A panel of academics discuss education
BROADCAST: Jun. 18, 1982 | DURATION: 00:57:06
Studs Terkel leads a panel discussion on global education and the issues immigrants face in the American educational system. Panel members include Marilyn Turkovich, Dennis Brutus, Joe Elder, Daphne Maijorca, and Liu Zongren.
Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.
Studs Terkel You know, our large studio is here, has never had so many people. There must be 75 of us. Standing room only. That's the dream of a theater producer, and we've got it. And the reason for this, or perhaps the people who are here are school teachers and students from different parts of the country--elementary school teachers, high school teachers and students, and college teachers. And the panel consists of distinguished visitors from different parts of the world, as well as Marilyn Turkovich, who was once the principal of St. Mary's School, the quite remarkable parochial school, and yet more than that, on the West side. And Marilyn is the director of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. And she's organized, she and her colleagues, this gathering, and the subject is global education, that's a general phrase. But we know that deep, deep down it means the world is pretty small now, and the world is a dangerous place and, yet, an exciting place full of possibilities. But how little we know of other people, and how little other people know of us, and thus that's what this is about, isn't it? Marilyn Turkovich and her colleagues around and about, my old friend Dennis Brutus, distinguished South African poet now teaching at Northwestern University, who also had the honor and experience of escaping political prison in South Africa, Robben Island, and Joe Elder, American Friends Service Committee. Joe teaches at University of Wisconsin, sociology, and also is a member of the Southeast Asian Committee. He visited North Vietnam during the roughest days of that war and is a co-author of a book called "A Compassionate Peace" dealing with the Middle East, and Daphne Maijorca of Panama who works double time. Schizophrenic, she says. Daphne works for the United Charities, but at night is very active in Pilsen, which is the very lively Hispanic community in Chicago. And Liu Zongren, formerly of Beijing, now visiting United States with the magazine "China Reconstructs", and Marilyn and the audience and I, and how do we begin? Why do I, when you say, Marilyn, the idea: What do you mean by global education?
Marilyn Turkovich I think the thing that we wanted to do was to bring people together to take a very serious look at the world and how the world interrelates and is interdependent, and to perhaps make all of us a little bit, a little more aware of what we could do in our classrooms to heighten the understanding that students have about the real global community, and that the time has ended for us to think just nationalistically, to just think of ourselves being the United States of America, that that's a luxury, that we can't do that any longer, that we have to think about how we impose our values on other people, how other people impose their values on us, how our own economy affects other people and vice versa. There are so many vice versas included in this whole thing, and to really single out issues that make people suffer, that can cause destruction for the world, that could cause a lot of apprehension for the world. Just the very fact that 16 million people roam the globe homeless as refugees, as immigrants, people of exile, is something that's probably never considered in a curriculum, as well as other issues about war and peace, global understanding, conflict.
Studs Terkel As Marilyn says this, Dennis, I was thinking, you know him, a friend of mine, James Cameron, a British journalist, says the word, he was a journalist, he was all over the world, he says the word that he says is most representative of our time would be "refugee."
Dennis Brutus Because the phenomenon is so common. In Asia, in Africa, and to some degree, of course, in Europe as well. I think it is the kind of chronic problem of human society in our time that we haven't brought it into focus, that people are not properly aware of it except those who are of course directly involved.
Studs Terkel I was thinking, this is just to establish identity and voice as we go along, and then it's wide open. Dennis Brutus just on that with more of himself, South Africa, Africa, us, the world. Joe Elder, I was thinking, Middle East of course is major part of the interest as well as the world itself. The very theme we're talking about, global education, refugee, words come out, a million and a half words come out, nuclear holocaust possibilities, and so we come to Marilyn's idea and your being here.
Joe Elder Well, I think in the Middle East at the particular moment, the eyes of the U.S. are perhaps focused more intently than on almost any other section of the world with Jewish Americans being particularly closely identified with Israel, perhaps that's one place where more Americans feel strongly than any other geographical location in the world. I think the kind of things that have been happening there have simply underscored the fact that we are an integral part of what happens in the Middle East not just in terms of religious loyalties and affiliations, but also in terms of the other side of it, the fact that many of the armaments which have been used in the last two weeks have been arms which we've supplied, and that a good many of the people who've been killed have been killed with our own weapons. So we are all closely involved. Our money has paid for part of the war that's just, we hope, concluding.
Daphne Maijorca Well, I was thinking that I work--now, I consider myself a refugee and although I'm told in my country that I'm on voluntary exile, because I can go back and I'll make sure that whatever I present here will not hinder my possibilities of going over there, because I'm the only member of my family on this side of the--
Daphne Maijorca Yes.
Daphne Maijorca Yes. So I want to be able to go back and forth, so I will have to limit myself. But I think speaking about the Pilsen community we could say that's an area of refugees and all of the Latin Americans who are in this country are refugees, perhaps because of the interrelatedness of this country to Latin America. We do not think of what is going on in there. We're not news, really. Only Argentina a little while ago for what's going on in Argentina was not news before until the attack of the Malvinas. But those of us who come here from Latin America don't really want to live here. We have our roots there and would like to be there, and the situation there it's so impossible that we have to leave. Perhaps the violence is not the violence of a match, but is the violence of oxidation over generations, and people have to leave.
Studs Terkel You mention Malvinas, Falkland, English Falklands, Hispanic. Carlos Fuentes was here recently, the distinguished Mexican novelist and diplomat, and he was saying there's a madness of this over the Falklands. He says it's like two bald men fighting over a comb. You know, the lunacy of the thing, you know. I'm thinking, Liu Zongren, your thoughts? You think of China, of Asia, U.S., the world.
Liu Zongren You know, ridiculous when I heard of that, you know, Falkland, the people there started real fighting over Falkland Island in there, but all that war started, I began thinking that the white people keep fighting against each other, that only because there are too many misunderstandings among different peoples. You know, I find a lot of misunderstand, I was raised, educated in New China, and what I got, the information got, I am not a complaining Chinese government, but you know when you get too much politics in your real life, then people become biased, become prejudiced against each other. [Before I came?] I also meet many Americans, and they also have a lot of misunderstandings about our country, about my country, about China. You know, I argue a lot with many journalist friends in Chicago about the issue whether China should have a social system of yours or we should go along our own way. I still believe that we have to find our own way out. We cannot follow yours. But I mean I make us think, yours are the biased, yes, maybe you may be biased for your country, but not biased for our country.
Studs Terkel You know, perhaps what you just said might be the takeoff point right here, that since we're here in the United States, the most powerful militaristically, financially of all powers of the world, that somebody said, we find these other people. I as an American will observe my fellow Americans, other people are strange or different--they are not like us. You're implying each society must find their own way, and we must understand other cultures as well as their understanding ours. This is one of the bases, I take it, Marilyn. From now on in, by the way, this is open, so don't wait. Dennis.
Dennis Brutus If I could pick up on a point Daphne made, which also came up in a very interesting survey which was done on American high school children asking them how they felt about refugees, people who've come from Cambodia and elsewhere to this country. And the response was, "We don't need them. Why don't they go back to where they came from?" And Daphne's point, which I want to support, is that in fact many of the people who come here do not come of their own choice. They come because of political and historical events that have created that situation. And then we get to an interesting issue, that to a large extent, the foreign policy of countries other than those countries created the situation. Whether it's in Panama, whether it's in El Salvador, whether it's in Cambodia, it is social disruption in which the people themselves had no decisive input, but conditions were created which forced them into exile, forced them to become refugees. I think that's something very important for Americans to understand, that people don't come streaming here to mess up this society necessarily because they want to, but because of conditions created in their homelands that forced them out.
Joe Elder Some of the most interesting workshops I've been involved in in the last couple of years have been with people involved with school systems, social work, police service and so on who have had to address the question of the boat people who were suddenly in our midst. We have hundreds of thousands of people who weren't raised on Big Macs, who don't know how American football is played, and yet who somehow have to be integrated in the school system, they have to learn English, they have to learn, you know, how to adapt. And to some extent, the confrontation of Southeast Asian cultures, and I put the "s" there because the Laotians and the hill people and the Vietnamese are not all the same people, has in some cases, I think, provoked a greater awareness of the need for what we're calling global education than almost anything else could. There's nothing like having 85 Southeast Asian kids show up in a public school system to make people aware of the fact that we are typically quite unaware of cultural differences and quite smug about the way in which we do things because we do it the American way.
Daphne Maijorca And whatever is happening in the world in whatever part of the world is, it didn't start there. Something had to happen before, and I will speak for the part of the world that I feel more confident about, that in my particular case I find it paradoxical that the country that says "I will take your poor, your" whatever the statue-- The
Studs Terkel You know what's ironic about the whole thing--the admixture of all these new cultures, new arrivals in our set, can enrich the American children. This is for teachers who are gathered here, of course. It is so rich, you know, the idea that it can be if this myopic view, for want of a better phrase, not a one, the bigoted view can be over--this, the horror is this--it's this attempt to almost isolate ourselves. That's one of the tragic aspects. Yet the possibilities of course are--this is what you had in mind, I suppose, Marilyn, that with the whole idea of St. Mary's, for example.
Marilyn Turkovich Yeah, I was just thinking that that we get so involved in a comfort zone. We feel comfortable with our own language, our own food, our own gestures, even the people who live down the block. And if someone else comes along, then we get real upset and we don't think beyond what can we learn from them and how can we enrich our lives. Just getting to know those people, and I think that that's certainly one of the things that we've been trying in this conference that we're sponsoring is to get people not only to bring in the so-called experts so that they can share their ideas with us about global issues, but to get people out into the neighborhoods of Chicago, and not the established neighborhoods of Chicago where everyone feels very comfortable about going, but rather to bring them into neighborhoods where people might have a little tension about making a journey into the Uptown area or going over into the Taylor Street area, and we'll be going into Pilsen next week, and to bring in people from those communities. And I think it's been evident that as we bring those people in, we have a great deal to learn from those people.
Studs Terkel You know, it occurs to me, Dennis, Joe, Daphne, Zongren, that Chicago the city can almost be a metaphor for the world. As you're talking, you were talking of communities, Pilsen, the South Side, Uptown, which of course is multicultural. And were it not for the poverty of Uptown, it would be incredible and it still is incredible, except for, of course, the overwhelming aspect of poverty. But you have the world, do you not? Perhaps it makes it even clearer. We have the world within the city, don't we? The community Pilsen. How do they feel? People live in Pilsen. Hispanic--feel about the rest of the city. I suppose--
Daphne Maijorca Afraid.
Studs Terkel Afraid.
Daphne Maijorca A lot of newcomers would not venture four blocks beyond the particular--they find a hostile world two blocks from wherever that is that they do the shopping. Take the kids to school. They don't know what to expect.
Daphne Maijorca There is a different kind of thing that happens here even to us when we come. We are segregated because of the system functions in a particular way that you are put in a cubbyhole or in a neighborhood, you're given a label before you're known as a person, and newcomers come with a much more open attitude towards other people because of the way other people are treated in their own country. At least I can speak for Panama, which is, when I'm asked what racial background I am, I say 57 varieties, because I am 57 varieties and I feel very comfortable being 57 varieties. But here people want to put me in a box. I've got to be one of the things in here, have to fit one of the boxes that U.S. has for human beings, and I refuse to fit any of the boxes. I am me. But people come and they are pressured into being that one thing that society here, the system has decided they have to be, and there is a transformation, and there is a process that takes place where people are not here nor there. And it happens with second generations, and then you find that people are fighting each other because nobody trusts anybody. And I think the system creates something that is, it's not that metaphor of the world, it creates something very unique to this country. And I say that coming from a country that has really assimilated racist.
Liu Zongren May, Chicago is a very interesting place, that's why I choose this place to stay, because I can learn a lot more from Chicago than from any other city in the United States. You have, in Chicago you have, you know, the people coming from all the world. So all stay there and you have great variety of different social status. You know, first I came to live in Evanston. I didn't like that place. Yeah. You know, I shouldn't say I didn't like that, that place is more beauty place, but it too quiet, too sameness, you know.
Dennis Brutus Homogeneous.
Dennis Brutus Yes, indeed. And I think he's quite right, that it is such a homogeneous community and there is a certain sameness about it. It's compensated in two ways: within the university community itself, of course, you have a variety of interests, people come from different places, different countries, and there is also a Black community. But quite frankly it is a society very consciously segregated even now. The degree of intercourse of exchange between Black and white is minimal. And I suspect that most Evanstonians like it that way and intend to keep it that way.
Studs Terkel Joe?
Joe Elder Yeah. I think in a sense Evanston is kind of a metaphor for what so much of our school materials suggest is the United States. I think both, by stating it and by not stating the opposite, the vision is given that the typical American is white, lives in a quiet suburb with trees on the streets, the kids can play on the sidewalks, and then there are these other Americans who have sort of other racial backgrounds and so on and they're American, too, but they're not really, you know, kind of mainline Americans. When you look at statistics on the enormous variety of racial differences and linguistic differences and even on the range of family living, you know, how many homes only have one parent. How many homes have a grandparent. How many homes, you know, in a sense are split, where the kids spend part of the time with the father, one place the mother, one realizes that it's only a very tiny segment of America that is American in terms of the way in which the media present it. And there are so many ways in which teachers, I think, particularly and the producers of media materials and producers of textbook materials can try to break out of the stereotype that there is the American way and then there are these other sort of minority types who are coming along, they're getting more and more like the American way. And perhaps this is one of the things that the people concerned with global education are trying to concentrate on, that there isn't, that the white middle-class suburban mode and then everything else is deviant. But we are really a very eclectic, very diverse
Studs Terkel Case in point: when you say Los Angeles to people, they think of movies, Hollywood, cars, Los Angeles is primarily an Asiatic and Hispanic city, tremendous Hispanic Asiatic co--but in our own minds it is Hollywood, see. Again, the narrow aspect--something Daphne said, this may be a key to one of these [arguments?] is when the immigrant, the newcomer arrives, he's full of all kinds of visions and possibilities, and then bit by bit he is more and more constrict. So we're talking about--for teachers, certainly, the possibilities of new cultures coming in and enriching this one. But instead in many cases there is the ghettoization.
Marilyn Turkovich I think that culture is certainly one thing. The other thing that we need to pay real special attention to is, perhaps we can say that the neighborhood situation or the regional situation when we talk globally, that when we were in Pilsen the other night, the name Florence Scala came up and how Florence waged this tremendous campaign to try and save her neighborhood, and that during that whole campaign they did it very much unto their own. People outside of that neighborhood did not come in droves to help the people of the Taylor Street area to save the neighborhood. And I think that the same thing could happen in Uptown. And since we live within the confines of Uptown, many of us, we know that real estate is pushing its way in. Condominiums are taking over the homes of people, and that people across lines, across the city, have to get involved to help preserve the homes of other people. And in Pilsen as in other communities in the city, people are afraid to venture out of the neighborhoods. And that's not only true, I don't think, of just Chicago, but that kind of thing happens the world over, that again, you know, we're back into our comfort zone. But that it seems as if that comfort zone is a luxury right now, because there are links between people, links that have to be made because we have to bring about change in so many different directions, and we can't do that if we stay in our little isolated pockets, and there's something that keeps us in those isolated
Daphne Maijorca The whole system keeps you there. Compels you to only look at what you have in front of you. Look at any institution, you ask this person, he says, "That's not my department. You've got to call somebody else."
Daphne Maijorca "That's not my department." You go someplace--I don't know. And specialization. You are excellent on how, ants do this or do that. And that's all you know, and you work a lifetime to figure out the life of ants, and you are an expert in ants and that's it. And you look at any particular type of job.
Studs Terkel A very quick story. This is a digression, but it's not my department. I refer to James Cameron, a British journalist, one of the first Western journalists to visit Hanoi during the critical days. He and Jean Lacouture of "Le Monde" were the two West--and he came back to America saying, "These are just ordinary flesh-and-blood people. They don't wear horns." The North Vietnamese. He was crucified by the American press and TV, particularly Henry Luce's "Time" magazine, called him everything. The next day he gets a call from something called Book Syndicate and the man says, "Mr. Cameron, I'm a great admirer of yours. Could you do a book for us on your adventures in North Vietnam?" He's, "Well, sure." He's, "Wait a minute. Aren't you a subsidiary of 'Time' magazine?" He says, "Yes, we are." He says, "Wait a minute. I was just attacked by "Time" magazine yesterday." He says, "Oh, we're another department." Isn't this one of the horrors, I know it's a funny story, but yet as Daphne raised it, the separation of the experts who are specialists. We know there are scientific specialists who say two and two is four, or they know Einstein's theory that leads--now the end result of what they're doing may lead to the destruction of the human race. But at that moment what they are doing is terribly important to them. Even Oppenheimer himself had that problem. So isn't this what we're faced with, too? Dennis?
Dennis Brutus Yes, I think there's a tendency in science, in society, to further compartmentalize so we have to make a conscious effort to resist it. The world has become more complex and it's simply true that no one can possibly contain in his head all the knowledge to enable him or her to deal with every day-to-day problems. So we accept the fact that technology and knowledge in what's called the knowledge industry has overtaken us. But at the center of it all I think is a necessity to preserve one's humanity. Otherwise, the machines are going to take over, they'll do their thinking for us, and we already know that there's a real danger that when a nuclear war comes, it will be 'cause some computer signal, "Hey, you know, there's missiles coming and you've got to start firing your missiles." And it could be a computer malfunction, as it has been in the past. If we allow the machines to take over, it is quite certain they will destroy us. Therefore the more reason to keep asserting our humanity defiantly and stubbornly and constantly, and the best way to assert our humanity is in relation to other human beings. It's in the interaction with other human beings that we rediscover and reassert our humanity. And I think there's a race on, we've got to really work hard at it. It's no longer a matter of chance or hoping it will work out.
Studs Terkel We're talking. This is a round table. It's--how can I describe it? It deals with our understanding and, indeed, survival as human beings, and it's the Associated Colleges of the Midwest that is responsible, the gathering of teachers in different parts of the country, indeed, different parts of the world, and about 50 or so are gathered here right now , a very appreciative audience, indeed, they laugh at the jokes, too, which I like. And the participants are Marilyn Turkovich, who is the director of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, who has always been interested in what I call the basic interests of people. And Dennis Brutus, teaching at Northwestern University, poet, African literature and life, and Liu Zongren, of Peking, now visiting Chicago, "China Reconstructs", Joe Elder, of the University of Wisconsin, American Friends Service Committee, particularly interested at the moment Middle East, and Daphne [Zaiorga?] of Panama who doubles in brass working for United Charities as well as in the Pilsen community, and Marilyn, and after this message we resume. And we do resume. Now, where are--what shall--we picked up where Dennis was talking about, the world information cascading upon us. So much to know, it seems, so many facts. We get a lot of facts. The big question is, how much truth do we get? Remember someone said the difference between fact and truth, there can be a gathering of facts. But we're looking for is, the truth is, how we're going to survive and live together and grow as humans. Marilyn, what's on your mind at this moment?
Marilyn Turkovich I was just thinking one of the things that probably brought us the most criticism at St. Mary's is that we tried very hard to teach analytical skills and critical thinking skills. And oftentimes that meant, perhaps putting aside some more of the traditional curriculum. And I'm convinced, still, that that needs to be done, and that if it happens in high school, wonderful, it's much better if it happens in elementary school, but certainly it should be happening at the university and college level. And our program, which is the urban education program, you keep saying I'm the director of the Associated Colleges, I'm sure my bosses would love to hear that, my new appointment, and I appreciate the immediacy of
Marilyn Turkovich Right.
Marilyn Turkovich But working with college students, I think, one of the hardest things, and we have quite a few of them here, people who have been in our program and people who are on our program now is for them to challenge. To challenge the information that they're given and to think and to think creatively and to think logically sometimes. I think logic is run by St. Thomas Aquinas probably is long dead and of his, his postulant of logic, not that he's the best teacher of it all, but I think that there are lots of things that are missing from the curriculum. Cultural education certainly, but also those skills of teaching people how to listen, to analyze, to draw parallel connections. Oftentimes it doesn't happen until your schooling is over and all of a sudden something dawns on you one day that there's a connection here between the historical event and the art movement and the musical movement and what's gone on and what's perhaps coming, and I think that those are important things as well that need to make their way in.
Studs Terkel Daphne.
Daphne Maijorca We are going against the current. An educational system that is training you to adapt doesn't look good with good eyes somebody who is thinking, and thinkers who think critically find themselves being very unpopular and set aside. They don't make money. They don't progress, they don't get to positions of authority that carry with it the numbers, the dollar numbers that are going to make them be somebody. So you're going against the current when you're trying to teach people to be critical about what they're doing or what they're being told because that goes against the educational system.
Joe Elder One of the programs I've been involved with for about 20 years now has been a program that sends undergraduates to India and recently now Nepal for an academic year. Prior to going they spend an intensive 10-week summer session learning Nepali or Telugu or Tamil or Urdu or Hindi or Tibetan, whatever language is used. The intriguing thing to me is to hear other academics ask these students, "Why India?" You know, "Why Nepal?" "Why waste time learning Telegu? Why waste time learning Hindi?" You know. "Why don't you study French or German or Spanish or some sort of reasonable language?" And the stereotypes that come out about India somehow is an exotic land, or you have some kind of Mother Teresa compulsion to get out there, the notion that there is a fascinating, you know, 4000, 5000-year-old civilization there, that Hindi is spoken, give or take, by 300 million people. That a language like Tamil, which most people may not know much about, 60 million people speak it, you just catch all the stereotypes about what is worth spending time on and what is kind of funny stuff that a few strange students may want to do. One of the arguments we try to make is this is liberal education. We're not training people necessarily to be specialists, but if there is a way to open up the concept of alternative ways of looking at the world, what better way of doing it than to learn a language which will make it possible for you to function independently in a major area of the world such as India? But it does run up into stereotypes from faculty administrators, parents, the
Studs Terkel Just as you say that, I was thinking, Dennis. Many third-world cabdrivers in Chicago, you know. And so I see a name, I take a wild shot, name I say, "Oh, Nigeria!" He says, "How do you know that?" I say, "Oh, you know, Lagos or Ibadan." He says, "You are the first passenger I've ever had who said Lagos or Ibadan or Nigeria or Ghana." And--or it might be, if Indian--I should be call--Pakistan. I say, "Karachi!" You [populate?] Karachi? He says, "How do you know that?" And then you realize that to them India is all one, Africa is all one instead of a thousand different societies and cultures. So that--again, depriving ourselves of the richness.
Dennis Brutus Yes, I think in some ways the American people have been shocked periodically by their ignorance. Iran is perhaps the classic example when people went around saying, "What kind of society is that? What's going on there?" They were genuinely baffled because of their ignorance of the culture, the history, or indeed, the problems. There were people there being tortured by the Shah's secret police and blaming the United States for having trained that secret police, and people in America were saying, "What? We don't believe it." There was this incredible ignorance, and we've seen that happen several times and I know it's going to happen in Africa as well. As the struggle for majority rule, something as basic as that, takes place in southern Africa, people in the United States are going to say, "What's the matter with those people? What's going on there?" And what they won't understand is the fact that the United States is involved in the process of oppression, that American technology and money and arms and skills are in there helping a minority to stay in power. This, I think, is another facet of the whole issue of global awareness, not only to know other countries, other cultures, other societies, far more vitally to know the nature of the American involvement in those societies. That means asking very hard questions, very unpopular questions. But I think they must be
Studs Terkel You know, you just said something connected to something Marilyn said a moment ago, and it is about asking hard questions, unpopular--Marilyn spoke of comfort zone. We do. The comfort zone is something I assume that you are familiar, people who look like you, don't have to think too hard, don't ask these hard questions. Remember this, since South Africa was mentioned, there were 62 and there was a Norwegian painter, Cecil Skotnes, a good man, he's "Look at the way I live." You talk about a comfort zone. The help is very cheap. That is, Black help very cheap. "Where could I live as well as I live here?" Marvelous provided and he [had it?], this, of course. "We don't think too much about it." Not to think. So we're talking about thinking. What is a comfort zone? There isn't any comfort zone. It's illusory, isn't it?
Marilyn Turkovich And right now our comfort zone, I think, is almost collapsing in on us. Especially, I think, with the nuclear issue, the Iran, El Salvador, Nicaragua, that we see our involvement. It's coming out even in our own press, and we sit back and we can hardly believe that this involvement is actual, that we are doing these kinds of things, and we try and separate ourselves and indeed, you know, I as Marilyn Turkovich don't call my state department and say, you know. "You no longer each day will give money to El Salvador or what you're doing subversive activity in Nicaragua or et cetera, et cetera." But the thing is that we have to become more and more aware of these things because we have these global linkages politically and economically around the world, and that once we let people know this, then there's a responsibility that we have. And maybe that's part of the comfort zone, if we keep it away from people, if we don't let them know about these sorts of things, then they won't have to feel responsible for them. So that's what we're trying to do on the conference is to make people more and more aware of these issues so that they take more and more responsibility for them.
Joe Elder It's insidious how information is presented to the American public. And I'm not sure there's any conscious manipulation, I'm not willing to accept that totally yet. But I did spend a day in the CBS archives looking at about a 10-year period of what had been presented on CBS news shows regarding any of the South Asian countries I've focused on: Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh. First of all, I discovered that there was very little news that appeared during the 10-year period. I then noticed that there were three themes that came out. First, if there were a disaster, and the typical theme was flood strikes Orissa, 100,000 people homeless, U.S. aid rushed to the scene. I mean, this fits in with, I think, our notion of ourselves a great helper. The second thing had to do with what I would call normal political events, an election or something like that which would be covered fairly straightforward. And the third thing was what I sort of call "weirdo news"--"Singer seeks truth in guru's ashram" or something like that. "Holy man promises to walk on water," and these trivial items would appear on the "CBS Evening News" I think because in a way Americans feel good knowing that there are kind of weirdos in other parts of the world and we are not weirdos.
Studs Terkel Ah, yeah, so we come to that again, don't we? The banality. Do you recall Hannah Arendt's book "Eichmann in Jerusalem", subtitled "The Banality of Evil", that for years people thought the Germans were a special unique horrendous cause of the Holocaust. No, we realize now these are ordinary people much like us, and it's the banality that you describe, Joe, perfectly. Unfortunately too well, and that's what it's about. So I reverse that. It's the evil of banality, because of our imagination. What, we have teachers here. I guess the job a teacher is to what? Pique the imagination, isn't it? Imagination. Remember those kids in Paris in '68? You know what their slogan was? "Long live imagination." That's what we're talking about, isn't it? Zongren, you've been quiet.
Liu Zongren I've been thinking, you know, of a talk I give to a group of Christians at Northwestern. They asked me what impression I got since I came to the United States. And that was about six months I had been here. I told them that Americans [unintelligible] worth the work that now you have, too, a lot of tech, technology and science. Then just, you know, machines are replacing manpower first set, then replacing people's minds, that is very dangerous, a [tragedy?] in this country. You know, you have a lot of comforts, luxuries, but when you, your money is replaced by machines, something very dangerous would happen. Yeah. So do I think people, I think this program is good, because I think now people start thinking about outside work, about other people, then you can see, you know, what people, what other people need, how other people live, then you can understand them better, not I said before, Americans always think theirs is the best. Get a mutual understanding.
Studs Terkel You know, one of the things, Dennis, I know you want to say something. One of the things they said of LBJ during the height or depth of the Vietnam War and the bombs are going on, they said, "If only they, the Vietnamese, could be like us, we'd give them everything. We'd give them ev--if only they would be us," but they're not us. They want to be themselves. We're talking about that, too, aren't we?
Daphne Maijorca Yes.
Studs Terkel Daphne.
Daphne Maijorca We do want to be ourselves. And as you mentioned sometime back, there is richness in an encounter where two people have richness to contribute, and you can become somebody better in the exchange if you really open to the possibility of allowing the other person to be. I think there is too much effort here to deny other persons the possibility of being, so that I can be, let's say. And I think it's ingrained in the history of this country, how this country was conquered and colonized. There is a lot of denying others the possibility of a right or of being as human beings, nothing else. And the feeling that I can only be if I deny the other human being the right to be. Why can't we be together? Something along those lines I would think would be very helpful, and just being human. The right to be whatever kind of person you are and to improve through your own intercommunication with other people and mold yourself, have the chance to become the person you want to become, not have to model something, not have to dress in a particular way for a particular office. Not have to use the particular kinds of figures of speech that will make you get to a position because you can say things in a particular way. To appear seems to be so much more important than to be.
Studs Terkel Dennis.
Dennis Brutus Well, it just seems to me that to take up on Daphne's point that we have reached almost the apex of that notion, syndrome if you like. When we go from people posture and adopt attitudes and wear certain clothes we're all into the business of image, and then you get the art of image-making, and I think the ultimate image-making is when you can have someone who can learn these lines and say them and sound very convincing even when he either doesn't understand what he's saying--
Dennis Brutus Or what he's saying is absolute nonsense. He may be saying complete nonsense or he may be telling lies, but he's been trained in the projection of an image of sincerity, an image of honesty, and I think the United States in terms of its politics is in serious trouble.
Studs Terkel You know, it occurs to me another image of sorts, and that's we pretend innocence. You know, say, "Oh, the American people are innocent." You know, but innocence today is evil, just the banality is, the pretense toward innocence, you see. And I start thinking of the image, you know, "Of Mice and Men", the play, Lenny. Lenny is a good-hearted guy. I think the people of America are pretty generous-hearted as generally speaking. But Lenny doesn't have any brain, you know. And Lenny is innocent, let's say, but he's all that power that he has, he doesn't know what he's using. And of course he kills the girl, and he gets killed at the end. So here is all this power, and I thought, "Gee, if the American guy knew as much about politics as he does about sports, wow!" We'd be a highly sophisticated country.
Marilyn Turkovich I think the thing that happens with us is that we think that we have a good idea, and that goes all the way back to the turn of the century when the term "the melting pot" was coined, and they came from a play, I guess, of the same name,
Marilyn Turkovich By Israel. Yeah. And where he was telling people to "Get yourself into the crucible and melt down and start all over again and come up with this wonderful American person," and that it's something that we've been selling and we've all bought it. You know, the sameness of our culture. And whenever something comes along that denies that sameness, it does, it makes us feel just a little bit uncomfortable, if I go back to that again. And we market ourselves and we do think that we have the very best thing going here, and we don't even think that maybe we don't, and we don't compare ourselves to other people or don't take what's--what other people have to offer in terms of coming up with a newer version like what I think some educators now are calling "the tossed salad." I'm not sure I'm excited about that.
Studs Terkel Calling
Liu Zongren Do you think the United States is a melting pot? You know, you assimilate so many cultures from the world. That is a very good thing for this country, is unique in the world. But in some aspects, I also, I have also seen that [saturation?] pot aspect. One day I, we drove, my friend took me around to see the Chicago city, we go along the [Halsted?] you know, from north to south, about 20 minutes, and it surprised me. When we got to a park, public park, I saw three groups. From their skin under their dress I know, I knew, one is all Black, another is Mexican, another probably, Puerto Rican somewhere, you know. The--yes, very, their division is very distinctive, you know, the pot, you know, that are supposed to divide the [unintelligible], but that divide at the three groups.
Studs Terkel You know, in a way I guess what you're saying, and Daphne and everybody is, we talk about, we, we're proud of the word pluralism. But we never practice plur--you're talking about pluralism of cultures, pluralism of thought which allows, of course, for dissent, for unpopular as well as accepted popular. So, and so we're talking, but then, you know, I realize while we're talking here, the hour has about gone, and yet we're just touching on it, obviously the theme. We used the word connection, Marilyn, perhaps we could each of us take a crack at something you want to say we haven't said related to things we're talking about. Zongren, you just said your piece, unless there's something else you want to add? This moment? No? Dennis Brutus. I'd
Dennis Brutus I'd like to go back to the notion of something that Joe said, the notion that there is a certain American society which is ideal, that's the stereotypical one, and all of the others are kind of deviants, whether these are Latinos or Chicanos or Blacks or Native Americans, but the ideal is a little like Evanston. Now, what scares me about that is the way that idea has become increasingly dominant and aggressive, and it spills over into the insistence on conformity, and "I'm doing things only one way," and ultimately you're up against a bunch of people who have this take-charge approach. They not only want to run their lives, they want to run our lives for us as well. And at its worst manifestation, you encounter a bunch of Dr. Strangeloves, people who are so determined to run the world their way that if they can't run it their way, they'd be willing to blow it up. They are bent on apparently the destruction of this planet if we don't stop them. Now at that point, the question of conformity becomes a life-and-death matter. We can no longer sit back and say, "Well, let them do their thing. We don't like it. We'll do our own thing," because they are determined to do their thing and make us do their thing and therefore we have to become involved in matters like disarmament and opposition to nuclear weapons, we've all got to get involved, because we've all been involved. And if it happens, is going to involve all of us. So I see a real urgency about asserting variety and difference and challenging conformity and those who want to be authoritarian and compel us all to settle in a certain mode. We have to resist that and organize ourselves to
Joe Elder I want to pick up on a point that Dennis made. We receive every month one magazine in a brown wrapper with no identification. That magazine is "Soviet Life". Why is it that the people who mail out "Soviet Life" feel that it should be in a brown wrapper? Because their sense is that our neighbors would be alarmed, the postman would be alarmed, if they knew we were getting pictures of life in the Soviet Union. When even something as trivial as looking at the faces of Soviet people is seen as so un-American that it has to be covered with a brown magazine wrapper, I think that reflects in a sense a closing-off of a vital piece of information which is part of this whole--and that information is important, I think, to fight back against the people who say there are people in this world so evil that their destruction and our destruction is better than some kind of accommodation.
Studs Terkel Even though McCarthy is dead, the idea there may still be around, and it's not so much fear too, as a habit, a habit of open discussion has been in disuse, and we have to recreate that habit. Daphne Mayorga.
Daphne Maijorca A brief thought on something that has been said and that I said in terms of that small minority of Americans, a word that is very hard for me to say because I'm an American, too, and I'm not a U.S. citizen. The idea that you don't need to conform to a mold of what is American adapting, and if I were to use one of [Pavlov's?] favorite terms is for animals, and there are some animals in us, and we, but human beings were given the earth to transform it. And perhaps the American dream needs some transformation at this point. And that is for all of us who are here to give it shape.
Marilyn Turkovich I was just thinking when Joe talked about "Soviet Life". When I was 12 years old without asking my parents I subscribed to "Soviet Life", and it wasn't at that time mailed in a brown wrapper, and I know why they mail it in a brown wrapper now, because my parents were positive that the mailman and all of the neighbors knew that I was getting this, and that being from Eastern Europe anyway, that we were of another persuasion than what we should have been as American citizens. And I think the thing is, is that that brings home the fact that what we have to do is to begin this dialogue right at home in our own communities and to reach out and look at other people who are right there and talk about the differences that we might have and the kinds of things that we can't tolerate any longer, and there are a lot of those things that we can't tolerate, and to name those things and to begin to work on them.