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Dangerous Minds – A Film Analysis

 (This is my final essay assignment for my Sociology class. I’m officially on break until mid-January! I got a 90, BTW.)

The film, Dangerous Minds, follows the story of Louanne Johnson, an ex-U.S. Marine. Set in 1989, the story begins with Louanne entering into her first year teaching at an inner-city school with underprivileged youths, where she explores the challenges of teaching her students, and the necessary steps it takes to reach them. Roughly based on the autobiography, My Posse Don’t Do Homework, Dangerous Minds shows a social depiction of the forces of stratification and poverty, the bureaucracy of our educational system, and the subcultures that exist within that framework (Johnson, 2007).

The opening of the film shows you glimpses of poverty-stricken neighborhoods with run down buildings, busted windows, and graffiti. Neighborhoods where homelessness and drug deals are a commonality. In the background of these images is the song Gangsta’s Paradise, by Coolio, which is used as a reflection into their lives and culture:

“You better watch how you’re talking and where you’re walking, or you and you homies might be lined in chalk… I’m the kind of G the little homies wanna be like, on my knees in the night saying prayers in the streetlight (Coolio, 1995).”

This further builds on the imagery of a reality within this subculture where gang violence is prevalent, life chances are lacking, and reputations that invoke fear are a necessary part of surviving.

Photo Credit: [Source]

Louanne’s students are primarily minorities from working poor families, with no apparent interest in education, little to any educational skills and social problems. Seemingly fixated in their social position, these kids seem to lack confidence in their ability to be more than they are by virtue of their birth and circumstances.

In an effort to control some aspect of their lives, placing value in fearful reputations and violence become a way of carving out a place for themselves within society, and seem to be synonymous with power and prestige. Upon Louann’s first day of class, she is greeted with derogatory sneers, such as “white-bread” and “puta,” which translated to English would be equivalent to whore or slut (Smith, 1995). In their effort to intimidate her into leaving, and therefore maintaining their freedom, they effectively make Louanne more determined to reach them.

In order to obtain the attention of her students, and teach them in a way that they can understand and identify, Louanne begins to think outside of the box. However, the bureaucracy of the school system becomes a problematic hurdle with its rigid rules, and administrations unwillingness to try something new, even despite the fact that the existing curriculum and approach isn’t working for the “special & challenging” kids (Smith, 1995). The impersonality of their organizational structure leaves you feeling that the school has little real interest in whether these kids actually learn anything, but sees Louanne as more of a babysitter to get them through the day and out the door. Despite the bureaucratic resistance Louanne takes her chances, challenges the system and begins breaking school rules.

Attempting to form a connection with her students and build rapport, she asks the class to teach her some karate. After two students try to show her some karate moves she proclaims, “You guys don’t know shit! (Smith, 1995)” Louanne starts the class with a clean slate, giving everyone an A, while telling them all they have to do is try in order to keep it, which is a persuasive message to a group of kids that have never experienced having an A before.

Photo Credit: [Source]

Appealing to the background of her students she breaks the school’s standardized curriculum. In teaching the kids about verbs Louanne writes, “I want to die,” and “ I choose to die.” She bribes them with candy, prizes and field trips to motivate them to do their work (Smith, 1995). She has them analyze poems about death and drugs. However, one of the more important factors is the interest she takes in her students as individuals, encouraging their abilities, and building a foundation of honest communication and respect, all of which are in direct conflict with the bureaucratic ideals of impersonality.

Throughout the film, you get this sense of jadedness coming from her students through their actions and how they verbalize themselves with comments such as, “ Come and live in my neighborhood for one week & you tell me if I still have a choice” (Smith, 1995). Yet, Louanne counters this mentality by telling them that everyone makes choices. “Those that choose to show up for school make the choice not to ‘lay down to die’. There are no victims in this classroom” (Smith, 1995).  These are powerful words that seem to strike a cord with her students, but throughout the film you still see the influence of societal structures negatively impacting the student’s life chances, regardless of the fact that they make the choice to come to school.

The role that familial influence plays on social mobility can be seen in the film when two brothers in Louanne’s class stop showing up for school. When Louanne goes to speak with the boys she ends up having a confrontation with their grandmother:

“You’re that white-breed bitch messin’ with my baby’s minds. My boys don’t go to your school anymore and that’s going to be it. I saw what they were bringing home – poetry and shit. A waste of time – they have more important things to worry about. I ain’t raising no doctors and lawyers (Smith, 1995).”

Another example of negative societal influence is shown through institutional discrimination when school administrators push a very bright student out of school due to her pregnancy, so that she can attend a “parenting school” to learn about baby care. This discrimination is performed with the justification of being best for all students with the assertion that “pregnancy is contagious,” but this effectively creates an environment that lowers their chances of graduating from high school (Smith, 1995).

Perhaps, the film Dangerous Minds puts too much emphasis on the character of Louanne as a savior for the children, and sensationalizes the idea of “gang life.” However, it nevertheless manages to draw attention to important social factors that can influence the lives of children growing up in poverty, and how these factors can effect who we become. I see the film as an avenue to begin breeching mainstream views that cloud the issue of poverty in the United States, to start opening up paths for discussion, and consideration for the steps that might lead to social change.

 

References

Coolio (1995). Gangsta’s Paradise [CD] New York, NY: Tommy Boy Records

Johnson , L. (2007, June). My thoughts on the movie dangerous minds.

Smith, J. N. (Director) (1995). Dangerous minds [DVD].

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Drugs, Prostitution & Decriminalization

So, this week my Sociology Professor asked us, “Should victimless crimes such as prostitution and recreational drug use be decriminalized?”

My answer?

Yes.

Well, what I really said was this….

When decriminalizing recreational drug use and prostitution would essentially save the United States large sums of tax revenue and resources, boost our economy, and provide for a safer worker/consumer environment for the millions that participate in these activities – a better question might be, “Why SHOULD we keep them criminalized?” These policies are not accomplishing the goals of making society safer or preventing involvement.

The United States is known for its strict drug policies, and its imposition of the harshest penalties for drugs sales and possession across the world (Szalavitz, 2009). Historically, prohibition has done little more than create dangerous and violent markets, without seeing a decrease in consumption (“Should we legalize,” 2012).  America’s “War on Drugs” is failing, with a 2.5 trillion dollar price tag and little to show for it (“Should we legalize,” 2012).

As a case study, Portugal is a great example of how decriminalization of drug use can be beneficial to a society. In 2001, Portugal became the first European country to eliminate all criminal charges for personal possession of drugs, which was done with the goals of reducing deaths and infections by focusing on prevention and treatment instead of jailing (Vastag, 2009). Since their decriminalization, the number of street drug overdoses and new HIV cases among drug users has declined, with the number of people getting treatment for drug use rising, while the number of drug users is notably lower than those in the U.S. (Vastag, 2009).

Prostitution is one of the oldest jobs in the world, and instead of the profession declining, it is growing. Prostitution in the United States is estimated to bring in 14 billion dollars a year, with over 1 million people working as prostitutes (Gorbenko & Lakomy, 2011). Anti-prostitution laws do nothing to deter the frequency of prostitution, but do aid in pushing it underground, which makes it unsafe for all participants and for our society as a whole.

Most prostitutes are at the whim of those that pimp them out, and are regularly violated, abused and raped with no way for recourse of being helped for crimes committed against them. Some of this can be contributed to the non-reporting of crimes for fear of arrest for solicitation, but also for the abuse that prostitutes experience directly from law enforcement by way of assault and rape. Also, anti-prostitution laws and the enforcement of them are unequal in their attention and target prostitutes, not their clientele, which account for only 10% of all arrests (Gorbenko & Lakomy, 2011).

Laws against prostitution are unjustified and hypocritical. In no other way does government interfere in our sex lives and determine when, how or why we are allowed to have sex. Pornography is legal. Government isn’t out policing the number of men or women that marry (and have sex) with people of high financial backgrounds purely for financial gain.  Or people that are promiscuous is their behaviors, having sex with relative strangers after being bought dinner or drinks on  dates. If sex for money is what defines prostitution, should we be investigating all circumstances involved in citizen’s sexual activities to rule out the possibility of compensation in any form?

Prostitution and drug laws cost us money. A great deal of it. The U.S accounts for 25% of the world’s prisoners, but our high imprisonment rates have done little to cut down on the frequency of these “crimes.” (“Should we legalize,” 2012). Enforcement of these laws drains our police resources, clogs up our court system, and wastes our time, which could be better allotted to real crimes. Crimes that actually aren’t victimless, like those committed against people and property.

At the end of the day, the main motivators behind these laws are religious, rooted in societies definition of morality, and are used to unfairly target minorities and other social groups. None of which have any place in the making of government policy.

References

Gorbenko, M., & Lakomy, A. (2011, November 12). Prostitution: The ‘world’s oldest’ and most dangerous profession.

Should we legalize drugs? [Radio series episode]. (2012). In NPR.

Szalavitz, M. (2009, April 26). Drugs in Portugal: Did decriminalization work?. TIME Magazine,

Vastag, B. (2009, April 7). 5 years after: Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy shows positive results. Scientific American,

 

Funnily, this assignment was only supposed to be a discussion post for my class and not a full essay, but once I started writing about the topic, I realized I had a good deal I wanted to say, and I still only managed to cover a small portion of it. Maybe one day I’ll  have the time and opportunity to do a much deeper study to build more thorough cases for both.

Also, I haven’t answered to whether or not I support legalization and regulation for both.

1 – becasue that wasn’t my assignment

and

2 – because I’m not entirely sure to what extent I feel it would be good to regulate either, if at all. I’ll have to think and research on it more.

 

Here are some resources worth checking out:

NPR Debate: Should We Legalize Drugs? – A panel of experts — including former Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson — tackled that question in the latest installment of Intelligence Squared U.S. They faced off two against two in an Oxford-style debate on the motion: “Legalize Drugs.”

Washington Post: Should the U.S. Legalize Hard Drugs? – Some really compelling points that I didn’t even touch on in my post.

Prostitution: The ‘World’s Oldest’ and Most Dangerous Profession – Filled with a great deal of stats on prostitution.

Prostitution Law Reform: Defining Terms – Understanding the difference between decriminalization and legalization.

 

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Being Bad: Breaking Social Norms

Last week in Sociology, I had to perform a social experiment by breaking a social norm, and then write about my experience. This is what I ended up with… Enjoy!

Social norms are rules that govern behaviors within society by establishing standards of conduct (Kendall, p. 72). Sociologist Talcott Parsons theorized that social norms are necessary in society to help dictate our interactions with people (2011). Through these day-to-day interactions we learn what behavior is expected of us – how to dress for specific occasions, proper hygiene, manners, language that is appropriate in conversation, etc. These rules help us differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in any given situation.

My plan for the experiment was to meet two of my girlfriends at our local mall, have a drink and some dinner, and formulate a plan on how to break a social norm. I decided to bring along my friends for support, and to hold me accountable, so that I didn’t back out of the experiment. I struggled with the idea of performing the experiment, which had less to do with actually breaking a social norm, and more to do with having to acknowledge the reactions of people around me.

On the night of my experiment my anxiety levels were exceptionally high. I felt nauseous, tightness in my throat, heated, and my heart raced. As we ate, we discussed possible scenarios. I considered some of the class suggestions, along with staring, breaking into dance and using a phone app called iFart to fake a bodily function, among the more ridiculous.

In theory, all these ideas sounding very interesting; I wanted to be that person who could perform the experiment from a completely scientific place and be unfazed by the implications of it, but the reality of performing the experiment by breaking even a mild social norm seemed overwhelming. I reached a point in my evening where I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Why was this so hard for me?

It actually isn’t that uncommon for me to break social norms. Quite regularly I talk very loudly in public, especially when I am excited, and sometimes about topics that could be deemed socially inappropriate. Other times I have been known for nursing my toddler in public, yet even the idea of doing those things with the conscious purpose of getting a reaction seemed an impossibility.

It became clear that there is a stark difference between breaking a social norm because it comes naturally to you, or because it ties into something that is central to your belief system, and breaking a social norm purely for understanding how people will react. Typically, when I break a social norm I studiously ignore the reactions of the people around me.

Most would like to believe that they care little about what others think about them, but we are driven by how people perceive us, and the impressions that we leave. It is culturally deep-seated, this need to care and leave positive marks on the people we interact with, so to knowingly go against the grain and do something that will be perceived as odd or unacceptable with serious forethought feels wrong. At the root of my trepidation, there seemed to be a bigger fear of confrontation, which makes me wonder why I don’t fear that confrontation more in my everyday activities.

On the way out of the mall, as a last ditch effort, I decided to break a very mild social norm by riding the escalator down backwards, while my friends helped with cataloging the reactions of the people coming up the other side, as I watched people behind me. The most interesting thing happened, which was that nothing interesting happened at all. No one acknowledged me. All the people that passed by or were within the vicinity took absolutely no notice of me.

The result of the experiment left me considering how I generally go about my daily activities, especially in a public place. I go about my business, rarely looking at the people that are around me unless it is socially necessary, such a waitress taking my order or saying, “Excuse me,” when I get in someone’s way. Even in the moments of necessary interaction, I rarely make eye contact, and when I do it is limited. At any given time someone could be exhibiting strange, socially abnormal behavior and I would never notice it unless they were screaming, “Hey, look at me! I’m doing something socially strange over here!” So, this leaves me wondering if being inattentive to your surroundings in public is within itself a social norm, or just a socially awkward behavior that some people exhibit?

It occurs to me that people’s reactions to breaking social norms could vary greatly depending on the personality of the person/people you are interacting with, the size of your audience, and the quality of the norm you are breaking. It is my conclusion that it has almost become a social norm to break mild social norms, and that in combination with the patterns of behavior we exhibit in public places and our lack of observation to our surroundings unless necessary, it is likely that you can safely break mild social norms without anyone much caring or noticing.

References

Kendall, D. (2011). Sociology in our times. (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.

(2011). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norm_(social)

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I’m ALIVE!

That is all.

Ok, maybe I can do a little bit better with my update than that. 😛

I am BUSY. For realz kind of busy, but in a really good way. The kind of busy that results when you are really engaged in what you are doing and actually enjoying yourself… at least when I’m not over thinking it, and considering all those things that need to be notched off of my to-do lists.

I am LOVING my Genetics and Evolution class through Coursera, and I’m happy that it followed right on the heels of my Human Biology class, because the two compliment each other well. Today, started my Sociology class, and I am finding my text  ACTUALLY  enjoyable. SO rare! I feel like I’m spending much of my time half buried in books, when I’m not with my kids.

I’m sure Facebook is tired of hearing me post about school related things, and the general mischief I have been causing lately with sensitive topics…

Other than our normal homeschooling adventures, that is about all I have been up to lately. Here are a few pics for the road!

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A Peek at My Week: All That Jazz

I’m feeling terribly unmotivated to write this week’s post, but I’m gonna give it a go anyways. It isn’t that the week was bad, or that nothing interesting or fun happened. It is just that I am tired, and it was a very busy week that I don’t really feel even a little like laying all out there tonight. And you don’t feel like reading all of that, so it is a win for everyone involved. 😛

Haden celebrated his birthday with my family this weekend, even though his actual birthday isn’t until next weekend. He had a great time, but I don’t even have the pictures uploaded yet, so I have nothing to share on that end. I could go upload them… but I’m not gonna. See. I’m totally lacking in having my shit together tonight.

It was a great school week, but I apparently didn’t feel the need to photograph much of it, since when I went through my Instagram pictures this week, I had nada on there. Except for these from co-op classes on Wednesday. 🙂

Thursday, I had the following conversation with Haden…

Haden: Is today a school day?
Me: Yes.
Haden: Aww, man! When isn’t it going to be a school day??!!
Me: Sigh.
Five minutes later….
Me: You wanna take next week off from school?
Haden: Why? I love school!
Me: Are you serious? Sigh.
Two minutes later…
Me: Well, we are taking next week off.
Haden: Ok.

So, we decided to take the week off of school next week. Mostly. When I say “take the week off,” I always feeling like I’m almost lying. 😛 Honestly, I never feel like we aren’t doing “school.” Learning and livin’ – and all that jazz.

Some not to be missed footage of me chatting with my kids. 🙂

IMG 1409 from Mike Bowden on Vimeo.

In other news, I am 3 weeks away from being done with Human Biology and then I get a little mini-break! I’ve decided to register for Intro. to Sociology next, so I’m feeling optimistic that I will actually be taking a class I’ll enjoy. I also registered for this free course with Coursera – Introduction to Genetics and Evolution. I’m uber excited.

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School Bound!!!

Of course nothing ever works out the way that you originally planned, so my whole idea of Oregon State had to be reworked. 😉 After getting some of my questions answered and hitting some road blocks, I decided that it might be best to look into some other options. Well, there really aren’t ANY other good options for Anthropology online.
My sister actually started college pretty recently, majoring in History online and she mentioned that I should check out her school (Columbia College) and look into their Sociology degree. Turns out… that Sociology seems like a much better fit for me and after that everything else just fell right into place. I received an acceptance email this afternoon and everything is in the works for me to start in January!
So I am really excited and looking forward to starting this chapter in my life. Being a student again seems so weird and I am completely scared that it will be terribly hard for me because I feel like I have retained nothing from high school and it has been so long. Sheesh! It was 10 years ago!