Friday, October 15, 2010

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden SIde of Everything

First of all, this book has no plot (or what we think of as a plot) and Levitt even says himself that it has no theme. Levitt says, “Most books put forth a single theme, crisply expressed in a sentence or two, and then tell the entire story of that theme: the history of salt; the fragility of democracy; the use and misuse of punctuation. This book boasts no such unifying theme” (14). The book instead revolves around a series of questions that Levitt asked himself and then proceeded to dig through mountains of hard data to come up with an answer for the question. The questions include things like; What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? How is the Ku Klux Klan like a group of real-estate agents? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? or How much do parents really matter? For the purposes of this discussion I will focus on the what do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common question. If you want to know the answers to the other questions I suggest you read the book, don’t the the inclusion of -onomics in the title put you off, it is very entertaining and intriguing.

So what is the answer to that question? Well it turns out that the answer is that they both have strong incentives to cheat and many of them do. I am not going to focus on what Levitt says about sumo wrestlers cheating because frankly, I believe many of you couldn’t care less. So instead I will focus on what he says about teacher cheating, a topic I believe is much more relevant to us at this time. What is teacher cheating? Teacher cheating is when teachers do deliberate acts, such as writing answers on the board, changing answers after the test is over, giving students more than the alloted time, or giving out exam questions early, that cause students in their class to score higher on a test then they should have. This does not happen on just any old test, it happens on our favorite kind of test, the standardized test. Now these are not tests like the ACT, SAT, or AP tests, these are tests like the OGT. We all know that if you do not pass the OGT you cannot graduate high school in Ohio. We all also know that if the school as a whole doesn’t do well funding can be withheld. This type of testing where a lot rides on a passing score is called high stakes testing. Levitt says, “The stakes are considered high because instead of simply testing students to measure their progress, schools are increasingly held accountable for the results” (26). It only became widespread about ten to twenty years ago and was only mandated by the government starting in 2002 with the No Child Left Behind Law.

Levitt says, “High-stakes testing has so radically changed the incentives for teachers that they too now have added reason to cheat. With high-stakes testing, a teacher whose students test poorly can be censured or passed over for a raise or promotion. If the entire school does poorly, federal funding can be withheld; if the school is put on probation, the teacher stands to be fired” (27). At one time California offered teachers $25,000 bonuses if their students showed large test-score gains. These are both very strong incentives for teachers to cheat and their final incentive was that teacher cheating was hardly ever looked for or punished when high-stakes testing began.

The Chicago Public School system is a fairly progressive school system. They had implemented standardized testing as a requirement to pass certain grades long before 2002 (1993 in fact) and decided when they started to keep a data base of every answer to every question that every student who took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (we all had to take this test as well) provided. Over seven years they catalogued 100 million answers organized by the individual classroom and teacher each student had. Only recently did they decide to use this data to attempt to identify teacher cheating. They then built a computer algorithm that would look for suspicious patterns of repeating strings of answers. The results indicated that within the entire school system more than 200 teachers were cheating. Levitt then explains that this is a rough estimate, “The algorithm was able to identify only the most egregious form of cheating--in which teachers systematically changed students‘ answers--and not more subtler ways a teacher might cheat” (34). They also saw that they year they made their standardized tests high-stakes tests (1996) that teacher cheating went up dramatically and that it was in the classrooms with the lowest scoring students that teacher cheating was most likely to occur.

Now this data alone was not enough to fire the offending teachers so the CPS (Chicago Public School System) so they decided to retest some classrooms. They only had 120 retests available so they retested some classrooms that they knew to be good teachers from the answer data and some they suspected of being cheating teachers. If the students held their gains in scores no teacher cheating was occurring, if they didn’t teacher cheating was occurring (the teachers were never allowed to touch any part of the test). The expected happened, good teachers‘ students held their scores while cheating teachers students fell dramatically. The cheating teachers were subsequently fired and the next year teacher cheating went down thirty percent.

Discussion Questions

What do you guys think about high-stakes standardized tests? Do they give more incentive for students to study and generally raise the bar for learning resulting in more quality teaching? Or, do they unfairly penalize students who don’t test well, and they cause teachers to focus too heavily on test topics, leaving out more important lessons (for example how to manage your finances properly)?

How serious is the impact of teacher cheating on students? Is it basically harmless and doing a little better than they should doesn’t really hurt? Or, does it give the student a false sense of his own abilities causing shock and low grades in class when they discover in later grades of school that it is too difficult for them?

If you were a teacher who taught average level students and you were offered $10,000 if your students averaged a certain reachable but challenging score on a standardized test but you knew your students were not quite that good, would you cheat to get the $10,000 (a very large sum of money) or not and why.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is set up as a novel told by several different people. The first point of view introduced is that of Nell who has been abandoned on a ship from Australia to London. While on the ship she suffers from a head injury and loses her memory ending up alone in Australia. A family takes her in as their own and does not tell her she is part of the family until her 18th birthday. The rest of the story is explaining how she got on that ship and why by herself, her granddaughter who is searching for answers, and her mother. It has four different time periods covered throughout these characters. The major theme of the book is confronting the past. Nell spends most of her life trying to come to terms with the fact that she does not know who her real family is. When she finds out she breaks off an engagement and alienates her family. She loses all real relationships and never feels completely satisfied with her life. She marries and has a daughter but does not have a great relationship with her and when she grows up and moves out Nell travels across the world to London to search for clues. When her daughter leaves Cassandra, her granddaughter, with her she is forced to abandon her mission when it seems that she will find the answer. She cares for Cassandra for the rest of her life and when she passes away, Cassandra takes over the search. Cassandra sees it as a way to prove her love to Nell one last time. The search takes her all throughout England and has many twists in it that in the end lead to the answer.

The characters are all trying to find themselves searching through the past. For Nell this means that she will abandon the life she has. For Cassandra it is a way to build a new life. Uncovering the mystery is less about what the answer actually is and more about what it means to know who you are and where you come from. Nell feels she cannot go on living the lie that she has been raised in even though it was a happy life. Without knowing where you came from you cannot know where you will go.

Discussion Questions
  1. Is it more important to know the past or build a future?
  2. Is it possible to escape the past, or does one's history always find a way to revisit the present?
  3. How might Nell's life have turned out differently if she had not known the truth?

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

Within the first two sentences of The Last Lecture, a nonfiction book by Randy Pausch, the reader learns that Randy has ten tumors in his liver and has only a few months left to live. Though what is happening to Randy is tragic and sad, he keeps a very optimistic and light-hearted view on life throughout the book.

The story begins by telling the reader how every college professor holds a "last lecture" before they finish teaching at the school. Each lecture is meant to focus in on a central theme or topic for the talk. Randy took this as an opportunity not to talk about his cancer, but to stress to others how important life is and to make sure to live it to the fullest. He says, "I have a chance here to really think about what matters most to me, to cement how people to remember me, and to do whatever good I can on the way out" (7). He wanted people to know that not only is living life important, but that how one lives life and how one is viewed by others is also important.

After Randy explains the purpose of his last lecture, the novel breaks off into a series of frame stories that all center around the theme of his lecture: life. Almost all of the stories he tells stem from his childhood, such as the time his parents let him use his imagination to paint his room to his liking. The lesson for this being that children need to be given the freedom to express themselves throughout their lives.

Another lesson learned through his childhood was to dream, and dream big. While in elementary school, he dreamed not of becoming an astronaut, but solely the floating aspect of the job. Many years later, he was able to make this dream become a reality. While a professor at Carnegie Mellon, his students were given the opportunity to go in one of NASA's zero-gravity planes. The catch: Professors weren't allowed to go. This did not stop Randy, though, from fulfilling this childhood dream. He found a loophole that allowed a journalist from the students' hometown to join in on the ride, so that is exactly what he did. "I did manage to get on that plane," Randy says, "almost four decades after floating became one of my life goals. It just proves that if you can find an opening, you can probably find a way to float through it" (34).

These are just a few summaries of the frame stories used within the book. The Last Lecture truely makes readers think about what they are doing with their lives. Randy Pausch may have passed on, but the stories of his life telling everyone to dream and believe will surely live on.

Discussion Questions:

1. As stated, this whole book centers around what Randy wants people to learn from him in his last lecture. If you were a professor writing your last lecture, what topic or theme would you center around, and why? (In other words, what would you want people to learn from your lecture?)

2. Randy not only focuses on life throughout the book, but also likes to encourage people to dream big. Make a list of a couple childhood dreams you had or still have and choose one to talk about with the following questions: What sparked your imagination to have this dream? What can you do to accomplish this dream? Is this dream even possible to accomplish? If the dream is not possible, has it stemmed off into a new dream that actually is tangible?

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

The novel, The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans begins with a very suspenseful accident involving two young girls, two horses, and a semi truck. This tragic accident sets up the rest of the novel. While out riding horses, Grace and Judith are hit by a semi truck that slides on the ice. Grace and her horse, Pilgrim, are the only survivers. Grace is wounded both physically and spiritually; she loses her right leg. Her horse is driven mad by pain and fear. Annie Graves, Grace's mother, is a workaholic that has lost all conection with her daughter. Annie tries to save them both even though many people tell her to put Pilgrim down. She cannot explain it, but somehow she knows that Grace's life is connected to Pilgrim's. This realization leads Annie down a path that she does not expect. She ends up leaving her husband at home in New York to take Grace and Pilgrim to a rancher in Montana that is known for calming and healing horses. This healer, Tom Booker, is less than willing to help them at first, but Annie is very persistent. He is her only hope at saving both Pilgrim and Grace, and she will not let them down.

Grace and Pilgrim both start to come around eventually with Tom's help. Grace accepts her handicap, and Pilgrim begins to trust again. Since they are connected, as Pilgrim is healed by Tom, so is Grace. Grace still does not speak to her mother, and cannot forgive her for bringing her to Montana. After a long period of silence, Grace finally opens up and recalls the memory of the accident that she repressed. She would tell no one except Tom. She comes to love and trust him. Then Annie begins to fall in love with Tom, who feels the same, and Annie ends up cheating on her husband. She feels guilty, but at the same time knew that it was meant to be. This makes Grace very angry because she feels like they do not really care about her , and she runs away. She ends up getting caught in a fire. Tom dies while trying to save her, which makes Grace realize that both Tom and Annie truly care about her and she is worth more to them than a cripple. Grace hugs Annie, and they both weep after months of being on bad terms with each other. Annie and Grace go back to New York a few days after Tom dies. While Annie's family should have been wrecked and her relationship with her husband ruined, by a miracle it is not. Annie is pregnant with Tom's baby. This should have torn their family apart even more, but somehow it has the opposite effect: it heals them. The novel ends with Annie, her husband, and Grace all laughing and crying in the hospital with the newborn.


1. Relationships are an important theme throughout the book. Grace's family is already flawed, and the tragedy brings out those flaws. Pilgrim is the only thing connecting them. How are Annie, Grace, and Pilgrim all joined in suffering?

2. Tom is the symbol of trust in the book. Why is trust so important in the process of healing someone that's been hurt emotionally as well as physically?

3. Grace represses the awful memory of the accident, and she claims that she hit her head and cannot remember. Why do people repress bad memories instead of facing them?

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom, begins on the birthday about a man named Eddie. Eddie works at an amusement park and has done so all his life. He is not much of a talker and keeps to himself. He does his job well and works alongside a younger man named Dominic. That day, Eddie sends Dominic up to the top of a ride to fix something. Dominic makes a mistake and the ride comes crashing down. A little girl is in the path of the falling cart and Eddie dies in his attempt to save her with “A stunning impact. A blinding flash of light. And then, nothing” (18).
Throughout the book are flashbacks of different birthdays Eddie had in his life. These allow the reader to really get to know Eddie and how he became who is was as a person.
The book continues with Eddie’s journey in heaven, meeting five people that greatly impacted his life, whether he knew they had or not. He finds out that even if he does not understand how, “the human spirit knows, deep down, that all lives intersect” (48). With each of the people Eddie meets, he learns a lesson. He comes to understand his impact on the world, even though during his life he thought of himself as unimportant.

Discussion Question:

Do you believe that seemingly unimportant people, even people you never personally met, can make a large impact on your life?

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The book, The Giver, written by Lois Lowry is told by an eleven year old boy with blue eyes named Jonas. Jonas lives in a society unlike any today. The rules are simple, and seemingly easy to follow as most of the characters are exactly the same in appearance and personality. Nearly every choice is made up for the dark hair and brown eyed citizens. Once Jonas turns twelve, along with all of his classmates, he will be assigned a job. His parents were matched by the government and he and his sister, Lily were assigned to them, just like all other families. The parents consider themselves lucky to have recieved such well behaved children from the birthmother assigned to them. Once Jonas turns twelve, he is assigned the position of Memory Receiver. He now must learn his trade from an older blue eyed man, the giver of memories, who holds the collective memory of the town. He experiences war, hunger, love, and even certain events such as sledding that are prohibited. Jonas is now thrust into a world of pain, love, and knowledge. The leaders of the town refuse to feel strongly about any subject, and instead give all feeling to the Memory Receiver. At the same time, Jonas's father brings home a child from his work, Gabriel, that is having trouble sleeping through the night. Instead of sending him to be "released" him immediately, his father attempts to train him at home. Jonas wonders why he shouldn't just be let live somewhere else until he asks the Giver. As he learns more about the village, he also learns more about the crimes committed by the officials. He has been brought up to believe that "release" is a pleasent experience, where the smaller of twins, the elderly, or a person who has committed a crime, is sent away from the village to live elsewhere. Instead, he learns that the person is euthanized with little concern. He is then outraged by the inhuman acts that occur in his own place of birth. He then attempts anything to get Gabriel to make it through alive. He begins to send pleasant memories to the baby to help him sleep. However, once brought back to the center for infants, he is unable to sleep through the night. Jonas uses this as a motivator and along with the Giver devises a plan for escape. They plan to leave for elsewhere and allow the memories back into the town for the citizens to deal with. Instead of a perfect painless world, the people will now have to deal with reality. The Giver plans to help them though this process of acceptance, so he decides to stay. When Jonas learns that Gabe is to be "released" the next day, the plan goes into action. He takes his fathers bike because of the childs seat on the back and a small suppy of food and takes off for elsewhere. Jonas travels for as long as possible until snow fall discontinues his biking. He stumbles along until he reaches a hill and finds a sled at the top. Similar to his first memory received, he sleds down the hill with Gabe in tow. He hears music, and sees a light. He believes that he sees a village to seek refuge in. The story ends with Gabe and Jonas walking the remaining distance to the village that may or may not be there.

Discussion Questions

1) Is the ending truely happy? Or does Jonas imagine seeing the town? Do you think that he really has made it to safety? Explain.

2) Is this empty society on to something by eliminating fear and emotion? Or is the joy felt by mankind greater than the suffering?

3) With euthanasia present in this novel, what attitude does the author seem to have about the subject, based on the events that transpire?

4) To what degree is The Giver a cautionary tale? What message could it be trying to convey?

Monday, October 11, 2010

OPEN: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

Open is an autobiography by famous tennis professional Andre Agassi. He began writing his tell-all memoir after his final tournament of his career, the 2006 U.S. Open, where he lost to the young Cypriot, Marcos Baghdatis. This memoir shows the struggles Agassi faced as he was growing up with a strict Iranian father and a quiet, white mother from Nevada.
His father, Mike Agassi, was an Olympic wrestler for the small country of Armenia in the 1940’s. He moved to America in search for a better life and to start a family after the many years he spent training in the Middle East. His transferred his harsh training methods on to his son when he first put a racquet in his hands at the young age of 4. He made Andre hit tennis balls every night, and often took him out of school to practice tennis. When Andre was in 9th grade, his father took him out of school and sent him to the world renowned Bolletieri Tennis Academy in Florida.
As soon as Andre entered the pro circuit, he became an instant sensation with the ladies. He earned multimillion dollar deals with brands like Nike and Head Tennis. His success had finally caught up to him when he landed on the cover of Tennis magazine, sporting a pair of Oakley sunglasses. The very next day after the magazine hit store shelves across the nation, Jim Jannard, the owner of Oakley, had a Porsche 911 delivered to Agassi’s bachelor pad in Las Vegas. What the public did not know was that Andre Agassi had a dark side to him that most people thought was impossible.

Agassi hated tennis. His famous hair style which had made women want him more than anything was actually a wig, weaved into his thinning hair. The number one player in the world struggled with depression and eventually delved into the recreational usage of methamphetamines, also known by the street name “Chrystal Meth”. He would stay up for 3 days straight after using the drug, meticulously cleaning his home, often forgetting to call his girlfriend Brooke Sheilds, who was in Hollywood filming various television shows.
This riveting story of the former number one tennis star shows how drug addiction can completely control one’s life, even if they have money and success with them.
Discussion Question:
The theme that this book conveys to its’ readers closely resembles that of The Kite Runner’s, where the protagonist finds out how someone in his life had been lying to him his entire life.

How would you feel if you found out today that your idol (they can be your favorite athlete, celebrity, or even a family member) had been lying to you your whole life. They had betrayed you because of an action they were concealing from the public because they were afraid it would damage their image. Would you still think they were as great as you once thought they were? And would you forgive them for their actions?

By The River Piedra I Sat And Wept by Paulo Coelho

Pre Note: I highly recommend this book to everybody, it's very short, only about 140 pages, but it is so moving and inspirational.

By The River Piedra I sat and Wept is about a young woman named Pilar who spends her days going to school, coming home, and then studying only to go back to school the next day. She leads a very monotonous life and has never left her hometown in the Mediterranean. One day she finds out that her childhood sweetheart is in town doing a religious seminar and attends only to meet him again, in the hopes of getting away from her rituals of life for a day. She is intrigued when she finally does meet him again, with his worldliness, and the drastic change between the boy he was and the man he is. Instead of the immature schoolboy, he is a religious leader with a following and goals. He travels Europe preaching his philosophies and people know who he is. He asks Pilar to join him on a few days vacation away from school, whether he knew it or not, the vacation lasts much longer. The whole novel, told from Pilar's point of view, tells of the journey that Pilar and her sweetheart take together throughout Europe. She is swept off of her feet by this sensational man who shows her that risks must be taken in life and boundaries are made to be broken. Although she is not willing to admit (at first) that she has fallen for him, she willingly accepts all of his challenges. At first she does this so that she may become more spiritually, emotionally, and physically closer to him. However, as the novel progresses, she begins to understand the true healing power of her own spirituality, and she creates her own challenges in order to experience the true meanings love and peace and religion for herself. The major themes of the novel are that boundaries do not exist, they are only set by your own conscience, that love never ceases to exist, only your willingness to accept it does and also, the religious aspect of the novel shows the strength and divinity in women as opposed to the more traditional view of God as a man. Although the novel is relatively short, it is packed with very eye-opening ideas and really thought provoking themes.

Discussion Questions:

1. One of the main themes of then novels is letting go of "the other." "The other" is a negative force in your body that prevents you from taking risks and relinquishing power to higher forces, it also forces one to second guess themselves and question every action. Pilar, at first is unwilling to release "the other" in herself, but finally does and takes risks and faces new challenges. How can one balance societal rules with a conscience ("the other"). Should one be forced to ignore their passions in order to conform to societal rules? Is society too oppresive in its' need to control the actions of others?

2. Paulo Coelho expresses the differences between diction in Pilar and her lover in order to express Pilar's naive nature as opposed to her more mature counterpart. Pilar's words as well as her philosophy change towards the end of the novel. Why, perhaps, does the authour want to illustrate the naive nature of Pilar? What sort of message is he sending by changing this diction, as the novel also changes?

3. The novel expresses the theme that love is necessary for life. Coelho makes certain that the reader knows that he believes that love isn't just wanted, it's needed by the spirit. Although Pilar experiences pain from knowing that her sweethearts love for her will never be as strong as his love for God, she still can not release the feelings for him. She is confused on the balance between religion and love. From your own perspective which is more important to have, a sense of self awareness/spirituality/religion or love for yourself or another. Are they both equally important and Dependant on themselves or can they thrive better without one another?

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby is structured similarily to The Poisonwood Bible where each chapter is told by different perspectives. The main characters in the story are Martin, Maureen, JJ, and Jess. The story begins in England on New Years Eve. None of the characters know eachother at first, but they all end up meeting eachother due to the one thing they have in common; they're all looking to commit suicide. On Topper's House, the common suicide destination, the four meet and decide to temporarily delay their suicidal attempts to look for Jess's ex-boyfriend. Later in the night, they decide to keep delaying their suicides in hopes to save eachother by finding their qualities worth living for. They all try and support one another even though they are of various ages and even after spending much time together, they don't see eachother as friends. With Jess being the youngest at age 18, she seems to be the one with the less serious reasons for her suicidal thoughts; therefore, she is the one who tries the hardest to fix everyone's problems. "Jess clapped her hands together and stepped into the center of the room. 'I read about this on the Internet...It's called an intervention. They do it all the time in America" (268). She is the one who administers this to try to help everyone. The four characters become eachother's support system until they decide their own fate.

1) Martin, Maureen, JJ, and Jess form a sort of "support group" to help them with their suicidal thoughts, though they rarely see one another. Do you think that if someone was completely serious about suicide that a type of support group would stop him/her?

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Before I Die, by Jenny Downham, is a novel based on a 16-year old girl, Tessa Scott, living with leukaemia since she was twelve. Tessa's story is told in first person by Tessa herself, describing her innermost thoughts and feelings. Tessa lives with her father and brother; her mother left them when Tessa was a young girl, but finally returned when she found out Tessa was sick. Tessa's father cannot accept the fact that his daughter is going to die; he is constantly looking up new ways to save her. Since Tessa has been sick, she has not been able to go to school, an everyday experience of teenage life. Instead, Tessa's routine consists of hospital visits, transfusions, and sleeping. Tessa wants to experience what every other teenager gets to go through, but she knows she has limited time. She decides to make a list of at least ten things she wants to do before she dies. When Tessa comes close to giving up on the list, she says, "All I know is that I have choices -- stay wrapped up in blackets and get on with dying, or get the list back together and get on with living." She realizes she can lie in her bed and wait to die or get up and enjoy her last few months of life, so she gets up and goes out with her spontaneous and daring friend Zoey. Zoey pushes Tessa to the limit and encourages her to be outgoing and daring, just as she is. Tessa eventually becomes a daring person herself and even falls in love, which is number nine on her list. It is a fictional teenage/young adult novel that really makes you appreciate life and every postive and negative experience in it.

Discussion Questions:
1. Tessa makes a list of things she wants to do before she dies. What are some things that you would like to accomplish before you die? Why?
2. Tessa's younger brother Cal sometimes "wishes death on her." Would you ever wish death on someone, even if they treated you unpleasantly?
3. Would you get involved, or even fall in love, with someone if you knew you were going to die? Would you consider their loss after you're gone?

The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks

The Guardian, by Nicholas Sparks, is the story of widowed Julie Barenson who receives a puppy that her husband arranged for her to receive before his premature death. The dog, Singer, a Great Dane, is one of the only sources of comfort to her for four years after her husband's death; according to Sparks, "Singer had made it possible for her to go on" (1). Four years after her husband Jim's death, Julie decides it's time to start dating again, but she doesn't know with whom. There's her husband's best friend and best man at their wedding, Mike Harris, who is now a local mechanic. Or there is Richard Franklin, a mysterious rich man, who's new to the small North Carolina town. Julie decides to date Richard but Singer hates him. "Richard fell to his knees, one arm extended as Singer shook his head from side to side, snarling" (Sparks 184). After Singer bites Richard, and after he leaves notes on her doorstep late at night, Julie realizes it might be a sign and since there is no spark between them, she stops seeing him and begins to see Mike. While Julie is dating Mike she continues to get notes from Richard and suspiciously runs into him at the grocery store and while taking Singer on walks. Julie no has to deal with a stalker, who will do anything to be with her, even murder, as she tries to move on with Mike. Julie then gets Jennifer Romanello, a street smart cop, involved. The Guardian is a suspenseful love story, police drama, and thriller.

Discussion Questions:
1. Richard Franklin goes on a few dates with Julie before she decides they are simply not "clicking." Is this realistic? How would you feel is you were receiving unexpected gifts and notes at your house after the first and second dates?
2. The first chapter after the prologue is four years after Jim, Julie's husband, has died. She says that she has moved on. Is four years long enough to grieve, or is it too long?
3. If you received an unexpected puppy on your doorstep on Christmas Eve, along with a note from your deceased husband, would it help you heal, or hurt you?

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

A Time to Kill by John Grisham is a suspense novel which involves many characteristics of the post African-American voting rights era. Grisham sets his novel in the town of Clanton, Mississipi in the 1970's. In the opening statement of this very graphic novel, a nine year-old African-American girl is being raped by two drunk, white men. The two men, Pete Williard and Billy Ray Cobb, are overheard bragging outside of a bar of the inhumane beating they had placed on this young, black girl. Soon, they are arrested by the police and brought to trial. Before a verdict can be reached, Carl Lee Hailey, the girl's father who remembers a similar case like this in the south where four men charged with rape and were acquitted, takes matters into his own hands and kill the two men immediately after the trial with an assault rifle, without hearing the fate of the men. He accidentally wounds his friend, who is the deputy escort, but he forgives Carl saying he would have thought of the same actions if she were his daughter. Now Carl Lee must face his own trial, which is threatened with a death sentence. Especially because of the southern atmosphere, a black man is most definitely going to be prejudiced because of the color of his skin. "In your opinion, could Mr. Hailey receive a fair trial in Ford County?" says Brigance to a witness, "No, sir. You couldn't find three people in this county of thirty thousand who have not mad up their minds...There's just no way to find an impartial jury" (Grisham 245). Now it is up to the young, white lawyer, Jake Brigance, to bring the jury to acknowledge Carl Lee's insanity while facing numerous death threats from many Ku Klux Klan members.
With a nearly impossible task at hand, Jake Brigance must fight the powers of bigotry and the hubris of the southern community, all the while attempting to remain out of harm's way. At the beginning of the novel, Brigance is a stereotypical southern white male who is partially racial and must overcome his past thinking in order to win a virtually inevitably loss of a case with the law.
Discussion Questions:
1. Jake does have the choice to rig the case so that he would not have to risk his life for a meaningless man in his life. What would cause Jake to jeopardize his life for a black man's in a time when African-Americans are considered inferior?
2. As a father, Carl Lee feels the need to claim revenge for his daughter's rape by killing the two white men. Was it morally right for Carl Lee to take the lives of the white men by possibly sacrificing his own? If he had not taken matters into his own hands, then what would the consequences of doing nothing be?