Thursday, February 23, 2012

Job Preparation and the Liberal Arts: Journalism as a Model

It's always fun talking with Tim Francisco about education, especially the, the project he runs with Alyssa Lenhoff.  Yes, he's enthusiastic, but he's also very thoughtful about the goals and approach they're using. For me, the most impressive part of this project is its vision for what undergraduate education can accomplish by engaging students in challenging hands-on learning that is at once practical and intellectually-significant.  I worry that our emphasis on higher education as workforce preparation leads us to make undergraduate programs focus more on skills than on critical thinking and that we encourage students to view anything that isn't part of their future job as irrelevant.  We know that most undergraduates will not spend their entire working lives doing the jobs they trained for in college, so they need broader knowledge and skills, especially in gathering information, analyzing problems, and effective communication.  Journalism can provide these skills, but a strong general education program and an emphasis on inquiry and problem solving within the major can do that for students in any field.  So while I'm excited about how the approach taken by YSU's Journalism program works for their majors, I hope that other departments will embrace this model of combining job prep with a liberal arts approach.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Fight Against Human Trafficking

Like many of you, until I sat down to talk with Jean Waris and Brian Hudzik, the main thing I'd heard about human trafficking in our area was the story of new regulations for massage parlors in Warren.  But as Jean and Brian made clear, "human trafficking" isn't something that happens far away, nor is it happening only in massage parlors.  The term refers to anytime someone is forced through violence or coercion to do things they wouldn't normally do, so it applies to most forms of prostitution and also occurs in other types of labor.

After our interview, Jean sent me the story of Theresa Flores:

Theresa lived in an upscale suburb of Detroit. Her father was a mid-level manager in some type of business who was transferred every two years. Theresa attended a good high school where she met an upper level classmate who raped her. Unbeknown to her, pictures were taken during the rape. Several days later the classmate approached her with the pictures threatening to post them all over her school and church and to send them to her parents and her father's boss. BUT...if she would do a favor for him, he would give her the pictures. 

After midnight she received a call on the phone in her bedroom telling her to be on the corner in front of her house in 10 minutes and a car would pick her up. She was taken to a location where she was raped by a number of men. This continued for TWO YEARS! She would be called several times a week, she never knew when. It was always a different location and different men. She was terrified. They follow her younger brother home from school in a big, black, slow moving car. He was scared. She was terrified. Their small dog turned up dead in the yard. She told no one. And no one noticed. After two years her father was transferred. She told no one. She just didn't turn up in school. She had escaped!

I heard Theresa speak last summer and she told of being somewhere and hearing about HUMAN TRAFFICKING. Suddenly she realized that there was a NAME  for what had happened to her and that it was a CRIME. Theresa has shared this story in her book The Slave Across the Street. 

 Jean and Brian are involved in the local portion of a growing national movement to fight human trafficking.  You can learn more about the broad effort from the Polaris Project.  Just this week, Governor Kasich announced a "statewide war on human trafficking" as part of his State of the State Address.  Locally, the Anti-Human Trafficking Core Group of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative is working on both policy issues and strategies to help victims.  If you want to get involved, call the MVOC office at 330-743-1196.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cheating and Character

The most interesting thing about talking with Sam Antar isn't his story of committing fraud, or the way he evaded jail by helping catch other criminals, or the fact that he now spends his time teaching others about white-collar crime.  No, the most interesting thing is his belief that we can't stop people from committing these crimes by promoting better business ethics or even by a lot more regulation.  According to Antar, people like him will always find a way to cheat, and they do it because they can and in a way, almost because they have to.  He compares cheating in business to alcoholism and gambling addictions.  Business people don't cheat because they didn't have sufficient training in professional ethics.  They cheat because they're the kind of people who want to get away with something.

The key, Antar suggests, is training the rest of us to be more cautious in dealing with those who manage our money and in helping law enforcement agencies develop a better understanding of how people commit fraud so that they can get better at catching white-collar criminals.  I find that kind of discouraging.  And it's even more discouraging to hear Sam Antar suggest that the desire many of us feel to always expect the best out of other people and to prefer to assume that others mean well not harm is exactly what could make us good targets for the next cheater. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Value of a Good Argument

What I appreciate most about Deborah Mower's perspective on civility in politics and education is her emphasis on the idea that being civil does not mean suppressing disagreements.  Instead, it's all about pursuing them in thoughtful, serious ways.  As we discussed in the interview, people too often think that challenging someone else's ideas is inherently rude, and so we shy away from argument. The key is, rather, to learn how to argue well, to construct an argument and defend a position on the basis of evidence and ideas, rather than on personal attacks, insinuations, and gut responses.

The difficulty, I think, is navigating between the ideal of a society in which people disagree in thoughtful, productive ways, and the reality of a culture that has come to rely heavily on exaggeration, character assassination, and digging in our heels.  The book she edited with Wade L. Robison, Civility in Politics and Education, presents a number of philosophical views on this, though as Mower acknowledges, philosophers often examine ideals of how people should think and behave.  In a culture of political attack ads and clearly divided news media, we often don't live up to those ideals.  Too many of us don't take our own responsibilities -- not only participants in arguments but also as audiences for political and civic debates -- seriously.