Monday, July 31, 2006

Guide to James Baldwin: Nobody Knows My Name

James Baldwin's autobiographical account is the narrative of a black man coming of age in the first quarter of the 20th century, a time suffused with huge changes in society. Although there were more opportunities for education and economic access, black men also faced worsening racism, violence, and extreme prejudice.

Downloadable audio file (mp3 file) // podcast

In this selection, Baldwin discovers that once he has moved to Paris, he is able to establish friendships and relationships with Americans that were not possible in America. Musing this fact, Baldwin explains that in America, race issues still block people. Ironically, in France, Baldwin is able to communicate with Americans of all races, origins, and class because their common background as expatriates attenuates all other differences.

The selection is from Nobody Knows My Name and the chapter is entitled "The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American."

The selection focuses on Baldwin and his experiences in Paris with fellow expatriates. After 1948, Baldwin made his home in the south of France, where he followed a tradition of many American artists and writers, who found France to be a more hospitable place for artists and writers than America. This was particularly the case in the post World War II era, when anti-Communist fears of the Cold War made innovative writing and socialist ideas dangerous. Returning to the U.S. for lecturing or teaching engagements, Baldwin's writing addressed themes of racism and homosexuality, which made him the subject of a great deal of controversy, even within the black community.

Baldwin, who was both black and homosexual, found himself cut off from the dominant culture for being both black and openly gay.

In the selection included here, what characterizes Baldwin's narrative is a sense of "thrownness." "Thrownness" was first developed as a concept by the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger. It is "the condition of being taken more or less by surprise, hurled into an unexpected and unpredictable situation. In one sense, all human beings are thrown: they all have to find their way through the world without much in the way of practice." In Baldwin's world, there is an awareness of being thrown into a world of which one has no knowledge - of what came before birth, or what will happen after death. The thrownness contains a feeling of randomness, and thus other individuals are perceived as part of that great outgrouped mass - a condition which makes one focus on the here and now; one's existential condition.

Baldwin writes to correct the prevailing view that people are rigid and cannot transcend their teleological view of the world, and that order, once established, cannot or should not, be re-ordered.

By moving to France, Baldwin places himself in a state of productive chaos, from which he can emerge, reinvented as the person he wants to be, and unconstrained by the ideas of his native society. However, Europe is no utopia, and it is not an Eden, freshly created and without a history. Baldwin observes, with some irony, that the place that allows him freedom is also the place from which the slave ships and slave-trading enterprises originated. In Europe, Baldwin's history comes full circle and he is hyper-aware of this.


James Baldwin's first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1952), is a largely autobiographical account of Baldwin's life. Baldwin's writings include essays, novels, plays, and the best-selling collection from which the selection is drawn, Nobody Knows My Name (1961).

Essay by Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.
Please click here for a useful text: Excellence in College Teaching and Learning: website.

Guiding Questions (by Elaine Bontempi).


1. According to the author, he wanted to leave American in order to find himself and similar others. Why was it necessary to leave America to do this, when America is supposed to be "land of the free" and a "melting pot?"

2. What were some of the themes of James Baldwin's writings? How did this exacerbate the prejudice he experienced?

3. What is the irony of the author's situation?

4. Why is the author able to experience friendships with Americans in Paris that he could not establish while still living in the United States?

5. Several characteristics placed the author into an outgroup. Name at least three and explain how each trait has potentially devastating stereotypes attached to it.

6. An irony that arises in being thrust into an outgroup, is that in so doing, you also "belong" to a group -whether this group is based upon SES, race, medical diagnosis, etc. Explain the potential effects of these memberships in outgroups.

7. For James Baldwin, it took going to Paris to discover what it meant to be American. Explain this.

8. James Baldwin suggested that one of the reasons it is difficult for American writers is because we, as Americans, have a deep distrust for intellectual effort. Discuss your reaction to this suggestion.

9. Why is it supposedly easier to cut across social and occupational lives in America than Europe? Do the previous readings that you have read in the previous sections support this suggestion?

10. The author writes of his experiences in Europe as an African American. How might these experiences have been different or similar if he had been writing based upon a white man's experiences? Explain.

Useful Web Resources:

James Baldwin: Teacher Resource File. http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/baldwin.htm

PBS: American Masters - James Baldwin. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/baldwin_j.html

James Baldwin. Kirjasto series. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jbaldwin.htm

American Writers: James Baldwin. http://www.americanwriters.org/writers/baldwin.asp

James Baldwin from the archives of the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin.html

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Anorexia and Bulimia: Marya Hornbacher's "Wasted"

Podcasts / audio file

Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher, is a memoir written by a young woman who chronicles her teenage years, her hidden life and self-destructive tendencies, which are masked by perfectionism and an edgy relationship with her mother. Marya Hornbacher, alternatively anorexic and bulimic, described how she was hospitalized several times, her weight sinking to a low of less than 80 pounds. Theoretically a part of the dominant culture's privileged class, Hornbacher is an enigma to those who judge people by the stereotype. Far from feeling privilege or self-confidence, Hornbacher exhibits the sort of self-loathing that one comes to expect from individuals who perceive themselves as society's pariahs.

Hornbacher's eating disorder causes her to lead a double life. The binging, purging, and recovery cycles are hidden or masked, as are the obsessive exercise and ritualistic activities. (http://www.bulimiasolutions.com) She becomes an outsider to herself. The more she tries to achieve balance between the perfectionist and the chronic "shlemiel," the more frantic and self-destructive she becomes. She is angry with herself, and with her parents. The etiology of Marya's ailment remains a mystery, even to herself, despite years and years of struggle and therapy. The early chapters explore some of the factors that cause Marya to try anorexia, "my Big Idea, my bid for independence, identity, freedom, savior, etc."


Marya is the primary player in this selection, and the narrative takes place at home - her parents' home - while she is a teenager. The action takes place against a backdrop of middle-class prosperity, affluence, access, opportunities. The American Dream hovers over the stage. Yet, in this theater of the perfect family, something has gone terribly wrong to create such masochistic habits. The conditions are perfect for the development of an eating disorder. Perhaps in a different setting, Marya's rage would have manifested itself as an addiction to heroin, paint sniffing, or criminal behavior. It is hard to say.

As an anorexic/bulimic teenager, Marya's mindset is that of a person who perpetually defines herself as a part of the outgroup, who refuses to join the mainstream. Further, a part of her refuses to thrive.

As she struggles with her need for control and her mounting sense of self-loathing, she finds solace in writing. Her writing is an act of rebellion against the rigid rules she has set for herself. Writing allows her to escape her self-created bonds and what seems to be an incorrigible masochism.

The first part of Wasted provides a glimpse inside the mind of a person who has recovered from a strange, inexplicable, and painfully slow way to die. Instead of slow suicide, one begins to see that Marya's eating disorders are a kind of soi-disant physical therapy. She is attempting to rehabilitate herself, and trying to come back from the wounds cause by anxiety.

The primary life lesson from this selection is to see how each person runs the risk of becoming an outsider to herself or himself. After self-isolating, the individual will think, act, and plan in ways that out-group her even to herself. There is no real community or ethnicity here - if anything, meeting people with the same issues would be anathema - after all, they could reveal or expose too much. Perhaps a narcissistic culture is to blame here - after all, isn't the core problem the rage against limits?

Perhaps narcissism is not the correct term. Perhaps it is simply individualism taken to extremes. The American Dream is not only the possession of creature comforts.

The American Dream also involves the attainment of lofty goals -- to be special and "different" and thus achieve success. What happens when a young woman realizes that her dreams are not truly attainable, even though she has been programmed to believe that they are? Do we see a ghastly inversion of a "dream deferred" and a "raisin in the sun"? What would Hornbacher be if not a "raisin in the sun"? In this case, the "wasted" fruit might be an "apple on the grass." Think of the images.

No one believes in Eden, but they certainly do believe in sin. Dreams deferred? Dreams despoiled. Think of vastly diverse images. Envision diversity. It might work as a strategy against a rigid, narrow, over-determined sense of what is "right" or "wrong" with body image.

Marya Hornbacher. http://www.randomhouse.com/boldtype/0398/hornbacher/

http://www.beatrice.com/interviews/hornbacher/

Guiding Questions

1. Explain how Marya could be classified as a member of an outgroup. Which outgroup did she belong to?

2. Explain why the author thought that her eating disorder could not get out of control.

3. Did the author experience discrimination or stereotyping as a result of her problem? Explain.

4. What kind of stereotypes are associated with the author's disorder, and what are the effects of that stereotyping on her?

5. Explain how the author's home environment contributed to her addiction.

6. Eating disorders are more common among white, adolescent females from middle or upper-middle class families. In addition, most females who develop eating disorders are also over achievers. Explain why you think that this group is most at risk for this type of addiction.

7. How is an eating disorder often seen as a solution to a lack of autonomy?

8. Eating disorders can also be seen as a way of revenge. Please explain.

9. Why do you think that males are less susceptible to eating disorders?

10. Explain how labels and stereotypes became self fulfilling prophecies in the author's life.

11. Did Marya really have control? Explain.

Guide to James Baldwin's "The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American"

James Baldwin's autobiographical account is the narrative of a black man coming of age in the first quarter of the 20th century, a time suffused with huge changes in society. Although there were more opportunities for education and economic access, black men also faced worsening racism, violence, and extreme prejudice.

Downloadable audio file (mp3 file) // podcast

In this selection, Baldwin discovers that once he has moved to Paris, he is able to establish friendships and relationships with Americans that were not possible in America. Musing this fact, Baldwin explains that in America, race issues still block people. Ironically, in France, Baldwin is able to communicate with Americans of all races, origins, and class because their common background as expatriates attenuates all other differences.

The selection is from Nobody Knows My Name and the chapter is entitled "The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American."

The selection focuses on Baldwin and his experiences in Paris with fellow expatriates. After 1948, Baldwin made his home in the south of France, where he followed a tradition of many American artists and writers, who found France to be a more hospitable place for artists and writers than America. This was particularly the case in the post World War II era, when anti-Communist fears of the Cold War made innovative writing and socialist ideas dangerous. Returning to the U.S. for lecturing or teaching engagements, Baldwin's writing addressed themes of racism and homosexuality, which made him the subject of a great deal of controversy, even within the black community.

Baldwin, who was both black and homosexual, found himself cut off from the dominant culture for being both black and openly gay.

In the selection included here, what characterizes Baldwin's narrative is a sense of "thrownness." "Thrownness" was first developed as a concept by the existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger. It is "the condition of being taken more or less by surprise, hurled into an unexpected and unpredictable situation. In one sense, all human beings are thrown: they all have to find their way through the world without much in the way of practice." In Baldwin's world, there is an awareness of being thrown into a world of which one has no knowledge - of what came before birth, or what will happen after death. The thrownness contains a feeling of randomness, and thus other individuals are perceived as part of that great outgrouped mass - a condition which makes one focus on the here and now; one's existential condition.

Baldwin writes to correct the prevailing view that people are rigid and cannot transcend their teleological view of the world, and that order, once established, cannot or should not, be re-ordered.

By moving to France, Baldwin places himself in a state of productive chaos, from which he can emerge, reinvented as the person he wants to be, and unconstrained by the ideas of his native society. However, Europe is no utopia, and it is not an Eden, freshly created and without a history. Baldwin observes, with some irony, that the place that allows him freedom is also the place from which the slave ships and slave-trading enterprises originated. In Europe, Baldwin's history comes full circle and he is hyper-aware of this.


James Baldwin's first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1952), is a largely autobiographical account of Baldwin's life. Baldwin's writings include essays, novels, plays, and the best-selling collection from which the selection is drawn, Nobody Knows My Name (1961).

Essay by Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.
Please click here for a useful text: Excellence in College Teaching and Learning: website.

Guiding Questions (by Elaine Bontempi).


1. According to the author, he wanted to leave American in order to find himself and similar others. Why was it necessary to leave America to do this, when America is supposed to be "land of the free" and a "melting pot?"

2. What were some of the themes of James Baldwin's writings? How did this exacerbate the prejudice he experienced?

3. What is the irony of the author's situation?

4. Why is the author able to experience friendships with Americans in Paris that he could not establish while still living in the United States?

5. Several characteristics placed the author into an outgroup. Name at least three and explain how each trait has potentially devastating stereotypes attached to it.

6. An irony that arises in being thrust into an outgroup, is that in so doing, you also "belong" to a group -whether this group is based upon SES, race, medical diagnosis, etc. Explain the potential effects of these memberships in outgroups.

7. For James Baldwin, it took going to Paris to discover what it meant to be American. Explain this.

8. James Baldwin suggested that one of the reasons it is difficult for American writers is because we, as Americans, have a deep distrust for intellectual effort. Discuss your reaction to this suggestion.

9. Why is it supposedly easier to cut across social and occupational lives in America than Europe? Do the previous readings that you have read in the previous sections support this suggestion?

10. The author writes of his experiences in Europe as an African American. How might these experiences have been different or similar if he had been writing based upon a white man's experiences? Explain.

Useful Web Resources:

James Baldwin: Teacher Resource File. http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/baldwin.htm

PBS: American Masters - James Baldwin. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/baldwin_j.html

James Baldwin. Kirjasto series. http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/jbaldwin.htm

American Writers: James Baldwin. http://www.americanwriters.org/writers/baldwin.asp

James Baldwin from the archives of the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin.html

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Small Is Beautiful, Economic Development, and Education: Lessons and Insights

podcast / downloadable mp3 file

E. F. Schumacher's seminal work, Small Is Beautiful, while a bit dated (it was first published in 1973), provides valuable insight into how and why countries that have high poverty rates and low economic growth may have problems with technology. It also suggests why technology implemented by industrialized nations may not help lesser-developed nations progress, but instead, heightens dependency. Schumacher helps explain what we have seen with globalization; namely, that the gap between the rich and the poor widens, and that corruption and exploitation often dominate all human enterprise. Eventually, poorer nations lose their autonomy and production capacity, resulting in crumbling infrastructure and ever-increasing poverty.

Schumacher makes the case that technology and industrialization projects in lesser-developed nations are inappropriate and thus harmful to the nation. His thoughts are echoed by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004), who describes how "white elephant" and gigantic development projects funded by means of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank often lead to massive foreign debt, which destabilizes an entire country's economy and results in a drain of funds which are used to pay off the debt rather than in education, roads, health, and infrastructure.

The economic growth promised by the giant hydroelectric dams, the pipelines, the modern airports, and toll-road systems never materializes. In the meantime, corruption takes hold as primary contractors (generally large multinational corporations) have record profits and relatives of government officials make money on subcontracting and providing raw materials. The brother-in-law who owns the cement company that provides material for the building of the dam makes out like a bandit, and his profits end up in Switzerland or in an offshore bank, not in the economy that so desperately needs it.

What implications does this have for education?

We can take this a step further and ask the following question: How can online education and appropriate technology come together in a salubrious manner for lesser developed nations?

For Schumacher, the education available for individuals in developing nations is usually the worst for their needs. Instead of practical, in-depth knowledge in subjects that will allow individuals to participate in the specialized jobs that foreign nationals are taking (engineers, technological specialists, communication experts), higher education consists of what Schumacher characterizes as "an amateurish smattering of all major subjects, or a lengthy studium generale in which [learners] are forced to spend their time sniffing at subjects which they do not wish to pursue, while they are being kept away from what they want to learn" (Schumacher, 1989, p. 98). In addition to being unappealing, inappropriate education assures that individuals will not find jobs appropriate to their education level, and will be underemployed -- often as waiters and taxi-drivers for the technical specialists hired by multinational corporations.

According to Schumacher, higher education in both the developed and lesser developed world, lacks ethical groundings. Instead of incorporating any kind of metaphysics, divine purpose, or guiding vision, today's education tends to stress what Schumacher characterizes as the "six great ideas." The six great ideas Schumacher refers to are not those of Mortimer Adler, who claimed they were truth, goodness, beauty, liberty, equality, and justice (Adler, 1981), which sounds very superficial. Schumacher claims that the six great ideas are holdovers from the nineteenth century: evolution, natural selection, distrust of religion, Freudianism, relativism, positivism (Schumacher, 1989, p. 93). What Schumacher wants is a re-infusion of values and metaphysics, which might actually coincide with Adler's truth, goodness, beauty, liberty, equality, and justice.

Unfortunately, a rejection of modernism and postmodernism which involves reinfusing values runs its own risks, as one can observe with fundamentalist groups of all sorts. Ostensibly, a doomsday cult such as Heaven's Gate (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/hgprofile.html) which led to mass suicide, could be a paragon of metaphysics-grounded living, if one takes Schumacher at face value.

Let's return, however, to the original question. How can online education and appropriate technology come together in a salubrious manner for lesser developed nations? There must be equal respect paid to content as well as construct. Without being ephemerally utilitarian, "appropriate" education would include a grounding in theory, applications of ethics, and a mastery-learning approach to content which requires individuals to be able to do something with what they are learning, and what they are doing needs to mean something to them.

References


Adler, M. (1981). Six Great Ideas. NY: Touchstone.

Perkins, J. (2004). Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. NY: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Schumacher, E. F. (1989). Small Is Beautiful, 1989 ed. (first edition, 1979). NY: HarperPerennial.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Wi-fi and Computer Labs for Every Nursing Home Now

Podcast / downloadable mp3 file.

Prevailing views hold that seniors are computer-phobic, but the reality is that seniors use and benefit from blogs, podcasts, myspace (etc), Skype (etc), as well as from e-mail and access to the Internet. The truth is, seniors are avid users of the Internet, and there should be no reason that failing eyesight, hearing, mobility (arthritis, etc.), or cognitive disabilities should cut them off from the world, and from regular contact with loved ones – even if they are in assisted living, a nursing home, and no longer able to live at home or with family. In fact, assisted access to the Internet could serve as powerful motivation to stay intellectually engaged with the world, to maintain healthy habits, and to combat the loneliness and depression that often follows a senior as they move into their new habitat.

Granted, the man or woman who came of age in the 1940s or 1950s has seen huge changes in terms of communication, information dissemination, and technology. Chances are, they came of age in a time when all data entry and processing was done by someone else, and the computing capacity you hold in the palm in your hand used to require a city block of computers.

Nevertheless, we tend to forget that older citizens do not categorically resist technological change. How could they? If the stereotypes were true, not one senior would be able to function in a society that has been typified by rapid and persistent technological change.

After reading an article about elder neglect in nursing homes, I started to think of how one could help combat the problems. After discussing the issue in an online forum, I started to formulate a few ideas about how to start implementing access to e-mail, etc. in a nursing home.

Here are some of the benefits of having a three or four-station computer lab with a college intern tech-support person to help, and with low-vision and low-hearing equipment, with accommodations for mobility issues and cognitive impairment.

1---Stay in touch with relatives.
-send and receive photos and movies of relatives
-send and receive daily updates from relatives and friends, which can provide a real boost to the senior, who now has something to look forward to.

2---Overcome disabilities due to low vision, low hearing, arthritis, cognitive issues
-using large icon navigation on 17-inch monitors gives seniors a renewed sense of self-efficacy and self-determination;
-Skype and other voice-over telephony can help with low-vision, especially with the kind of headphones that fit over hearing aids; vodcasts and image-enhanced telephony can help gain a sense of a real person on the other end of the line.

3---Provide updates on conditions in the nursing, which gives the administration a chance to
-showcase positive aspects and to have website and weblogs to answer questions.
-post photos to show conditions, which could be great publicity, marketing, and a wonderful generator of goodwill and a spirit of openness.

4---Answer questions via bulletin board and discussion forum.

5---Send electronic greeting cards, keep key birthdates in calendar.

6---Use expertise to design cards, create online art, providing consulting and expert advice, and otherwise stay engaged in one’s former life / area of expertise.

7---Take online courses for intellectual engagement. Popular courses could be memoir-writing, writing a historical novel, learning about alternative medicines, exploring culture, science, etc.

8---Create audio messages to download to mp3 player.

The benefits to the seniors and to the nursing home / assisted living center could be staggering. The first benefits might be an alleviation of a sense of isolation. It could serve as an effective intervention for those who are running the risk of running beginning to develop negative beliefs about themselves, and to think of themselves as helpless and isolated. With a well-equipped lab with equipment that accommodates disabilities and special needs, it would be possible to create a sense of access, empowerment, and renewed self-efficacy. Instead of being cut off and isolated, seniors could feel a renewed sense of community and could feel vital, alive, and relevant to their family, friends, and the world at large.

I’d like to see a couple of pilots started and would love to get involved. If anyone would like more suggestions or ideas, please contact me. susan at beyondutopia dot com

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