Tangled Webs: Spider-Man Films and Multiple Villains

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My latest piece on the Crawlspace is about rumors for the bad guys in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and whether Spider-Man films should only have one villain.

One of the rumors about SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is that it’s going to feature Vulture and Tinkerer working together, which is oddly remniscent of SPIDER-MAN: CHAPTER ONE. In this case, it could work. The Tinkerer doesn’t require a complex origin story, and can fit the Vulture’s story by helping him with his equipment.
Another rumor is that the Kingpin may be the bad guy. Vincent D’Onofrio says he’d like it to be true, but that it doesn’t seem likely. He would be a bad guy who would presumably have super-powered henchmen, but those guys don’t necessarily need complex origin stories, nor would they result in a more convoluted narrative. 

There’s another rumor that the opening set piece might pit Spider-Man against the Shocker. I’m posting this one because it’s something that plenty of readers have suggested they’d like to see. I don’t know if it’s the best use of a villain who has been in some good comics, but it would be a way to show off Spider-Man’s powers prior to the main conflict of the film.

Full article at the link.

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“Who says I have to go to school?” “The law!” Compulsory Attendance

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This is something else I wrote for a class.

We might think of compulsory attendance in schools as something that always happened, but for a long time, there was the understanding that some students will miss many classes for assorted reasons. Weather could be unreliable in many parts of the country, and many students would be expected to be to busy with chores to attend classes, especially if their parents were farmers. The first state to make attendance in schools mandatory was Massachusetts in 1852, when it required children between the ages of 9 and 14 to attend schools. This was based on the understanding that many children in that age group, if given the opportunity, would not be in school. (Christie) The laws became common in every state by the twentieth century, aided by child labor laws which required school-age children to get an education.

The age at which students are required to attend school (with graduation as the one available “out”) has increased. Recent laws had increased compulsory education, including the No Child Left Behind Act’s emphasis on graduation rates. Supporters of compulsory education laws suggest that it’s necessary to help children achieve their potential, and ward off various side effects of uneducated teenagers being left to their own devices all day long (IE- teen pregnancy, drug use, crime). Critics argue that students who don’t want to be in school will be disruptive, and that making attendance compulsory has become a policy alternative to improving schools so that every student would want to go there.

Some parents refuse to allow their children to attend public school, preferring a private school, or form of homeschooling. In the United States, the primary method of dealing with this legally is through laws that give control over standards for those alternatives. There are some exceptions. In the 1972 case Wisconsin V. Yoder, the Supreme Court ruled 7-0 that Amish children did not need to have more than an eighth grade education, due to the precedence between their parents’ religious belief and practice over the state’s interest in educating children. As Robert Mawdley described it, “the court went on to conclude that secondary schooling would expose Amish children to attitudes and values that ran counter to their beliefs and would interfere with both the child’s religious development and his or her integration into the Amish lifestyle.”

Compulsory education has significant effects in the classroom and society. With the understanding that most students will attend the typical class, teachers are better able to build on previous lessons. It is widely accepted that school-age children should be learning, rather than participating in child labor.

It remains a controversial topic, and there are several sides to it. There are several arguments that children shouldn’t be mandated to go to school at all, that it violates the rights of parents and/ or children, imposes a structure on children, or reinforces authoritarian beliefs. There is another claim that the laws don’t go far enough, and that the alternatives to a public school education lead to inequality, and a lack of suitable control over the standards of education.

I did some student teaching in summer school as well. One point that was drilled into me was that these were the kids who wanted to be there, the 1 in 3 who cared enough to go to school in the summer. Each day was a two hour class, and because teachers have to accept students who are up to half an hour late, many trickled in about 25 minutes late. Participation was also pretty low, with some kids who were literally present, but not figuratively so.

I’m mostly in favor of the status quo, with compulsory public school education as the norm, with available alternatives that have to meet state standards. Where do you fall on this spectrum? Are there aspects of that law that you would prefer to see changed (IE- the age up to which students are required to go to school)? For teachers, what problems have you had with absenteeism? How has your experience as a teacher changed your opinion on the topic?

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Qualitative and Quantitative Research

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In education, there are primarily two forms of research: Quantitative and Qualitative. Quantitative research depends on mathematical models and statistical techniques. Qualitative research is based on the researcher’s understanding. There are arguments for both. Some of the most significant researchers in education used qualitative research. Jean Piaget’s research on his three children changed our understanding of child development. On the other hand, qualitative research is vulnerable to individual biases, to say nothing of the possibility that someone will fabricate information. However, there is also the criticism that quantitative research turns individuals into numbers, and excludes factors that wouldmake results difficult to replicate. A question for education researchers is which carries greater conclusion.

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My conclusion is that qualitative research can typically be more influential than quantitative research in education. The major reason is that quantitative research gives concrete figures that can be incorporated in numerous ways by the media, and the various decision-makers, who will often be influenced by what is said in the media.

I think there has been a shift in society towards preferring numbers in research. The Western World currently has celebrity economists like Paul Krugman, Thomas Pikkety, Tom Sowell and Steve Levitt. While there is much dispute over the significance of cited numbers, there’s still a preference towards numbers as the basis for understanding the world, and the effectiveness of various forms of intervention in education, as well as other fields.

There’s skepticism of qualitative research for a variety of reasons. Part of it is a growing understanding of how people can be mistaken in their perceptions. As an example, You Are Not So Smart started as a blog about cognitive errors, and has spun off into a podcast and books. This kind of incredulity regarding subjective understandings and direct experience, either from researchers or the people they interview, makes qualitative research less convincing for anyone who distrusts the conclusion. And anyone supportive of the conclusion will be just as happy with quantitative research.

While narratives matter, the most influential stories are usually not the ones told by researchers with impeccable academic credentials. The media will find these stories themselves. When they cite research, my feeling is that it’s more likely to be quantitative research than qualitative, as that provides concrete numbers to add to a story about someone’s experiences. There are also different incentive structures and audiences. A news network is going to prefer telegenic teachers for a report on the state of education, while this is not as significant a priority for someone writing for a peer-reviewed journal on education.

There may be rare cases in which qualitative research is more influential. A particularly persuasive report could have a greater impact than quantitative research if read by the right person, but I think this would be the exception.

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Tangled Webs: One More Day’s Doctor Strange

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For the latest Tangled Webs column, I looked at Doctor Strange’s role in the controversial Spider-Man story One More Day, and considered how it changed the context of earlier scenes from writer J. Michael Straczysnki’s Spider-Man run.

This is a piece about One More Day, but it’s not about the usual controversy. It’s not about anything to do with Mephisto, not does it have anything to do with breaking up Peter and MJ. It’s about something that happened in the second issue on the storyline—an instance of time travel with Doctor Strange—that has interesting ramifications for several of the key storylines in J. Michael Straczynski’s Spider-Man run.

Time travel shenanigans are a part of JMS’s modus operandi. He described BABYLON 5 as having one example of time travel, which is literally true but it did have reverberations through the entire series. MIDNIGHT NATION features a conversation between a man and his future self at two different points, revisited in the final issue. This type of stuff was not invented by JMS. Grant Morrison did a similar trick in ANIMAL MAN a decade earlier. Jim Starlin did the same thing with Warlock in the 1970s. But it’s always impressive when it’s pulled off, and JMS made a go of it with his final Spider-Man story.

These particular scenes involve Doctor Strange. The wallcrawler and Marvel’s sorcerer supreme are rather dissimilar characters, with Spider-Man as a younger street level superhero with a secret identity and Doctor Strange as a magician who explores weird realms and whose identity is known to the world. There are some connections, starting with the obvious that they’re Marvel’s two most popular lead characters cocreated by Steve Ditko. Roger Stern also had acclaimed runs on both titles, although there hasn’t been much other overlap. JMS’s Spider-Man run had a mystical theme, so it made sense for him to use Doctor Strange so prominently.

Strange’s first appearance in the run was in JMS’s second extended storyline. Spider-Man had just fought the Shade, a new mystical bad guy, and decided that the smart thing to do was to get some help from a professional.

More at the link.

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An Expert Reader’s Interpretation of Trade Information

This was something I wrote for a class on the topic of how people read. The idea was to give an expert in a trade a text from within that trade to see how they would interpret the context. It was a reminder that teachers often expect students to understand things that are outside of their frame of reference.

The expert reader is a recently retired attorney. He passed the bar in 1987, and spent most of his career working for the Administration for Children’s Services. He’s my dad.

I was to ask him to read new material in his or her discipline and tell you what and how he or she is processing the information during the reading, and to report this in about 200 words.

I asked the attorney (AKA dad) to read the article “Appeals court condemns ‘puerile name calling’ and reverses verdict because of lawyer’s comments” from the American Bar Association Journal. Several terms relevant to understanding the piece were not defined, including appeals court, “Superior Court of New Jersey” and sustained objections. He noted that a reader would be expected to understand the difference between a criminal court and civil court, as well as the process of the division of fault in a civil case, and have a background knowledge regarding the debates on the differences between zealous representation of a client and going too far.

He understood that when the losing lawyer was “weighing legal options” it meant a possible appeal to the state supreme court. He also recognized reasons it was significant that a lawyer was declared unprofessional by an appeals court. Lawyers are officers of the court, so they are held to a high standard. In addition, civil courts tend to be overcrowded, so judges would much rather be triers of fact and settle disputes on the legal questions, than be babysitters. His opinion of an attorney who referred to another’s arguments as “stupid” was informed by how he would have expected a judge to respond to him if he had tried to the same. He also noted that a good attorney would find different ways to make the same point.

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Yesterday’s Films Sucked Too

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A common argument is that cinema today is just awful, and that popular series now don’t hold a candle to the films of decades past. So, Twilight and the Transformers sequels (of which I’ve only seen Transformers 2, which was dreadful) represent recent films, compared to classics like Sophie’s Choice and ET.

The top-grossing films of the last ten years are actually pretty good. Avatar was derivative, but it was definitely worth seeing. American Sniper, The Dark Knight and Toy Story 3 were great. The Avengers and the final Harry Potter film were also pretty good.

We could look at the year I was born for a comparison. American moviegoers in 1985 did have the good sense to enjoy Back to the Future, which was the top-grossing film of the year. At second place was Rambo: First Blood Part 2, with a 6.2 average score on imdb, and 29% positive reviews on rotten tomatoes. It was a good year for Sylvester Stallone’s paycheck as the #3 film of the year was Rocky 4, with a 6.4 average review on imdb and 44% grade on rotten tomatoes. Chris Bucholz of Cracked recommends it for the sheer ridiculousness.

If you haven’t seen it, Rocky IV is, on the surface, a movie about boxing. Beneath that mundane surface covering, however, is a film jam packed with completely preposterous things, to the point that many people forget that the film has a talking robot in it, because that’s among the least preposterous of those things.

Consequently, Rocky IV is a very funny thing to talk about, and I think I’ve mentioned it in my writing about 12 billion times now. Basically any time I’m discussing topics like montages, training to win, arrogance, friendship, montages, fighting to win, the Soviet Union, montages, or winning to fight, I will probably mention Rocky IV.

Now, that’s fine and that’s good, and I wouldn’t feel bad about dropping references to Rocky IV the rest of my life but for one problem: This movie came out 28 years ago, and a huge percentage (possibly even the majority) of my audience has never seen it. For example, the montage references I dropped above will be mostly indecipherable to you if you haven’t seen the film and don’t know that one-third of it is literally montages.

The next year wasn’t much better. Police Academy was the sixth most popular film of 1986. A 6.5 on imdb. 44% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Eddie Murphy’s Golden Child was the #8 film of 1986. I haven’t heard much of it, probably because audiences didn’t care for it (5.7 average on imdb) and neither did critics (26% positive reviews on rotten tomatoes.)

It’s easy to pick on the 80s, but other decades have had their share of crap on the top of the box office (in addition to good films.)

The top five of 1941 includes Sergeant York (by all accounts, a solid film that got Gary Cooper his first Oscar) and the legitmately great Philadelphia Story, as well as Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn’s mostly forgotten Dive BomberClark Gable and Lana Turner’s now equally obscure, but slightly better reviewed, Honky Tonk. 1952’s top five includes The Greatest Show on Earth, the top selection for worst film to win Best Picture, This is Cinerama—which seems to be the Avatar of its day, noted for groundbreaking effects and little else—Gregory Peck’s Snows of Kilimanjaro (6.2 average on imdb), the slightly better reviewed Robert Taylor picture Ivanhoe and Hans Christian Anderson, which seems to be an okay biopic.

There may have been slightly better periods, but the norm was for a lot of shlock at the top of the box office.

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A Lesson Plan on Maus

I made this for a class (er, one I was in a student in, rather than one I taught.)

 

Preliminary Information
Lesson Two of Twelve Date:  Tuesday Month/ Day 2015
Grade: Eight Number of Students: 30 Course/ Subject: English Language and Composition
Unit/ Theme: “The Victims of the Holocaust” Period/ Time

Estimated Duration: 40 Minutes

Where in the unit does this lesson occur?

Beginning of the unit √

Middle of the unit

End of the unit.

Lesson Materials:

Structures or Grouping for the lesson. Check any that apply.

Whole Class  √

Small Group √

One-to-one

Other (Specify): Independent work √

 

Lesson Two: “Maus Chapter One”

  • Central Focus: The central focus of these lessons is for students to consider the ways individuals can tell the stories of other people, and some of the artistic decisions Art Spiegelman makes in telling his father’s story the way he decides to tell it in his grahic novel Maus. The first chapter of Maus covers how Art Spiegelman’s parents, whose experiences are the center of the saga, meet in Poland just prior to the rise of the Nazis. There are three central questions. What has Art Spiegelman revealed about these individuals? That leads to a related question about why he decided to also reveal some of their flaws. Vladek, Art’s father, spends four years romantically involved with a young woman he has no intention of marrying partly, because she has no dowry. In portions of the story set decades later, Vladek is rather miserly and does not have a close relationship with his only son. Art’s mother’s appearance is described in unflattering terms in the 1930s sequences, and it is casually mentioned that she has committed suicide by the time Art decides to tell the story. The final question is about whether Art was right to have devoted time and resources to the years before the arrival of the Nazis, which is what the book is about.
  • Context/ Rationale: This lesson is part of an interdisciplinary unit on the Victims of the Holocaust, as a way to utilize the advantages of Curriculum Integration (Beane, 1999.) The utilization of a graphic novel has numerous benefits, particularly to ELLs (Cary, 2004) but it is a new way of considering unfamiliar material. The first chapter of Maus is about introducing the characters, rather than about any major historic event. In the next lesson, covering the second chapter of Maus, historic events such as the rise of the Nazis in Poland, and conflicts with communists play a major role in the narrative, so that students will be able to incorporate what they are simultaneously learning about this period of European history in their Social Studies class. Later ELA lessons in the unit would cover the remainder of Maus, and also use elements of Spiegelman’s Metamaus. The latter features commentary and supplementary material on Maus, including interviews with writer/ artist Art Spiegelman on three questions the class will consider at different points (Why did he use the comic book medium? Why did he depict the Jews as mice? Why did he write about the Holocaust?), his primary sources (transcripts and audio of interviews) and a DVD rom with earlier drafts to consider questions on artistic decisions.

Prior Academic Knowledge and Experiences

  • Prior Knowledge: The first English lesson of the Unit will cover the vocabulary of Graphic Novels/ comic books/ comix (Art Spiegelman’s preferred term for the medium) to prepare students for what is likely their first academic study of this particular art form. On the same days, they will also cover the era in which the book is set in their History classes.
  • Gaps in Knowledge: In order to proceed with the lesson, students have to be accept the premise of Maus: a meticulously researched work about real people in which everyone is depicted as an animal. There are terms that like “hosiery factory” and “gefilte fish” that might confuse the students. Vladek speaks in a slightly grammatically incorrect way characteristic of Eastern European immigrants which might be seen as an artistic error by some of the students. There is also a concern that Early Language Learners might conclude that this is appropriate academic language.
  • Common Misunderstandings: The story jumps around a lot chronologically, with an opening prologue in 1958 when the author was a boy, while Chapter One is bookended by a conversation in the 1970s which features extended flashbacks to the mid-1930s (and there’s also a flashback within that flashback). The text is in English, but characters often speak in other languages, and there is one scene in which a character switches from English to Polish for humorous effect. These transitions might take some getting used to for the students. Later chapters will address the symbolism of the representations of various nationalities (Jewish individuals as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs) but this may be a difficult topic to table for later discussion, as it is the most prominent example of artistic license in the work. It may be difficult for students to keep track of the characters, and they might not understand particular frames of reference. Given that this might not be an example of a culturally responsive curriculum (Cramer, Bennet 2015) it is possible that many students will not connect with the experiences of Jewish immigrants and their families in the 20th

Learning Objectives

  • In this lesson, students will be able to discuss artistic decisions about what was included in an informational text, and how those inclusions augment the whole.

Common Core State Standards (ELA Grade Seven)

  • RI 7.5 “Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.”

 Academic Language Demands

  • Key Academic Terms: Context, Flashback, Interpretation
  • Language Functions: Students will successfully participate in discussions by considering the other ways in which this story could be told from a plot perspective. Some of those discussions will be in an Accountable Talk format, requiring the students to demonstrate an ability to utilize academic language.

Evidence and Assessment of Student Learning

  • Homework (Formal baseline): The students will hand in a homework n which they wrote about what they’ve learned about the character of Vladek Spiegelman.
  • Do Now (Informal Baseline): In the beginning of the class, the students will be asked to come up with words to describe Vladek, which they can support using the text. This builds upon the homework, and gives a sense of whether the class has been able to understand an unconventional narrative.
  • Accountable talk (Informal formative): The students will engage in a conversation in the Accountable talk format based on the probing question: Was it right for Art to reveal these bad things about his parents in a story about the things they suffered through? A follow-up question will indicate the relevance of the topic on current events.
  • KWL Chart (Formal Formative): Provides a sense of the students’ level of awareness about the material.

Instructional Strategies and Learning Tasks

  • Launch/ Motivation (~5 Minutes): For the Do Now, the students will go up to the board and write words they would use to describe Vladek Spiegelman, based on the reading. They would then answer a few questions about the words they chose and why.
    • For the homework, the students will have been expected to read Pages 5-24 of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which consists of the introduction, and the first chapter. They were supposed to write about what they learned about Vladek (Art Spiegelman’s father), using supporting evidence from the text. The launch builds on the homework, and leads into the first phase of the instructional strategies, as much of the discussion regards how Vladek is shown in the comics, and whether is was appropriate for Art to reveal these things about his father.
  • Class Discussion (~12 Minutes): A class discussion (Accountable talk format) would follow as students discuss whether it was appropriate for Art to expose his parents’ shortcomings, given the incredible things they would go on to suffer.
    • Key Question: Was it right for Art Spiegelman to show unflattering information about real people in a story that is about the horrible things that happen to them?
    • Rationale: Accountable talk (Resnick 1999) provides a frame for larger class discussions, in which the teacher can guide the discussion if need be, but not dominate it. The question has students analyzing the text, encouraging higher-order thinking, as they learn to be more critical about information in a memoir.
    • Key Question: Should the media be more respectful about unsavory details of people who suffer bad experiences?
    • Rationale: This would also tie the events of Maus and the ethical considerations into current events, in an effort to make the material more relevant and culturally responsive. (Cramer, Bennet 2015) A contemporary example of that question would be the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, and whether the media had any business reporting that he owed money in child support. This gets the kids to consider the question from a new perspective.
  • Groupwork (~10 Minutes): Students will get into smaller groups (4-5 students) to consider a difference in the point of view between the father and son. Vladek says that he doesn’t want the opening material in the book, because it has nothing to do with Germany or the Holocaust. Art disagrees, because it’s more real. The groups would later share their findings with the rest of the class.
    • Key Question: Should the story have started at a later point?
    • Rationale: Students are taught to think critically about another decision made in an informational text.
    • Key Question: Why would someone feel differently?
    • Rationale: This would encourage students to look at the question from a different perspective, even if they all strongly believe one side to be correct.
  • Independent Work (~7 Minutes): Students will then make a Preliminary KWL chart about what they know, and what they’re interested in learning about Vladek’s experiences.
    • Rationale: This engages the students’ metacognition and awareness of what they have learned.
  • Closure (~3 Minutes): For the Exit Ticket, students will describe three things about either Anja or Lucia (two other characters in the narrative) using supporting evidence from the text.
    • Rationale: Much of the class discussion was about the father/ son relationship that inspired several questions about artistic decisions. This gets the students to remember that there’s more to the story than that.

Differentiation and Extension

  • Differentiation: Students will learn from one another in small-group discussions and class discussions. Accountable Talk provides a frame for students struggling to use traditional academic language. The questions allow for a variety of answers.
  • Extension: A major aspect of the unit is the consideration of the artistic decisions made by Art Spiegelman.

Accommodation and Student Supports:

  • Whole Class: If I notice numerous students have the same misunderstanding, I would pause the class to cover that material and make sure that everyone is on the same metaphoric page.
  • Students with similar needs: The lesson includes a small group activity which allows me time to find students who require one on one explanations to better understand the material.
  • Individual Students: The class guided Accountable Talk, small-group discussions and various writing assignments would allow me opportunities to check in on individual students.
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