Monthly Archives: February 2014

I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

I hope that many of you have witnessed the beautiful cinematic perfection that is the 2007 film “Across the Universe.” If you haven’t, I highly suggest dropping whatever you are doing and watching it right now. It’s worth it. (I might be slightly biased considering the story unfolds through covers of Beatles songs, but it also stars Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson, so who can have a problem with that?)

across the universe

This movie tells the story of several protagonists who get wrapped up in the hippie counterculture movement of the 1960’s. One of the main characters is Max Carrigan (his namesake is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer off of Sgt. Pepper), who drops of out of Princeton University and moves to New York City with his friend, Jude (Hey….Jude). Since Max is no longer enrolled in college, he receives a draft notice and must report to an Army health screening. This happens through the song I Want You (She’s So Heavy). You can watch the clip of this scene here.

max1

When Max walks into the building, he sees the famous “I Want You (for the U.S. Army)” poster. Uncle Sam sings “I want you…I want you so bad” and reaches out to him beyond the paper. I think the motion of Uncle Sam lunging forward looks as if he is fiercely trying to grab Max, making Uncle Sam seem overbearing and forceful. This aligns with the counterculture’s distrust of their “tyrannical” government, and Max trying to run away represents the counterculture’s resistance to the draft.

I want you

However, through the song, Max cannot keep running away and the army men gain increasing control over him. One brilliant way that the creators of Across the Universe demonstrate this transfer of power is through the choreography in the song. Each new recruit pairs with a current soldier. The dance begins with both men staging a fist fight (fighting for dominance), but the current soldiers eventually knock the recruits to the floor (soldiers winning control) where the recruits start army crawls and push-ups while the current soldiers stand over them, making them lift their feet from time to time. The soldiers fling the recruits over their shoulders and onto a conveyor belt that carries the recruits to the next level. I think the sequence of choreography in this scene does an excellent job representing the power struggle between draft-dodgers and the government during the Vietnam War.

max2

Later in the song, just in time for the first time they sing “She’s so heavy,” the movie shows the new draftees marching over a barren jungle, carrying the Statue of Liberty. They are wearing only white underwear and shoes. The choice in clothing makes the recruits seem vulnerable and ill-prepared, which is another complaint the counter culture movement (and even those not affiliated with the movement) maintained about the soldiers who were sent to Vietnam. The boys carrying the State of Liberty represents these men carrying the burden of America’s choices on their backs. At this point in the song, the beat is repetitive, heavy, and slow, making the march seem exceedingly arduous. Therefore, I think this sequence accurately represents the grueling duty American soldiers were forced to carry out against their will in Vietnam.

I want you2

Sternberg’s Solution

Unfortunately for intelligence theorists, many of the great pioneers and thinkers that have contributed to the development of cognitive psychology are no longer alive today. If they were, we could clarify the various questions that trouble current theorists and gain some insight from them. However, there are a few exceptions to this. Robert J. Sternberg was born in 1949 and has made more recent contributions to intelligence theory. He is currently a professor at Cornell University (he also has honorary doctorates from thirteen universities in addition to many other awards and accolades). **Read more about Sternberg here.

sternberg

Sternberg’s background in intelligence theory is in psychometrics, or the science of measuring mental capacities and processes. Traditionally, psychometrics provided the basis for standardized intelligence testing as we are familiar with it today. However, Sternberg’s stance on intelligence opposes many of the facets of psychometric views of intelligence. Standardized tests are supposed to measure “g:” the mental energy that underlies all cognitive tasks. If one scores well on one of these tests, the person is assumed to have a lot of “g;” they are intelligent. However, Sternberg feels that psychometric intelligence tests only measure analytical thinking and memory skills, and leaves out other essential components of intelligence. For example, psychometrics does not tell us how well someone works cooperatively, nor does it inform us of someone’s other skills and abilities.

Sternberg argues that we are able to predict people’s future academic performance from these tests because from the time they take it, if they do well, they receive “red carpet treatment” which enables them to succeed; whereas if they do poorly, they become convinced that they are not as smart and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. In reality, the tests simply do not measure more than one or two facets of intelligence, so it alienates a lot of people.

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From his points of dispute with psychometrics comes Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. (**To learn more about Sternberg’s arrival at the Triarchic Theory and an additional explanation of it, click here.) The triarchic theory states that intelligence boils down to three fundamental components: analytical abilities, creative abilities, and practical abilities. Analytical ability is essentially critical thinking and problem-solving. It is what intelligence tests typically measure and thus what our current education system emphasizes and rewards. Creative ability is the capacity to generate new ideas and new ways to solve problems. Practical ability is one’s ability to understand what is needed in a given situation and respond effectively to the circumstances. To sum the three parts up, think of it like this: “You need creative intelligence to come up with an idea, analytical intelligence to know if it’s a good idea, and practical intelligence to sell it” (Sternberg).

triarchic_theory

So now that we understand what makes up the Triarchic Theory, what implications does it have or should it have for our education system? For one thing, I think it calls attention to a vast inconsistency in intelligence testing and its results: many people who scored poorly on these tests ended up doing very well in life and many people who performed well on the tests ended up leading relatively unsuccessful lives. We cannot overlook this discrepancy when these standardized tests (such as the SAT) are supposed to be reliable indicators of future success. Sternberg has offered his explanation of the inconsistency in scores and results in that “people who have superior practical and creative skills often do not perform well on tests that reflect only analytical abilities” (Sternberg).

The first implication of Sternberg’s theory is the way it could change intelligence testing. It is easier to add sections to intelligence tests that measure creative abilities than practical abilities because practical ability is, by nature, situated in a real-world context. In attempting to capture this and put it in a standardized test, it would be very difficult to avoid bias.

Another implication would be in the classroom. Right now, our education system places a lot of emphasis on math and science because those analytical abilities are what standardized tests draw on and therefore developing those helps us achieve better scores. However, in reality, isolated analytical abilities will not get one very far without the supplemental abilities to create and use ideas. So, we can encourage the development of creative and practical intelligences through our curriculum. If we also change the standardized tests, then we could not argue that spending time on creative and practical abilities is wasting time we could be spending preparing for the tests.

triarchic_theory_of_intelligence

 

Paper Doll

So let me preface this post with a disclaimer. I know when you hear that I am about to analyze a song by John Mayer, many of you will roll your eyes and a few of you may even groan. However, before you go basing your opinions of John Mayer off of “Your Body Is A Wonderland” or other hits of the early 2000’s, go listen to his new album, Paradise Valley. He returns back to his bluesy, folk roots in this album, released this past August. It is slowly working up the ranks as one of my favorite albums and it features an entirely new sound for Mayer. (A little known fact about Mayer is that he began his career trying to make it as a blues guitarist, was told that he would be more successful if he stuck to pop and sang as well, so that is the route that he took initially. Read more about Mayer’s style of guitar-playing and the artists who influenced his style here.)

paradise valley

Now, although I think musically this album is really interesting, most of the lyrics are pretty straightforward. The exception to this is the song “Paper Doll.” I take this song to be an assail on Taylor Swift and also a response to her 2010 hit song, “Dear John.” (Read more about John Mayer’s initial reaction to “Dear John” here.)

Here are the full lyrics:

Paper doll, come try it on
Step out of that black chiffon
Here’s a dress of gold and blue
Sure was fun being good to you

This one we made just for fall
And winter runs a bit too small
This mint green is new for spring
My love didn’t cost a thing

You’re like 22 girls in one
And none of them know what they’re runnin’ from
Was it just too far to fall?
For a little paper doll

Fold a scarf, Moroccan red
And tie your hair behind your head
Strap into some heels that hurt
You should’ve kept my undershirt

You’re like twenty-two girls in one
And none of them know what they’re runnin’ from
Was it just too far to fall?
For a little paper doll

Cut the cord and pull some strings
And make yourself some angel wings
And if those angel wings don’t fly
Someone’s gonna paint you another sky

‘Cause you’re like twenty-two girls in one
And none of them know what they’re runnin’ from
Was it just too far to fall?

‘Cause you’re like twenty-two girls in one
And none of them know what they’re runnin’ from
Was it just too far to fall?

john mayer

The first and most direct allusion to Taylor Swift is in the line “You’re like twenty-two girls in one,” which references Taylor Swift’s song “22.” In addition to this allusion, he references lines in Dear John such as “You paint me a blue sky / Then go back and turn it to rain” when he sings “And if those angel wings don’t fly/ Someone’s gonna paint you another sky.” Here, Mayer is essentially telling Swift patronizingly that she needn’t fret about how things turned out with him because she will inevitably find a shiny, new boy to take care of her.

I think Mayer’s mention of various colors in dresses and scarves and such plays two purposes. First, it alludes to Taylor’s song “Red” where she says that “losing him was blue,” but “loving him was red.” It could also allude to the somewhat excessive outfit changes that Swift goes through during her shows. Second, it paints a picture of Taylor that she is shallow, materialistic, and immature. She is more concerned with the pretty dresses she wears than anything real– such as letting herself fall in love.

Also, by comparing Taylor to a paper doll, he compares the physical flimsiness of a paper doll to Taylor’s fickleness in personality. Mayer claimed that his relationship with Swift ended very suddenly, without a phone call or visit for explanation. Take this with a grain of salt, but if this is true, then it would make sense that Mayer thinks of Swift as flaky and fragile.

The last allusion I will talk about is in the lines “Cut the cord and pull some strings/ And make yourself some angel wings.” Taylor Swift is famous for writing songs about boys who have wronged her, which always paints her as the innocent victim. Mayer comments on her tendency to always make herself seem innocent when he says to “make yourself some angel wings.” Angels are pure and innocent, just like Swift claims to be.

Is Intelligence Fixed or Malleable?

As the world pushed through the nineteenth century and entered the twentieth, humankind experienced massive transformations in social, economic, political, cultural, and academic arenas. Although the late 1800’s were a tumultuous time, we did emerge on the other side with amazing advancements in all sorts of areas. One such advancement was the development of the concept of intelligence. Before the late 1850’s, people only maintained a vague idea of what being ‘intelligent’ actually meant. Through the work of intelligence theorists such as Francis Galton, Alred Binet, and Charles Spearman, however, humankind gained a much clearer concept of this abstract phenomenon. The three aforementioned intelligence theorists clarified our definition of intelligence by leaps and bounds, but yet fierce controversy lingers today over the concept. One can understand the nature of this controversy and how the debate over intelligence came into existence by studying the similarities and differences of Galton, Binet, and Spearman.

alfred-binet

**Alfred Binet; circa 1904

To understand intelligence, we must first examine a basic scientific and psychological dichotomy: “nature versus nurture.” People toss around this phrase often in debates on intelligence, but what does it actually mean? Francis Galton was allegedly the first to coin the phrase, and it describes the struggle to assign responsibility for particular traits (physical, social, intellectual, etc.) to one’s genetic makeup (nature) or the environment in which one grew up (nurture). Today, there seems to be a bit more of a consensus that nature and nurture interact to produce the people that we become, but back in the early days of intelligence theory, there was no such concession.

I would argue that perhaps the most fundamental divider among intelligence theorists is their view on whether or not humans can change their level of intelligence. This boils down to the nature versus nurture debate. Those who support nature as the stronger influence view intelligence as a fixed, inherited entity. Those who support the nurture side of the argument view intelligence as malleable, or subject to change depending on one’s environment.

Now, let’s take a look at the pioneers of intelligence theory and with which side of the debate their views align. Francis Galton was of the nature camp of the debate. In his book “Hereditary Genius” (1869), Galton “assembled long lists of “eminent” men—judges, poets, scientists, even oarsmen and wrestlers—to show that excellence ran in families” (Holt, Jim). **Read more of the article on Francis Galton’s work here.** The counterargument is that the children of these excellent men could have become excellent because they had grown up in exceptional households. Galton countered this argument with a control group in his experiment of adopted sons of Popes who were still “eminent.”

galton

**Francis Galton; circa 1890

Charles Spearman was in agreement with Galton in that he, too, was a proponent of a fixed view of intelligence. Spearman based his belief off of positive correlations among students’ performances on specific subject tests (such as Latin and Music). He saw that those who did well on one test tended to score higher in general than those who did poorly. This led him to believe that there is a force that underlies all intellectual tasks. Spearman went on to create the concept of “g:” a mental energy that underlies all intellectual tasks. “G” is a fixed mental energy that education, therapy, and training cannot alter. (Howard Gardner, Mindy Kornhaber, and Warren Wake, pg. 58-70)

spearman correlation

**An example of positive correlation for high scores on one test and high scores on another. Read more on the role that correlational research has played in the development in Stephen Jay Gould’s book Mismeasure of Man. For a summary, try looking here.

Alfred Binet, on the other hand, belonged to the nurture side of the argument. In 1904, the French government asked Binet to assist them in organizing their education system to accommodate for the recent switch into mass education. Binet obliged and he and a colleague, Théodore Simon, created mental tests to determine which students were capable of regular schooling and which were not. Binet desired an understanding of how intelligence works so that society could make sound, informed decisions in regards to education. He believed that society could improve the mental capabilities of populations through these decisions. Although Binet’s work eventually led to quantifying people’s intelligence (and what would later turn into Intelligence Quotients, or IQ scores), he did not see this score as fixed. He believed that this number could be changed if a child was placed in the correct environment.

Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

billy_collins_1

Billy Collins was born in 1941 and grew up in Queens, New York. He became a professor of English at Lehman College in the Bronx in 1968, and taught there for over thirty years. Now, he teaches poetry workshops both nationally and internationally. Billy Collins held the title of Poet Laureate from 2001 to 2003. **

In “Introduction to Poetry,” Billy Collins expresses his frustration with teaching the process of writing poetry. His students do not seem to grasp the creative process correctly. Billy Collins uses this poem as a way to both express his frustration and demonstrate what proper creative poetry sounds like.

Many people who want to write poetry have a preconceived notion of how the poem should look and sound or what specific message they want to convey. Although this sounds like a good idea, it often becomes forced and ruins the poem. I believe this poem preaches the necessity of honesty in writing poetry. In “Introduction to Poetry,” Billy Collins explains that in order to write a good poem, a writer cannot  “tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.” He means to say that the creative writing process should not be forced- otherwise, it is a fair indication that the author is doing something wrong. There should be no challenge to “find out what [the poem] really means” if the author is writing honestly. The writer must open his mind and allow the ideas to flow out naturally into the poem, rather than manipulate them to fit a preconception.

Instead of trying to jam the poem into a certain mold, Billy Collins suggests letting the poem take on its own form. He gives various ideas of how to stir up some genuine imagination such as dropping a mouse into the poem, waterskiing across the surface of the poem, and feeling the walls of the poem for a light switch. I find it very clever that Collins preaches the importance of creativity and allowing a poem to take on its natural form by incorporating several absurd ideas of what to do to a poem himself. He somewhat personifies the poem in question by suggesting that his students do physical actions to it, as if the words and concepts of a poem are tangible. This demonstrates the creativity that he claims is missing in his students’ work.

It is difficult to say without having talked to Billy Collins, but I would venture to assume that he does not usually know how his poetry will turn out. He may start with an idea that, by the end, has completely transformed into something else. I think the fleeting nature of poetry as Collins suggests sounds somewhat frustrating, but it could also be part of the magic involved in the creative process. People are accustomed to being in control at all times; I think it would be cathartic to allow the brain to take the backseat and have creativity guide the way.

**Read more of Billy Collins’ poetry here.