Sunday, September 7, 2008
My promised post:
Sooooo, The World's Most Narcissistic Psychology Professor Who Daily Validates the Claim That Psychologists Are Fucked Up hit upon the trick of using the venue of Service Learning to turn the bright light of administrative admiration upon himself (okay, its really only a dim bulb but let that go).
Down here, in the land of undergraduate teaching, we are seeing a wave of interest in Service Learning as the band aid for a hemorrhaging student population. Its supposed to "engage" students and make them seem less spoiled, kind of a quick let's nip this rampant overly-materialistic student value-system before they need to be shipped off to an MTV Exiled experience, and we can get them to help people right here in the yoo-ess-ayy where its safer.
Myself, I teach a student population that could be a recipient of service learning, so I am a bit bewildered by the focus on Service Learning at a community college. And most of the research, actually, argues for a generation that is more focused on "contributing" than previous ones. But, I guess, the overall concern in America for the "purpose-driven" life leading to fulfillment drives this agenda. *sigh* Once again, the American debate is about forcing others to do what we deem correct and proper with an almost evangelical fervor, instead, of having the faith that people will find their own way to fulfillment or respecting their right to do so. Its good to know we don't limit our desire to save the world to the world but, also, are busily doing it to each other. Restores your faith in logical consistency, at a time when there is none. Logical consistency, that is. We seem to have an excess of Faith.
But enough personal commentary--the rather narrow focus of this blog is teaching anthropology and I find that being an anthropologist--at least of the kind I am--means that I am just not down with Service Learning.
Because, first , I need to look at what students are learning. And. second, and perhaps most importantly, I need to think about the communities being "serviced". Need I remind everyone that the last chapter of almost every intro textbook is "Development Anthropology". I have to teach that--many times every semester. And I did live it, having worked as a consultant for USAID and the International Red Cross way back in 1994 at the beginning of international concern with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Tanzania. Its an issue for me.
Those of you skimming this entry for the juicy bits, they begin now:
Enter our Psychology Professor of the Long Title. Email goes out on the Faculty and Administration distribution list soliciting (I kid you not) travel-size shampoo bottles, toys, and PAMPHLETS ABOUT SPOUSAL ABUSE WRITTEN IN SPANISH (yes, I am shouting) because, because, because, dude is going on a "Medical Mission" to the Texas/Mexico border, taking a group of our students along on a pre-existing visitation by the University of Houston's pharmacy students. Seems that a couple of years ago, a small handful of church-goers decided it would be a good idea to reach out across the border and do some good. One of the church members teaches at the Pharmacy school and organized her students to, periodically, drive down to Mexico to an area of population aggregation centered around those American-owned export-assembly plants on the border known as Maquiladoras . The stated goal of the visit was for the pharmacy students to hand out (donated) pills for Type Two Diabetes to the many sufferers in these border communities. I almost exploded with the effort of trying to figure out what to protest first. I started small.
I went for the shampoo bottles. Shampoo bottles to communities that don't have access to clean water? That may bathe in the Rio Grande. Little plastic bottles. Hello, Marie Antoinette! What next--cake for diabetics. Can we talk about the, absolutely, horrendously foul disgusting moment of placing a student in such a power relationship? Oh, by all means, lean down from the float of the good ship America and hand out beads and trinkets to the "natives". Hey, no more tears--ya got clean hair for the day and an empty plastic bottle. And I gave it to you. Isn't it wonderful. Don't I feel good about myself for a moment. Where's the bus? Can we go now? Exiled is on tonight and I haven't Tivoed it, yet.
Then, I moved on to the "Mission" part. Yes, he confirmed via email it was part of a church effort. Do you hand out bibles? Well, yes but there is no overt missionizing. In shock, I responded, saying that to say handing out bibles is not overt missionizing is disingenuous. I was told I was patronizing. *blink*
Doctor Narcissism posts the pictures of the trip on Flikr. (He is featured in every shot). He is in green scrubs (shades of HTS--he wears the uniform of what he is not). I can't figure out what, exactly, they did. No one is actually qualified to do anything medical, I am not sure even if the pharmacy students can legally hand out pills--that is if they were in America, but I guess since its Mexico they feel our legality and morality and ethics don't matter--something about that border just transforms everything, huh? It even allows a Chinese-American, non Spanish-speaking psychology professor to "counsel" individuals in a maquiladoras community. Is anybody wondering what the crises hotline number will be on those Spanish spousal abuse pamphlets?
Call up a colleague at UT-Health Science. *deep sigh*, yes, we know about this, we don't care for it. We have been operating clinics on the border for years now and there is a lot of thinking going into our projects (I have a list of links about the issues far too extensive for this post if you are interested). We particularly don't like the message that Type Two Diabetes should be treated with pills. Its a poor message when what needs to happen is a change in diet. Coca Cola. High Fructose Corn Syrup.And, don't get me started on the spousal abuse issues. Oh, now its my turn for the deep sigh. I see. Worse than I thought. Could have guessed it if I hadn't been so focused on those damn shampoo bottles.
And now my problem, I am now just a lone voice in the wilderness, raining on their parade. No, don't do this is not a message they want to hear. But if I am committed to my discipline this is what I must say. Think of those communities. Think of the nature of the interaction. Think. Think. Think.
These issues continue and should resonate with all those teaching those introductory level courses. Read this post on the SACC (Society for Anthropology in the Community College) blog, which begins with the problems experienced by a fellow anthropology prof who is required by her institution to incorporate a Service Learning component into all her courses, even the Distance Learning ones. A nightmare, an absolute nightmare.
So, now you can see, my need to post a positive view of a development project. Money and effort legitimize. If I can point to those who overtly reject these perspectives, my criticism are legitimized. I think. I hope. But, riding the wave of a North America-centric view of the world, I realize, I haven't a chance in the world.
But, just so we are clear. This is what we should be teaching our students about life in the Maquiladoras.