If The Crown Fits Then Run For Office: Pageants Are A Training Ground For Political Leadership

Tomorrow, June 5 is primary Election Day in Alabama. As a political junky I must say that I have always loved Election Day. Seriously, most kids get excited for Christmas morning, but for me it was always ELECTION DAY!!! I have had the opportunity to witness the political process firsthand, most of my life, so my perspective tends to be a hopeful mix of senisim and realism. (If you’re from Birmingham you get this). Anyway, I have grown even more excited about this midterm election cycle mainly because of what it could mean for women in Alabama and throughout the U.S.

 

In light of several strong efforts and programs aimed at increasing the number of women in elected office we are starting to rethink the activities and experiences that could be considered a training ground for political success. I am currently a PhD student conducting research on ways women can overcome barriers to leadership. My research has led to me the conclusion that the first female president may just be a former pageant queen. That’s right…if you want to see more women in political office then you may need to start looking to the Miss America Organization. Furthermore, if you’re in Alabama you don’t have to look very far for an example. Alabama native and Miss America 2013, Mallory Hagan Mallory Hagan is currently running for U.S. House for Alabama Congressional District 3. In full disclosure, I am a former Miss America local titleholder and I have known Mallory since she began competing in the organization. But more importantly, I know the discipline, strength, intelligence and poise that the Miss America Organization helps participants develop. The communication skills that it takes to tactfully address social issues ranging from international relations to tax reform is not something many people between the ages of 18-24 have the opportunity to develop. However, there is a unique group of young women who are actively serving their communities as advocates, training in an artistic field for talent competition, maintaining healthy lifestyles and promoting positive body images while matriculating as undergraduate or graduate students. Those young women, many of whom also achieve academic and professional success are none other than Miss America Organization titleholders.

 

Mallory is running as a democrat for a U.S. congressional seat in Alabama, so it’s safe to say she faces an uphill battle if she prevails in the June 5 primary, but I feel confident in saying there is no one more equipped for that battle than a former Miss America! When asked about how people address her former pageant title while she’s on the campaign trail she simply stated, “if you think this is hard, you should try preparing for Miss America, honestlypreparing for Miss America is ten times harder than what I’m doing right now”. This may seem like a strong statement, but many former and current state and local titleholders would more than likely agree. Titleholders in the organization are tasked with representing individual cities, areas and states and often travel hundreds of miles annually making apperances, advocating for causes and preparing for the next level of competition.

 

It could be argued that pageant titleholders are more prepared than most people to seek political office. In fact, Hagan is not alone, Erika Harold, Miss America 2003 recently won Republican nomination for Indiana Attorney General. There are a number of former participants who have or are currently running for political office: Miss America 2004 Ericka Dunlap recently ran for office in Orlando; Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry is Deputy Director of Veterans Affairs for the State of Kentucky; former Miss Alabama 1994 Amie Beth Dickinson Shaver ran for office in Alabama and has held several public and political positions;  and Miss Alabama 2003 Catherine Crosby Long is a practicing attorney who is also politically active and those are just a few examples. These women along with hundreds of other pageant titleholders are changing their cities, states and the country every day.

 

This may not have been the most entertaining blog post, but frankly I think that politics is a little too entertaining right now, so I will leave you with one thought.

If you want to prepare girls to run the world place them in positions of authority, celebrate their womanhood and teach them how to lead through service and compassion while showcasing style and competence. Miss America teaches young women how to lead while reminding them that power can be found in womanhood and that is a lesson that is essential to creating the next generation of leaders.

 

So, if you want to prepare someone to be President of the United States of America, you may want to suggest that they start with working to be Miss America!

What’s Going On? Song or Prophecy?

What’s Going On? Song or Prophecy?

 

America’s current political and social climate leave me asking one question daily, what’s going on? How is it that we as a nation have moved from, Barack Obama, our first Black president to a society that has become so contentious and divided that the nation’s president feels empowered to attack citizens via social media? How is it that we are over fifty years removed from the children’s demonstrations in Birmingham that were focused on civil rights and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four young girls and yet current news cycles are saturated with the protests of young students in response to gun violence and oppression? The single “What’s Going On” cries out in response to such protests.

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today
Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
But just talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on
What’s going on
What’s going on

What’s really going on in America?

There are artifacts and circumstances that will forever be etched into America’s history particularly as it relates to the advancement and progression of Black people. From hymns such as “Go Down Moses” and “Oh Freedom” that were written during or immediately after slavery to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream Speech”, delivered at the apex of the Civil Rights movement. Black culture and people have never been devoid of cultural expression. That expression however has often been tied to the oppression of Black people. Many cultural artifacts have helped lead to increased equality and opportunities for Black people. However, cultural artifacts of the past that are as relevant now as they were when they were created have a particular place in history and in the present. Marvin Gaye’s album, “What’s Going On” was originally written and produced in 1971 and has a current relevance and salience that serves as a reminder of how many of America’s scars and illnesses have not been cured. The album highlighted the struggles of civil rights, oppression, poverty, violence and war by combining lyrics rooted in poetry and what was then revolutionary musicality. It also serves as a cultural critique of society then and now. The album, in my opinion, is the greatest album of all time. That’s right, I said it, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” is the greatest album of all time!!!

Marvin Gaye’s prophetic musical mind  and cultural critique still serve as inspiration for modern day artists. He was both ahead of his time and eerily centered in his reality.  When the album debuted, America was just beginning to slowly recuperate from a war with itself, the Civil Rights Movement, and was in the middle of a war abroad, the Vietnam War. Those wars were supposed to lead to a better America and a better world. Although in many ways some changes were made for the better. The pain, hurt, frustration and even hopefulness that was evident in the album still speak to a world that is as divided and self-destructive as it was 46 years ago.

Noting how far Black people in America have come cannot be done without referencing how far we as Black people still have to go. So, if we have realized Dr. King’s “dream” and if we have been granted our “freedom” then What’s Going On? Musically the album was Gaye’s finest studio achievement and provided a new sound, but it’s meaning, and lyrics set it apart from any other album. Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream or the hopes and prayers sung by slaves have become increasingly rooted in history as America slowly achieves the hopes of generations of Black people. ‘Little Black boys and Black girls can now join hands with little White boys and White girls as referenced in Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, and Black people in America are arguably no longer legally, the slaves referenced in the hymn “Oh Freedom”, but there are still far too many brother’s dying as referenced in Gaye’s single “What’s Going On”.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

 

The economic and political struggles of Black people cannot be regaled to the past. Even with progress Black people have continued to endure unique complexities that have hindered political and economic access. “Inflation no chance, to increase finance. Bills pile up sky high. Send that boy off to die”, these lyrics are just as relevant, if not more so now as they were in 1971. As we move to push the images and rhetoric of slavery, Jim Crow and war to history books, artifacts such as “What’s Going On” are still being played on radios daily because the lyrics still speak to America’s struggles.

It could be argued that Marvin Gaye’s talent and mystery made him a musical and lyrical genius. His influence on music and culture is undeniable. We were reminded of this when in 2015 Marvin Gaye’s family was awarded damages because a jury ruled that “Blurred Lines” a song written and produced by Robin Thicke and Pharrell, copied Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”.  The cultural appropriation discussion is a discussion for a different day, but the connection between Gaye’s music, most of which was produced between 1961 and 1982 and modern music, highlights his influence. According to accounts, “What’s Going On”, particularly its title track that was co-written by Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Marvin Gaye was the result of Gaye’s frustrationwith police brutality, protests and war. “Inner City Blues” paints an all too familiar struggle of the urban Black existence.

Make me wanna holler

And throw up both my hands.

Crime is increasing, trigger happy policing.

Panic is spreading

God know where we’re heading.

There has been a heightened awareness surrounding police brutality recently with the acquittals of police officers in the murders of Black men. From Philando Castile to Freddie Gray and dozens of others, unarmed Black men have died at the hands of a police violence. Leading many Black people to scream out for the need to not be “punished with brutality”, ironically that same sentiment and plea is echoed in the album’s title track, “What’s Going On?” Police brutality and the grim picture of the struggle and even the beauty of being Black in America are not the only political statements made on the album. The song also references the economic struggle that many Black people still face at the hands of circumstance.

Money, we make it
Fore we see it you take it
Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
Make me wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain’t livin’, This ain’t livin’
No, no baby, this ain’t livin’

 

 

The song “Mercy Mercy Me” seems to be a prayer and a projection into the future. With lyrics that speak of the environmental struggle that the nation is currently fighting it almost seems as Gaye could foresee the political and social battle that we are currently witnessing surrounding global warming, climate control and sustainability.

Oh Jesus yeah mercy, mercy me ah
Ah things ain’t what they used to be, oh no

Radiation under ground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Hey mercy, mercy me oh
Ah things ain’t what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land
How much more abuse from man can she stand?

Those lyrics speak to our current battles and also are a very disappointing reflection of just how long we have been mistreating our environment, particularly because those lyrics were written almost fifty years ago!

The album’s creation was almost as controversial and complex as it’s lyrics. In fact, Berry Gordy, Founder of Motown Records had a complex view of the album based on his relationship with Gaye. Motown Record Corporation was largely responsible for the success of numerous Black artists. The Black owned company launched the careers of Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and The Temptations.  Black music was already popular, but Motown allowed Black people the opportunity to produce, write, create and OWN our music. The fact that the album struggled to be accepted by Motown’s leadership was not the result of a lack of awareness, but was according to Gordy the result of his need to provide consciousness and leadership.The mere fact that a 40th Anniversary Edition of the album was released in 2011 shows it’s continued relevance and it’s sustainability.

As I wrap up this almost cathartic critique of my favorite album, I think it is necessary to share my personal context. I still own originally versions of this album because my mom and my uncle used to play it for me when I was a little girl. My uncle, who was in many ways my dad loved this album and it became almost a soundtrack to our daddy daughter days. My uncle was a political figure at the time and was injured after falling out of a plane during the Vietnam War. We would often take long rides with the convertible top dropped back while listening to this album. As a little girl the words “I just wanna ask a question. Who really cares? To save a world in despair. Who really cares? There’ll come a time when the world won’t be singin’. Flowers won’t grow. Bells won’t be ringin’”, served as both a lullaby and a challenge to me to believe I could try to change the world. Those words were taking from Save The Children my favorite song on the album. The album was my involuntary introduction to cultural critique. I unknowingly was introduced the injustices of the society because they were paired with music that was appealing to me. As an adult I like to think that my family played this album not only because it showcased one of the greatest musical talents of the 20th Century, but because they wanted to acclimate me to the struggles that the world faced and would continue to face during my life time. I was raised to believe that my actions, education and determination could change the world and that Black America, Black culture and America as a whole, would be better because of it. However, I also think that my uncle who witnessed bombings and marches in Birmingham, the oppression of urban Black citizens and the Vietnam War was also trying to make sure that I was aware that our country still has so much work to do. So, I will close with saying in many ways we are living a dream realized, we as Black people have been freed from the bondage of slavery, but I still must ask…What’s Going On?

Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers-REVIEW

Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers provides detailed information on various ways to examine student success.  Ironically, I am currently assisting with research on student course evaluations and I have been shocked by the number of negative course evaluations that faculty members say that they receive that focus on ineffective testing or assessments. In this book, Angelo and Cross provide insight that could be helpful to faculty as they decide how and when to assess what their students are learning. The Teacher Goals Inventory allows faculty members to set clear expectations for their students. I have found that professionally I have been most successful when I can identify clear expectations, so I try to apply it to the classroom. Teacher designed feedback forms could help decrease any ambiguity in the classroom instruction and objectives by considering student input during the course as opposed to after. This is perhaps the most poignant point of the book, that student feedback and progress should be assessed during classroom instruction to help increase student success.  As I have carried this over into my managerial style I often reflect on how frequently teachers forget that students need clear guidance on what they will be tested on.

I appreciated the reinforcement of faculty providing a cooperative environment where student motivation is the result of engagement with faculty (p. 305). I’m not sure if we as faculty always think about this, but this reading along with the Barkley and Bain readings were grouped perfectly to provide helpful tips. The readings also reminded me of the ultimate purpose of classroom instruction. This book is a great conclusion to the course readings because assessment is often how classroom success, on the part of the teacher and students are measured. “The central purpose of Classroom Assessment is to empower both teachers and their students to improve the quality of learning in the classroom” (p. 4). The course related self-confidence surveys could be particularly helpful in speech and presentation courses.

The 50 Classroom Assessment Techniques or CATs are divided into categories: Techniques for assessing course-related knowledge and skills, Techniques for assessing learner attitudes, values and self-awareness; Techniques for assessing learner reactions to instruction.

Out of the 50 CATs The Minute Paper stood out the most. I had never heard of it in a higher education setting, but will be using for frequently. I normally start class with some type of ice breaker. A current event, topic from the previous class session or journal entry are ways that I have been able to engage students. I realize now that the minute paper may be a more effective use of that time and I could do it at the end of the class session. This would allow me to see how students articulate, on paper, the information presented. The third CAT, Misconception/Preconception Check could have saved me a lot of class time in the beginning of my teaching career. When students are asked to address current event topics or concerns they may not always realize the information that they already know that can block them from being able to interpret information critically.

This book will be one of the most used books on my book shelf! Not only was it well written and fairly easy to process, but it was also written in a way that I will be able to refer to it as a guide or reference book easily. This can be especially useful when teaching training or nontraditional courses where assessments may need to take place at a faster. I also think this book, or at least the CATs should be mentioned and provided for graduate teaching assistants. The assessments could prevent the backlash of the first assessment being a midterm or final exam. Overall, this was an excellent read and I will definitely recommend it to my peers.