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Week 6

Prompt: What idea(s) are you considering for your visual representation and associated final paper? If you have settled on a topic or pursuit, what does that look like and how do you get there? If you haven’t fully decided, what might help you narrow down your choices? What are you still considering or unsure of as you move forward?

For our final paper, we are supposed to find some form of community outreach (a “visual component”). Something that we can do to raise awareness about something in the community. As you can tell from the number of “some”s, it’s a pretty broad topic, so the first question is what do I want to raise awareness about? I’m looking into volunteering at Hughes High School, since it’s a cool place and I’m interested in their STEM program, but I’m not sure how I can take a one-man volunteer project and turn it into to something that “raises awareness.” Simply helping kids with their homework isn’t very visible, even if it’s helpful. My other question is one of scale: the suggestions we were given range from simple fliers to weird flash-mob stunts. How should I attract other people to my project, or should I just do what I can on my own and save some effort?

Also, what problem do I solve with HHS? Or rather, since we’re supposed to talk about community improvements rather than problems to be solved, is this the best way to produce more smart students? It’s not designed to close the achievement gap like Malcolm Gladwell prescribes, but since the majority of HHS students are African-American, it can close the gap by plain force of demographics. I’ll consider other options, but I think that volunteering at Hughes High School will be a good place to start.


Hughes High School

We went to Hughes High School, famous for its focus on STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  As with our visit to Elementz, I want to jot down some first impressions:

1.  That place is classy.  Gargoyles out front, Rookwood pottery on the inside, a big auditorium, everything.  They have an “Innovation Center”: Basically a computer lab/study hall thing, and it has both modern technology and a stained-glass window.  It’s just really cool, architecturally speaking.

2.  We learned that good technology is a lot easier to get than good teachers.  They have plenty of computer labs and projectors and “digital backpacks” (that last one was almost a running gag), but the one thing the assistant principal said needed improving the most was they needed more teachers and smaller classes.

3.  They’re doing a pretty good job at STEM, and the assistant principal talked a lot about how teachers collaborate to make it all work together.  Teachers are assigned to teams, and when they’re interviewed they test how they collaborate with others.  She said that this makes it easy to integrate english and math and science and everything together into a project.  That ties in with what someone mentioned about “STEAM”: STEM plus Art.  It’s really interesting.

The main question that came up in our final discussion is “Is this what we should optimize for?”  We want our country to be happy and productive, and is optimizing STEM knowledge the best way to do so?  Is STEM the be-all, end-all of education?  Are we missing out on the arts by doing this?  Does STEM education guarantee the innovations that drive American industry?  Should we take the same approach that the Asian education systems are?  Does “Marita’s Bargain” cost us anything essential?   In short, if you could look 20 years into the future and see all our STEM-educated kids grown up and becoming active in society, would you like what you’d see, or would you think you could do better?

Prompt: Visit this website and review the facts listed about the “achievement gap”:

What are your initial reactions?

I’ve heard of the achievement gap (the fact that academic achievement is linked to economic status and race) before this class. And despite that, the scale of the problem never ceases to amaze me. Almost 50% of African-American, Latino, and Native American students do not graduate from high school, compared to 77% of white students. Low-income students are years behind their peers in learning. My first reaction was simply “How do we fix this?” Surely, if the dropout rate is so high, there has to be some glaring problem with our school system.  Are the worst teachers working in low-income districts? Are low-income students not given the right incentives to stay in school? I read one essay in the New York Times recently, saying that teachers in the worst school districts should be paid more to attract the best teachers and close the achievement gap; would that be enough? I also took a look at CPS’s report card [pdf], but it wasn’t too helpful. It doesn’t provide much demographic information, so while I learned that our school district is getting better, I don’t know if the improvements are happening across the board.

Then I took a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s essay, “Marita’s Bargain,” which was on our reading list this week. He cites a study of California schools which discovered that economic status makes no difference in how much a student learns during the school year. However, during summer vacation, high-income students do better at retaining that knowledge, probably because they have more options for learning. Gladwell goes on to discuss a New York school called KIPP, which has a much shorter summer break, longer hours, and excellent test scores across the board. These results are a mixed bag, as it means there is a straightforward solution to the achievement gap, but it’s rather unpleasant: More school, less vacation.


Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: the story of success. (pp. 250-269). New York: Little, Brown and Co.

Ohio Department of Education, Cincinnati Public Schools. (2011). 2010-2011 school year report card. Retrieved from

Week 4: Elementz

Prompt: Based on your prior knowledge, assignments for this week, and our visit to Elementz, what are some of the key events and/or characteristics associated with Cincinnati’s racial history? Reflect thoughtfully on the racial unrest and riots (crica 2001) and how this has played a role in the subsequent rebuilding of community in Over-the-Rhine and other areas.

The key event in Cincinnati’s recent history is definitely the riots. It had extremely far-reaching effects; I remember that even Blue Ash had a curfew briefly. However, it seems to have triggered many attempts to prevent a repeat performance. The people at Elementz said that their project was a response to the riots, trying to get kids off the street. Even better, the director mentioned that more of their kids were in school (and the quality of CPS had improved), so they had to adjust their program to account for that. Finally, the police have started to cut down the crime rate in Over-the-Rhine. It’s still higher than the city’s average, but better than in 2001, and I couldn’t find any statistics from before 2001. One person quoted in WCPO’s retrospective said “I never thought that I would say on camera that the Cincinnati police have gotten better.” So the riots made it clear that there was a problem to be fixed, and we seem to be making progress on fixing it.

The main question now seems to be how Over-the-Rhine will be rebuilt, and how 3CDC, the nonprofit trying to revitalize the area, should approach the situation. WCPO’s documentary quoted Vanessa Sparks saying “Development is good, but it also should include the voices of the people, the people who are already there, and I haven’t seen a lot of that happening.” The main concern over gentrification is economic. Better housing means higher rents, which means more people can’t afford housing and get pushed out of the area. 3CDC says they are trying to create mixed-income neighborhoods to avoid concentrating low-income groups, and at Elementz, they talked more favorably about 3CDC and said they seemed to be taking a good approach. Unfortunately, it seems to be a very slow approach, however, as an Associated Press report mentioned that in 2009, 5 years after 3CDC got to work, two of every three homes in Over-the-Rhine were vacant. So I doubt that we’ll see a repeat of the 2001 riots, but things could definitely be better.

Empty neighborhoods fill rust belt. (2009, May 08). Retrieved from

Ten years later: a changed city. (2011). [Web Video]. Retrieved from





Before I get into the formal reflection and response, I just want to jot down some first impressions on our visit to Elementz:

1.   This is, by all appearances, a really good program.  They have a laundry list of success stories.  They left me feeling pretty optimistic about both their ability to improve the community and our knowledge of what makes a community tick.  They talked a lot about building on what’s already there in Over-the-Rhine (their comments on 3CDC were quite interesting) and building connections with the community, so they’re working hard to make sure they understand the community and cover all the angles.  And at ~$800 a kid, they’re an impressively efficient program.

2. I take back what I said about Block, because while his writing sucks, his idea of not focusing on problems and solutions is pretty good.  Elementz isn’t just asking “What’s wrong with your life and how can we fix it?”, but “How can we get more good things to happen in your life?”  Doubtlessly that will involve fixing a few problems, but this is a more comprehensive approach.

3.  I still don’t “get” hip-hop, but hey, if it works, it’s not stupid.

Week 3: Corryville Rec Center

Describe and explain the “representations of social class and/or poverty” you found during your walk, along with the interactions you had as they relate to this week’s topic. Please choose at least one picture to include with your R&A post and explain its significance. How does the “mutual aid agreement” that Officer Frey specifically referenced relate to our overall focus for the week?

Our group got to visit to the Corryville Rec Center, and as we walked, we were supposed to look for and photograph examples of social class and poverty. I didn’t exactly find anything that shouted “Wretched hive of scum and villainy,” which I suppose is a good thing. Malcolm Gladwell (2006) mentions that homelessness is a “power-law problem,” where there are only a few really expensive cases of chronic homelessness, so it’s possible that we were just unlucky and didn’t see any really obvious cases. The only things that made the neighborhood look unpleasant were just a few bits of graffiti (including three instances of the same creepy face), some houses with the paint flaking off, and a few more “No Trespassing” signs than usual. In short, things that could be fixed with a fresh coat of paint. Palen mentions the “Broken Window theory”, that fixing cosmetic problems like broken windows is the best way to create a lawful atmosphere and curb crime rates. Is that all it takes to separate a low-income and high-income neighborhood?

The Rec Center itself was quite nice. A mural and a few paintings adorned the walls, and they boasted a wide variety of programs, including after-school camps. They also offered one-week programs and discounts for low-income families. Officer Frey noted that it was the main community center and the Community Council meets there every two weeks. Also, its close proximity to the University probably helped, as it would get the benefits of Cincinnati’s mutual aid agreement with UC. It wasn’t perfect, though. Alongside the fliers for different events, a rather somber poster asked for help with unsolved homicides. Corryville Rec Center was a nice place, but there were a few cracks that showed it wasn’t as nice as it could have been.


Gladwell, M. (2006). What the dog saw and other adventures. (pp. 177-198). New York: Little, Brown and Co.

Week 3: Class

Prompt: What is your social class? Why or how do you establish your membership in that group? Has your social class changed at any point in your life? Try to provide specific examples to illustrate your points.

I haven’t looked closely at my family’s socioeconomic status, which I suppose says plenty in itself, but our family is upper-middle class. We fit Marger’s definition of this class in both income (my dad has a good job) and social circumstance (our entire family is college-educated). My parents seemed frugal when I was growing up, but I think that was simply a kid’s-eye view, from someone who didn’t have an allowance or a summer job, and thus had to entertain himself with freeware games.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve lived in the same house – a big house in a good school district. I was born in a different house, but I have no memories of it and my contact with it is limited to my parents saying “There’s the old house!” as we occasionally drive by it, so I can’t say if it was any better or worse. In short, my social class has been constant for my whole life, and I’m happy to maintain it. My going to college is just continuing a family tradition.