Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Paradox of Plenty

Every semester in my Introduction to Comparative Politics class, students read a selection from the work of a Stanford University political scientist, Terry Karl, and her book about oil producing states called The Paradox of Plenty.

So my thoughts turned to Karl's title when I checked Knightvision and found out how many students signed up for my spring course, the Politics of Food. I knew something was cooking, because I received emails from a number of students, and others stopped by my office to tell me that they were looking forward to the class. But I last taught a similar course two years ago, before St. Mike's launched the Environmental Studies program. At that time, students signed up largely because they were familiar with my teaching or they were looking for something a little off the beaten path. And a vocal minority joined us because they had already started to examine the ethical and political nature of their food choices. By the end of the semester, all the students were looking at their food choices in new ways. The first paradox? This year, with more seats available, even more students we're eager to fill those seats.

I teach a course on the Politics of Food in part because food, in a significant way, drives my own moral compass. The choices we make about what we eat, both individually and collectively, and the patterns of food production that sustain these choices, create another paradox of plenty - the abundance of the supermarket that results from the hard work and poverty of rural life in most of the world. Our food choices say a lot about those who produce and those who eat, who we are and what we value. These are the questions I ask in the research I do on food and agriculture related activism in France and the US, and in an article I wrote with Prof. Jeff Ayres that will soon appear in the journal Globalizations. But I don't just look at food choices; I am a "silent partner" in a community supported restaurant in rural Vermont that has received national media attention (even Emeril came to visit) because we explore the relationship between the consumption and production of food, embedded in an emerging local food system. You can read more about our community through the Center for an Agricultural Economy.

Each time I teach The Politics of Food, the farmers and producers I know open their fields, barns, cheese caves, and processing facilities to my students, who come over to rural Vermont to learn about the way farmers live, how they care for the land and animals that feed us, and how they maintain every day of their lives a commitment to social and environmental sustainability.

The photo above was taken at Pete's Greens in Craftsbury, and these two photos are from Bonneview Farm, where sheep are raised for milk and cheese.

To the left is Katie Downes-Angus ('09) and below is Julia Blakeney-Hayward ('09).

The photo below is of Derek Souza ('09) with a calf at Snugg Valley Farm in Hardwick.

It is indeed inspiring when I can share something important to me with so many students who have similar concerns about the choices they make in the world. Add to that being able to contribute in such a significant way to our new Environmental Studies Program and my home department in Political Science, and I know this class will be a very engaged group of students, with a variety of perspectives on food and probably some passionate debates. Some will be more interested in the global trade in farm products or in agro-industrial producers, others in alternative forms of organizing and farming among peasants and farmers. Several students have expressed interest in the restaurant business, so they will learn about the politics of the kitchen in general as well as the dynamics of race, gender, and nation in how we relate to cooking and cuisine. And of course there are sections on food labor, those who work to bring the food to our tables. But I know from the previous course that they will all learn about things they did not expect, and they will look at their food in new ways.

One way political science-types spend their summers: research on water scarcity in Jordan

One of the best changes at Saint Michael's College in the last two years has been a huge surge in the support for undergraduate research.  During summer 2010 one of our majors, Connor Stewart ('11) and I were able to use a Provost Research Grant that Connor competed for in to support a trip to Jordan to study water scarcity and its impact on refugee populations there  We were lucky that Siham Elhamoumi ('06), who is fluent in Arabic, agreed to go with us, and we more than two wonderful weeks in Jordan learning about Jordan in general, and water and refugee issues in particular.

When we returned home, Connor began work on a paper, but we quickly decided that we'd like to collaborate on one together.  So, that's what we did.  The result, with a suitably political science-ish title, "The Politics of Water Scarcity among Refugee Communities in Jordan" was accepted to be presented at the Northeastern Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Boston.  Last weekend we drove down to Boston and delivered the paper as part of a panel on global environmental politics  The trip also gave us a chance to see Amanda Brule, a graduate of our program who is now in her third year of a PhD program at U Mass Amherst.  And of course, we had to meet up with Siham, who lives in Boston and works with a global health organization, Management Sciences for Health, there.

It was a great start to a longer project, a book on the Millennium Development Goals, on which Connor and I are both participating. I've included a few photos, one from the conference and three from our trip to Jordan.  Two of the Jordan ones are from our trip to the refugee camp, and the third is an example of the legendary hospitality of the country of Jordan -- here we are having dinner out with our friend Khaled. We're grateful to the College, and especially the Vice President for Academic Affair's Office for the support that made our work and trip possible.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guest Blogger Kendra Corr, '10

Prospective students (and their parents) frequently ask “what can you do with a major in political science?” The quick and dirty answer, of course, is whatever you can do with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Understandably, quick and dirty answers don’t satisfy very much, so now and then we will feature a guest posting from one of our former political science majors—sort of a “where are they now” series to provide anecdotal answers that are more specific. Today, we introduce Kendra Corr, who graduated last May. Kendra has elected a most interesting career path, as she describes here:

I graduated from St. Michael's College in May 2010. After transferring there from Boston University, I elected to become a Political Science major with a minor in Spanish. I was fortunate enough to experience the knowledge, perspective, and support from the SMC Political Science Dept. for the entire 3 years I was there. The education I received from my Political Science professors inspired me to study abroad, involve my self in my community, and actively pursue change. So, upon leaving St. Mike's I knew that I wanted to do something I really believed in and could actually DO to enact change and I stumbled upon Teach for America.

While, clearly, I was not an education major and never intended to teach, Teach for America seemed like the perfect opportunity to become involved in a nationwide movement to provide quality education to every child. Teach for America is an organization which places corps members in high need schools (mostly urban) for a 2 year commitment. Corps members come from all over the country, from all different disciplines and from all different schools.

I was placed in Phoenix, AZ where I was asked to teach Pre-K for a federal program called Head Start. To qualify for Head Start, a child must be income eligible and/or have an Individualized Educational Program. My students also accumulate "points" for incarcerated parents, parents with drug addictions, and various other traumas that may affect a child's learning and development. The more points a child or family has the better chance they have of getting into the program, which also provides extensive family related services (health check ups, counseling, nutrition, job training etc.).

I teach a total of 34 students between the ages of 3 and 5. While my first year of teaching has been extremely difficult, my students and I are learning so much! This year we focus mainly on literacy and social emotional skills that, hopefully, will set them up for more successful life paths. My degree in Political Science and Spanish has helped me immensely in my daily problem solving, public speaking, understanding of the different situations my students and families are coming from, and with Prop 1070 striking fear into so many of the families in my classroom. It has been an extremely challenging and rewarding experience so far and I am excited to see my students grow more and more each day.

Kendra will soon be pursuing a Masters degree in education at the University of Arizona.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Change is Coming


And welcome to Political Science at St. Mike’s, the new blog for the Political Science Department. Here you should find occasional postings of news concerning the Department, its faculty and its students. Our format will be informal, flexible, and if we succeed, informative. Feel free to visit often and forward any questions to members of the Department.

I thought as an opening posting I would address some of the changes in our curriculum that will go into effect next fall, and will govern the next incoming class of political science majors. The College as a whole is adopting a more streamlined Liberal Studies Curriculum (LSC) for courses required of all St. Michael’s students consisting of 10.5 top 12.5 courses. The difference will depend on the proficiency level for a foreign language an incoming student demonstrates. Counting credits as a measure of student progress will go the way of the vacuum tube and 8 track tapes. All full semester courses will be the same, roughly the equivalent of our current 4 credit courses, although with slightly less time spent in class. Students will typically carry four courses per semester, for a total of 32 courses by the end of four years.

The new LSC will look like this:

First Year Seminar (one course)

Foundations in Faith, Values, and Thought:
Fundamental Philosophical Questions (one course)
Study of Christian Traditions and Thought (two courses)
Ethical Decision-Making*

Pathways to Understanding the World (one course in each of the following categories unless otherwise noted):

Global Issues that Impact the Common Good
Historical Studies
Literary Studies
Processes of Scientific Reasoning
Quantitative Reasoning
Second Language (zero to two courses)
Social and Institutional Dimensions of Human Behavior

• Participatory Learning and Competencies:
Artistic Experience (one half-course or full course)
Experiential Learning *
Oral Communication*
Written Communication*

*Fulfilled in the major or within a student’s other curricular or co-curricular activities—not in a separate course.

So then, what will the new political science major look like? We have proposed minimum changes. Of necessity, we will be dropping one course from the total required. Substantively Po 101 Introduction to Politics will no longer be required for majors. The course will still be offered and it will continue to satisfy the Social and Institutional Dimensions of Human Behavior requirement for the LSC. It will also count toward both the political science major and minor but as an elective.

The new Political Science Major will look like this:

PO 120 Introduction to American National Politics
PO 200 Research Methods
PO 245 Introduction to International Relations
PO 261 European Political Thought (formerly Western Political Thought)
PO 285 Introduction to Comparative Politics
PO 410 Senior Seminar

Plus, any four (4) PO electives

Additionally, two (2) courses from among the sibling disciplines of Geography,
History, Psychology, Sociology/Anthropology or Economics.

We are also cutting back by one course for political science minors. The Political Science Minor will look like this:

PO 120 Introduction to American National Politics
PO 261 European Political Thought
Either: PO 245, Introduction to International Relations, or
PO 285, Introduction to Comparative Politics.

Plus any two (2) PO electives

In sum, change is coming, change we can believe in, but not drastic change. One more thing: students who are already enrolled at St. Michael’s College will complete their studies under the old set of requirements, unless they choose to switch to the new curriculum. Some adjustments will be made on a case by case basis to ensure that all students will graduate in timely fashion as we make the transition to the new curriculum. In short, no one will be put on the five year plan because of the change. (You can, of course, still join the five year plan the old fashioned way.)