The case for global education

Did you know tomorrow is International Literacy Day? Established by UNESCO in 1965, International Literacy Day (observed annually on September 8) focuses attention on worldwide literacy needs, reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning. Today, we’d like to kick off the celebration with a free chapter from Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World (edited by Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco and Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj): “The Case for Global Education,” by John Sexton, the President of NYU. Read an excerpt from the chapter below, and access the full chapter here.

Today, the world is wired; it has grown small. What happens in distant places is known and, more important, experienced almost everywhere—by almost everybody—immediately and unavoidably. The faith assumption of education for global citizenship is that students will ask, not “How did they get to be that way?” but, with voracious curiosity, “What can I learn from you?” How can I translate your world into mine and mine into yours—without diluting our distinctiveness?

You can celebrate International Literacy Day, too. Here are a few tips from UNESCO on how to
JOIN THE CELEBRATION:

1.  Donate books and reading materials to your local school or community centre
2.  Start a reading club
3.  Volunteer to teach literacy classes in your community
4.  Become a mentor of a non-literate person
5.  Send your literacy stories to joinliteracy(at)unesco.org


Click here
 to learn more about Literacy Day and ways you can advance literacy in your community.

Parental fear, social judgments, and the gender trap

—Emily W. Kane

In a moving New York Times magazine story, Ruth Padawer reveals the treacherous terrain facing parents whose young sons wish to wear dresses and tiaras, polish their fingernails, or even refer to themselves as girls. She opens the article with an account of one such boy: Four-year-old Alex, whose parents were worried about his desire to wear a dress to preschool. Susan, Alex’s mom, wanted to let her son pursue his interests, but worried intensely about how others would treat him. She was terrified that he would be bullied at school, tortured by statistics that predicted her son would likely become a drug addict or commit suicide later in life, and often had panic attacks as a result.

The complex tales of significant gender variation that Padawer reports are important ones, as is her analysis of how psychologists, pediatricians and other experts advise parents of “gender variant” children. But even parents whose children perform gender just a little differently, and parents who wish to encourage even a moderately more fluid approach to gender, face fears and anxieties as well. In my forthcoming book, The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls, I interviewed parents of preschoolers, asking them how they think about children’s gender. None of these were parents whose kids would be classified as gender variant and none had sought any expert intervention—they were just everyday parents from all sorts of backgrounds, engaged in routine daily choices.

I figured many would tell me that they see gendered patterns in childhood as biologically dictated, while also reporting relatively unconscious everyday actions that reinforce and even produce those patterns. Some parents did follow that expectation, but many didn’t. And among those who viewed gendered childhoods as a product of social expectations rather than biological dictates, and who considered gender expectations problematically limiting to their children, I heard reports of an everyday world teeming with social pressures, judgments from friends, relatives, and even strangers if their kids didn’t stick to a narrowly gendered path. These parents were very much conscious of the social costs—to their children and themselves—of not living up to gender expectations. Consistent with Padawer’s analysis and decades of scholarship in gender studies, these social pressures are much more notable for boys (and men) who wander even a little bit off the socially dictated path.

Recent attention to significant gender variance in childhood, and to the struggles faced by transgendered people of all ages, is a welcome trend for those who wish to see a world unconstrained by gender rules. But the parents I interviewed offer a crucial reminder of just how far we are from that world, as even more minor variations—especially for sons—provoke fear, anxiety and careful management on the part of quite a few parents. For parents, the trap of pushing children toward traditionally gendered outcomes is sometimes baited by beliefs about biology, personal preferences, and unconscious actions. Even when it isn’t, the routine assumptions and everyday judgments of friends, relatives, teachers, children’s peers, and strangers can bait that same trap. Parents can try to create a less constraining world for their children, but the rest of us will need to suspend our judgments and applaud their efforts.

Emily W. Kane is Professor of Sociology at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Her forthcoming book, The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls will be released this month.

The Internet and modern times: Are they driving us crazy?

—Peter N. Stearns

The evidence is piling in: People are not only dangerously addicted to the Internet, but are also driven literally insane by its pace and pressure. This includes imagining cell phone vibrations out of the blue—a phenomenon known as Phantom Vibration Syndrome—and feeling lonely and dissatisfied despite having hundreds of “friends” on Facebook.

Half full or half crazy?

The growing concern about the downsides of the Internet and its communications spawn raises important issues. In their most recent revision of their staple Diagnostic manual, American psychologists are recognizing Internet addiction as a new illness. More widely, a variety of observers speculate not only about the Internet’s outright damage to individual psyches, but about the wider inadequacies of digital offsprings such as Facebook.

The discussion is interesting in its own right, but it also evokes recurrent frustrations with modernity in general. The basic conversation is not as novel as many of its proponents imply. After all, the notion that people are sacrificing wellbeing to the inexorable demands of technological change is hardly a new one. Putting the current Internet debate into wider context may actually contribute to sorting out the problems involved.

Most obviously, it has long been clear—if not always adequately discussed—that modern developments harm a minority. Rates of depression unquestionably go up with the onset of modernity, and the Internet is simply another contribution to a larger story. The result is a clear challenge to objective evaluation: how much should the new troubles of a minority detract from the larger satisfactions modernity brings? Should those of us who both enjoy and depend on the Internet change our ways because some people are endangered? (And, of course, how big is the threatened minority in any event?) Finally—this has also been part of the modern story—can’t we generate some compensatory therapy?

But the minority downside is only part of the picture. Critics who attack the hollowness of the Internet’s social results also sound a familiar alarm. Other aspects of modernity must be discussed in terms of false promises. Consumerism and modern leisure are two other examples of phenomena that win ardent support but which, nevertheless, do not bring the systematic benefits their advocates claim. Do the critics have enough evidence to counter the enthusiasms of the majority—can so many enthusiasts be wrong about their own commitments? Are we sure that satisfactions were really greater in the good old days?  Do we risk measuring against a misleading nostalgia? The analytical challenges here are both significant and interesting, and again the Internet can fit into a larger, though complex, effort at evaluation.

My own take on modernity—and I would apply the same thinking to the Internet, which I enjoy a lot—is that, overall, the gains outweigh the downsides, though the damage should not be swept under the rug. Periodic criticisms of modernity, which is now emerging around the Internet debate as well, too often overdo the dark sides. So far, as I can see, the claims that the Internet is driving us all crazy just does not stand up.

It is true that modernity has not produced as many gains as its more enthusiastic proponents have claimed, and that too often modern societies have let changes sweep over them without sensitive assessment or control. We can, in other words, do better, even as we recognize that we neither can nor should turn back the clock entirely. Beneath the various crises that claim the headlines, the challenge of taking a more thoughtful approach to modern change needs more attention than we have so far been able to provide. Critical discussion is in this sense a vital first step.

But, at the very least, Internet fans and critics alike should know that this is the latest in a series of modern improvements that should be handled with care. What’s next in the queue?

Peter N. Stearns is Provost and University Professor at George Mason University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Journal of Social History, and author of Satisfaction Not Guaranteed, published by NYU Press in April 2012.

Interview with Philip S. Gorski

An excellent interview with Philip S. Gorski, Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Center for Comparative Research at Yale University, appeared on the Imminent Frame blog last week. Gorski is the co-editor of The Post-Secular in Questionpart of the SSRC series with NYU Press. He spoke with Joseph Blankholm about his current work, the role of sociology, and much more. Below is an excerpt from the article.

JB: In your essay in The Post-Secular in Question, you ask, “What’s the role of sociology?” Your answer is that it could be a moral science that recovers the idea of “the good.” What would that moral sociology look like? Is there a relationship that you see between the creation of a civil religion and the creation of a sociology that’s more concerned with the good?

PG: That would certainly be a hope of mine, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately, whether there’s a limited kind of moral realism that we could defend, and that we might actually be able to contribute to through social science or at least through academic reflection of some kind or another? My suspicion is that there is; I just don’t know what the scope of it is. It would have to be premised on some understanding of human flourishing—that human beings are put together biologically, neurologically, in a certain way—that they have certain kinds of capacities or propensities—that their flourishing and well-being in general involves the development and cultivation of these propensities and capacities. Of course I’m simply channeling a lot of research that’s being done in neighboring fields. There’s recent work in positive psychology, for example, which is starting to get a great deal of attention by people like Jonathan Haidt and Marty Seligman. There’s a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics tradition that people like Martha Nussbaum and Richard Kraut have revived and defended in recent years. Even some folks like Amartya Sen have tried to make a basis for a different way of thinking about economics and development policy. So the question is, “How do you develop a theory of the human good which doesn’t become a kind of hardened dogma, a sort of a one-size-fits-all understanding of what a life well-lived is going to mean?” We don’t live in Athens anymore. We live in a much more diverse, much more egalitarian, much freer society. Clearly there has to be a great deal of room for people to act freely. Part of flourishing is also making mistakes and learning and developing, so it’s not the idea that you simply prescribe some kind of a lifestyle. I think this notion that Nussbaum has developed, a kind of capacities approach to justice—that you need to create a basic set of preconditions for people to explore their own particular talents, capacities, inclinations—that that probably strikes the right balance between liberalism and a more robust form of moral realism. I think where sociology might contribute to this is in thinking harder about how you create the preconditions for the sorts of social connections and communities that are clearly part of human flourishing. We know that this is one of the clear results of recent work in positive psychology: that relationships to other people are critical. There’s a lot of confirmation for this in evolutionary biology and psychology, the mounting evidence of pro-social characteristics of human beings. But most of these disciplines are really focused on the human organism, or they’re focused on the human psyche. They don’t really think deeply about the social, per se, so this is where sociology might actually step in and make some kind of a contribution to this, I think. But I expect there’ll be a lot of resistance. One of the first things that you learn in graduate school in the social sciences is about the fact/value distinction, that there is no way of knowing or discovering what’s good. I don’t think people really believe that. I think that’s why most people go to graduate school, because they think this will help them answer these kinds of questions. But you get professionalized and socialized out of this during your first few years in graduate school. It’s salutary to the degree that we learn to establish a certain kind of reflexive distance to our tacit assumptions about what’s good, but I think the next step is to return to those basic practical questions that really animate people and get them interested in academic life and scholarship in the first place.

JB: That’s really interesting. So in some ways it’s breaking down the limits of what an objective science can discuss. It makes me think of the ways in which sociology and economics can articulate with people who do governance. I can’t help but think about this sociology of the good as theology for technocrats, or something like that.

PG: [Laughs] Right.

JB: Do you think there’s any way to push an agenda through sociology that could speak to something much broader, or are we very insular in the way we work with disciplines, in the way that, in a Weberian sense, we compartmentalize our society, secularize it?

PG: I guess I would say two things. First, I think one of the theological virtues that any technocrat would have to learn first is some measure of humility. [Laughs] Yeah, I think perhaps one of the most important things is to make room for people who do work that’s more publicly engaged. Again, there’s a lot of resistance to this, sometimes motivated by resentment of people who get attention from the wider public or have some kind of non-academic success. It’s not to say that you can go to the other extreme. I don’t think that everybody in the academy should suddenly become some kind of activist or public intellectual. There has to be some sort of balance struck between the autonomy of the scientific community and its engagement with the public, which is probably difficult to maintain. It certainly seems to me that this is a moment where there is a lot of academic capital or knowledge that’s been stored up within the research university, which just gets ignored, gets drowned out. Nobody pays any attention to it. This is partly an institution-building question, too, of course. It’s not just a matter of a particular individual deciding, “I’m going to speak to the broader public.” Well that’s not going to get you heard. You have to figure out ways to reach a broader public, and that’s a huge problem in and of itself, obviously. Non-academic intellectuals have figured this out.

Want more? Read the original interview here.

It Is Getting Better—Even in the Bible Belt

—Bernadette Barton

LGBT folks have much to celebrate this Pride season: the repeal of the military policy Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, marriage equality in New York, the public apology of psychiatrist Robert Spitzer for his flawed findings on ex-gay reparative therapies, and, most thrillingly, President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage. National survey data indicate that U.S. citizens are rapidly becoming more supportive of gay rights—even in Bible Belt red states like Kentucky, where I live.

But with change comes backlash and, sometimes, noisy condemnation. One such example is North Carolina Baptist Pastor Charles Worley, who made news headlines in May 2012 after a YouTube video of one of his sermons went viral. In it, he advocates concentration camps for homosexuals, preaching, “I figured out a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers. Build a great, big, large fence fifty or a hundred miles long. Put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. And you know what, in a few years they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce.”

Pastor’s Worley’s homophobic comments, although extreme, reflect the ideologies of some conservative Christians. Those same sentiments emerge in the regional context of what I call in my book, Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, as “Bible Belt Christianity.” Although there may be much wiggle room amongst individual Christians in their personal relationships with gay people, Bible Belt Christianity encourages both “compulsory Christianity”—communicative exchanges that involve presenting one’s Christian identity to others in routine social interactions—and the framing of homosexuality as sinful.

Fundamentalists like Pastor Worley interpret their beliefs within a total system that allows no shades of gray. For them, homosexuality is unsanctified, and those engaging in same-sex behavior are sinners. Cracking open their belief system a tiny bit to accommodate gay people means the dissolution of their religious structure, and the prospect of facing a great, cavernous unknowing about deep moral questions of good and evil, as well about the afterlife. While most conservative Christians would not promote violence against another person—like putting gay people in concentration camps—most do participate in religious groups that construct the behavior of an entire group of people as an abomination.

It is likely that Pastor Worley’s sermon was partly motivated by the anti-gay marriage amendment on the North Carolina ballot this past May. North Carolina was the latest state to pass an anti-gay marriage ballot amendment, and the last of the Bible Belt states to constitutionally amend one—Kentuckians successfully voted to ban same-sex marriage during the 2004 presidential election season. The Bible Belt gays featured in my book spoke extensively about the heartache and divisiveness caused by anti-gay ballot amendments. For a gay person, seeing political ads, billboards, newspaper op-eds, and lawn signs announcing a homophobic opinion on gay rights is extremely stressful. While an anti-gay lawn sign is not personally directed against any specific individual, running across them is still intimidating and distressing for a gay person, and can be perceived as a justification of homophobic attitudes in those who, like Pastor Worley, hold them. But what has shifted since 2004—and what is deserving of our appreciation this Pride month—is how homophobic comments like those of Pastor Worley are interpreted in public conversations in major media outlets and on social networking sites.

First of all, gay issues are covered today. Every other day it seems—and, sometimes every day—there is a new story on gay rights. Second, homophobic speech, like the sermon Pastor Worley gave, draws much condemnation. Rather than passing it as “business-as-usual, of course it’s disgusting—we don’t even need to talk about it,” people, even in the Bible Belt, are noticing and talking about the injustices gay people face. And, finally, arguments against same-sex marriage—like the ones that the conservative Christian group American Family Association makes about how allowing people of the same sex to marry opens the door for people to marry their dog, horse or cousin—sound even more ludicrous in 2012, because, well, how would a dog sign a legal contract?

Bible Belt gays are uniquely positioned to observe gradual improvements in homophobic attitudes. On the front lines of the culture wars in the United States, Bible Belt gays have hard-won insights to share with gay people from more politically progressive regions of the United States. It’s not only because the lives of Bible Belt gays illustrate the maxim—having endured much, they are stronger for it—but because the personal work required of gay people in the Bible Belt to line up with each other in the face of preachers like Charles Worley makes them more powerful and independent. As Terry, a 29-year-old white lesbian from eastern Kentucky explained, “We speak fundamentalist Christianity. We are interpreters and liaisons. We know that fundamentalists are not crazy. They are wrong. And there is a difference.”

The good part about framing conservative Christians as “wrong” instead of “crazy” is that wrong is more malleable. Pastor Worley may not easily recognize the “wrongness” intrinsic to his belief system, but many other Bible Belt Christians are slowly changing their perceptions of homosexuality. As gay issues continue to get press, as gay people and same-sex relationships are represented in positive ways in the media, as gayness itself becomes more familiar—even for the rural heterosexual who may have never met an openly gay person—we as a culture are getting more used to gay life. And that is something worth celebrating.

Bernadette Barton is Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. She is the author Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (NYU Press, 2006) and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, to be released by NYU Press in October 2012.

»»»  Happy Pride from NYU Press! Save 25% on LGBT Studies titles when you order via our website. Simply enter promo code DIVER12 online during check out or call 800.996.6987. Offer ends on July 1, 2012.

Life as a gay father: Neil Patrick Harris opens up to Oprah

What NPH (and my new book on gay fatherhood) can teach us about gay parenting

By Abbie E. Goldberg

Photo: George Burns

In their recent interview with Oprah, Neil Patrick Harris and his partner David Burtka opened up about parenthood, surrogacy, and raising twins. As Harris emphasized in his interview, “We really, really wanted kids. We really had thought it through financially, emotionally, relationship-wise. We didn’t just accidentally get pregnant and decide that now we need to make this work. These kids come into our world with nothing but love.” Oprah then admitted to an “aha” moment, wherein she realized, “The children [of gay parents] are so loved!”

The topics that Harris and Burtka touched on in their interview with Oprah – who came to their house – intersect with many of the issues that I address in my new book, Gay dads: Transitions to adoptive fatherhood, which will be published by NYU Press in July 2012. As Harris alluded to, the process of deciding and then becoming a parent as a gay man is one that is highly intentional. The 70 gay men whom I spoke to emphasized the numerous decisions involved in pursuing parenthood, including:  How should they become parents – adoption, surrogacy, or some other route? If they should pursue adoption, what type of adoption (private domestic, public domestic, international) should they pursue?  Who would be the legal adoptive parent (for those living in states that did not allow gay male couples to co-adopt)? How would they tell their parents and families about their decision to become parents? Should they seek out female role models for their child? Should they move to a more progressive, gay-friendly area?…and the list goes on and on.

Harris and Burtka also discussed the challenges that Harris encountered in bonding to his twins early on. Like some of the couples whom I interviewed, Harris and Burtka had different comfort levels with infants, with Burtka expressing greater ease and comfort with infant caregiving, and Harris acknowledging greater perceived aptitude at dealing with and parenting older children.  As I discuss in my book, gay parents – like all parents – may be differentially attached to their children early on, with one partner bonding more readily to the child(ren) than the other. These differential attachment patterns may be related to the division of labor (i.e., who is home more; who is doing more child care), parents’ personalities, children’s personalities, and a variety of other factors.

Harris and Burtka also talked about their different “roles,” particularly in the initial stages of parenting. Burtka was home more, while Harris worked more (on his hit TV show, How I Met Your Mother). Thus, their foci (caregiving and breadwinning) were somewhat different during early parenthood. This pattern is not unusual in gay or heterosexual couples; as I discuss in my book, in about half of the 70 couples whom I interviewed, one partner worked part-time or stayed home while the other partner worked full-time. Those who took on different roles in relation to providing and caregiving described both challenges and benefits of their arrangement. For example, in some cases couples worried that the child would become more bonded to the partner who was home more; yet on the other hand, they were grateful that they could afford to have a parent at home, at least part-time, and thereby minimize their reliance on outside child care.

Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka’s interview with Oprah underscores the main message of the book: Gay parents are, as Burtka states, “the new nuclear family.” In this way, their experiences are, in many ways, similar to those of the heterosexual parents – but yet their experiences are also uniquely shaped by their relational status as two men, their minority status in society, and the continued pervasiveness of societal heterosexism.

Abbie E. Goldberg is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University, and the author of Gay dads: Transitions to adoptive fatherhood.

Read more articles like this from Dr. Goldberg on her Psychology Today blog.

After the Crime wins the 2012 ACJS Outstanding Book Award

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences has chosen After the Crime: The Power of Restorative Justice Dialogues between Victims and Violent Offenders, by Susan L. Miller as the winner of their 2012 Outstanding Book Award. The award is given “in recognition of the best book published in the area of criminal justice.” (!!!) Congrats to the author, her editor, Ilene Kalish, and all the folks involved in making the book possible!

The award will be presented in March at the annual ACJS meeting in New York City.

Author Tim Kelly Spurring Mental Health Care Reforms

The news abounds with stories about flaws and idiosyncrasies of our mental health care system, mostly due to the spotlight that shrinking budgets puts on them. From mentally-ill prisoners starving to death to the touching tale of the therapist who tried to kill herself, it’s clear that budget cuts can seriously affect the mentally ill and those who care for them.

But, with new challenges come new opportunities. Healing the Broken Mind: Transforming America’s Failed Mental Health System by Timothy A. Kelly (2009) not only makes the case for use of clinical outcome measures to create more efficient care, but shows how the resultant data will improve quality of care and quality of life for those seeking help. Kelly argues that the time has come for a sweeping transformation of mental health care so that recovery becomes the norm. The book provides a realistic road map for getting there – addressing both policy and clinical concerns in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner.

Kelly himself thinks that making some hard choices about mental health care may be a good thing. “As the nation struggles to overcome deficits and pull out of a stagnant economy, expensive medical services are potentially on the chopping block – including mental health care,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Third party payers – federal, state and private insurers – are asking which services are most effective and which, if any, are not. The only way to answer such questions is to track the actual outcomes of clinical care. This means the time has come for mental health service providers to begin collecting outcome data so as to support the value of their particular treatment approach. Those who can demonstrate effectiveness will have a much easier time of maintaining funding than those who cannot.”

His advice is already leading to action. A mental health care group in Montana is using Kelly’s model to make better decision about treating its patients:

After receiving a grant from the Mountain Plains Equity Group, NAMI Montana has spent the last year trying to bring a comprehensive, real-time outcomes measurement program to analyze Montana’s state-funded mental illness treatment system. The program was inspired by system transformation guidelines set out in Healing the Broken Mind: Transforming America’s Failed Mental Health System by Dr. Timothy Kelly. We are happy to announce that mental health centers around the state are slowly beginning to buy into the program.

“Perhaps the current fiscal crisis can spur sweeping reforms that are long overdue in mental health services,” says Kelly. “If so, then the agony of budget cuts may at least lead to something positive in the long run – better care.”