Category Archives: Graduate Coursework

Critique of Under the Same Moon, Dark Matter [Movies]

This is an essay I finished writing on 2014-10-13 for EDF 6155: Lifespan Human Development & Learning, a graduate class at University of Central Florida.

Richard Thripp
EDF 6155 Module 4, “Critiquing the Media”
13 October 2014

Name: Richard Thripp
Grade Contract: A

Media # 1

  1. Media type: DVD
  2. Name of book/dvd/etc: Under the Same Moon (2008)
  3. Stage of Development: Middle Childhood
  4. Issue(s): Separation from parents, death of grandmother, immigration
  5. Summary:

Under the Same Moon is a film about a nine year old boy named Carlitos and his journey from a small Mexican village to Los Angeles, to find his mother Rosario who has been illegally living there for four years, performing janitorial work while sending money home to Carlitos’ grandmother, whom he lives with. The title of the film comes from a statement his mother often makes on the phone to provide assurance that they are not as far apart as they think. When his grandmother dies, he decided to use his $1200 in savings to sneak across the border and locate her based on the return address from one of her letters. He runs into many challenges, such as the car of the couple smuggling him across the border being confiscated and resulting in him losing the remainder of his money and having to hitchhike to Los Angeles. He meets his father in Tuscon, who says he will pay his bus fare, but then mysteriously disappears like he did when Carlitos was a toddler. Carlitos’ self-reliance results in him making friendships and avoiding threats on his journey to his mother. Meanwhile, she is debating returning to Mexico to find her son, and considers marrying a suitor to get her green card, but backs out at the last minute. In the end, an initially unwilling friend made on the road (Enrique) ends up sacrificing himself to the police so Carlitos can get away. Given that the return address on Rosario’s letter is merely a post office box, Carlitos uses his memory of her detailed description of the surroundings at the phone booth she calls him from at 10 AM each Sunday morning to find her in downtown Los Angeles while she is making the phone call.

  1. Critique:

Carlitos is highly industrious—he is confident he can find his mother and does not stop taking actions to get there. He is not pessimistic and does not succumb to feelings of inferiority, the flip side of Erikson’s dichotomy for middle childhood (Berk, 2010, p. 330). However, the psychological issues resulting from Carlitos’ separation from his parents and him witnessing the death of his grandmother are not adequately recognized. Furthermore, the accurateness of the portrayal is limited: Under the Same Moon presents a highly sympathetic viewpoint to illegal immigration and underestimates the difficulty a nine-year-old illegal would have in making such a journey—for instance, he even secures employment for himself and Enrique at a small restaurant while traveling, which is unusual and a violation of labor laws in contemporary America (Bergman, Dreyfuss, Selim, Villalobos, & Riggen, 2008).

Cabaj, McDonald, and Tough (2014) have found that positive motherly interactions in a child’s first five years are correlated with better behavioral outcomes and resilience in middle childhood. Given that Rosario did not leave Carlitos until he was five, this may be an item of evidence in support of his resilience. Milrod et al. (2014) have found that separation anxiety in childhood has long-term negative consequences in adulthood, while healthy attachments have robust, positive outcomes. Since Carlitos had a good relationship with this mother even by long-distance phone communication, had his grandmother to rely on for emotional support, and had an abandoning but non-abusive father, he seems poised for good mental health through this stage of life and the future. Thus, there is at least some research in support of cheery optimism coexisting with Carlitos unfortunate circumstances.

Based on the logic, problem-solving, and language abilities the character of nine-year-old Carlitos demonstrates in this film, he may be a gifted child. Burke (2009) finds that gifted children need emotional support to cope with grief just as much as other children. She also proposes that grief does not just come from death, but from a gamut of issues, many of which Carlitos faced. Though there was a lack of realism and accurateness in his portrayal—it would have made more sense if he was several years older—it is somewhat plausible that he could have delayed grieving and deferred his needs for emotional support in anticipation of being reunited with his mother, who would fulfill those needs. This anticipation may also have helped him cope with his father disappearing after promising to buy him a bus ticket from Tuscon to Los Angeles. If the anticipated reunion gave him the psychological resilience to persist through numerous challenges on his week-long journey, then coupled with his giftedness, credence is arguably lent to the notion that a boy his age could act so far beyond his years.

  1. References:

Berk, L. E. (2010). Development through the lifespan (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bergman, R., Dreyfuss, N., Selim, H., Villalobos, L. (Producers), & Riggen, P. (Director). (2008). Under the same moon [Motion picture]. United States: Fox Searchlight.

Burke, A. (2009). Gifted and grieving: Why it is critical to offer differential support to gifted kids during times of loss. Gifted Child Today, 32(4), 30-37.

Cabaj, J. L., McDonald, S. W., & Tough, S. C. (2014). Early childhood risk and resilience factors for behavioural and emotional problems in middle childhood. BMC Pediatrics, 14(166). doi:10.1186/1471-2431-14-166

Milrod, B., Markowitz, J., Gerber, A., Cyranowski, J., Altemus, M., Shapiro, T., & … Glatt, C. (2014). Childhood separation anxiety and the pathogenesis and treatment of adult anxiety. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171(1), 34-43. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2013.13060781

Media # 2

  1. Media type: DVD
  2. Name of book/dvd/etc: Dark Matter (2007)
  3. Stage of Development: Young Adulthood
  4. Issue(s): Isolation, academic politics, school shootings, Asian-American cultural issues
  5. Summary:

Dark Matter is a film loosely based on the 1991 murders of three professors and a fellow student by Gang Lu, Ph.D. (“Liu Xing” in the film), a brilliant astrophysics student from China and recent graduate of the University of Iowa. In the film, Liu Xing is portrayed sympathetically—his hubris and infamous temper are omitted (Marriott, 1991). Numerous deviations from the real story that make the film no more than a fictionalized account; however, the film arguably still has value for showing that unfair marginalization can be a factor leading to tragic consequences. In Dark Matter, Xing is accepted into department head Jake Reiser’s prestigious cosmology lab based on his excellent test scores and undergraduate education at the University of Beijing (Chiu, D’Amico, & Chen, 2007). He yearns to uncover the true origins of the universe through his investigations of dark matter—however, the evidence he produces directly contradicts Dr. Resier’s theory. His dedication to the truth results in Reiser rejecting his dissertation for using computations deemed imprecise, even though Reiser used the same methods in his own research. By this point, Xing has been writing phony letters to his parents in China reporting good news; he has been spurned by his crush, an American girl who works at a coffee shop; and he has seen a smooth-talking Asian classmate (Laurence Feng) flagrantly forge research results to support Reiser’s theory—resulting in his dissertation being accepted and awarded a distinguished prize that Xing wanted. Xing’s isolation, social awkwardness, and academic frustration—coupled with his idealization of guns as a tool for social justice—result in him gunning down Reiser, Feng, and two other professors, before turning the gun on himself.

  1. Critique:

According to Erikson, early adulthood (18-40 years) represents a psychological struggle between intimacy and isolation. In his model, intimacy is facilitated by a secure identity and culminates in faithful commitment to an intimate partner, while isolation is correlated with identity moratorium and results in loneliness and self-absorption (Berk, 2010, p. 468-69). The depiction of Xing is consistent with someone who has neither a secure identity nor intimate attachment. Xing’s identity, based on his interactions with his parents and Asian peers, is not collectivist, but rather connected to academic and professional success. His internalization of this paradigm is so entrenched that he is unable to appropriately cope with the institutionalized injustice promulgated by Reiser and Feng—having his contributions marginalized and incorrectly criticized leads to a melancholic rage belied by his timid countenance. This rage is revealed to the viewer through Xing’s thoughts, which are depicted through glimpses of shootings in Western films and Xing being buried in falling snow (Chiu, D’Amico, & Chen, 2007).

While Xing may be a believable character, there is a broad dramatization of the “true story” the film is based on, demonstrated by its significant deviations from actual events. In fact, the dissertation of Xing’s real life counterpart, Gang Lu, was accepted—not fraudulently rejected on a technicality as in Dark Matter. In reality, Lu was enraged merely that his dissertation received too little enthusiasm, and additionally walked three blocks away to murder the vice president of academic affairs and maim a receptionist (Marriott, 1991). These departures from the true story may be evidence that the subject matter was handled with limited accuracy and egregious inappropriateness—consider the families of the victims, who might be outraged at the lionizing moralization of their loved ones’ murderer. Xing’s actions may represent the worst possible outcome of failure to negotiate the young adulthood stage—the next step up might be suicide without murder, which is far more common. Specifically, he was not a rampage shooter, but rather (as depicted in the film) someone who had experienced emotional abuse from Reiser and whose final reaction was to methodically murder the abuser and associated individuals—a decision typically not associated with psychopathy or psychoticism (Rocque, 2012).

In a survey study of counseling students, Gold and Rogers (1995) found a positive correlation between scores on the Hogan Empathy Scale and intimacy scores on Hamachek’s operationalization of Erikson’s intimacy/isolation model. If the inventories used are valid, this study is one piece of evidence supporting a connection between empathy and intimacy. Given that Xing witnessed the baptism of Feng’s infant son yet had no qualms about taking his life, he seems to have shown a lack of empathy for Feng’s wife and son. A lack of empathy is connected with a bias for isolation according to the study by Gold and Rogers. Various factors may have played into Xing’s isolation, including a clash between Chinese and American culture, but given that he was surrounded by Asian students who did not respond similarly, there was surely a personal component to Xing’s behavior, as well as a situational component regarding his failed romantic and academic interactions.

  1. References:

Berk, L. E. (2010). Development through the lifespan (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Chiu, L. S., D’Amico, K. (Producers), & Chen, S. (Director). (2007). Dark matter [Motion picture]. United States: Screen Media.

Gold, J. M., & Rogers, J. D. (1995). Intimacy and isolation: A validation study of Erikson’s theory. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 35(1), 78-86. doi:10.1177/00221678950351008

Marriott, M. (1991, November 4). Iowa gunman was torn by academic challenge. The New York Times. Retrieved October 13, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/04/us/iowa-gunman-was-torn-by-academic-challenge.html

Rocque, M. (2012). Exploring school rampage shootings: Research, theory, and policy. Social Science Journal, 49(3), 304-313. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2011.11.001

Cultural Considerations

This is a discussion post essay I wrote on 2014-09-22 for EDF 6155: Lifespan Human Development & Learning, a graduate class at University of Central Florida.

Richard Thripp
EDF 6155 Module 3 Discussion Post, “Culture”
22 September 2014

Name: Richard Thripp
Grade Contract: A

1. Culture and Development – Important Ideas

a. Culture and Family

Collectivist subcultures in America, such as African Americans and Asians, often live together in extended family households that include several generations and even married children and their spouses (Berk, 2010, p. 66). This structure has many benefits, such as closer communication and familial ties, lower costs, and shared responsibilities. It is ironic that American culture tends to encourage families to split up, children to move out or move far away for college at an early age, and for working adults (and especially men) to prioritize their careers over their children or grandparents. While independence has its benefits, denigrating young adults for living with their parents—even when they may be providing support and kinship while saving money on housing—demonstrates a lack of insight and a predilection for wastefulness. Thus, we should not overlook the numerous benefits of collectivism at the family level, despite living in an individualistic society.

b. Culture is a Moving Target

The idea that the intangible aspects of a culture can be preserved is misguided at best—these ethereal qualities are constantly in flux as people and circumstances change. An example is the move to support the ancestral culture of the native, white majority in the United Kingdom (Boyes, 2008)—this is a culture that, with the decline of the British Empire, diminished power of royalty and nobility, and recent wide-scale immigration into the U.K., arguably does not even exist anymore. Cultures are both dynamic and relative and cannot be pinned down on the basis of race, nationality, language, or any other factor. Even the borders between languages and nations exhibit their own unique blends of speech and identity—each of which is a distinct culture.

c. Alleviating Cultural Oppression

According to Ifeyinwa Mbakogu, the long-standing cultural dominance of the West steamrolls African cultures—there is no “exchange” of cultures but merely imposition (2004, p. 39). There is little imperative that Western culture be preserved when the premier institutions of power promulgate its immortality—however, no such mechanisms exist for Africans, Native Americans, and other oppressed groups. Therefore, disproportionally elevating the prominence of cultures that have been historically ignored and oppressed could be considered social justice in action. Just as it is arguably impossible for blacks to exhibit racism toward whites or women to exhibit sexism toward men (though prejudice is a different matter), it would be near impossible for too little attention to be paid to Western culture, given the centuries-long surplus it has accumulated. However, allowing Westerners the reins to interpret and present oppressed cultures may result in the proliferation of bastardizations of these cultures—a fate hypothetically worse than no representation. For instance, consider the misrepresentation of Native Americans in the 20th century Western film genre (Schnupp, 2011). If Westerners wish to be culturally competent, it might be best for them to cede space and airtime to actual members of the cultures they aim to publicize, because any interpretation by an outsider is bound to lack contextual depth.

2. References

Berk, L. E. (2010). Development through the lifespan (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Boyes, S. (2008, November 4). Whose culture is it anyway? Culture Wars. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from http://www.culturewars.org.uk/index.php/site/article/whose_culture_is_it_anyway/

Mbakogu, I. (2004). Is there really a relationship between culture and development? The Anthropologist, 6(1), 37-43.

Schnupp, B. (2011, October 15). The shifting other: Native Americans in film, 1950-present. Native American Identity in Popular Film, 1950-Present. Retrieved September 22, 2014, from http://bill-shiftingother.blogspot.com/

Draft of My Teaching Philosophy

As a student in Preparing Tomorrow’s Faculty, a free not-for-credit program for graduate students at University of Central Florida, I was assigned to write a draft copy of my teaching philosophy. While I have not taught yet, I have tutored math, English, and GRE prep, as well as being a “supplemental instruction leader” for a college class called Survey of Biology (BSC 1005) in 2009, so I have some experience working with students. This is what I came up with:

Teaching Philosophy
2014 October 31 Draft
Richard Thripp

I believe that teaching is an interactive experience involving a sharing of beliefs, evidence, and ideas. While some answers may be more correct than others, simply telling students what to think does not help them evaluate or reconcile what has been suggested. Therefore, my college classroom will include many collaborative and individual in-class activities to help the learner better negotiate the course material. In smaller classes, I will regularly use peer-sharing and class presentations—larger classes may require online discussions and simpler in-class activities. As an educator I feel responsible to do whatever I can to help the students learn the material required for the class, as well as other concepts that may interest them if they inquire outside of class.

As a tutor focusing on math and language skills, I found that it is essential to allow students the opportunity to figure out problems on their own. That does not mean I will not guide them in the right direction, but I have learned to refrain from intervening without being asked, especially with math problems. This allows students to build self-efficacy when they are successful at coming up with good ideas without the ideas being suggested by me. As a teacher, I will use similar strategies that are more time-intensive than simply telling students the process and answers, but will have better long-term results for their understanding and performance. While lecturing, I will allow for student questions, and I will intersperse lectures with activities to maintain student interest and engagement.

The role an instructor plays has greatly changed with the technological revolution. Most or all of the information provided in a class can now be found online in text format, with illustrations, or even as videos. It is no longer sufficient for an instructor to simply be a provider of information—he or she must interpret and present the information in a way that is superior to free sources for understanding and mastering the material. Maintaining student interest is a must. With the trend toward online classes, we must recognize and implement the unique opportunities that face-to-face classes offer, such as peer interactions and hands-on learning; otherwise, classroom-based learning might become a dying art. As an educator, a pivotal principle for me is simplicity—covering fewer learning objectives more thoroughly can improve performance, reduce student anxiety, and help less gifted students retain the knowledge and enjoy acquiring it. It also allows me to include activities and exercises that would otherwise be time-prohibitive. Thus, whenever possible, I will actually be teaching less material than other instructors teaching the same course, but with a higher level of rigor, and (hopefully) better long-term results.