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Friday, April 15

April 16, 2016

pulp.: Suspended (mostly) for senior portfolio reviews. We got done Blackham, Doban, Kreitzburg and Kremm. Next Friday we pick up with Lepczyk, McClintock and Nickel, plus two or three others TBA.

Project: Today you got the midterm update assignment, which is due next Friday: Project 4.15.16 – Midterm Update. Let me know if you have any questions. As discussed in class, this is a significant portion of your grade (more than 25%) so it is in your best interests to do it well and on time. 

Cultural Lit: I have lots of stuff to return to you on Monday, including (but not limited to) the literary history requizzes, some stuff you’ve written, your résumés and your recitation grades. Also there’s a Subway lunch to be awarded from our pilgrimage — keep forgetting about that.

Today we talked about two things, and one of them took most of our time: a potted recap of American history, from the first half of the 18th century to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. In a nutshell:

  • In the first half of the 18th century, American settlers kept moving farther and farther west, despite the fact that this broke treaties and compromised the British government’s ability to keep them safe. (It’s one reason we had forts like Fort Pitt!)
  • This western encroachment would eventually cause conflicts, which would (at least in part) lead to the French and Indian War (the American part of the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France).
  • The British eventually prevailed. But their government had very little luck in 1) getting the colonies to supply manpower to help fight this war, and 2) getting the colonies to financially support this war. Despite the fact that it was, in part, a conflict exacerbated by the conduct of colonists.
  • The British, who were fighting a war in America and also in Europe, were quickly becoming strapped. The taxes they levied on the colonists were in part a result of this. (But, to be fair, they were also a reflection of the fact that colonists, in the British view, had not paid their fair share of the war debts.)
  • The colonists, of course, felt they deserved representation in Parliament. Benjamin Franklin was sent to London to try to arrange this. He failed. (But history might certainly have been different if the British government had granted the colonies a couple of seats in the House of Commons.)
  • We fought a war of independence, and won, even though for about a year after Yorktown, nobody was really sure how things were going to turn out. It wasn’t until the Treaty of Paris was approved in 1783 that things were settled. However, the British only casually observed the terms. They kept troops in America, for one thing. Why? They knew we couldn’t stop them. And they wanted to be ready to take over if we messed up.
  • Which we almost did. Post Revolutionary War, we were governed by the Articles of Confederation, a weak and ineffective agreement between states that reflected 1) the country’s desire to preserve states’ rights over federal rights, and 2) the fact that we’d just fought a war against a powerful ruler, and weren’t in any hurry to get ourselves into that situation again.
  • But it wasn’t enough to keep the states together, and people like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison both knew it. We were on the verge of becoming like Europe — a collection of small independent states. Hamilton and Madison both supported a stronger document that would set up a stronger federal government, to keep the states united.
  • That was the Constitution, which was drafted in 1787 and eventually ratified two years later. But the ONLY reason it worked was because it did NOT tackle the toughest issues head-on. The question of who gets the most power: the federal government, or the states, was left open to interpretation. (We’re still debating that to this day.) The question of slavery was not addressed. And if those two questions HAD been addressed directly in the Constitution, there would have been no Constitution — it would not have been ratified (by the Southern states, primarily). And, soon, no America. Of course, we had to fight a Civil War to settle some of this.

Which leads us to the second thing we discussed: presidents. This clip from The Simpsons, which talks about the eight U.S. Presidents, after Andrew Jackson and before Lincoln, is very accurate:

However, we really shouldn’t call them “mediocre” presidents. They were mostly straight-up bad. And they were bad (and thus, one-termers, all) because they failed to address the question of slavery. They just kept kicking the can down the road. Eventually they kicked it to Lincoln, who didn’t have the option of kicking it any more.

This is why no one remembers those eight presidents, which we’ll call the Epic Fail Eight. They are part of this list of presidents, which I’ve tried to group by era. It is, I think, not only an easier way to remember them, but a better way to understand them in a historical context. Some of these characterizations are too broad, of course, but for a quick survey, I think it makes sense: Presidents list by era 2016

We’ll talk more about this next week: specifically, “Why doesn’t anyone remember most of these guys?” There are reasons, just like the one above.

In the meantime: if you want to work ahead, you can read the chapter “The Silence” in Founding Brothers. It gets more in-depth about the stuff discussed above, regarding not just slavery but also Native Americans.

BatCat: Lots to do. We’ll continue on Monday.

Middle School: Our final class of the rotation. Gave Iron Man a 90/10 look (especially paying attention to how we know so much about Tony Stark in those first 10 minutes); took an extra credit quiz, and handed back your papers for Mr. Cageao.

Survey: Combined: You turned in your DeFade essays. Partner work for Screenwriting project. Early dismissal because of the assembly.

Remember the movie on Monday! Please try to leave your third block class (or C lunch) as close to 1:30 as you can. The movie will start promptly at 1:40.

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