Monday, December 17, 2012

Reading and Playing THE HUNGER GAMES

During the Fall 2012 semester, the Advanced Reading class of the Loyola Intensive English Program, taught by LIEP instructor Jess Haley, successfully read almost 1000 pages in English!!! This includes 3 entire books and numerous articles from newspapers and academic journals.

The final book read in class was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. In addition to homework, quizzes, and class discussions based on the book, the students participated in several more creative activities.

The Hunger Games is a pop culture phenomenon in the United States. Written for teenagers and young adults, The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a poor but resourceful teenager living in a dark future world. Katniss is forced to participate in a cruel televised ritual, the Hunger Games, where teenagers from around the country are forced to battle each other to the death in a frightening and unfamiliar arena. The story is one of survival and triumph as well as rebellion against a corrupt totalitarian government.

At the end of the semester, as a celebration of all their hard work, the students created two board games based on The Hunger Games and played them during a final class party. To create their games, students worked in two teams to determine the most important elements and events from the book. They used those concepts to create the rules for their games.

The first team created a colorful board that players move around, facing multiple “challenges” when they land on particular squares. The challenges include both mental and physical hurdles: answering trivia questions about the book, arm wrestling, playing rock-paper-scissors, or losing turns to take a needed rest. This team showed a tremendous understanding of the book and also had very cohesive rules for game play. Below are photos of the first team's board game.

Candy Nguyen of Vietnam approaches the board.
Tae Kyung Eom of Korea invites Hebe Gurdian of Nicaragua to take her  turn.
Sister Kim Dung Bui of Vietnam and Elena Holzschuh of Germany face the arm-wrestling challenge!
The second team focused on the “battling” aspect of the book, and designed their board to be maneuvered by players who collect weapons and food resources as they move around the board. When two players land on the same space, they must “fight.” The winner is calculated based on the point value of their weapons. So, if one player has drawn a 3-point weapon, but the other has two 2-point weapons, the second player wins the battle and the first player is out of the game. In this board game, like the Hunger Games, only one player can win. This team really embraced the spirit of the book and created a beautiful game board. Below are photos of the second team's board game.

Sung Uk Jung of Korea, Sister Kim Dung Bui or Vietnam, and Candy Nguyen of Vietnam study the board.
Candy Nugyen of Vietnam contemplates her move.
Hebe Gurdian of Nicaragua and Elena Holzschuh of Germany consider their resourcs and weapons.
Our thanks to the LIEP students of the Advanced Reading class and to LIEP instructor Jess Haley for sharing their creative work with The Hunger Games with us!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Death Penalty - Con

During the Fall 2012 semester, our Pilot Program students in the Loyola Intensive English Program focused on the death penalty through reading, film viewing, discussing, and writing. This work culminated in an essay assignment that asked the Pilot students to argue persuasively for their own point of view, for or against the death penalty.

Jessica Osteicoechea of Venezuela
Our previous post features an essay in favor of the death penalty by Xiang "James" Zhang of China. This post features an essay by Jessica Osteicoechea of Venezuela opposing the death penalty.

Jessica completed her Pilot studies this fall and will go on in Spring 2013 to study for her LL.M. degree in the College of Law at Loyola University New Orleans. Jessica believes that the death penalty violates human dignity and is no longer necessary in today's sociey. Jessica's essay is a bit long, but it is well worth reading. She takes the time to articulate her opinion carefully and to illustrate it vividly. Here is Jessica's essay.

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Building an Opinion about the Death Penalty
By Jessica Osteicoechea

Whether we support the death penalty or not should not be based on a whim. To have an unblemished opinion about it we need to analyze, know, and identify the death penalty’s implications. Then, our hearts and minds will give us the pattern to build a congruent opinion based on our morals a  nd values. To support the death penalty is not a matter of faith. Everyone who feels capital punishment should be applied is free to hold that opinion. However, before taking sides and expressing our feelings in this regard we first must analyze the following considerations.

The first aspect I want to analyze with you is the legal weight of the death penalty. It is definitely a legal punishment because the law allows its application. Therefore, it is perfectly legal to apply it. However, we should not confuse legality with justice. The law is not always just, yet it is still law. Therefore, when building your own opinion do not settle for the fact that it is legal because the justice system is an entity full of errors. For instance, the Arizona law allowing a police officer t  o detain someone and ask for his papers if that person resembles a foreigner may be considered unjust because many people looking different are being disrespected in their rights. However, this is a law and regardless of its injustice must be applied. Another example of an unjust law is the tax regulations imposing a higher tax burden on a select group of people. In fact, everyone has the same rights and obligations. However, the law makes a distinction between people based on their income and creates a disadvantageous situation for some others, which is perfectly legal, but at the same time it is unjust.

It is important to recall that the law is made to be applied in countless situations, all different, all unique. Hence, the law should be as wide as possible. This will allow many situations to be decided based on just one rule. However, this is also going to gather all the situations as a single one where it will not matter its specifics or particular circumstances. For instance, a contract will always be law between the parties even if that contract is clearly disadvantageous for one of the parties. Perhaps someone who did not know how to read signed a contract because he was in a desperate situation. Well, it is unjust that this person is going to be harmed by the contract, but it is legal to enact it.  The law is there to be equally applied to everyone, regardless of particular issues or situations. It is an advantage in some cases but a disadvantage in others. Nonetheless, this is the way the law is supposed to work.

Essentially, law is supposed to move forward, to change along with society, to always improve and make our world a better and fairer place. However, some people still believe in the old saying "an eye for an eye" as the best way to deliver justice. I am convinced that the times when these types of penalties were needed are over. We cannot keep building our society based on revenge, violation of human rights, and death. On the contrary, it is time to create, to build, to make better people by giving all the same opportunity to grow in an atmosphere of respect for life. This is a perfect time to remember that one’s own example is the best teaching; the faster we understand that, the sooner we will be reaping the benefits of a better society.

During old times, people did not have any other possibility to defend their lives or belongings than killing thieves or murderers. This happened because they did not have a government system to stop criminals and protect society; we do have that in our time. Before, people did n ot have the resources we have now: police officers, militaries, prisons, and well-organized cities. Of course, in the past it was necessary to kill a murderer or a thief because of w hat else they might do. People used to live in groups, in open space houses or even in tents. Then, how were they supposed to protect themselves without killing the criminal. They did not have a place to incarcerate people because jails and prisons did not exist. Thus, they did what they best could, but we do have a chance to do better than they. We do not need to resort to old practices to safeguard society. We now have some other ways to apply justice.

Now you might be questioning, what to do with criminals who do not want to follow society's limits and rules or what to do to control criminals without capital punishment. Indeed, the legal system is there to protect society, but no one said that the application of the death penalty is the only way to achieve that aim. A country has access to so many resources to punish their criminals without breaching the human limits in doing so. Committing a crime doesn’t mean that a person has waived his human essence. Therefore, criminals are still human beings, and just as humans, they should be treated. For instance, a criminal can be incarcerated for the rest of his life; the incarceration can be also deprived of the possibility of parole. Moreover, prisons are very secure nowadays. Then, it is extremely difficult for an inmate to escape.

Life in prison is a severe punishment where society is being protected, but without profaning the most important inalienable right, the life. To respect human rights should not be a matter of discretion. Every state wanting to be part of the globalized world and interact without conflict with other countries should respect the absolute value of the human rights, especially the right to live. It is a shame that some countries play with the most sacred values as if they were negotiable.

A second thought I would like to bring up is that the expectation given to the execution is unconscionable because killing the criminal will not help the victim's family to ease its pain. It cannot be expected that the grief of losing a loved one would decrease or disappear with the execution.  The reality is that to lose someone is always painful and only time can bring some consolation. Time will be the one giving people some comfort, not the death of others. It is disrespectful to believe that the execution will heal the pain of someone's loss.  The victim's life is irreplaceable and his or her memory cannot be erased by just ending his or her executioner’s life.  Perhaps, the execution of a murderer might disguise the pain of the victim’s family while the adrenaline of getting revenge is still around, but once the adrenaline is gone, the pain will be unbearable as always.

Along with this I bring up a third thought, the risk we are taking by allowing the government to apply the death penalty is too high. In fact, the system has many flaws that make it vulnerable. Hence, considering that it is impossible to go back and fix the errors because of the nature of the death penalty, the legal system should be more accurate. At least it owes that to society. Nevertheless, legal workers make mistakes that might result in having the wrong person with a death sentence. Certainly, it does not happen very often, but it happens. And it is just this small possibility that should make us stop and decide whether we consider that saving a single innocent life is urgent or not. Truly, by eliminating the death penalty, we would be eliminating the possibility of having situations where someone who is not responsible for a crime has to face the execution, and by the time we know it will be too late.

A fourth thought I want to state is that poverty and geography determine who will get a death sentence more than the nature of the crime does. The main reason for this is the system’s failure to provide the defendants with capable lawyers, which causes some of the defendants to receive a harsher sentence than what they really deserved. In contrast this does not happen with the wealthy. They can afford an excellent defense that will allow them to get a lower sentence, even if they are responsible for a serious crime. It seems that money is buying justice, which should not be tolerated.

Additionally, in regard to the idea of the geography’s influence, we must say that some states in the United States are very likely to give the death penalty while others will never impose it, even when it is contemplated in its laws. States in the south of the country have a history of slavery and segregation that caused all this idea of getting rid of unwanted people. A large concentration of inmates in death row are black; a situation that does not help the system to be fairer. Clearly, the differences on how the death penalty is applied in this country make the entire situation even more unjust because the nature of the crime is not the element determining whether a criminal deserves or not the death penalty.

Lastly, as a final thought I would like to illustrate that there is no real proof that could demonstrate that the crimes are being deterred by the existence of the death penalty. On the contrary, some studies bring out that in states where the death penalty is legal the crimes continue to rise while in others where it is not the crimes tend to decrease. For instance, if we look at the European countries, we would conclude that what makes their system more effective is the way in which they educate their society. They do not need to resort to the death penalty because their population understands that life and rights must be respected above all. Therefore, the levels of crimes are low and respect for human rights is high. These are the types of examples that our countries should approach because as long as we have the will to consider it, the work, although hard, will have already been started.

At this point when we have discussed some of the most important considerations about the death penalty, you have a better idea of whether you would support or not the death penalty. Is it really necessary to execute criminals when other punishments are less harmful and cruel? I feel it is not.  The times we are living in need better and fairer solutions. It is unacceptable to consent to the application of the death penalty when the human rights are an insignia in modern societies. Therefore, human rights should always be respected, not because it is legal to do it, but definitely because it is only just to respect the human essence in everyone.

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Our thanks to Jessica Osteicoechea for this excellent essay opposing the death penalty.

The Death Penalty - Pro

Our previous post details the focus of our Pilot Program students in the Loyola Intensive English Program on the death penalty during the Fall 2012 semester. Our reading, film viewing, discussing, and writing about the death penalty culminated in an assignment that asked each Pilot student to argue persuasively for his or her opinion, for or against the death penalty.

Xiang James Zhang of China
This post features an excellent essay in favor of the death penalty by Xiang "James" Zhang of China. James is a business management major at Loyola University New Orleans. He is eager to complete his business studies and to gain experience working for a large corporation.

James believes that the death penalty protects society and gives first-degree murderers the punishment they deserve. He articulates his opinion admirably in his essay, below.

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I’m in Favor of the Death Penalty
By Xiang James Zhang

If one person commits the crime of taking another person’s life, I believe the government should take the murderer’s life because all the innocent people in the world have the right to live without being afraid that someone could kill them and not be punished. Why should innocent people be afraid of death while criminals aren’t?

First, if the murderer is allowed to live, he might be able to escape or hurt other inmates and prison guards. In the book Dead Man Walking, written by Sister Helen Prejean to argue against the death penalty, the character of Robert Willie was charged with many violent offenses; he later escaped from St. Tammany Parish jail, and went on to kill and rape innocent people. Willie was able to escape and commit more crimes, and he wasn’t even a murderer then. Imagine if someone already convicted of murder were to escape. This kind of murderer would not be afraid of laws or the death penalty, and would go on to commit more crimes. Also, murderers may hurt other prisoners and the prison guards if they need something from them. First-degree murderers tend to spend much of their time together, making it easier for them to hurt other people.

Also, if one person takes another person’s life and the murderer doesn’t receive the death penalty, more and more people will commit crimes because they know they will not receive the death penalty. The fear of execution prevents a lot of people from committing crimes. When a person commits a crime, he will think about the possibility that he could receive the death penalty. If the death penalty is in use in a country, people may not commit crimes because they don’t want to die. On the other hand, if a person wants to commit a crime and knows that the death penalty doesn’t exist, maybe he will commit the crime because he can still live his life in prison.

Additionally, life in prison always causes the victim’s family deep pain and they can’t forgive the murderer. If the murderer is executed, the victim’s family will feel better. If an innocent family member were killed, the family would miss him throughout their life. During his birthday and Tomb-Sweeping Day, a day in my country, China, where living people visit and sweep their loved ones’ tombs, the family would miss him; I believe that the family would always be in deep pain over his death. The family would constantly think about the murderer. If the murderer were still alive in prison, it would make the victim’s family feel deep pain. The murdered love one died even though he was innocent, while the murderer would still be alive in the world. On the other hand, the victim would have no life to live, making his family sad.

Finally, life in prison isn’t enough to punish the violent murderers. The environment in prisons is very good now. Prisoners can make phone calls and visit with their family members. They can earn money for themselves and are able to buy what they want to eat and drink. Although there is a limit to the food they can buy, they still have many options. Also, when the prisoners’ family members come to visit, they can give extra money to the prisoners. The prisoners can use this extra money to spend on anything in the prison commissary. Another point is that the environment of prisons has improved greatly in recent years. The prisoners can get good health care. The standard of living has also improved. The prisoners don’t need to worry about the daily concerns of life in the world like taxes, transportation, food, or electricity. They just go to their prison job and then have all their life needs provided. Sometimes, they can go out to exercise. If we compare how murderers live to how homeless people live, the murderers are better off. At least they don’t need to worry about food or where to live. Meanwhile, it’s normal to drive around and see some homeless people sleeping at bus stations during the middle of winter. I believe that these murderers have better lives than the homeless people.

Additionally, the government should be fair to citizens, and the government also has the right and duty to protect and punish citizens. All the citizens in the United States are part of the government, and also the government protects this country very well. Every citizen has equal worth to live in his or her community. If one person takes another person’s life and the murderer doesn’t receive the death penalty that means the murderer’s life has more worth than the victim’s life.

Overall, I am in favor of the death penalty because I believe it is effective in getting justice for murder victims. The death penalty is also good at preventing people from committing murder for fear that they will be executed.  It works well in my country, China, and I believe it also works in the United States and other countries. The death penalty can improve a prison system by keeping the regular prisoners away from the prisoners that have committed murder. Many people might not like the death penalty, but it is needed to keep order and bring justice to victims.

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Our thanks to James Zhang for this excellent essay in favor of the death penalty. Our next post will feature an essay by Jessica Osteicoechea of Venezuela, expressing the opposite view.

Considering the Death Penalty

Our Pilot Program students in the Loyola Intensive English Program spent the Fall 2012 semester considering the death penalty through reading, film, discussion, and writing.

We read three books with different views on the death penalty.
  • DEAD MAN WALKING by Sister Helen Prejean. Sister Prejean, a Catholic nun, opposes the death penalty and serves as spiritual advisor to men on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola LA. In Dead Man Walking, Sister Prejean tells of her experience with the first two death row inmates whom she advised spiritually in the 1980s, Elmo Patrick Sonnier and Robert Lee Willie, and explains in detail her opposition to the death penalty.
  • VICTIMS OF DEAD MAN WALKING by Detective Michael L. Varnado and D. P. Smith. Detective Varnado investigated the killing of Faith Hathaway by Robert Lee Willie, one of the men whom Sister Prejean served as spiritual advisor in Dead Man Walking. Detective Varnado wrote his book in answer to Sister Prejean. He believes that murder victims rather than murderers should receive the public's attention and that the death penalty is warranted in cases of wanton first-degree murder.
  • A LESSON BEFORE DYING by Ernest J. Gaines. This is a novel about an innocent black man, Jefferson, who is convicted of killing a white man in the 1940s and sentenced to die in the electric chair. In an attempt to obtain a more lenient sentence of life in prison for Jefferson, the defense attorney had told the jury that killing Jefferson would just be like killing a hog. The local black teacher, Grant Wiggins, makes it his mission to visit Jefferson in prison during the time left before his execution and to convince Jefferson to go to his inevitable death, not with the stigma of a hog, but with the dignity of a man.
Well-used copies of A Lesson Before Dying, Dead Man Walking, and Victims of Dead Man Walking
 We also watched three films.
  • THE FARM: LIFE INSIDE ANGOLA PRISON. This film describes life at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola LA. The film follows the stories of six Angola inmates, one of whom is on death row.
  • DEAD MAN WALKING. This is the film version of Helen Prejean's book, starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.
  • A LESSON BEFORE DYING. This is the film version of Ernest J. Gaines' novel.
Besides our class discussions, the Pilot students also had the opportunity for two additional conversations.
Dr. David O'Donaghue
  • AN INTERCULTURAL CONVERSATION. We were privileged to have Dr. David O'Donaghue, founder and director of the New Orleans Lyceum and of Chautauqua New Orleans, come to Loyola and facilitate an intercultural conversation on the death penalty with our Pilot students and several interested members of the New Orleans community. This helped us to deepen and sharpen our ideas on the death penalty as we articulated our ideas in this conversational setting.

Father William Barnwell
  • CONVERSATION WITH FATHER WILLIAM BARNWELL. We were also privileged to have a visit from Father William Barnwell, an Episcopal priest, who talked with us about his work with inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola LA. Like Sister Helen Prejean, Father Barnwell serves as an advisor to a death row inmate at Angola.

The Pilot students wrote responses to the three books and the three films. They also each wrote a longer essay explaining their view for or against the death penalty.

And as lagniappe, three Pilot students drove to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola LA with LIEP instructor Karen Greenstone on Sunday, October 7, to experience the Angola Prison Rodeo!

Our next two posts will feature an essay by Pilot student James Zhang of China in favor of the death penalty, followed by an essay by Pilot student Jessica Osteicoechea of Venezuela opposing the death penalty.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

LIEP Christmas Party 2012

On the afternoon of Wednesday, December 5, our Loyola Intensive English Program students gathered in our lounge area for a Christmas party!

We began with four projects, culminating in painted Christmas tree ornaments, hand-made Christmas cards, delicious Christmas chocolate chip cookes, and tasty spiced Christmas nuts!

Those who painted Christmas ornaments had a variety of shapes and colors to choose from.
A plate of plain shapes, waiting to be painted!
Painting a Santa's hat ornament
Once the ornaments were ready, we chose a favorite as our winning Christmas ornament!

Tram Ngoc Thuy "Candy" Nguyen shows off her winning teddy bear ornament!
The Christmas card creators worked with a variety of decorative materials to create beautiful Christmas cards.

Materials for Christmas cards
A set of beautiful hand-made Christmas cards!

While some were painting ornaments and others were creating Christmas cards, two teams were preparing cookie and nut treats. Here are the delicious results!

A sheet of just-baked Christmas chocolate chip cookies!

A pan of tasty spiced Christmas nuts!
Our Christmas party also included the Jewish Hanukkah tradition of spinning the dreidel. Coins are placed in the center of the table, the dreidel is spun, and coins are won or lost depending on how the dreidel lands.

We place coins on the table. Ours are chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.
The dreidel spins.
We watch to see how the dreidel will land.

We also played MERRY CHRISTMAS Scramble. This game involves seeing how many words we could form using the letters in MERRY CHRISTMAS. Try it! How did you do?

Then Christmas Trivia tested our knowledge about Christmas. Try some of our questions! Can you answer these?

  1. Name two of Santa's reindeer.
  2. What do children in the United States leave out for Santa to find on Christmas Eve?
  3. What do children in the United States leave out for Santa's reindeer?
  4. What are three other names for Santa Claus?
  5. How much does the average family in the United States spend on Christmas gifts?
  6. How many Christmas trees are sold for people's homes in the United States every Christmas?

Scroll down to the end of the post for the answers.

Our LIEP Christmas party was fun, tasty, informative, and creative! Our huge thanks to the party organizers, LIEP instructors Jess Haley and Christina Indovina!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

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Answers to Christmas Trivia questions.

  1. Santa's reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph.
  2. Children leave out cookies and milk for Santa.
  3. Children leave out carrots for Santa's reindeer.
  4. Other names for Santa Claus are Kris Kringle, Papa Noel, Saint Nicholas, and Jolly Old Elf.
  5. The average family spend $800 on Christmas presents.
  6. 37,000,000 Christmas trees are sold.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Snow at Loyola!

One evening in early December, Loyola University New Orleans brought in manufactured snow to put us in the Christmas spirit! The students and instructors of the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) joined right in - playing outdoors in the snow with the temperature at 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius)!

Here you see part of Loyola's campus being sprayed with snow!

Below, you see Hebe Gurdian of Nicaragua with a small snowball, accompanied by Felix Garmendia of Venezuela.

 Everyone enjoyed a snowball fight, even LIEP instructor Christina Indovina!

 Finally, LIEP students posed for a photo beyond the snow with Santa Claus!

Many thanks to Loyola for an unusual wintery snowy evening in warm New Orleans!