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Our Fall Assignment Sequence

posted: 9.26.12 by Barclay Barrios

Every year we offer a “standard” sequence of assignments for our teachers. Returning teachers are invited to use or adapt it; new teachers use it as they become familiar with our program, the course, and writing their own assignments. We test the sequence in the summer and gather sample student work at the same time that we use during our orientation. I thought I would offer this year’s sequence, which we titled “Rights and Bytes: The Technology of Civil Rights,” as a model for how we put assignments together. Feel free to use it or adapt it as needed.

Paper 1: Yoshino

At the end of “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights,” Kenji Yoshino suggests that ultimately the law will play only a partial role in the evolution of a “new” civil rights, one based on the value of authenticity and the common denominations of being human. Write a paper in which you extend Yoshino’s argument by identifying other key areas of society that must play a role in the creation of a new civil rights.

Questions for Exploration:

According to Yoshino, why does an exclusive focus on law limit civil rights? What role must conversation play? What’s the difference between civil rights and human rights? How can we make the transition from one to the other? Does covering prevent the evolution of civil rights? What social factors might change covering: peer pressure? popular culture? What’s necessary for a person to achieve authenticity? How might economics, culture, or even religion function in Yoshino’s vision?

Paper 2: Poe and Yoshino

In “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights,” Kenji Yoshino makes his arguments with little reference to or awareness of technology. However, as Marhall Poe makes abundantly clear in “The Hive,” technologies such as Wikipedia are growing rapidly and, more crucially, are becoming an increasingly important facet of our lives. Use Poe’s discussion of Wikipedia to complicate Yoshino’s argument by writing a paper in which you assess the potential of technology to improve civil rights.

Questions for Exploration:

Is Wikipedia’s bottom-up model an analogue to Yoshino’s emphasis on conversation as a mechanism of social change? Does the relative anonymity of Wikipedia impede civil rights by promoting covering? How can we harness the collaborative power of a project like Wikipedia for social change? Is the current model of civil rights a cathedral or a bazaar? What might/should a new civil rights look like in these terms? Given the pace of change on Wikipedia (and technology in general), is it realistic to expect it to play a role in slower processes, such as political and legal ones?

Paper 3: Friedman, Poe, Yoshino

So far we’ve considered the relationship between rights and technology in a fairly local context—the United States. However, as Thomas Friedman makes clear in “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention,” it’s increasingly difficult to think about anything in a local context as the world and its economies becomes more and more interconnected. After all, Dell is as tied to its supply chain companies as they are to Dell and so too the countries involved. Using ideas from all three authors, write a paper in which you evaluate the possibility of universal human rights.

Questions for Exploration:

Despite past efforts, can we ever achieve a universal set of human rights? Which model of civil rights might help with that goal—equality or liberty? How might covering on a global scale impede that goal? Can nations have “reason forcing” conversations? How might technology play a role in promoting global human rights?  Does the kind of collaboration represented by Wikipedia suggest that it’s possible? Would it require a top-down or bottom-up model? How might supply chains be used not simply to guarantee peace but also to advance human rights? Do economic pressures within supply chains make it more difficult to achieve universal human rights? What are the human costs of globalization? What challenges do mutant supply chains pose, and how might countries collaborate to overcome those challenges?

Paper 4: Olson and One Other

In “The End of Race: Hawaii and the Mixing of Peoples,” Steve Olson demonstrates how technological advances in genetics suggest that race is no longer a biological reality. At the same time, he also indicates that race and racism persist. Write a paper in which you evaluate “the end of race” using ideas from Olson and one other author.

Questions for Exploration:

If race has no biological basis, why does it continue to function as a category? What role does covering play in the continuation of race? What relationship does covering have to communities of descent? Does our current equality paradigm for civil rights mandate the continuation of race? Would switching to a liberty paradigm change things? Does Wikipedia offer a model for what a world without race might look like? What do the conflicts within Wikipedia, such as that between Cunc and Sanger, suggest about race and its persistence? What’s the difference between racism and prejudice? Do any of the authors offer tools for us to combat one, the other, or both? How might global economic collaboration affect our understanding of race? Does globalization exacerbate the racialization of culture? Do mutant supply chains form from racial groupings or communities of descent, and why might that difference matter?

 

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