Monday, October 21, 2013

First World, Third World

Reading a post by my blogging friend Jayne today (go here to read it for yourself...and make sure you watch the video at the end of her post), I found these words: "First world problem."  Her post was making a completely different point, but it sent my mind back several years to my teaching at the nearby community college. 

I taught several course--the ubiquitous English 101--Introduction to Composition.  Since the community college curriculum requires that ALL students take English Composition, there were many sections of this course and many teachers.  English 101 was followed by English 102--Introduction to Argument and Logic.  I taught these two courses, but I much preferred teaching English 102.  (One other course I got to teach several times was Introduction to Literature--my favorite course!)

So, why did Jayne's words--first world problem--set my mind back to teaching?  Because as a final project, I required students to work in teams to explore a third world problem and whether or not the first world had any obligation to address that problem.

Before I describe more about this problem, I acknowledge that current terminology no longer favors the use of the terms "first world" or "third world".  These terms are relics of the balance of power following World War II--the former Allies, primarily the United States and Britain, were the first world; the Communist block was the second world; and the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America constituted the third world.  Eventually, the terms "first world" and "third world" came to indicated "developed" and "undeveloped/ developing" countries.  Of course, today, the Cold War has ended; and developing countries are rising--think India or Brazil.  So, the old terms don't work any more.

Here's what the project entailed.  I instructed each group to pick a "third world" country, and then identify a major problem in that country.  Then, decide what obligation, if any, the "first world" has to help ameliorate that problem.  The project involved an oral team report, as well as individual research papers.

The range of problems selected and countries researched was fascinating.  Oh, there were some amusing (and appalling) problems.  I had one young African-American woman tell me she wanted to study Africa.  I said--fine, which country?  She gave me a genuinely blank look which told me she had no idea Africa was a continent, not a country.  Once more informed, she and her team decided to study AIDS in Zambia--a worthy project.      

For several semesters running, I had projects on Haiti--you name it, Haiti has it as a problem.  I had human trafficking in general, and more specifically focused on prostitution.  I had water, or really lack thereof.  And I had many diseases--AIDS, malaria.  I had genocide (in Rwanda, of course).

Mostly, the students would argue that the "first world" should do something about these various problems.  No magical solutions ever emerged.  One group, that had tackled Somalia and its piracy, acknowledged that a lack of strong government was a major problem.  One student in that group turned in his research paper wherein he had argued, quite sincerely, that the country's problems would all be solved if they simply became Christian.  I pressed him hard on his paper--and in the end pointed out that he had not demonstrated a complete comprehension of what the country was like (for example, he didn't even enumerate how many people followed what faith traditions) and I pointed out that he had not convincingly argued for his solution.  Poor kid--he really thought that waiving Christianity as a solution was convincing--no need for proof.     

All in all, the end of semester projects were always a highlight for me.  My strong sense was that most of the students actually grappled, even for a short while, with large, perhaps unsolvable, problems.  And they had to learn something outside their own small worlds.  Plus they had to think about what it means to live in the "first world" when so many other people live in the "third world." 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Revising History

We recently visited Hilton Head Island (see previous post) and, while we enjoyed the beauty of the place, the sights we saw and the delightful weather we had, I was struck by how the telling of history can change.

One day, we went on a trip to the Sea Pines Preserve area, and took a boat ride to see alligators and various birds.  It was a dreary day with overcast skies--not conducive to bringing out lots of animals, but great for tolerability.  Our tour guide and boat captain--a transplanted Brit--kept up a running patter, pointing out flora and fauna.  At one point, we asked--was the lake on which we were sailing "natural or man-made."  Well, he said, it was where dirt was scooped up to create some of the golf courses on the island.  (There are more than a dozen.) The lakes are what was left behind.  So, they turned it into a wildlife sanctuary.

He went on to describe how in the 1970s, the island was a sorry place to be.  There was land here, but of no value.  Only a few people were living here, eking out a miserable existence.  (These aren't his precise words, but very nearly.) So, someone got the bright idea--build golf courses and give people a reason to come here.

I must say--that explanation struck me.  We had briefly visited Hilton Head in the mid-1980s.  At that time, I came away with the primary impression of lots of gated communities.  But, I had also read about the people who lived here, and how with real estate prices rising, and along with that property taxes, the original residents were being priced out of their native area.  And who were these people?

Two primary groups of people inhabited it--of course, originally native Americans did for centuries before European settlers arrived.  During the Civil War, Union troops occupied it and used it as part of their blockade of Southern ports.  As a consequence of the Union presence, ex-slaves moved to Hilton Head--hence the Gullah traditions in Hilton Head.  No doubt, some of the descendants of those ex-slaves were the ones "eking out a miserable existence" when Charles Fraser, and eventually others, began developing Hilton Head Island.

The full-time population of the island grew from 300 in 1950, to 2,500 in 1969, to 6,500 in 1975, to 12,500 in 1982, to the current population of 28,000.  Add to that the tourist population of over one and a half million each year.  

And the more recent "original" residents, the Gullah?  Well, their numbers are not precisely known, but their way of life continues to be threatened.  

Yes, we very much enjoyed our stay and my overall impression is most positive--a beautiful place, well designed, well maintained.  But, I always keep in mind the people who are dispossessed as others move in.  Perhaps, thus it ever was--it is just hard for me to reckon with.

OK--herewith a few photos of nature.

Fallen tree and birds

Hilton Head sunset

Sea Pines Preserve with alligator

Sea Pines Preserve--Heron in flight

Sea Pines Preserve with Great Heron

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Road Trip

For more than a decade, my husband and I have done almost all of our travels by flying. We fly to London and to San Diego to visit our children.  We fly to Europe for a vacation, usually once a year.  But we do few if any road trips.

When our children were younger, we did road trips for family vacations.  We drove north several times, doing a loop that included New England one time, up into Canada--Ontario and Quebec--another, south another trip to Disney World, stopping at some of the east coast islands along the way.  But it has been quite a while since we have done a road trip.

Recently our daughter asked if we wanted to join her, her husband and daughter for a mini-vacation on Hilton Head.  We took about two seconds (thinking about having that time with our granddaughter...of course, and with our daughter and son-in-law) and said SURE.

So, we are off on a road trip.

Driving south...

Long stretches of highway.  Lots of time for conversation, or listening to music, or looking around.  Big sky up ahead.

And then we arrive at our destination.

The piece de resistance!

Road trip?  Totally worth it.