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Vassar Administration=the “West”

Having a class discussion about the equal opportunity at Vassar while reading The Post-American World interest to compare the administration of institutions such as Vassar to leading powers of the “West.” Just like Zakaria generalizes the “rest” of the world in terms of the west, high status power holding figures of Vassar generalize the student population as a whole as well as the cultural and social minority students on campus. Power can be dangerous if misused by the wrong hands.

My overall impression after reading Zakaria was that he was to eager to determine that the future of American will be a positive one solely based on the U.S.’s merits alone. The United States however is a global nation and without compared to other nations there would be no way to classify the U.S. as the top spot on the pyramid of growth, innovation, and wealth (mostly figuratively).  Zakaria states that “we are now returning to a more normal balance”, however he deems this problematic; as if the U.S. is only success with if it consistently holds hegemonic stability of power (Zakaria 65). Why is the rise of the rest problematic? It is the fear that an “other” will bring the U.S. down or that an “other” will rise above. There is a middle ground that the mentality of American exceptionalism inhibits.  Zakaria notions that “strength is weakness,” although my interpretation of this leans more towards strength is fear. In other words, the United States hypocritically fears the growth and strengthening economy of the “rising rest” when ironically the U.S. often complains about the effort it takes to take care of or upkeep those countries with the tools of imperialism. The innovators of the United States want to be the leaders in development but apparently do not want to share or influence other countries with their ideas.  This selfish depiction of leadership defines many of the globalization decisions of the nation; this can compare to some of the administrative decisions Vassar exemplifies.

Like Vassar’s administration, the United States believes as if it can only be successful if it is the strongest or at least perceived as the strongest. The United States creates the standard of living between developing and developed countries and apparently according to Zakaria a standard of poverty. The administration at Vassar creates the standard of applicants and students. I would argue that the students create the academic standard at most schools but many time the administration takes the credit and uses it to their advantage. Vassar’s administration ultimately has the final say when determining what students they choose to admit. The United States ultimately determines which other countries meet that fixed standard of living. The growth of countries is measured on a scale wavering on the basis of the United States.

I think the “American West” should have a social consciousness requirement, as an inborn thought process. It is not necessary for educational institutions to augment a social consciousness within the course requirements because it undermines the fact that people should have this awareness already. The subject itself would be placed on the side and not given fully attention too because it would be something students need to complete rather than innately know or even want to complete.

Income Inequality and Education in the US

The United States is ranked 44th out of 86 countries on income inequality. This is well below the ranks of other major countries in Europe such as Germany and France (Fisher, 2013). Income inequality in the United States has direct effects on areas such as education and public health, causing it to lag behind other major industrialized nations in these areas as well.

Math and Science scores of the US on the international stage fall well below leaders in Hong Kong and Singapore. However, this statistic is rooted in deep regional, racial, and most importantly socioeconomic issues (Zakaria, 2011). There is de facto segregation in the United States by neighborhood due to the disparity in income between social classes. Middle and upper class families often live in suburban neighborhoods quite separately from the poor and ethnically diverse families in urban areas. School and community resources differ by social class, and therefor differ also by race and ethnicity (Berliner, 2005). There is a major gap in resources provided to students in low socioeconomic neighborhoods compared to those with well-funded education systems. These resources range from textbooks to availability and modernity of science labs. In analyzing a 2003 PISA study on subject scores internationally, Berliner notes that if educational opportunities available to white students in our public schools were made available to all our students, the US would have been the 7th high scoring nation in mathematics, 2nd highest scoring nation in reading, and the 4th highest scoring nation in science (Berliner, 2005). Income inequality then creates a cycle where students, often people of color, receive sub par education and are unable to attain high paying jobs and fail to move up the socioeconomic ladder.

The affect of income inequality in education has major ties to health and the lack of affordable health care in the United States. Vision is a simple example. Two different vision screening tests, one among the urban poor in Boston and one among the urban poor in New York have found that 50% of the children tested had some easily correctable vision deficiency. Most of these cases were not followed up on or corrected and the lack of corrected vision has a major effect on educational performance. Another health issue affecting education in low socioeconomic neighborhoods is that of asthma. Families cannot afford to provide regular doctor visits for preventative care of asthma attacks. Since low-income families are more likely to live in urban areas with high air pollution, asthma is more present and students are forced to miss school. Hospital rates for asthma attacks are high in these areas and it puts a strain on the health care system (Berliner, 2005). Missing days of school would have a direct effect on the academic performance of these students. Not to mention, the strain on the health care system takes money away from communities that could be allotted to improving the education of that area.

Zakaria talks a lot about America’s competition with nations increasing in economic power. How would it be possible for the United States to compete for technologic advancements against nations far exceeding our student’s performance in math and science? Education has an enormous capability of maintaining our standings on the world stage by producing efficient and educated workers to succeed and participate in a globalized economy. It will be crucial for the future success of the United States to decrease the soaring rates of income inequality in order to positively impact education and health in the future.

 

(Edit: The Berliner article if anybody is interested. Some really interesting statistics.)

http://www.tcrecord.org/content.asp?contentid=12106)

Too Shallow

In The Post American World, Fareed Zakaria suggests that the coming century will mark the decentralization of American hegemony, in turn giving way to “the rise of the rest.” While I agree with this basic premis, the ways in which Zakaria substantiates his claims are problematic.
As noted by Clyfford, Zakaria bases much of his analysis on prediction and fails to take into account the potential for conflict and crisis to shake assumed trajectories. While he notes growth in Latin America and Africa, Zakaria’s choice to focus on India and China demonstrates a limited perspective of growth. Both India and China have been central to the global economy for centuries, as centers of trade during the era of colonialization and as industrial powers within their own right. Both countries are also representative of internationally minded capitalist structures with centralized agencies of control. Zakaria limits the extent of his thesis by failing to adequately adress the myriad of emerging markets throughout Latin America, Africa and the Middle East and by avoiding a true discussion of alternate market systems within and parrallel to inter/transnational capitalism.
This past summer, I interned for The Milken Institute, an economic think tank, as a member of their Program and Development Division. My main job was to go through the economic news of the days, tracking MNC interests in emerging markets such as the East African Community, Columbia and Indonesia. The importance of non-state actors within development practices, as noted by Zakaria, quickly became evident. The importance of investment, both private and corporate, in shifting the social landscape of rural and underdeveloped spaces is immense. Access to internet, running water, and education are more often than not determined by outside actors, as oppossed to local or governemental initiatives. Cites of power are thus found largely outside of communities, as noted by Zakaria in his discussion of China in Africa.
This does not need to hold true for too long, though. As educational infrastructure develops, so does entepeneurship and enterprise. Though often understandings are faciliated by hegemonic, namely American, knowledge, over time, the development that has occurred under the behest of capital interest will give way to middle classes with increased agency. Changing investment laws and international organizations, such as trading blocs, are also giving rise to the true elites. Wheras the post-colonial order supports a pseudo elite class, “the rise of the rest” has also brought with it the rise of, and increasing potential for, domestic ownership and control over means of production. This means different things for rural versus cosmopolitan spaces. Over time, local, or at least decentralized, sites of power will continue to expand.
In focusing on soft facts and dominant structures , Zakaria sells himself short. He glosses over too much, perhaps to be digestable and appeal to a broader audience, but in doing so he does not fully realize the potential of his claim. Given recent trends in investment and ample discourse on emerging markets and the implications for both inter/transnational and domestic trade and development, Zakaria could have easily been more radical in his claims. Been more critical in his exploration of power. I would have liked to hear more about the impact of technology and access to resources in the Post-American World and how American soft power will intersect a new world order. While China and India are incredibly important actors within the Post-American World, why not include a chapter on Nigeria or Brazil to better balance the geography of power and take into account regional growth concerns? I would have liked to hear more about the periphery instead of the core.

Self-Healing from Imperialism

What happens when two of the world’s most rapidly developing and most populated nations rework capitalism so that it fits with their political and cultural identities? Zakaria makes the case that this is happening in China (“The Dragon”) and India (“The Cow”). Throughout the text, I became uncomfortable as I pondered the tactics that China and India are using to become important world players in the political and economic scenes. Both nations have catapulted themselves from poor, rural nations to industrialized, urbanized ones. They have done so by incorporating many of the same tactics as Western imperialists. China has turned to African nations for trade and resources and India is trying to develop nuclear power. Have India and China gone from bullied to bully? Have they sold out?

I don’t want to make the claim that these countries have “sold out” and have become as imposing as Western nations have in the past. Rather, I want to postulate that these actions could be seen as a way for China and India to self-heal from the torment of imperialism and humiliation of a low global status. In this theory, the final step in a nation’s break from being colonized and humiliated is to become the colonizers and those that inflict the humiliation.

While China is not literally colonizing Africa as had England, its heavy presence in Africa can be described above all as “capitalist.” It has no qualms over selling platinum and iron ore to Zimbabwe’s President, Mugabe, “which he uses to intimidate, arrest, and kill domestic opposition” (Zakaria 131). In this example and in others listed in chapter four, China comes across as a shrewd, dollar-first capitalist nation that scours the globe for markets and resources—just like imperialist governments in the past. For a Communist nation, I find this to be ironic and hypocritical. How can China show pride in its rising influence when its dealings with Africa echo former Western involvement? As postulated previously, I think that psychologically—that is, if the term “psychologically” can apply to an entire nation’s consciousness—China may need to wield this influence in order to aid its self-esteem that was damaged from years of loss of status under Mao. By being a major economic presence in Africa, China builds up its confidence by dealing with impoverished nations with often corrupt officials (according to Zakaria).

Similarly, India’s demand for its nuclear capabilities to be categorized with the other powers instead of being considered “illegal” seems to be motivated by pride instead of pragmatism. Britain and China are amongst the 5 nations that are “allowed” to possess nuclear technology. If its nuclear plants had to be maintained by International Atomic Energy Agency, this would be a significant humiliation for India. In this theory I have asserted, India cannot “psychologically” see itself below Britain, or else it might interfere with India’s self-healing process as a nation trying to recover from centuries-long imperialism.

This is not to condemn China and India’s actions. By far, America has acted much more atrocious while pursuing its endeavors as a modern superpower.

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On another note, here is an interesting article that can help us understand the character of Zakaria: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/politics/national/features/n_8621/.

“When you assume….you make and ASS out of U and ME”

Coming into Vassar as a freshman I had no idea what concepts like heteornormativity, cultural appropriation, white privilege, and gender binary meant, as a suburban Ohio girl my school did not prepare me for anything close to what Vassar curriculum is like and I was thrown head first into real world issues that I had never dealt with before. If at any point they were brought up in class or in conversation my Vassar peers seemed to mutually understand and have the skills to discuss and dissect them, I however was flying blind. Not wanting to seem less informed or less intelligent I went along with the discussion or simply agreed or disagreed with the people making a point. It was obviously my own fault for not asking for a definition or explanation but in the bigger picture of things I felt like there was an assumption made that myself being a Vassar student had an basic understanding of certain concepts and definitions which I actually had no clue about.

As Vassar Students I think it is easy for us to assume that any given Vassar student has the same basic knowledge of social issues and awareness that most students do. And if anyone else was like me as a freshman it may seem like there is a level of awareness that in reality is unbalanced. And if that imbalance is left alone it grows larger and larger as the informed group becomes more informed and the uninformed, confused, and unaware group either are not confronted with the issues or remain silent. (There are students no doubt who actively work towards informing themselves and are not afraid of asking about concepts they don’t know but I don’t want to assume everyone is a certain way) By assuming that there is a level of knowledge are we simply widening the gap between the informed and uniformed?

As a senior I have taken my fair share of classes and had numerous discussions and feel that I am now more deeply informed about such issues and concepts and can hold my ground in a discussion but am I making the same assumptions about others that was made about me as a freshman. Do I assume that everyone coming into Vassar has some sort of knowledge and awareness of social issues? My answer is generally yes, I think that I do assume people have the level of knowledge but I acknowledge that getting to a particular level of awareness takes time and experience and for some it really is difficult to get there or even begin thinking about it. So how do we as a student body and administration work to make students more social aware.

I don’t believe the answer lies in an academic requirement but in more of a educational requirement. Lecturing people about social issues, race, gender, class, etc is not the answer but somehow working with student at a more individual level could be beneficial. I think Anna mentioned in class the idea of a Freshman orientation required activity be a social issues awareness workshop, and while that might be difficult to implement in the beginning having a basis for which to begin discussing these issues would be tremendously helpful. Even if it didn’t stick with or resonate with everyone there would be some basic level of knowledge given to all, at least I would have appreciated such education as a freshmen going into Vassar classes. We are a long way from a solution but assuming people have the knowledge to communicate and engage in a Vassar situation is not the way to begin conversations either.

Thinking about Horowitz’s “Constituting Consciousness”

I wrote this post as one that would be direct conversation with Maya’s recent blog post “Constituting Consciousness” She brings up a lot of really interesting ideas that I think I have some experience to reply to and even ponder along with her.

Last year I joined the VSA Academics Committee for the sole purpose of working on making Social Consciousness more fully realized in academic life.  I also joined various campus groups and efforts to do a similar thing because I realized that I would have to go about pushing this project of socialization in a multi-faceted way.

A big issue for awhile was what was the main focus of Social Consciousness. Which issues would you privilege? There are basic tenets of understanding privilege and oppression that could be used to engage in discussion over racism, sexism, classism etc. It just would have depended on the professor and the topics they were teaching. At the end of the day we wanted people even if they weren’t in the humanities to imagine and to be thinking about how their major’s focus could be engaging with topics of social consciousness.. I think our frame of mind at the time hoped that the process of coming up with more critically aware curriculum would be something that after some convincing faculty might actually see as a challenge worth engaging with.

In my work last year we did actually reach out to Res Life which responded by creating the program it did for Freshman Orientation with the theme “S.O.S.” or Self Others and Society.  It was a great move in the right direction. Still, I was put a back on some occasions by people going through House team training with a lot of their own baggage about privilege. Baggage isn’t bad but if you’re not opening it or confronting it weighs on you and it becomes glaringly obvious when Freshmen come to you with questions about issues of identity and you are not at a place to help them because you have not done the work to check your own privilege in a multitude of ways. We all have some forms of baggage the the intent is to continue to work on it through continual processes of self reflection and inquiry.

I do agree that there should be more attempt to diversify fellow groups… Maybe Res Life did try and there were just too many White students for that to be viable? We might just need to admit more students of color?  Still, diversification can come at a deep emotional toll to a student not in a dominant racial, class etc. group, especially when cultural differences and a lot of awkward conversations leave them feeling alienated in a “diverse” fellow group. What does this diversity mean if there is no support or supplementing that exchange? Should a student fellow who , might I add is a freshly minted 2nd year, be the one trying to force this cohesion?  I owe it to the work that students before me did that I could say I was apart of the Transitions program( a pre-orientation first year program for 1st generation or low income students) which had clearer points of reference for counsel if I ever needed it. Still more needs to be done.

I am leery of students putting into praxis their learnings of social consciousness with Poughkeepsie as the immediate subject of this. Show it by engaging in campus dialogue, show it by not being dismissive of critiques and call outs. Show it by governing justly and so on.

I am really happy that people are still talking about issue at all. So much gets forgotten in the summer between academic years. I hope that the institution can continue to work to serve students of all backgrounds in increasingly creative and fruitful ways.

The Post-American World(view)

Zakaria is rather frustrating to read. It was very obvious that he was a student of Huntington’s based on the far-flung generalizations he uses to shape his perspective of the “way the world works” and his oversimplified notion of the inner-workings of international politics. Zakaria’s major flaw in his work is his (impossible) mission to establish an oversight of global society at large today and where it’s going in the future. It’s especially audacious for him to attempt such an argument with a lack of sources or in-depth research. Still, aside from criticizing him academically, we have to see the book as what it is, in a genre that isn’t trying to be academic. And because it’s essentially an opinionated piece about current world affairs, I’m mostly bothered by the ways in which it does reflect general attitudes about America’s position on the global stage.

I do think Zakaria does one thing right, and that is to capture the essence of the attitude that feeds ideas of “American exceptionalism.” And even though I find his work unscholarly, it is somehow still important because it so properly demonstrates the American ethos about itself, including both its pride and its fear. I think Zakaria’s work is a case in point of how a simplistic understanding of America’s position in a globalized world will be perceived by Americans. It accomplishes this mostly on the basis of being rather US-centric (I feel as if I can sense Zakaria’s love for the USA bleeding through every sentence, even in those where he tries to temper his patriotism). It is a book written for Americans. It sets the world in “our” terms, calls us out on a few things here and there, yes, expresses several concerns, but overall reminds us that we’re awesome and will continue to be as long as we adapt to and keep up with modernity. One example of its extremely US-centric bias is the way that economic GDP statistics are used throughout the entire book to argue that, hey, even if things look like they’re scary or bad on the surface, they’re not in fact, because here’s some economic statistics that still say we are exceptional! But unsurprisingly Zakaria doesn’t fail to contradict his own methods by saying:

“America’s economic system is its core strength…but the numbers might not tell us everything we need to know. The economic statistics that we rely on give us only an approximate, antiquated measure of an economy. Many of them were developed in the late 19th century to describe an industrial economy with limted cross-border activity. We now live in an interconnected global market…It is possible that we’re not measuring things correctly.” (216-17)

Numbers give us comfort because as Zakaria quips, we like “bigness” in America (great cultural observation Zakaria) and our big GDP and “big” presence on the global stage allow us to think of the world in continually US-centric terms. That’s why I think this book would be more accurately called the Post-American World(view) because of its methodology in characterizing today’s world and world affairs. And while he desperately tries to imagine a world post-America as a sole superpower, I think the book title is ironic because he hardly succeeds in doing so. He describes a “post-American” world that is still very bound up in American systems–it’s just simply in a new context rather than a post WWII context. It’s almost as if by writing about America’s potential decline and the growing indifference toward the US he is arousing more patriotism so that that does not happen–so that Americans will be encouraged to find new ways to run this different-looking world. Zakaria’s optimistic outlook for the US and its future may not be wrong, but the ways in which he argues for the achievement of this goal and the foundations on which it will be built are laced with multiple inabilities to conceive of the world in a way that doesn’t center around the US.

Video at Bottom (he’s more articulate than I)

The two articles that were handed out touch the disastrous reality of income equality in America and touch on its adverse consequences. Yet I unfortunately found that they stopped there, failing to truly delve into the systemic consequences inequality can impose. These articles remind me of a Ted Talks that Richard Wilkinson – economist, sociologist, author, and so it goes on – gave on just how detrimental equality can be to the health of a society. More substantive than merely a poor ranking when using the Palma Ratio, Wilkinson analyses a variety of barometers that determine the richness, stability, and average lifestyle of citizens in a respective country. His findings are compelling and consistent: less inequality means higher scores across the board. Whether it is deaths per birth, education levels, or crime, Wilkinson found that greater parity produces higher scores in almost every imaginable indicator. This is one of the more persuasive arguments I have heard on why it is imperative to reduce inequality because it highlights the potential benefit to everyone in a society, even those in the upper echelon of the spectrum. The need to reduce inequality for middle and lower class is self-evident, yet it is the more prosperous who are resistant to the notion. Although the more affluent in our country may socialize, work, and even live among themselves, they still are citizens of a society at large. It was fascinating to see an argument which revealed how it is in their own best interest to reduce inequality, an argument that is not usually presented in the issue.

 

This is the type of detail or direction I would have liked to see these articles progress towards. Granted, they are brief newspaper articles and not a twenty minute lecture, so they couldn’t have been as detailed as Wilkinson’s. Yet I believe if we want to truly analyze inequality in a unique manner, that which might be more conducive to convincing the non-believers, then I believe we should take a serious look at Wilkinson’s findings.

 

I’ll include the link to the Ted Talk below. As mentioned, it is a little over 19 minutes, but well worth anyone’s while.

 

http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

Patriarchy?

In leaving class today, I was thinking about the merit of a Social Consciousness requirement for our curriculum. Initially, I think this is a good idea; to ensure that students get this kind of exposure to a world that they are unfamiliar with, or to contextualize a world that some of us know intimately instead of only reading statistics. However, would this requirement really do what we think it will, or is it just more “preaching”?

I agree with the points brought up on behalf of the professors; that it would be a larger course burden, the almost artificiality of trying to address these subjects, and even the incapability of professors to facilitate these discussions. I do feel that the classroom can be a place of tension, and can quickly become a place of conflict if a professor does not know how to dispel that tension or make it fruitful.

My main hesitation to a Social Consciousness requirement would be a false knowledge and assumed understanding of an issue; the possibility that someone will take a class about black culture through hip-hop, and assume they know all there is to know about being black in America and race issues, and feel comfortable saying the N word. First of all, I don’t even feel comfortable saying the N word, because it was not apart of my vernacular growing up. Secondly, there is no “way” of being black in America. I have been black in America all my life, and there are still things that I am just beginning to understand. Our lives shape our experiences and our understanding of those events; because one group has been under an oppressive system doesn’t mean that their experiences have been the same. I had never been, or at least had never been conscious of, racially profiled simply walking down the street until this summer, when I lived in a space that was completely different than anything I had ever experienced. My experience as a black female from the suburbs alters drastically from that of my boyfriend, a black male growing up in the Bronx.

There are so many complexities in deconstructing a system we were never prompted to question, that one Undergraduate class can only begin to unravel. To force the requirement may not have the lasting effect as discovery. I think it is on the part of the Vassar student to study and learn about what interests them; if, in a woman’s studies class you discover there is patriarchal structure prevalent in our society, all the better for you. If you are interested in furthering your understanding of this system, you can take more classes, do research, or engage with your friends about this system you just discovered existed…but the choice and discovery have to be yours. Otherwise what makes this time different than when you learned who Susan B. Anthony was?