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Monday, November 29, 2010

“Stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning”

Take a moment to think about stereotypes that you or the people around you place onto people you see in passing, celebrities on TV, or maybe even entire countries. Everyone knows stereotyping is wrong, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to do it….Here is a TED talk about the dangers of a single story. If you have a few moments, watch it!

In English class, we are reading, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. It takes place after the Islamic Revolution when strict laws were placed on the Iranian citizens. There are many

anecdotes about the oppressive government and unfair ways which are only magnified by the seemingly bright past that Iran once had. The book describes a time, prior to 1979 when Iran was one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East. For example, women were encouraged to get a college education, people were allowed to listen to whatever music they wanted and watch whatever TV shows they desired. They could go on dates, party and the women did not have to wear the robe and head scarf.

Through my research on Middle Eastern women and Reading Lolita in Tehran it is clear that Iranian women can NOT be stereotyped, they are all too different. In the book, Nafisi talks about the women coming to her class (held in her living room) and as they shed their robes and head scarves, "splashes of colors separate one from the next. Each has become distinct through the color and style of her clothes, the color and the length of her hair" (Nafisi 4). When a whole population of women wears the same thing outside of their homes, a black robe and head scarf, it becomes difficult to remember that underneath all that fabric is an individual.

It is not an easy task to place yourself in someone else's shoes, but I ask you to try. Take a moment and think about a time when you were stereotyped. How did it make you feel? How did you respond to their assumptions? After being stereotype are you more conscience not to stereotype others? (please comment with your experiences!)

I am sure people have stereotyped me many times, but one that always comes to mind is the "you are so good at basketball because you are tall" stereotype. Throughout 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th grade people always assumed that I was a good basketball player because of my height. Yes, I understood why they would say that, but there assumptions still diminished all the long hours I spent practicing my dribbling and shooting. At first, I would laugh and not defend the hard work that merited my basketball achievements, but as the years passed I started to tell people that I practiced every day and that my height only helped my basketball abilities, it did not define them. Although this example isn't as severe as the stereotyping Muslim women are subjected to, there are many similarities between the two cases, being the lack of understanding and knowledge around the topic.

Here is an excerpt from a website about Muslim women:

What comes to your mind when you think of a Muslim woman? A mysterious, veiled victim of
male oppression, awaiting Western liberation? A slogan-shouting terrorist? An uneducated foreigner with whom you have little or nothing in common? Unless your social circle includes Muslim friends and acquaintances, the chances are t
hat your impressions of Muslim women have largely been formed by negative media stereotypes - images that usually have little to do with real life, and may have been designed to attract more viewers, sell more products, or gain support for someone's political agenda.

Here is a picture of Iranian women in their robes and head scarves, take a moment to really look at them.

Although there are similarities between these four women, look at the individuality that each of them possesses. Be it the shape or color of their sunglasses, the style of their purses, the style of their hair, the hint of color on their lips, or fit of their robe, these women are each unique. I hope you approach all people, ideas, and places that seem strange, different, or foreign to you with an open mind. Instead of stereotyping, research.

Until next time…


Monday, November 15, 2010

Be the CHANGE you wish to see in the world

"We must become the change we want to see in the world," these powerful words were spoken by Mahatma Gandhi. I have heard this quote countless times (as I am sure you have too). It is to-the-point, powerful, and easy to remember. But when was the last time you really thought about being the change you wish to see in the world?

…I worry about the depletion of water, but besides turning off my faucet when I brush my teeth, I haven't altered my water usage to being more efficient. I worry about global warming, but I still drive my car places that I could walk to….

The list could continue, but this past week I experienced how empowering it can be to be the change you wish to see in the world. My class is vying to win the Can Food Drive contest at our school (this is done by bringing in the most cans). In years past, all of my classmates, like me, had participated in the Can Food Drive, but on an uncommitted level. This year is different. Our class is committed to collecting cans in our houses, buying cans at the store with any extra money we have, and asking for the help of our families and neighbors. My class has brought in hundreds of cans, all of which will be donated to the local food pantry providing for the needy families in our neighborhood.

Hunger is a problem that many wish to eliminate, but like conserving water or saving the planet, it is never on the forefront of our minds. I always thought that bringing in a few token cans for the food drive was doing my part in the fight against hunger, but if I don't go out of my way to bring in as many cans as possible, then who will? That is the mindset that we need to have while resolving issues…me/you/we need to be the first to change in order for others to follow.

Think about this:

"The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor."

~Vince Lombardi

Take a moment to think about something you have been fully committed too. Think about the effects of the commitment…

Now think about a time when you half-heartedly did something. Think about the effects of the lack of commitment….

(Please comment about either a time when you were committed or when you were not!)

Being committed to the Can Food Drive has made me happy. Sure, winning the contest would be nice, but the process of buying into an idea, or in this case event, has magnified the implications of how fulfilled I feel for contributing to the best of my abilities.

On a similar note…

My class had the honor of meeting Carl Wilkens a few weeks ago. Mr. Wilkens was the only American to stay in Rwanda during the Rwandan genocide. He came to my school and talked to us about his time in Rwanda. Mr. Wilkens saved many lives while in Rwanda by helping many people get food and providing a safe place to live. He was faced with adversity, loss, and obstacles. It would have been easy to move out of Rwanda, but he was committed to helping, and the best way he knew how to do that was to stay. His actions are honorable, heroic, and inspiring.

As a student who is always looking for a way to help better the world…but never really knowing how to make a big impact… hearing Mr. Wilkens's story and participating in the Can Food Drive have been outlets to think about how I can, "be the change I wish to see in the world." I believe that quote is a big part of education. Yes, we go to school to learn about reading, writing, math, and science, but like I said in my older post, that is only half of it. School teaches us how to communicate, problem solve, time manage, work with others, respect others opinions and defend our own opinions. Mr. Wilkens optimizes the things one can accomplish with a good head on their shoulders. Likewise, the Can Food Drive is proving to be something that has expanded the boundaries of our classroom. We are working together to optimize our can buying power, we are communicating by sending buyers to Costco with everyone's money, and we have been problem solving by trying to find sponsors.

The Can Food Drive and Carl Wilkens changed the way I think and have opened my eyes to the impact one can have if they are committed. You don't have to commit to a lot of things, but find something that makes you happy, and pursue that to the best of your abilities.

"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful"

~Herman Cain

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Comparing Apples and Oranges

In the novel Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, the reader gets to experience two separate cultures, American and Congolese, simultaneously. Many large cultural clashes take place, from religious views to clothing choice.

My Perspective…As a teenager growing up in Illinois, it is interesting to see how the American missionary family, the Prices, is adapting to the very foreign Congolese culture. There are many opportunities as a reader to ask how I would respond in certain situations. One large difference was the clear distinction between the way the Prices raise their kids and the way that the children in the Congo are raised.

My friend Jenna posted a blog about this quote from the novel: “It struck me what a wide world of difference there was between our sort of games… and [a native boy‘s]… I could see that the whole idea and business of Childhood was nothing guaranteed… [It is] invented by white people and stuck onto the front end of a grown-up life like a frill on a dress” (Kingsolver 114). I think the discrepancies in the definition of childhood should be explored, and I think Poisonwood Bible provides the perfect context.


The Prices have 4 girls when they venture to Africa and one of them dies while they are there. Kingsolver spent a lot of time throughout the book developing the differences in the Price children compared to those of the Congolese; the games the kid’s play, the chores they do, and the clothes they wear. Also, every few chapters, there was the telling of another Congolese funeral (if you could call it that) for their children. Kingsolver uses very descriptive and sensory rich language to describe the mourning. Until the point when one of the Price daughters dies, this American family had seemed immune to the dark side of Africa. However, once she dies, the mother mourns in a similar way as the Congo women, and although it is a very sad part, it exemplifies the vulnerability of ALL children. It finally brings the Price children onto the same level as the Congo children.

So What?

This made me question, which cultures method for raising children is correct?

In America, by the time a child is 17 parents have spent about $200,000 on them. Factor in college tuition, and the cost of a child is astronomical. Here is a link to an article that talks more about the cost of raising a kid. In Western society, childhood is a time to be innocent, to be worry free, go to school, explore hobbies, and to think that you have all the opportunities in the world ahead of you. Although very different, the Congolese childhood promotes responsibility, independence, and resourcefulness. Is one better than the other?

Because the Congo is very different than America, comparing the childhoods is like comparing apples and oranges. However, the Poisonwood highlights some chilling differences that no child should have to experience. In one passage, a young Congolese girl says she is leaving school. When asked why she says to work at night with Mother. It is then stated that that entails being a prostitute. She is about ten.

The only similarity that these two cultures seem to share is the fact that both childhoods try to prepare the kids for adulthood. It is a vicious cycle for the Congolese, because although these children are taught to survive, they are not taught how to thrive and how to make a better life for themselves. Girls often get pregnant young; miss out on an education, and then get married (usually before they are eighteen.) The society does not know how to function outside of those parameters and that is why education is vital in areas like these. Here is one telling example of the impact of education:

Women with primary education are significantly less likely to be married/in union as children than those who received no education. In Zimbabwe, 48 per cent of women who had attended primary school had been married by the age of 18, compared to 87 per cent of those who had not attended school (UNICEF estimates based on DHS 1999).” (For more interesting facts from UNICEF, go here!)

This is a very telling fact, and it leads me back to education and its importance. Education fosters excitement, exploration, questioning, and discovery. Can anyone argue the benefits that that would bring to a society? Imagine how much third world countries would prosper if education was accessible and promoted to all.