Whiny 18 year olds keep asking us, “What do you even do all day?!” (Just kidding on the whiney, they’re actually very thoughtful and a bunch of fun, and so far not getting into too much trouble.) Well, every Thursday I TA a section of the Global Experience course, taught by Staci, an Asst Site Director. Edlira, part of the ACT staff, and an adorable Albanian, is also a TA. So far this means I send mass-emails and recieve questions every time I leave my room, and for good measure there are emails waiting when I’m back in my room. I also was up at 7am Tuesday, excorting students to their service-learning placement. More on how that went later.
TAing this class is one of the aspects of the job I was most excited about. Ideally, I want to someday run/work for study abroad that fuses together cultural/political awareness with concrete social justice action. To that end, I’m really enjoying the experiential (hands-on, discussion-based) pedagogy of the Global Experience class, as well as the culture, justice, and critical-thinking subject matter.
This week’s assignment was a blog post on the role of education in creating citizens, the possibility of the American Dream, how discrimination and prejudice inhibit societal change, and which community issues are of greatest concern.
Personally, I believe education is the way to create citizens. Of course if you’re reading this blog, you will notice that I consider all kinds of things to constitute my education: classes, free lectures, film festivals, museum visits, outside reading, embassy visits, television shows (yes, I’m serious), live performance, travel, community service, and interacting with new people. I don’t understand the concept of compartmentalizing our lives so that ‘education’ is just during lectures and ‘work’ is a 9 to 5 chore and ‘happiness’ is on nights, weekends, and after we retire. If you don’t enjoy your education, then learn about something else, or find a kind of teacher, whether it be a singer or a friend or a librarian. If you don’t like your work, then find a way to be doing something else.
When it comes to the American Dream, I think we need to seriously edit the concept. I’ve discussed before how I think that meritocracy is a myth, a bedtime story that capitalists tell their children so they can sleep at night and feel a little less ruthless about their days. I don’t think we are all on equal footing, or that hard work is enough for everyone. If you don’t believe me, look into the growing gap in wealth in this country, compare our working hours a year to other prosperous nations (eg France, UK), and check out how much discrimination takes place on the perceived ethnicity of names (that’s even before you get to skin color or institutionalized education discrimination.) I think anyone who believes we all get a fair shake is either not paying attention or has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. And I stand by that, even as my fellow staff members preach stories of successful immigrants and the allegedly bountiful opportunities for homeless people in the States.
Discrimination and prejudice are at the heart of all obstacles to societal change. I’m currently reading Half the Sky by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and they talk about the pattern of dehumanizing the other in order to be comfortable mistreating them. This was the case with American Indians (Savages!), Africans who were brought over as slaves, and is now true about the millions of “low class” women around the world who are bought and sold as sex slaves. If we truly believe that all people are equal and worthy, there is no reason to act unfairly. A large part of the problem in this country is that we have skewed beliefs about our economic statuses. Collectively, Americans believe that the rich people in this country are significantly less wealthy than they actually are, and at the same time hold the false belief that the poorest in this country have more capital than they truly do. If we were honest and accurate about what is really occurring in this country, whether it’s discrimination in the education and hiring systems or the true wealth disparity, it would be much harder to stand in the way of welfare programs and effective methods of change.
As far as the greatest concern? For me I have decided to focus my energies on the Girl Effect as well as experiential education abroad. To me, it’s a mixture of efficacy, efficiency and my own interests/talents. If I focus on something important that I’m not good at, I’ll be fairly useless. Working with women, especially young girls (9-13) is highly eficient when it comes to producing sea change, since women have a greater effect on their community than men. For example, in matriarchal societies, equality is high, whereas in patriarchal societies there is a high level of gender inequality. Another example is that when women are educated, overall health of the family increases, the population decreases (since empowered women produce fewer children, but the same is not true of men), and there is less stress on the entire system. While men are more likely to spend their additional income on booze, drugs, women and unnecessary goods, women are far more likely to invest the money in their children’s health and education, as well as into improving their overall status (eg a better house or expanding their business.)
As you can tell, I’m really jazzed about this class and can’t wait to hear from the students on Thursday and read all their blogs. Enjoy your Tuesday!