Santa Barbara Blog-January 9, 2009 (Dallas Smith)

Dear Blog Readers: I am writing this in the southern coastal California city of Santa Barbara. I am here to accompany and support Susan in her ongoing doctoral studies. It is her third annual trip to Santa Barbara for the Fielding Graduate University’s annual gathering. (It is my second time here.) Being away from home in a new environment gives rise to new observations along with the opportunity to interact with many brilliant attendees to the Fielding gathering.

Santa Barbara

This is a very rich community. From our hotel, located on the beach, one can see several oil platforms located off the coast here. Looking away from the coast toward the mountains, one sees a large blackened area, where a recent devastating forest fire destroyed over one hundred homes, priced at an average of $4 million per home.

On our first day here, dring which Susan attended her seminars and meetings, I spent the day driving around the city and up the coast looking for locations to shoot video for the C.A.R.E. Channel. I drove as close to the coast as possible, which took me through some very rich neighborhoods, containing very rich mansions often surrounded by golf courses and horse pastures. There is no evidence of economic depression here. The beaches were filled with sunbathers and surfers. While it’s winter everywhere else, residents of Santa Barbara enjoy the excellent weather here that contributes to Santa Barbara being such an enclave for the rich and famous.

The Other Side of Santa Barbara

This is not to say that there are no poor people. Policemen on bicycles patrol the beaches to uproot the homeless wanderers who might attempt to sleep on the beach. (If I were homeless, I would certainly prefer to camp in Santa Barbara as compared with Reno and most other wintry locations.) I was driving down a back street in an industrial area behind our hotel where I encountered an interesting phenomenon: a casual labor pickup point. Around the country, Mexican (and other Latin) migrant laborers have tended to congregate in parking lots of home improvement stores and similar locations, where they can find casual (cash) work for the day or week. I don’t know the whole story for Santa Barbara. But obviously, those businesses who found their parking lots being used as locations for casual laborers forced the city to set up an alternative/official location for such workers to congregate, away from their businesses.

In a related observation, walking from our hotel room’s out-building to the main conference center, we were met by a parade of Latino housekeepers reporting to work. In fact, throughout California, one would be hard pressed to find a housekeeper, restaurant dishwasher, or lawn maintenance person who is not a Latino (mostly Mexican) immigrant. Some may even be legal residents. Certainly, many are not. Our legal system has not kept up with the reality of capitalism, that human capital, i.e. laborers, migrates across national borders to fulfill the law of supply and demand. And so NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is only free by half, because it supports free import/export of goods but not services (labor=people).

Racism in the Twenty-first Century

I am reminded, unfortunately, of growing up in the segregated South in the fifties, in which all menial service jobs were performed by blacks. We have recreated a de facto racial segregation system, with jobs apportioned by race according to whether one is an American citizen or an immigrant. It is clearly a two-tiered economic system in which California’s hospitality industry and agriculture system (i.e. farm hands, lettuce-pickers, etc.) do not offer wages and working conditions that are sufficient to attract American workers. Into this vacuum come the hard-working immigrants who are willing to suffer the indignities and burdens of hard manual labor in order to be able to send some of their hard-earned wages back to their families in their home countries, where there are sometimes no job opportunities at all.

The Fielding Experience

This is fifth Fielding gathering that I have attended. I know all of Susan’s professor-advisors, as well as many of her student colleagues. I joke to all, that I have more fun than anyone here, because I get to mix and mingle with all these brilliant people without having to write the damn scholarly papers! The fact that many of the faculty and students are brilliant is no joke. A list of books published by Fielding faculty and graduates spans many pages. Some sample titles by Fielding authors (I picked out some of the more unusual titles that appealed to me):

Change your Questions, Change your Life
Radical Acceptance: Embracing your Life with the Heart of a Buddha
Good Music is Better Than Sex
The Secrets Men Keep: Breaking the Silence Barrier
Living from the Inside Out: How to get to the heart of everything that matters
Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Abusive Relationships
Too Broken to be Fixed? A spiritual guide to inner healing
Corporate Personality Disorder: Surviving and Saving Sick Organizations

Many Fielding students are pursuing their doctorates while leading successful careers as executives, engineers, public service employees, or educators. Practically anyone one speaks to has an interesting personal background. Many are Americans who live and work in foreign countries. Conversely, many foreign accents are heard among the students. It’s the most international group that I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of (since I consider myself to be international in my education and attitudes). This is a collection of inspiring high-achievers. I will attempt to share as many as possible of the great ideas that I was exposed to during the course of this five-day event.

A Memorable Workshop

On the second day, while Susan attended a workshop related to her doctoral work, I was able to attend a memorable workshop entitled “The Only One”. The workshop was facilitated by a famous faculty member, Carl Seashore, grandson of the famous author of “The Psychology of Music”, published in 1919, which yielded the famous Seashore Music Aptitude Test.

The gist of the title refers to the fact that at different points in our lives (or perhaps even our whole lives!) we have felt like we were “the only one” in some way or another. For example, I’m an “only child”, i.e. I have no siblings. I’ve felt like “the only one” when I traveled alone in foreign countries. In the workshop, we examined various bases for this feeling: geography, country of origin, social aptitude, economic status, education, ability or lack of ability at some particular skill, etc. In the workshop, as a group we acted out different scenarios to illustrate how the experience of being “the only one” feels to the subject and to outside observers. The three hour workshop was very thought-provoking. My brief description does not do justice to the totality of the experience.

A Memorable FOR

The final step on the doctoral process is the Final Oral Review. This is an interview with the student’s faculty committee in which the student must be ready to answer questions and defend their dissertation. We had been alerted by one of Susan’s advisors of a particularly notable FOR, and that we should attend.

The graduating doctoral student is a native of Kenya, currently residing in Rome, Italy, and working for the last ten years with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). His doctoral dissertation consisted of a study of UN food deliverers in the troubled province of Dafur. There are around three million refugees in 21 different camps in Dafur who would starve without international food aid. The dissertation examined the emergency food distribution system as an example of a Complex Adaptive System (CAS). A CAS is “a group of individual agents who have the freedom to act in ways that are not predictable, and are interconnected such that one agent’s actions change the context for other agents.”

In the Dafur context, UN workers on the ground face unpredictable situations that require them to bend the rules set up by the WFP office in Rome. For example, they may be forced to pay “fees” to rebel leaders for safe passage. Whereas UN workers used to be welcomed by all parties, they are now regarded with suspicion because food aid has often been politicized to serve one side or the other of a conflict. The student interviewed workers in Dafur, with the goal of documenting the harsh realities faced as they try to fulfill their mission, in order to formulate more realistic and effective guidelines for future emergency food deliveries.

Educational Cultural Anthropology

Another interesting workshop that I attended was presented by an American who has been living and teaching in Japan for the past thirty years. He gave an interesting explanation of how cultural values are contained in the Japanese words used to name their schools and types of education. For example, the Japanese emphasizes cooperation, service, and striving. The most important grade on the students’ report card is a measure of the effort exhibited by the student, rather than the grade on any particular subject.

Without simply repeating clichés, the Japanese system is very effective in teaching the middle ground students. However, little accommodation is made for exceptionally gifted students or for handicapped, below average students. Japanese students score consistently higher on math and science tests than American students. As a result of this disparity, there are efforts being made to emulate some of Japan’s educational practices in American schools. Meanwhile, Japan would like to incorporate elements from the American educational system that encourage and reward individuality and creativity. The grass is always greener…

Etienne Wanger

The big guest lecturer of this Fielding session was Swiss learning specialist Etienne Wanger, originator of the term “communities of practice.” [www.ewenger.com/theory/] His evening lecture was quite brilliant. It’s difficult to know where or how to start to relate the content of his talk. His basic premise is that in our 21st century “information age”, people all over the world are able to seek out, find, and share (electronically) knowledge, opinions, and expertise on practically any subject. The resulting virtual communities define new identities for interested members, whose boundaries often overlap. Mobilization of those with related interests to work together toward common goals, these communities of practice, can be a force for positive social change on an international level.

During the questions following his talk, someone asked his opinion about the current trend to abolish school arts programs and other creative subjects in favor of emphasizing “objective” measures to be verified in testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Wanger answered that this “bureaucratic, industrial” approach to education is out of touch with how students actually learn, which is to follow their passions. He stated that NCLB is an administrative decision made from on high in the absence of cultural consensus as to how best to educate our children. It’s much easier to simply give every student a standardized test rather than to come to grips with conflicting values within society, such as evolution versus creationism, whether to provide information about sexuality/homosexuality, and conflicting religious tenets. Teachers are not compensated or valued in America nearly as much as in Japan and some other countries. The all too predictable result is that teachers “teach to the test” in order to appear effective as measured in the NCLB testing. Meanwhile, students are not encouraged to develop their innate creativity by following their passions. School isn’t as much fun as it used to be, if it ever was fun. The most fun part of school for me was playing in the band. I feel sorry for today’s students who will never have the opportunities I had at their age.

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2 Responses to Santa Barbara Blog-January 9, 2009 (Dallas Smith)

  1. dog says:

    Good article! We will be linking to this particularly great post on our website.

    Keep up the good writing.

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