On October 11, 1991, Anita Hill forever changed the way Americans think about sexual harassment in the workplace. Now, more than twenty years later, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Mock brings her story to the big screen. All four screenings of this weekend's premiere of Anita at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival have sold out. For those of us who can't make it to Park City, we offer another way to celebrate the woman who inspired the film and her continued relevance to our national conversation about gender and racial equality. Join us in saying, "We still believe Anita Hill!"
Nancy Schniedewind is a Professor at SUNY New Paltz and co-editor with Mara Sapon-Shevin of Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education. Julie Woestehoff is a contributor to Educational Courage. This piece originally appeared at Huffington Post.
Walden Media's Won't Back Down portrays the heroism of one parent and one teacher fighting harmful educational practices by taking over their school. Their victory is as mythic as it is misleading. Those who should be celebrated by such media attention are the real-life heroes at the grassroots who have been fighting for meaningful educational change day-to-day, year-to-year.
Won't Back Down claims it is "inspired by real events" -- two unsuccessful attempts in California to implement "parent trigger laws" (called "Fail Safe" in the movie) by replacing traditional schools with charter schools. Unlike the movie, teachers had no voice or vote in the California efforts. And, while the movie shows Maggie Gyllenhaal, the mom, and Viola Davis, the teacher, valiantly going door to door by themselves, many of the parent petition signatures in the California campaign were gathered by organizers trained and paid by Parent Revolution, a group that is generously funded by Bill Gates and the Walton Foundation and created by Green Dot, a charter company vying to take over schools.
While it is imperative that we improve failing schools, that is not the goal of parent trigger laws. Pushed by ALEC, the Parent Trigger is simply one more attempt to divert public money into private pockets, empowering entrepreneurs, not parents.
Fortunately, there are true stories of courageous parents, students and educators whose lives don't make it into a Hollywood movie, but who persistently work to improve public education. Many of them challenge the policies of these same entrepreneurs who, along with charter schools, push excessive high-stakes testing, merit pay and the closing of under-resourced schools deemed failing based on student test scores.
Why not make a film about the bravery of South Texas student Marcario Guajardo who, when 11 years old, told his parents, "I want to protest the TAKS test. I don't want to take it. I don't like what the test is doing to my school." Marcario stayed home on the day of the test. His protest, an honest act of courage, motivated teachers and school leaders to alter their practices.
A film about the twenty five-year legacy of Chicago-based Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), now a base of the national organization Parents Across America, would tell the real story of audacious parents fighting for quality education. PURE parents would be seen organizing a 2004 major protest of school closings, camping out all night on the sidewalk outside the school district's loop headquarters in order to testify at Board of Education morning hearings.
They would be portrayed investigating then-district-CEO Arne Duncan's impressive news that a school "turned over" to a private management company had nearly doubled the achievement growth of the students who had been at the closed school. PURE's discovery that claims of this great success were based on only 12 of the 336 former students still enrolled in the re-opened school two years later highlighted that this and other Duncan-lauded "miracles" seem more about changing the student body than improving education.
Sam Coleman, elementary teacher of English Language Learners in Brooklyn, would challenge the stereotype of the self-serving teacher if cast as the lead in a film grounded in reality. Sam knew a district proposal for a merit-pay system based on standardized test scores would hurt students and teachers alike. Though the proposal could cost him and his colleagues bonuses of $1,500, Sam still encouraged his peers to consider how the plan: 1. assumed that the most reliable measure of a school's success is student test scores; 2. encouraged teachers to teach to the test; 3. assumed the problem in schools is that teachers are not working hard enough, rather than the larger issues that affect student success. Ultimately, Sam's faculty rejected the "bonus plan," challenging a business-based model of education and standing up together for children.
These and other local heroes deserve attention in the daily media as well as Hollywood films. They are among the thousands of others at the grassroots fighting for more equitable and democratic schools and whose stories can truly empower others because they are real.
A couple of years ago, Beacon Press published White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine, a book that Lauren Slater recommended as "required reading for anyone who has ever been a patient—in other words, for everyone." In WCBH, author Carl Elliott skewers drug-industry reps, exposes how Pharma companies ghost-write "scientific" research studies in support of their products, and introduces us to the world of human guinea pigging--a "career" path for those desperate enough to serve in drug study after drug study in exchange for mediocre pay and few benefits.
Carl sent me an email this week to tell me he had just returned from the Tribeca Film Festival, where he had attended screenings of Off Label, a new film "for which my writing is given credit as the inspiration." He put me in touch with filmmakers Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher, and I spoke with them via Skype as they were getting ready to leave New York. If you're familiar with WCBH and Carl's other writing in The New Yorker, Mother Jones, The Chronicle's Brainstorm blog, and elsewhere (including Beacon Broadside), you will certainly recognize the themes and people in the film. If you haven't read the book yet, get to it! And keep an eye out for screenings of Off Label. --Jessie Bennett, Blog Editor
Jessie Bennett: What is Off Label about?
Michael Palmieri: It's a film that examines the medicated margins of American society, and it does that initially through human guinea pigs. But it's personal stories of these people, so we're interested in the personal ramifications of the pharmaceutical culture that we live in, and how we're all sort of implicated in that process.
JB: How did you come to make a film about human guinea pigging?
MP: We were showing a rough cut of our first film, October Country, at a film festival in late 2008, and these two producers--Anish Savjani and Vincent Savino, who we ended up working with--they saw the film and they followed up with us and said, "Hey, would you guys be interested in making a film about human guinea pigs? " And we said, "Yeah, sure, maybe. It sounds interesting..."
Donal Mosher: And they said they had money.
MP: Yeah, they said they had money, and we said, "Okay, sure!" They actually did have a budget to make it, and it was an intriguing subject, but we didn't know if it could become a whole film. It seemed to us initially like a 60 Minutes-length, investigative reporting piece more than what we're interested in doing, which is a broader view of a subject or a viewing from sort of left field. But the first articles they showed us were Josh McHugh from Wired magazine ["Drug Test Cowboys: The Secret World of Pharmaceutical Trial Subjects"] as well as Carl's article called "Guinea-Pigging" [The New Yorker], which we really latched on to. We really liked the way he wrote the piece. So we ended up contacting him and discussing what we were doing, and he gave us more leads, more information. We eventually ended up meeting him. It kind of developed organically from there. "Guinea pigs" was the initial interest, but then we expanded the idea once we understood on a deeper level what was going on that was somewhat suspect in the guinea pigging world. If the testing is messed up, then what's messed up about the marketing? And what are the end results?
DM: We also began to see how the issue didn't just lie in the zone of the issue itself, but it was pervasive. Every time we'd have a conversation with someone, they had a relative or they themselves were on pharmaceuticals. And the stories were multiplying in a way that made us think this is an issue that pervades many layers of culture far beyond medicine or taking medicine itself. So we wanted to start working those ideas into the film.
JB: Who were some of the subjects that you spoke with? I recognized a few of the characters from Carl's writing.
DM: Originally we spoke with Bob Helms [of Guinea Pig Zero]. A lot of the well-known names in the human guinea pig scene, the people who are testing the drugs. And then from there, we moved on to Mary Weiss, who is also in Carl's writing.
MP: Robert Helms was in the original article that Carl wrote for the New Yorker. So we contacted him and spent time with him, and while we were in Philadelphia, Donal had initiated contact with a writer who had written a book called Acres of Skin, which gave us Eddie Anthony's story. He was an inmate in a prison at Holmesburg when it was actually legal to conduct medical testing on prisoners. And it really screwed up his life because some rough tests occurred when he was in there. We had initiated contact with Paul Clough through his website [Just Another Lab Rat]. Paul is based in Austin, but he has a website very much like what Robert Helms has with his fan zine Guinea Pig Zero, set up for people in the guinea pigging community to speak with one another and share. "Oh, this test actually pays good money." "These people have terrible food." It's kind of amazing, because these people are doing this for a living.
JB: This is the thing that really shocked me about White Coat, Black Hat. "There's a human guinea pigging community?"
MP: And beyond that, it's a community of people who have no... there's no health plan for them. They're doing this because they don't have any other option. But for us, we could clearly understand that the testing is somewhat dubious on certain levels. I mean, obviously we need tests, there's a lot of positive, real things that come out of that testing. But people are lying to get into studies, and it's not exactly as clean of a population study as you would think it is. So the results are going to be skewed. Once we saw, "Okay, skewed results," we started moving more towards marketing, and we were introduced to [former pharmaceutical representative] Michael Oldani, through Carl. Again. Which is why, in a certain sense... how did we say it now? Not dedicated...
DM: "Inspired by."
MP: The film is truly inspired by Carl's writing. It's not just the characters that he led us towards, of which I think he led us toward five of the eight characters. But it's the endless numbers of hours spent with him in Minneapolis. At a coffee shop, where we would meet to discuss something, and we'd look at our watches and eight hours had passed. It's the types of conversations you dream to have all the time. We just got to know each other really well, and his style of writing is so expansive, and it moves from one idea to the next idea. He's such a big brain on a stick, you know what I mean? We wanted to try to do something like that with this film, that followed a line of reasoning as opposed to a specific plot. As a means to take in all of the complications of the issue that we were examining. But rather than having it point a finger at pharma and say, "This is the bad guy, and this is the problem." Which is the "call to action" documentary. We wanted to make a film that was a call to reflection, which is what Carl's writing is like, or the feeling at least that we got from it.
JB: Mary Weiss, the mother of the test subject who died in Minnesota, who Carl writes about in WCBH, is featured in the film. Can you tell us about her story?
DM: In short, she attempted to get her son into a mental hospital. And when she couldn't, she found him space at the University of Minnesota. At first, he was assessed that he couldn't make any rational judgment about his own medication--that he wasn't sane enough. And then, within twenty-four hours, that was reversed. The full details of the story are in an article that Carl wrote for Mother Jones, but essentially it was a doctor who placed his own psychiatric patient in a very lucrative testing study. Not a study testing the efficacy of the drug that was prescribed for this young man, but a comparison marketing study where the dosage was fluctuating. The result was an incredibly sad and grisly suicide. From that point on, his mother has been fighting to change Minnesota laws, and to make those changes nationally.
MP: And to clarify, this happened at the University of Minnesota, where Carl works. And the study that Dan Markingson was entered into was not only a marketing study, but it was a study that was conducted by the same doctor who was his attending physician. So the conflict of interest was so obvious in this case, but it was still legal. So Mary Weiss has helped pass the law to make that illegal.
JB: You just finished up at the Tribeca Film Festival. How did it go?
MP: It went great. We showed the film four times. We finished yesterday, and the screenings were all pretty full. Carl was there for the first two screenings, with a couple of other people from the film. We are kind of thrilled with the response. It's gotten some fantasticreviews as well. So we're really happy.
JB: How was the audience reaction to the film in Tribeca?
MP: I usually read it from the perspective of, "How many people left during the credits who didn't want to stick around for the Q&A?" An overwhelming number of people stuck around, which was a good sign to begin with, but the questions, they kept coming until they had to kick us out of the theater. So people are, I think, really engaged with the film. Everyone seems to be invested, so we're really happy. And if it causes people to pause and think about what medicine is going inside their bodies, I think we have succeeded, at least on that level, and it makes us very happy.
JB: And where are you headed next?
MP: We're headed to HotDocs in Toronto, where the film is premiering internationally. The Toronto documentary crowd is insanity. We've already sold out most of our screenings, and they're gigantic places. We're looking forward to that. And we're hoping that there's a lot of European interest in screening the film.
JB: Well, it's an international issue.
MP: But it's a very American film, so we're curious to how Europe responds.
DM: We're really curious to see, when there's an international audience, what stories they give us about the situation in whatever country the film might land.
JB: And you have a screening in San Francisco as well?
The movie of the best-selling novel The Help is now available for home viewing on video. (Spoiler alert! Key plot points are divulged through the web links in this post.)
For anyone who missed it in the theater, I highly recommend you watch The Help. When the book came out in 2009 I read it and loved it… and I was troubled by it… and I reviewed it…
One reason I recommend The Help is that it tackles very challenging subjects with sincerity and an eye toward justice and truth. Another reason I recommend it is because of… disquieting thoughts [it raised in my mind].
There has been some serious controversy in connection with The Help. Check out Patricia Turner’s New York Times Op-Ed, "Dangerous White Stereotypes," and "Of Anger and Alternative Endings" in the Jackson Free Press. The author of the latter column (Donna Ladd, a white woman) accurately (in my opinion) points out that…
The Help just could not have ended as it did. Hilly, or her man, would have called the [White Citizens] Council on Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. My guess is that Aibileen would have been severely beaten and never hired again in the state; anyone related to Skeeter would have been destroyed economically and at least one cross burned in her mama’s yard; and Minny would have been killed and her house burned.
I am a post-civil rights black woman whose Southern roots have been nearly erased by world travel and an adulthood spent raising a family in Michigan. I am supposed to be offended by the movie The Help for its simplification of the injustices of the Jim Crow South. But I am not.
Black and white people have both praised and vilified The Help. One of the most powerful statements comes from the Association of Black Women Historians. The authors list several troubling, false, and stereotypical portrayals in The Help:
Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.
I respect the expertise and sincerity of the authors, and I’m troubled by one point they highlight:
We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent.
How can the authors of this statement find it “unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment” and then praise the performances of the black actors who chose to portray those very characters? If you disagree so strongly with a white woman writing this story and claim that The Help misrepresents both African American speech and culture, wouldn’t it be more consistent to criticize the African American actors who chose to star in the film?
According to the cover story in Entertainment Weekly (#1167, August 12, 2011), Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer “love the characters of Aibileen and Minny, which makes having to defend them to detractors a strange and uneasy burden.” Spencer says,
I am thrilled to be playing this woman. She is a human being with the breadth and depth of emotions, and she is a contributing member of society. It should not be ‘Why is Viola Davis playing a maid in 2011?’ I think it should be ‘Viola Davis plays a maid and she gives the f—king performance of her life.’
I continue to think about The Help and the reasons I loved it and the reasons it troubled me. Jackson, Mississippi was a terribly racist city in the 1960′s when this story takes place. In far too many ways, Jackson (like the rest of our nation) still has such a very long way to go. Racism and hatred are alive and well (note the recent, brutal murder in Jackson of James Anderson). But ultimately I land on the side of those who recommend that people read or watch The Help. Love it or hate it or something in between, The Help, as pointed out by Jamia Wilson in her powerful and balanced article (she points out both positive and negative aspects) for Good Culture, inspires us to think and talk about race. That fact alone–that I continue to ponder the issues it raises (and I suspect anyone who has read the book or watched the film does as well)–is, in my opinion, the most redeeming quality about The Help.
NOW, one more point. I cannot stress enough how much I hope that people — particularly white people — will seek out other books by black writers on the subject of black domestic workers. The Association of Black Women Historians included a list of ten books at the end of their Open Statement to the Fans of The Help that they recommend. I’d like to highlight one of those books that I recently read; one that is published by my publisher, Beacon Press.
I loved Like One of the Family by Alice Childress [read an excerpt here]. This novel is a series of vignettes; brief conversations between Mildred, a black domestic worker, and her friend Marge. Childress creates a vivid image of the life of a black working woman in New York in the 1950s. It is funny, sarcastic, outspoken, and rings with truth. Here’s a brief excerpt:
‘Mrs. M…, what is the matter, you look so grieved and talk so strange ’til I don’t know what to think?’ She looked at me accusingly and said, ‘I’m afraid to say anything to you, Mildred. It seems that every time I open my mouth something wrong comes out and you have to correct me. It makes me very nervous because the last thing I want to do is hurt your feelings. I mean well, but I guess that isn’t enough. I try to do the right thing and since it keeps coming out wrong I figured I’d just keep quiet. I… I… want to get along but I don’t know how.’
Marge, in that minute I understood her better and it came to my mind that she was doing her best to make me comfortable and havin’ a doggone hard go of it. After all, everything she’s ever been taught adds up to her being better than me in every way and on her own she had to find out that this was wrong… That’s right, she was tryin’ to treat me very special because she still felt a bit superior but wanted me to know that she admired me just the same.
‘Mrs. M…,’ I said, ‘you just treat me like you would anybody else that might be workin’ for you in any kind of job. Don’t be afraid to talk to me because if you say the wrong thing I promise to correct you, and if you want to get along you won’t mind me doing so.’
This excerpt captures for me some of the challenges with The Help. Katherine Stockett did her best to write a book that would, well, help. It is flawed, as are all books, but it is her story; the story of a time and a place and people written from the perspective of a white woman. Balance The Help with Like One of the Family or one of many books about that time and place. Your knowledge and curiosity will grow. That is a good thing.
And then talk about race… which is one real value of The Help.
Photo: Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer in 'The Help' (courtesy of Dreamworks)
Over the past couple of weeks, the reaction to the novel and film The Help has made for some illuminating reading regarding race, history, and literature. Among the most thoughtful pieces we've read this week was from the Association of Black Women Historians, who said:
[T]his statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help. The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.
They outline their substantitive objections to the film in the statement, and conclude by saying, "In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment."
The statement includes a recommended reading list, which we reproduce below.
The first book on the list, Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic's Life by Alice Childress, is excerpted below. The novel is comprised of a series of conversations between Mildred, a black domestic, and her friend Marge. The book was originally published in the 1950s by a small publisher in Brooklyn (Independence Press), but Beacon Press brought out a new edition of it in 1986 with an introduction by the literary and cultural critic Trudier Harris.
The conversations in the book were first published in Freedom, the newspaper edited by Paul Robeson, and later in the Baltimore Afro-American. Childress is probably best-known for her book A Hero Ain't Nothin' but a Sandwich, and was also an accomplished playwright as well as a Tony-nominated actress. Before her success as a writer, she lived a life without economic advantages. In the introduction to the Beacon Press edition of Like One of the Family, Harris writes:
Chidress's upbringing and struggles in New York effectively influenced the kind of writer she would become. She says of herself: "I attempt to write about charactes without condescension, without making them into an image which some may deem more useful, inspirational, profitable, or suitable." She has also commented that she concentrates "on portraying have-nots in a have society, those seldom singled out by mass media, except as source material for derogatory humor and/or condescending clinical, social analysis."
Before these ideals could be realized, however, Childress had to serve a long apprenticeship. ... She pursued a variety of jobs, including assistant machinist, photo retoucher, saleslady, and insurance agent as she worked relentlessly to gain audiences for her work as a playwright, actress, and novelist. She also did domestic work for a few months; the day she quit she surprised her employer by throwing her keys at her head. The woman later asked her to return to work. This "only work" that Childress could find turned out to be valuable, for it provided her with firsthand experienece of the job situation she would later depict in Like One of the Family.
If You Want to Get Along With Me
from Like One of the Family by Alice Childress (Beacon Press, 1986)
Marge, ain't it strange how the two of us get along so well? . . . Now you see there! Why do you have to get so sensitive? . . . No, I was not reflecting on your personality or making any kind of digs! . . . Well, if you'll give me a chance I'll try to explain what I mean . . . I've known you for years and although you've got your ways . . .Yes, yes, I know I've got mine . . . but the important thing is that we go right on being friends . . . for example, remember the time you borrowed my best white gloves and lost them? . . . I know that I spilled punch on your blue satin blouse! . . . Now, wait a minute, girl! Are we goin' to have a big argument over how friendly we are!
I said all of that to say this. Today I worked for Mrs. M . . . and she is an awful nice lady when she wants to be, but she can get on my nerves something terrible. . . . No, I do not mean that you get on my nerves too, and if you keep pickin' up on every litte thing I say, I'm gonna get up and go on home. . . . Well, gettin' back to Mrs. M . . ., she can make me downright uncomfortable! . . . Yes, you know what I mean, she turns my workaday into a real socializin' session, and her idea of socializin' is to ask me a million questions. . . . "What do you do after work, Mildred?" and "Do you have a lot of friends?" and "Are you married?" and "Do you have a boyfriend" and "Do you save your money?" and "Do you like to read?" and "Do you people like this or that?" . . . By you people she means colored people... and I can tell you she can wear my nerve-cells pretty near the breaking point. . . . I know you know!
Well, at first I tried to get used to it because she is so nice in other ways . . . I mean like not followin' me around and dippin' into every thing I'm doing . . . yes, I appreciate that. . . . She lets me do my work, and then if anything isn't quite pleasin' to her she will tell me afterwards but it usually turns out that she's satisfied. Also I like the fact that she is not afraid of a little work herself, and many a day we've worked side by side on jobs that was too much for me to handle all alone. Also she makes the children call me Miss Jonhson. . . . Sure, whenever anybody has so many good ways, you hate to be pointin' out the bad ones. . . . But question, question, question... and it wasn't only the questions. . . . Honey, she could come out with the most gratin' remarks! . . . Honestly, she made such a point of tellin' me about how much she liked and admired Negroes, and how sorry she felt for their plight, and what a fine, honest, smart, and attractive woman was workin' for her mother and so forth and so on and so forth until it was all I could do to keep from screamin', "All right, back up there and take it easy!"
Well, the upshot of it all was that I began to pick her up a little here and there in order to put her on the right track. For example, I'd say to her, "What's so strange about that woman being honest and attractive?" Well, Marge, she'd look so stricken and hurt and confused that I'd find myself feelin' sorry for her. . . . No, I didn't stop altogether but I'd let things go along a bit and then I'd have to pick her up on something again, and over a period of five or six weeks I had to jack her up several times. . . . Girl! all of a sudden she turned coldly polite and quiet and I can tell you that it was awful uncomfortable and strained in the house.
I guess I could have stood the strain but it began to tear me up when she'd say things like "May I suggest" and "Do you mind if I say" and "If it's all right with you." . . . When I had my fill of that I came right out and asked her, "Mrs. M . . ., what is the matter, you look so grieved and talk so strange 'til I don't know what to think?" She looked at me accusingly and said, "I'm afraid to say anything to you, Mildred. It seems that every time I open my mouth something wrong comes out and you have to correct me. It makes me very nervous because the last thing I want to do is hurt your feelings. I mean well, but I guess that isn't enough. I try to do the right thing and since it keeps coming out wrong I figured I'd just keep quiet. I . . . I . . . want to get along but I don't know how."
Marge, in that minute I understood her better and it came to my mind that she was doing her best to make me comfortable and havin' a doggone hard go of it. After all, everything she's ever been taught adds up to her being better than me in every way and on her own she had to find out that this was wrong. ... That's right, she was tryin' to treat me very special because she still felt a bit superior but wanted me to know that she admired me just the same."
"Mrs. M ...," I said, "you just treat me like you would anybody else that might be workin' for you in any kind of job. Dont' be afraid to talk to me because if you say the wrong thing I promise to correct you, and if you want to get along you won't mind me doing so. After all, if I got into all your personal business and wanted to know everything about your life and your husband and your friends, pretty soon you would be forced to correct me even though it might make me uncomfortable." "Oh, Mildred," she says, "I didn't realize . . ." "Of course you didn't," I cut in, "but can't you see that it's unfair to push a one-sided friendship on me?" "Mildred," she says, "I wanted to be friendly." "Now of course you did," I answered, "but, for example, when you told me the other day that you're going to drop by my house and see me sometime I don't appreciate that because I never invited you, and you never had me to your house except to do a day's work." She looked down at her hands as I went on, "I don't think it's fair that you can invite yourself to my house and I can't tell you that I'll be over here for tea on Sunday afternoon."
Marge, she shook her head sadly. "You mean that there is nothing that we have in common, nothing that we can talk about?" "I didn't say that at all," I sad, "but let's just relax and feel our way along and not try to prove anything, and before you know it everything will go along easy-like."
She smiled then, "You mean you don't want to be treated special?" "Well, I do and I don't," I answered; "because I knew a woman once who was awful rude to me and said that was the way she was with everybody, no matter what color, and she didn't want to treat me special. I told her that if that was her general way then I'd appreciate her treatin' me special and I'd bet that other folks would like the change, too." Marge, Mrs. M . . . fell out laughin' and says, "Mildred, people are the limit!" ... And I guess she's right too. . . . No indeed, I don't take that time and bother with most folks because when I run into a mean, hateful one who comes chatterin' around me about "What do you do after work?" I just give her a short smile and say, "Oh first one thing and then another." And by the time she's figured that out, I'm in another room busy doin' something else! . . . That's right, but, as I said, Mrs. M . . . is a nice person, so I told her.
Jay Wexler is the author of The Odd Clauses: Understanding the Constitution Through Ten of Its Most Curious Provisions. Wexler is a professor at the Boston University School of Law; prior to teaching he worked as a clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the U.S. Supreme Court, and then as a lawyer in the Office of Legal Council at the Department of Justice. He has published nearly twenty academic articles, essays, and reviews, as well as nearly three dozen short stories and humor pieces, in places like The Boston Globe, Spy, Mental Floss and McSweeney's. This post originally appeared on his blog.
[Editor's note: SPOILER ALERT! In the post that follows, renowned legal Scholar Jay Wexler reveals important plot points from Disney Pixar's Cars 2. Because we care deeply about your enjoyment of family-friendly entertainment, if you have not yet seen this movie consider yourself warned and do not read any further, but do go out and pre-order your copy of The Odd Clauses.]
Hi there. If you have kids and are interested in obscure aspects of the Constitution, then perhaps you are wondering whether it was constitutional for Mater the goofball tow truck from Cars to be knighted by the Queen of England car at the end of Cars 2, following how Mater saved the world and everything. Doesn’t the Constitution say something about titles of nobility, and doesn’t that maybe prevent US citizens from becoming knights and dukes and what have you?
First of all, of course, it might not be the case that the U.S. Constitution governs these cars. How the hell do I know what legal system these automobiles live under? In the first movie, Doc Hudson presided over a court that sentenced Lightning McQueen to fix the road that he ruined when he fell out of Mac and lost control on his way into Radiator Springs. Then again, Doc Hudson also presided over what seemed to be something of a prostate exam on the police car, so who knows what’s going on? It does seem, however, that there is law in Cars land, and Cars does seem to be set in a world that looks almost exactly like our own, only that there are no people and only cars. I think it’s a fair assumption that the Constitution applies. I suppose we could get into the question of whether to assume that if the world of Cars is governed by the Constitution, the founding car fathers also substituted the word “cars” for “persons” whenever that would have been appropriate. What good would a Constitution that refers to “persons” be in a world where there are no persons, right? In any event, I think I’ll just let you stew over that one yourself.
Assuming that the U.S. Constitution applies to these cars, however, it would still have been okay for the Queen car to knight Mater, because although the Constitution prohibits active “officers” of the United States from generally accepting titles of nobility, and although it also prohibits the U.S. federal government or any of the states from granting titles of nobility, it does not prohibit a regular old citizen from accepting a foreign title of nobility. That’s why it has always been okay for various non government officials like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope to accept foreign titles and lordships and legions of honor and what have you. It doesn’t, of course, explain why French people think Jerry Lewis is funny, but at least he didn’t violate the Constitution. And neither did Mater. Phew.
For more about the Titles of Nobility Clauses, I hope you’ll check out my book when it comes out in the fall, because there’s a whole chapter in there about them.
The critically-acclaimed documentary Waiting for Superman opens nationwide today, and one of the key educators featured in the film is Geoffrey Canada. Canada is President and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, an organization described by President Barack Obama as "an all-encompassing, all-hands-on-deck anti-poverty effort that is literally saving a generation of children in a neighborhood where they were never supposed to have a chance."
We are equally proud to see Canada given prominent voice in the debate about how to improve educational opportunities for all children in America. Click on the links below to find out more about Geoffrey Canada, the Harlem Children's Zone, and Waiting for Superman.
The Boston Arts Academy comprises an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse student body, yet 94 percent of its graduates are accepted to college. This remarkable success rate, writes Principal Linda Nathan, is in large part due to asking the right questions and being open to seeking solutions collaboratively with faculty, parents, and the students themselves.
Editors: Theresa Perry, Robert P. Moses, Ernesto Cortés Jr., Lisa Delpit, Joan T. Wynne
Legendary civil rights leader and education activist Robert Moses invited one hundred prominent African American and Latino intellectuals and activists to meet to discuss a proposal for a campaign to guarantee a quality education for all children as a constitutional right-a movement that would "transform current approaches to educational inequity, all of which have failed miserably to yield results for our children." The response was overwhelming, and people literally started organizing on the spot.
We are in an era of radical distrust of public education. Increasingly, we turn to standardized tests and standardized curricula-now adopted by all fifty states-as our national surrogates for trust.
Legendary school founder and reformer Deborah Meier believes fiercely that schools have to win our faith by showing they can do their job. But she argues just as fiercely that standardized testing is precisely the wrong way to that end. The tests themselves, she argues, cannot give the results they claim. And in the meantime, they undermine the kind of education we actually want.
In this multilayered exploration of trust and schools, Meier critiques the ideology of testing and puts forward a different vision, forged in the success stories of small public schools she and her colleagues have created in Boston and New York. These nationally acclaimed schools are built, famously, around trusting teachers-and students and parents-to use their own judgment.
Meier traces the enormous educational value of trust; the crucial and complicated trust between parents and teachers; how teachers need to become better judges of each others' work; how race and class complicate trust at all levels; and how we can begin to 'scale up' from the kinds of successes she has created.
President Obama has nominated Goodwin Liu, an Associate Dean and Professor of Law at UC Berkeley School of Law, to serve on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Opponents have seized upon comments Liu made during a panel discussion on May 6, 2008 following a screening of Traces of the Trade at the Newseum in Washington, DC that was sponsored by the Council on Foundations (I wrote about the event here).
The distinguished panel was moderated by Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree and PBS Senior Correspondent Judy Woodruff. Panelists discussed the major themes in the film and how they connect to the world of philanthropy; how foundations can effectively facilitate discussions on race, the legacy of slavery, and the need for healing. When government lacks the capacity–or will–to lead the way in creating a more just world, how can we best encourage grass roots leadership in undoing racism and other forms of oppression.
Goodwin Liu’s comments were right in line with these themes. Yet if you Google "Goodwin Liu, Traces of the Trade" you'll find several links to a YouTube video clip, just over 2 minutes in length, titled "Obama Appeals Court Nominee – Goodwin Liu – on Reparations for Slavery." You’ll find an article by Ed Whelan, prominent conservative legal analyst and blogger, in which he claims Liu "... would make those who were not complicit in slavery pay the price of his grandiose reparations project." You’ll find many other bloggers chiming in.
But if you watch the entire discussion (which you can download here) you’ll find that what Liu was advocating in saying that each of us has a moral duty to make things right is that,
...instead of looking for the single national strategy, which is what everybody always looks for, think about what you can do on a much smaller scale in much smaller communities, around specific problems that people face, whether it’s in their schools, in their workplaces, access to health care, in their housing; whatever it may be.
For far too long we have allowed extremists and the media to define "reparation" for historic slavery as that "single national strategy" in which people who never enslaved anyone pay the price for checks being written to people who were never themselves enslaved. Such a definition serves well those who rely on division and controversy to serve their own ends. But it isn't helpful to those who want to make a positive difference in the world.
Oher isn't that difficult to spot. Not at 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds. But, apparently, the place I am least likely to see him around town is at the neighborhood Cineplex going to see "The Blind Side," the movie about his remarkable rise from the mean streets of Memphis to stardom in the National Football League. Oher doesn't seem that interested. He passed on the gala premier in New York a few weeks back, thus missing a chance to hob nob with the movie's stars Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. A few days ago, when the Baltimore Sun asked, he still hadn't seen the film.
I can appreciate Oher's ambivalence. At least, I think I can. On the one hand, his life is a testament to the power of resolve, love and, above all, serendipity. I'm amazed by it. And after three decades as a sports journalist, I thought I was just about amaze-proof.