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.

Gazing Into the Crystal Ball of Asian-Jewish Relationships

—Helen K. Kim and Noah S. Leavitt

A quick search through the internet uncovers many comments about romantic attachments between Asian-Americans and Jews, ranging from the serious to the silly. One of the most famous examples of this is a series of discussions on Jewlicious, a site for all things Jewish, about whether Asian-American women are among the most frequent visitors to Jewish dating websites like JDate.com. No matter what their tone or perspective, though, these stories demonstrate the strong emotional reactions that such couples evoke.

No recent Asian-Jewish couple besides, perhaps, Soon-Yi Previn and Woody Allen has gotten as much media scrutiny than Dr. Priscilla Chan and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Gazing into the crystal ball of the Chan-Zuckerberg marriage, one might wonder how these two—and other Asian-Jewish couples—incorporate their backgrounds into their shared daily domestic life. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to ignore the question, “What is going to happen with their kids?”

Intrigued by these kinds of questions, we recently spent a year and a half travelling the country to interview Asian American and Jewish American couples to understand how they describe their relationships. And, in the forthcoming Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation, we spend a chapter focusing on the worldviews and reflections of the second generation Asian-American spouses or partners in sixteen of the Asian-Jewish couples we talked to.

While all couples are unique in many ways, based on what our interviewees shared with us, we’ve made a few predictions about the Chan-Zuckerberg relationship:

  1. Dr. Chan and Mr. Zuckerberg will share a fundamental value system focused on high educational achievement, close-knit families, and hard work, which is a version of what scholar Will Herberg called, in 1955, a type of common faith that he defined as “the American way of life.”
  2. Dr. Chan will not incorporate her religion of origin into the household religious or spiritual practice to create a dual-religious, or a syncretic, practice.
  3. If there comes a time when Chan-Zuckerberg kids appear (we think this highly likely, even with Dr. Chan and Mr. Zuckerberg’s very full professional lives—a characteristic they share with many of our interviewees), they will be raised Jewish, and Dr. Chan—regardless of any religious affiliation she grew up with or claimed—will be an equal, if not the, catalyst for this being the primary identity of the kids.
  4. Their kids might have trouble seeing themselves as tracing their identity through Dr. Chan’s family.
  5. In the end, the couples’ differences will be harmonized and the family will endure.

While critics of Jewish intermarriage often fret about the loss of a Jewish identity in a mixed household, we found that Asian-Jewish households often wind up, surprisingly, becoming Jewish.

Are the Asian-American members of these households losing their religion? Maybe.  Are they trying to acquire status in a still-white dominated nation? Perhaps. Or maybe they are trading their own spiritual practices for a harmonious household. To paraphrase one of our interviewees, a Chinese-American physician on the West Coast, “There are only a few million of my wife’s people but there are a billion of mine. Is one more really needed?”

Helen K. Kim is Associate Professor of Sociology at Whitman College, and Noah S. Leavitt is Assistant Dean of Students and a Research Associate in the Department of Sociology at Whitman College. Both are contributing writers to the forthcoming edition of Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion Among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation (NYU Press, 2012).

Looking Further Behind Stonewall

—Leila J. Rupp

As celebrations for LGBTQ Pride month take off around the country and world, we often look back to Stonewall, but rarely much further. For me, the diversity of bodies, identities, desires, and performances that are represented in the most inclusive Pride celebrations recall much longer histories that we would do well to remember. In my book, Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women (2009), I begin with imagined prehistories and do what I can to put between two covers all that we know about women who loved, desired, and made love to other women throughout time and around the globe. One of my favorite online comments about the book called it “lurid and steamy,” which I consider high praise indeed.

Such a history, far from pointing to lesbians in different times and places or making us proud about how far we have come, reminds us that there is no linear trajectory from the bad old days to the present. In fact, in the contemporary world, all the ways that women in the past found to express their desire and love—from finding one another in sex-segregated spaces to falling in love with co-wives to marrying one another legally to crossing the gender line to embracing masculine-feminine pairings to falling in love with their friends—coexist with meeting in a bar or online or at a Pride march.

So as we celebrate the newer possibilities of changing sex, of rejecting binary gender, of embracing pansexual or fluid identity, let us remember that there is a long history behind all these possibilities that is far more complicated than we might think. We have a lot to be proud about this Pride season, but we also need to be humble in recognition of all the different varieties of desire and love out there. Imagine celebrating with Amazons, with Sappho, with Walladah bint Al-Mustakfi (the “Arab Sappho”), with nuns and witches, with manly women and female husbands, with roaring girls and aristocratic tribades, with sworn sisters and sweet doganas, with schoolgirls in love, with Parisian salonnières, with German girlfriends, with African mummies and babies, with Thai toms and dees, with Indonesian tombois, with Afro-Surinamese mati.  And imagine what they all would, or would not, make of each other.

Leila J. Rupp is professor of feminist studies and associate dean of the division of social sciences at the University of California. She is the author of Sapphistries: A Global History of Love between Women, a 2011 NYU Press publication.

»»»  Happy Pride from NYU Press! Save 25% on Sapphistries and other 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.

Dancing the body beautiful

Using accounts from several professional Latin dancers augmented by the author’s own experience, Julia A. Ericksen traces the ways bodily perfection has become an important part of dancers’ identities. In addition, Ericksen argues that this is a more extreme form of general cultural pressure to engage in bodywork.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Contexts. Read the full version here.]

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In the professional Latin event at a ballroom dance competition, men wear dance pants with tight shirts open to the waist, showing bulging chest muscles. Their hair, which must stay motionless and shiny for the entire event, is glued back with gel and blow-dried with hair spray. Faces are tanned, and matte makeup makes the skin appear translucent and blemishfree. Men’s high-heeled shoes are immaculate and usually black, as is the costume. Bodies are perfectly proportioned with no fat in sight.

©2007 Jonathan S. Marion.

Each handsome man frames an equally gorgeous woman, wearing a brightly colored skimpy dress that flares out with every move, embellished with hundreds of Swarovski crystals, glued by hand, as well as earrings, bracelets, and necklaces in matching stones. High-heeled, open-toed shoes are typically flesh-colored, to make legs look longer. Women’s backs are bare and tanned, and faces are elaborately made up. Hair is long, swept up or in a ponytail. Not only are the bodies taut and muscular, but the heights and looks of each member of the couple are purposely matched.

While looks have always been important on the dance floor, they have become increasingly important in recent years, especially in Latin dance. Clothing has become more revealing and unforgiving of imperfections, and dancers’ concern with appearance has intensified. Dancers’ identities have become intertwined with the bodywork they do, and the bodies they produce.

No chubbies

In the past, men were taught to make their partner the focal point of the performance, using expressions like “the man is the frame and the woman is the picture.” Today, this traditional obligation is weaker. Many men display themselves almost as much as they display their partners. For example, Pavel, a male dancer, is as involved in appearance work as his wife [Tsvetanka]. Partners, he says, “have to match well, and they have to look beautiful, and they have to match the bodies.” To accomplish this, Pavel works on every aspect of his body and its presentation. Because he does not want to be too “chubby” or too skinny, in addition to careful diet and practice and the many hours he spends coaching and teaching students, he takes gyrotonics classes, uses a Pilates machine at home, and has a personal trainer at the gym. He needs the personal trainer, he says, “because my legs are long compared with my torso.” In order to be, “connected with the center [of your body], you get tired.” He works on his upper body, and on general physical toning.

Pavel has a complicated routine before each competition. He eats, drinks coffee, and does pushups to engage his core, and then focuses on his appearance. He shaves and does his hair, as well as his partner’s. As Tsvetanka puts on her makeup, he offers her constant advice, “Do more of this. Don’t do that.” Sometimes they fix their costumes, or experiment with something new. Finally, two hours before the competition, when they are happy with their looks, they warm up together, and get into the competitive mood by listening to music and talking quietly.

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Ballroom dancing and the allure of intimacy

The season finale of “Dancing with the Stars” — the hit TV show that pairs professional dancers with celebrities in a dance competition — drew close to 20 million viewers, and is currently moving along in its 13th season. Suffice it to say, it’s a hit. But maybe not just because it offers an opportunity to catch glimpses of celebs-of-times-past (Mel B. from the Spice Girls, Ricki Lake, etc) butchering the samba or stumbling shamefully through the foxtrot.

According to Temple University sociologist Julia Ericksen, audiences are drawn to the romantic connection on display between partners – and the appeal of ballroom dancing as a whole lies in its offer of “instant intimacy.”

“In the modern world, many people don’t always have time to develop relationships and make long-term commitments, and the thing about dancing is you get all the warmth and intimacy and connection without having to make the commitment,” Ericksen said.

For her new book, Dance with Me: Ballroom Dancing and the Appeal of Instant IntimacyJulia Ericksen interviewed 60 dancers from all levels and backgrounds to explore new depths within the world of competitive ballroom dance. Check out the video below, as the author takes a dance lesson and talks about her work, including some surprising findings.


YouTube Direkt

Read the full article by Kim Fischer here.

“Monoga­my is not natural, nonmonogamy is not natural. Variation is what’s natural.”

Judith StaceyMark Oppenheimer’s epic and exciting piece on Dan Savage’s new framework for marriage included an extensive interview with Judith Stacey, author of Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China. I thought Prof. Stacey gave the best quote of the article (printed above), and gave Savage’s argument the academic perspective it lacked.

Judith Stacey, a New York University sociologist who researched gay men’s romantic arrangements for her book “Unhitched,” argues that gay men, in general, will continue to require less monogamy. “They are men,” she said, and she believes it is easier for them — right down to the physiology of orgasm — to separate physical and emotional intimacy. Lesbians and straight women tend to be far less comfortable with nonmonogamy than gay men. But what matters is that neither monogamy nor polygamy is humankind’s sole natural state. “One size never fits all, and it isn’t just dividing between men and women and gay and straight,” she said. “Monoga­my is not natural, nonmonogamy is not natural. Variation is what’s natural.”

I asked Stacey if, given the differences between men and women, she thought Savage’s vision was unrealistic for straight couples. Yes and no, she said: “I believe monogamy is actually crucial for some couples and totally irrelevant for others.” That does not mean that nonmonogamous couples are free to do as they please. Creating nonmonogamy that strengthens rather than corrodes a marriage is surely as much work as monogamy. Couples should make vows and honor them. Not all good relationships require monogamy, but they all require what she calls integrity.

“What integrity means for me is we shouldn’t impose a single vow of monogamy as a superior standard for all relationships,” Stacey said. “Intimate partners should decide the vows you want to make. Work out terms of what your commitments are, and be on same page. There are women perfectly happy to have agreements in which when you are out of town you can have a little fling on the side. And rules range from ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to ‘I want to know’ to ‘bring it home and talk about it and excite our relationship.’ ”

Stacey and Savage each say that monogamy is the right choice for many couples; they are exalting options, not any particular option. As a straight, monogamous, married male, I happen to think this is a good thing: if there are people whose marriages work best with more flexibility, they should find the courage to choose an arrangement that works for them, society be damned. I also recognize, however, that we may choose marriage in part to escape the terror of choice. There are so many reasons to marry; we could call them all “love,” but let’s be more specific: admiring how she looks in a sundress, trusting her to improve your first drafts, knowing that when the time comes she will make the best mother ever. But another reason might be that life before her was so confusing. In all those other relationships, it was never clear when there was an exclusive commitment or who would use the L-word first or when a Saturday-night date could be assumed.

Judith Stacey had another piece in the Times, on the Room for Debate blog, about marriage, and you can read an excerpt from her book on From the Square.

Two NYU Press Authors Discuss the Black Church & Homosexuality

Two NYU Press authors weighed in at CNN.com about accusations that Bishop Eddie Long sexually abused teenagers in his ministry.

First, Jonathan Walton, author of Watch This! The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism:

Jonathan Walton was walking through Bishop Eddie Long’s church one day when he saw something that disturbed him.

He stared at a 30-foot banner draped behind the pulpit of New Birth Missionary Baptist. Church. It displayed a profile of a grinning Long with the caption: “What is God up to?”

“Everywhere you went in that church, his name and face was there,” says Walton, an assistant professor of religion at Harvard Divinity School in Massachusetts. “His image has replaced the cross.”

Then Shayne Lee, co-author of Holy Mavericks:

Shayne Lee, a sociology professor at Tulane University in Louisiana, says Long had to unequivocally deny the allegations from the pulpit to maintain New Birth’s support.

“His ministry is over,” says Lee, author of “Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace,” which looks at the appeal of celebrity preachers. Lee has written extensively about how big business has shaped megachurch pastors.

“What I saw was more lamb than lion,” Lee says. “I didn’t see the truculent, masculine preacher. There should have been some pent up sense of outrage.”

Long’s demise will take place over time, but it is inevitable, Lee says.

Lee also wrote an op-ed on “Why black church culture rejects homosexuality“:

But scholars often overlook that many black Christians pride themselves on a plain reading of Scripture, making it virtually impossible to foster an inclusive embrace or acceptance of homosexuality. As long as African-American Christians adhere to biblical mandates as authoritative prescriptions from God, they won’t be easily dissuaded from rejecting same-sex lifestyles as viable alternatives to heterosexual norms.

What this means for Long is that the walls of his spiritual empire will ostensibly crumble if he is unable to launch an aggressive and cogent defense against these allegations. If, indeed, as F. Scott Fitzgerald maintained, there really are no second acts in American lives, then how much narrower the space for the redemptive comeback of an evangelical spiritual leader who is abruptly tainted by the unyielding taboo of homosexual conduct?

What is the Cost of Empire?

Truthdig’s review of Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle against U.S. Military Posts, edited by Catherine Lutz.

In her foreword to “The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts,” an important collection of articles on United States militarism and imperialism, edited by Catherine Lutz, the prominent feminist writer Cynthia Enloe notes one of our most abject failures as a government and a democracy: “There is virtually no news coverage—no journalists’ or editors’ curiosity—about the pressures or lures at work when the U.S. government seeks to persuade officials of Romania, Aruba or Ecuador that providing U.S. military-basing access would be good for their countries.” The American public, if not the residents of the territories in question, is almost totally innocent of the huge costs involved, the crimes committed by our soldiers against women and children in the occupied territories, the environmental pollution, and the deep and abiding suspicions generated among people forced to live close to thousands of heavily armed, culturally myopic and dangerously indoctrinated American soldiers. This book is an antidote to such parochialism.

Catherine Lutz is an anthropologist at Brown University and the author of an ethnography of an American city that is indubitably part of the American military complex: Fayetteville, N.C., adjacent to Fort Bragg, home of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School (see “Homefront, A Military City and the American Twentieth Century,” Beacon Press, 2002). On the opening page of her introduction to the current volume, Lutz makes a real contribution to the study of the American empire of bases. She writes, “Officially, over 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees are massed in 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories”

The Anthropology of Alien Abductions

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An Australian radio podcast featuring Bridget Brown, author of They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves: The History and Politics of Alien Abduction.

Stories of alien abduction, that is, close encounters of the fourth kind, have been around since the 40s.

Bridget Brown has cast her anthropologist’s eye over these accounts and says that the sorts of stories abductees tell have intriguing parallels with political events and social changes that define the 20th century – things like the cold war, the biological revolution and ecological destruction.

They tell a story not just of individual experience but of the collective psyche and are a reflection of our fear about war and scientific progress.