Our older students (9th and 10 graders usually) are called “Grads” here at the Program. That’s a long story for another day but these students take college-level classes in the morning. This summer we are offering English (Creative Writing), Psychology in Film, and Special Topics in Criminal Justice.. Here are reports from Weeks Three and Four for each of those classes.
Creative Writing (Mr. Avee Chaudhuri, Instructor):
We began our poetry workshop this week. Students generally treated one another’s work with respect and made useful and insightful criticisms. My main responsibility in this workshop is to identify how an individual poem is working in or against a certain aesthetic tradition, if the class is unwilling or unable to do so. Otherwise, I sit back and let the students manage the discussion, and so far they have done a good job. On Thursday, we discussed what distinction, if any, exists between art and obscenity. This had the potential to devolve very quickly into hysterics and giggles and attempts on the students’ part to talk about their experiences viewing pornography, but the class did a good job of paying attention and demonstrating maturity. We read through Judge Woolsey’s majority decision in United States v. One Book Called “Ulysses,” which is a landmark obscenity case. On Friday we talked about flash-fiction, its emergence in the digital age, and how the brevity of the form lends itself to either 1) macabre humor or 2) existential meditation. Students have a 500 word response paper due for Monday.
On Monday, the students discussed their homework – a 500 word typewritten response to either Primo Levi’s “A Tranquil Star” or Amelia Gray’s “Date Night.” “A Tranquil Star” is concerned with the limits of language in describing the physical universe. “Date Night” is far more ambiguous and led to a good class debate about whether literary works have to contain “a deeper meaning” or whether they can be read for purely aesthetic or formalist reasons. On Tuesday, we discussed Realism as a literary movement. I lectured briefly about how Realism was a response to Romanticism and attempted to portray “ordinary life” in a way that was sincere and impartial. Then we discussed “The Destructors” by Graham Greene (which I did not realize was the inspiration for the Grad Fruit Drop) and “Are These Actual Miles?” by Raymond Carver. The students noted the plain, unadorned style, the impartial tone, and the lack of abstraction which these works share. On Wednesday, I introduced the concept of metafiction by showing the class a self-referential sketch from a British comedy show. We then talked about metafiction in a historical sense, and I pointed out that texts have been markedly self-referential since antiquity. I also shared with them Paul De Man’s belief that all fiction is metafiction since all fiction is at the very least implicitly concerned with language. As a corollary to metafiction, we also discussed Ars Poetica, poetry which describes poetics. The students read “A Continuity of Parks” by Julio Cortazar as their textual introduction to metafiction. On Thursday, we continued our discussion of metafiction by discussing Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings.” We then transitioned to literary Postmodernism by discussing Donald Barthelme’s “Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby.” The class seems to respond well to stories which involve macabre humor. I attribute this to their youth and intelligence.
Special Topics in Criminal Justice (Mrs. Jessica Markstorm, Instructor):
This week focused on problems encountered with police work. Issues such as aggressive patrol and excessive force were discussed. The students were presented with a thorough explanation of the 4th Amendment that included coverage of numerous Supreme Court cases. The exclusionary rule, “plain view” doctrine, and warrantless searches were evaluated.
Students learned the basic requirements of Miranda Rights and the exceptions to those requirements. The roles of the prosecutor, judge, and defense counsel were explored for a criminal case. Jury selection was discussed. A special emphasis was placed on issues regarding bail and plea bargains.
Psychology (Dr. Linda Brannon, Instructor):
During the third week, we finished our examination of perception with a discussion of the difficulties of recovery of vision. We saw scenes from the movie Blink, which is a fictionalized story that involves this topic.
Our main topic for the week was memory. We discussed memory systems, including their limitations and failures. Students saw two movies about memory: Inception and Memento. Inception is about implanting false memories, and Memento is about a person with anterograde amnesia, which is not the typical movie portrayal. Students enjoyed both, and we spent time critiquing the movie version of amnesia, which pretty much no movie does correctly.
We finished our examination of memory with a discussion of the misinformation effect, which is a process that results in false memories. This phenomenon is important for false criminal convictions based on eyewitness testimony as well as many memory failures.
We continued to the topic of sleep, which we discussed mostly in terms of the physiology of the stages of sleep and the brain structures that are activated during the various stages. We talked about the relationship between dreams and the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. No discussion of dreams is complete without Freud’s theory of the symbolic content of dreams, so we talked about that view, but we also considered a physiologically based theory of dreaming called the activation-synthesis theory. We also discussed some of the effects of sleep deprivation.