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Only Dreams of Agency

The Dream


The documentary “Hoop Dreams” is a good representation of the extent individuals can exhibit agency within their environment (or the lack thereof). The protagonist’ in the documentary, Arthur and William, start out as having the same goal of some day playing in the National Basketball Association, like their idol Isiah Thomas. When first thinking about this dream, it seems common practice for any kid to want that goal. The difference however, is that Arthur and William have no choice but, to have that dream. The kids live in a poor area of Chicago, where drug dealing is rampant, role models are nearly non-existant, and schools are not up to par. Therefore, while the boys might love basketball and express agency through the choice to play basketball, they also have no other avenue to success which erodes their agency. Education is not an option for them until, they are recruited to St. Johns because of their basketball abilities. St. Johns is an expensive private school however, and since Arthur’s basketball skills were not enough for him to afford a scholarship, he is kicked out of St. Johns forcing him to go back to his old community. Within this community, drugs are a common practice, as was seen when Arthur’s dad was arrested for drug possession as well as his best friend. Arthur did not want to go down this avenue in life and decided to dedicate himself to basketball. While the choice to play basketball instead of dealing drugs was Arthur’s choice, there was no other option for success.

Unlike Arthur, William was good enough at basketball to keep his scholarship to attend St. Johns. This allowed him to express more agency than Arthur, as was seen by him attaining a summer job and networking with individuals. Also, the headmaster at St. Johns seemed to routinely check in on William’s academic progress, as well as his basketball progress, giving him another option in life besides basketball, once high school ended. The foundation of the agency though, was still intertwined with the ability to play basketball. This pressure to not let the foundation collapse, lead to William injuring his knee because of the lack of agency basketball forced him into. Clearly hurt, William knew that without basketball, there was no St. Johns and without St. Johns there was no summer job, networking, or education. Therefore, he had to push through his body’s limitations to the extent of injury. The only time William expressed agency beyond basketball was when he had a child with his girlfriend. This action to have a child though, put even more pressure on William to succeed at basketball, so that he could go to a good college and support his new family.

James chose to depict Arthur’s and William’s lack of agency to bring light to the problem it proposes. In poor inner cities, where education is virtually non-existent, there are no other avenues to success or even expression of self other than the pursuit of dreams in the entertainment industry. The lack of agency people have when they are not given the opportunity of a formal education is astounding and that is why James portrayed it the way he did. The issue is real and should not be twisted into a fairy-tale story. We talked about possible ways to fix this problem within class and the one I propose is enforcing the “Robin Hood” act. The problem is only going to be cyclical as education is funded through property taxes and, therefore, the wealthier neighborhoods will always be at an advantage. With the “Robin Hood” act, the money is better distributed. When a high school has a $10 million football stadium and pays their football coach $100,000+ a year, while other schools do not even have buses or books, there is a problem.

Little and Cute

One of my most enjoyed childhood toys was Polly Pocket. She was not only exciting because the enormous amount of clothing my parents bought to compliment their purchase of the doll, but she was small enough to put in my pocket and take with me anywhere I went. Trust me, Polly was the accompaniment of choice for several doctor’s visits, school plays, and movie nights.

Created in 1983 by Chris Wiggs, Polly was  not introduced to stores until 1989 and finally picked up by the massive toy producing company Mattel in the year 1998.  She was very similar to other doll lines, such as Barbie and Bratz, but her conveniently small and all around plastic reality (clothes, hair, and body) gave her an edge her competitors did not have. Polly did  not come alone. She had several friends: Shani, Lea, Lila, Crissy, Kerstie, Rick, and Todd. This gives the consumer enough characters to create not only an elaborate scene for play, but a huge wardrobe to create for each doll owned. It was this thought that monetarily appealed to Mattel in late 1998 and led to the creation of Fashion Polly!

The initial purchase of a Polly Pocket doll, and a few complimentary fashion items, starts at about $10 with additional items ranging anywhere from $10-40.

This doll line definitely appeals to the recent increase in things colored pink in an attempt to reach a young, female consumer. It is also made small to appeal to younger children who feel a sense of control while playing with smaller items. The fact that Polly has so many friends and extra accessories to accompany her adventures makes for a great business item that keeps consumers needing to purchase more. There is also an incentive to update your wardrobe and doll as the child continues to play with the items by deliberately making the line out of plastic: a material that is sure to run down after lots of usage.

Polly Pocket Commerical from 1994

Polly Pocket and Friends


All throughout this course we have discussed the back and forth of children’s literature, toys and TV programming. The tug-of-war between using these mediums to enrich the child and letting them simply be used for fun. Many of these things in today’s society seem to fit into the ‘fun’ category (Nerf guns, Twilight, etc). There are also a number of products targeted at helping the child fundamentally grow (Leapster, Baby Einstein, etc).

It is clear when looking at the TV shows, toys and books of today that once you hit a certain age, the learning functions of these products are similar to that of the TV show Free to Be You and Me. Acceptance is the theme of the youth of today. The recent ABC2 news article “Modern Children’s Books Help Families Explore Diversity”, goes into depth on the topic of using children’s literature to help them understand different types of families. Books like “The Mommy Book” by Todd Parr, “Daddy, Papa, and Me” by Leslea Newman portray families that may not be like the child’s own family. These books allow the child to see something outside of their own homes, understand and accept it.

This is not a theme limited to books for young children. It has also made its way into many main stream TV shows directed towards entire families or adolescents. ABC’s Modern Family, shows the wide range of families we encounter. This show is not targeted at kids alone, but their entire family. Modern Family is the teen and adult version of the children’s books of Parr and Newman.

In Glee, Fox’s weekly musical hit, the entire show is based on feeling like an outsider. Two of the main characters are gay, one is African American, two are Asian, one is in a wheelchair, and one character is overweight. This is the modern day Free to Be You and Me, with catchy popular songs straight off the charts, and the overall message that everyone is different and we should accept them.

The ABC Family hit

Pretty Little Liars, which is targeted at teen girls, one of the main characters is a lesbian and all of her friends accept it without a problem.

The list goes on and on. As shown by the below video, overall we are moving in a direction where it is not only ok to be different, but acceptance of our differences is encouraged.



Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater: Peter Penguin

Image from Amazon Instant Video

“Hello Kitty” started out as a brand in Japan in 1974 and was then brought to the United States in 1976. This brand expanded, which lead to the television show in 1987, Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater. This television show is based off of children’s story books and movies. In the episode, titled “Peter Penguin”, Hello Kitty starts off backstage of the performance asking My Melody if she had gotten her wings ready for the performance because she’s Tinker bell. In next clip, Grandpa Kitty is working on My Melody’s wings, but he is puzzled on which way he should turn the knob, and My Melody comes running in grabbing her wings before Grandpa Kitty could finish the tweaks on them. The play then starts by Hello Kitty and Chip, her brother, playing pirate ship by throwing pillows. Hello Kitty then states that she gives up and her brother Chip says, “Peter Penguin would never give up!” Peter Penguin then emerges through their windows and asks Hello Kitty and Chip to help him with his mission because they are believers. The only restriction when they go to Never say Neverland is to never say “never”. Then it moves to the next clip where Tinker bell is captured by the cat, Captain Claw, who is supposed to depict Captain Hook in Peter Pan. Peter Penguin then flies to Captain Claw’s ship with Hello Kitty and Chip to try and save Tinker bell. There is then a battle with Captain Claw’s army by throwing pies at Peter Penguin and his gang. Peter Penguin and his gang are then captured and are in need to being freed.  So Peter Penguin then tricks Captain Claw into saying the word “never,” which then makes the earth destroy itself. Peter Penguin then rescues Tinker bell, but she isn’t waking up so Peter Penguin tells Hello Kitty and Chip to wish her well. In the end, Tinker bell wakes up well and then Hello Kitty and Chip returns back to their home.

The episode that I have summarized above is a typical “Hello Kitty” episode. Thus, it exemplifies Gary Cross’ idea of PLCs as a “fantasy world”. Cross says, “The old view that children should learn from the past and prepare for the future is inevitably subverted in a consumer culture where memory and hope get lost in the blur of perpetual change” (290). The whole plot is based on a fantasy world which is unrealistic, and throughout the whole episode there was not any relation to preparing children in the real world. The episode had animals talking, animals flying, as well as pirates and a land beyond the world. Therefore, I would agree for the most part with Cross’ concept of children not being able to learn major lessons through these fantasy PLCs.

How to Motivate Change Without the Stigma

Controversial "Stop Sugarcoating It Georgia" ad campaign

Controversial "Stop Sugarcoating It Georgia" ad campaign


Do anti-obesity advertisements effectively promote healthy lifestyles, or do they merely stigmatize ill-fated children who have grown up in unhealthy households? One recent news article, published by NPR correspondent Kathy Lohr, argues the latter.

Lohr’s argument centers around the “Stop Sugarcoating It, Georgia” ad campaign, which uses scare tactics similar to those found in anti-smoking and anti-methamphetamine advertisements, in an attempt to reverse the growing trend of childhood obesity in a state with “the second highest number of obese kids in the country.” Lohr claims that while the message of healthy living is an important one, the tactics being used may provide more harm than good, as they disparage the same children who are already made to feel inadequate through the perpetual teasing and bullying they endure both at school and on the playground.

In addition to being detrimental to a child’s self-esteem, these advertisements may actually promote the exact behavior that they are trying to prevent, as Georgia State University professor Rodney Lyn states, “we know that stigmatization leads to lower self-esteem, potential depression. We know that kids will engage in physical activity less because they feel like they’re going to be embarrassed. So there are all these other negative effects.” So the question becomes, why does society continue to employ stigma as a motivator for change, when positive reinforcement has proven itself a much more effective tool?

In relation to class discussion, this is very much the same question brought up by the Free to Be story, “Ladies First,” where a young girl is eaten by a group of tigers due to her inability to recognize the negative consequences of her condescending and stuck-up attitude. “Ladies First,” similarly to Georgia’s anti-obesity campaign, focuses on a child’s negative quality, rather than a positive one, which may lead to many children thinking that they are inherently flawed in some way, when in reality, the problem may be caused more directly by the child receiving poor parenting than by the child itself. This potentially damaging effect of children viewing themselves as flawed may be the reason that “this ‘bad’ female subject [was] somewhat unusual for the Free to Be series, which [tended] to celebrate conventional images of bold and adventurous girls rather than to condemn conventional ones” (235). But if that is the case, it would seem to be in everyone’s best interest to focus solely on children’s positive attributes, rather than negative ones. That way, an obese or overly bratty child will be more inclined to change, as they won’t see themselves as holistically flawed individuals, but rather they will be able to isolate the problem, making change seem far more attainable.



Learning in front of a screen

After reading Bradbury’s “The Veldt, I’ve become very weary of the idea of a virtual environment, and upon reading an article on a CNN blog about the growing popularity of virtual classrooms, I was not excited. The article   looked at a seventh grader who utilised a virtual school system to accommodate her rigorous ballet rehearsal schedule. The virtual school was run by K12 Inc., one of the largest virtual teaching companies that creates curriculum for students from Kindergarten through High School. The virtual classroom is mostly used for students who need to work around a normal school schedule, are falling behind in regular classrooms, or just simply don’t fit in a standard setting. The article goes on to question the value of virtual classrooms, considering concerns of socialization, educational achievement, and funding.

From my perspective these virtual learning environments are lacking several components that are key to student development. The most obvious thing missing from this virtual equation is the socialization that is inherent in a “brick and mortar” school. As Chudacoff states in his piece on children’s play, schools are the “incubators of peer groups” and are incredibly important in the socialization of almost all American children. The student interviewed in the article meets with other students once a month, but this is far to little in comparison to the way traditional school systems expose students to others. Another “life lesson” taught in school that doesn’t translate virtually is the idea of discipline that reflects a work environment, such as prompt attendance and rule following. Although the value of these lessons can be contested, their connections to most work environments cannot.

But perhaps the way the 21st century is headed, more and more towards digital environments, having children sit in front of a computer screen for twelve years may not be so different from the way the rest of their lives will look…

Goodbye Bear (In the News)

The Associated Press report in their creatively titled article “Berenstain Bears Co-creator Jan Berenstain Dies” that Jan Berenstain, one of the creators (the other was her husband Stan) of the beloved Berenstain Bear book series has passed away. On Thursday Feb.23, Berenstain suffered from a severe stroke which ultimately resulted in her death, at the age of 88, on Friday.

Selling over 260 million copies from it’s start in 1962, the Berenstain Bear book collection was often applauded for educating, and soothing, children on common childhood concerns “like dentist visits, peer pressure, a new sibling or summer camp.” Prior to this series, however, the couple made quite the lucrative living by participating in another popular children’s medium, comics. The Berenstain couple was well known for their children targeted comic, “All in the Family”, which ran in magazines such as Good Housekeeping and McCall’s.

Mike and Leo Berenstain had recently collaborated on a few books with their mother that also tackled the modern issues of “online safety and childhood obesity” and furthermore reenforce their mother’s lifetime of making children happy through her own love of writing. Because of his mother’s desire to continue this type of entertainment for children, Mike also says he will maintain his illustrative an writer’s position with Berenstain books.

This connects so closely with not only our continuing theme of whether or not different popular mediums are successful at teaching kids educational tools as well as moral values conducive to Western culture, but it also lets the reader know just how influential the comic book industry was. It provides a stark contrast to what critics of comic books maintained about the lack of moral content in this type of reading. It has also now been picked up by PBS as an educational show for children of younger ages.


The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV, book by the Berenstain family