the Simpson trial brought questions of race and justice back into the fold. To add some context here, the trial occurred a mere three years after the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Thus, the city was still raw with a heightened sense of racial tension. Like the Rodney King trial, where four LAPD officers were acquitted of brutal behavior, the Simpson trial called the American ideal of "equal justice under law" into serious question. But what made the Simpson trial particularly intriguing was how it divided Americans along racial lines. Overwhelmingly, Caucasian-Americans attributed guilt to Simpson's actions while African-Americans believed he was innocent. Above all, technicalities matter tremendously in American law, as they often serve as the drivers of due process.

Friday, April 1, 2016

On Folk Catholicism and Drug Trafficking

On Folk Catholicism and Drug Trafficking: In many parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, aspects of the Catholic Church (especially sainthood) have meshed with elements of localized folk religions. Thus, "folk Catholicism" is really any kind of ethnic or localized expression of Catholic teachings that have either be confirmed or denied as blasphemous by the Church. Perhaps one of the most well-known "saints" in folk Catholicism is Santa Muerte (pictured above). In Mexico and parts of the American Southwest, Saint Death is worshiped on a cult level as a protector of souls making the transition to the afterlife. Although worship of her is considered heretical by the Catholic Church, she is particularly popular among drug traffickers (who live with prospects of death all the time). Aside from Santa Muerte, drug traffickers also pay homage to a folk saint named Jesus Malverde. But unlike Saint Death, Malverde is believed to have been an actual person who lived in Sinaloa, Mexico, from the 1870s to the early 1900s. Growing up under the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, Malverde saw how impoverished the people of Sinaloa had become. And after his parents died in poverty, he became a "righteous" bandit committing robberies and smuggling illicit goods with a Robin Hood mentality in mind.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On the Austro-Hungarian Empire

On the Austro-Hungarian Empire: If there was ever an empire that embodied the imperial decadence of late-nineteenth-century Europe, it was Austria-Hungary. Formed in 1867 after a compromise between two quasi-independent lands of the former Holy Roman Empire (ruled by the Habsburgs), Austria needed to redefine itself in the wake of two embarrassing and expensive wars. In fact, the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 and the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 pushed Austria to the brink of financial collapse. On the other hand, the Kingdom of Hungary was looking to distinguish itself as a major player in European affairs (probably since the days of Attila the Hun). It also sought protection from potential incursions by the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the compromise that birthed the Austro-Hungarian Empire was rather ill-conceived. At its core, however, Austria-Hungary suffered from an identity crisis. Was it more Austrian or more Hungarian? And where was its primary seat of power, Vienna or Budapest? In short, the Empire struggled to recognize its vast diversity of Germanic, Slavic, and Muslim peoples, which ultimately helped spark World War I in 1914. Perhaps Franz Ferdinand was better off not assuming the throne.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On Why Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear

On Why Van Gogh Cut Off His Ear: There are various theories regarding Van Gogh and what happened to his left ear in December 1888. For starters, ever since about 1880, Van Gogh's father wanted his son committed to an insane asylum, because he experienced serious bouts of psychosis (delirium, depression, etc.) from time to time. When Van Gogh's father died in 1885, these psychotic episodes appeared more frequently. In the late 1880s, Van Gogh had been living in the south of France (Arles on the Rhone to be exact). He intended to turn the city into a colony for artists of the post-Impressionist genre. In fact, some of his most well-known paintings (Starry Night over the Rhone and Cafe Terrace at Night) originated during his time in Arles. And for two months in late 1888, Paul Gauguin lived with Van Gogh. Yet after Gauguin made plans to return to Paris, Van Gogh confronted him. The prevailing theory is that Van Gogh cut off his ear in a fit of rage during the ensuing argument, and gave it to a woman at the local brothel. Some art historians believe that Gauguin and Van Gogh shared a love interest with this woman, and thus, Gauguin might have actually attacked Van Gogh in a fit of jealousy. Whatever the case may be, this story will forever fascinate scholars of late-19th century impressionism.