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While most of my global students probably think I spend all my time reading everything I can about depressing subjects such as genocide, I have a number of areas of interest I try to explore.

Genocide   |   Contemporary Slavery   |   Global Ethics   |   Learning/Teaching   |   The Brain


Genocide interests me in that I cannot understand the desire to eliminate another culture from the planet.  I have never felt that kind of hate.  So I am interested in understanding the motivation behind genocide and the people who promote it.  Over time, I have looked more at the impact of genocide on the global community.  What do we lose when we allow them to occur and how can we inspire governments across the globe to do what is necessary to prevent them?  Finally, following Samantha Power’s lead, what role should the U.S. government play in preventing and stopping genocides?  What is our responsibility to the larger global community?

Good books to read on this subject:

  • Power, Samantha.  A Problem from Hell:  America and the Age of Genocide.

    The place to start to understand genocide in the 20th century, the century where the term originated and was legislated for the first time.  A detailed look at how America responded in a similar fashion to all genocides in that century.  A must read for anyone wanting to fight against future genocides.

  • Dallaire, Romeo.  Shake Hands with the Devil:  The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda.

    A depressing but illuminating look at the Rwandan genocide and what could have been done from the general leading UN forces there.  He frequently raises the question of will and our unwillingness to get involved in genocides.

  • Gourevitch, Philip.  We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families:  Stories from Rwanda.

    A series of perspectives from Rwandans about the genocide and the ways we attempt to understand it.  Shows the short and long term impact of genocide and hatred on peoples.  A good look at the genocide from the people experiencing it, from both sides.

  • Balakian, Peter.  The Burning Tigris:  The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response.

    I think this in-depth look at the Armenian genocide is important because it sets up many of the themes that shape genocides to this day.  It also clearly demonstrates the final stage of genocide, denial.  The fervor by which the Turkish government continues to deny these actions gives us some insight as to why the problem of genocide is such a complex one.<

  • Two Frontline series on Rwanda.

    Two great projects, with informative and useful web pages.  The Triumph of Evil helps us understand the genocide and provides lots of different perspectives on it.  The timeline and chronology on the web page is quite useful.  Find it all at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/evil/.  On the 10th anniversary of the genocide, The Ghosts of Rwanda explores how the effects of the genocide linger in the people and the area.  Find it at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ghosts/.

  • Cheadle, Don and John Prendergast.  Not on Our Watch:  The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond.

    A recent look at genocide through the crisis in Darfur by the actor who starred in the movie Hotel Rwanda and an activist who is a senior adviser to the International Crisis Group.  Not a great book, but one of a growing number looking carefully at Darfur and the world’s response.


Contemporary Slavery

Ever since Kevin Bales’ first visit to Elon, I have been involved in the fight against contemporary slavery.  Like so many, I did not think it occurred much anymore, and I certainly did not believe that more than a handful of slaves would work in our own country.  Clearly, I needed a larger perspective on the subject, and I read to understand the role of slavery in today’s economy.  I also feel a strong personal responsibility to do what I can not to support slavery in any way, which means knowing where things come from, something that can [purposefully, I would argue] be difficult to track down.

Lots of good resources and new research being done in this area.  Start with the Free the Slaves website at http://www.freetheslaves.net/Page.aspx?pid=183.  Kevin Bales has written a number of books to help us understand the issues involved and to open our eyes to the subject.  Start with Disposable People, a good overall look at the problem.  The more recent The Slave Next Door:  Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, with Ron Soodalter, looks at the problem in our own country today.  I like F. Benjamin Skinner’s A Crime So Monstrous:  Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery for a look at how slavery works and how little is being done.  Finally, the Polaris Project, an anti-trafficking group out of Washington D. C., offers many great resources and ways to get involved at http://www.polarisproject.org/.


Global Ethics

Looking at global problems makes you seriously question the rights and responsibilities each of us has for what is taking place in our world.  It is easy to take the relativistic view that one group should not be telling another what to do.  But when you realize that 800,000 Tutsis were killed in 100 days, or that hundreds of slaves are being smuggled into our country daily, you have to think about how we can improve our world, an action that always requires replacing one set of habits or cultural practices with another, hopefully, better set.  Are we better off without slavery?  If so, why, and how can we take that idea of “better” and discover systematically better ways to live in our world?  I think that Peter Singer has done some great work in this area, starting with his One World: The Ethics of Globalization in 2004 and his more recent The Life You Can Save:  Acting Now to End World Poverty.  Two books related to this subject that I would read in tandem, The End of Poverty:  Economic Possibilities for our Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, and The White Man’s Burden:  Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, by William Easterly.  Most encourage us to think about our responsibilities towards others and how we might best carry out our intentions.



  • The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, James Zull.

    I found this a great introduction to the way the brain works in the learning process and how I can help students to change the ways they think.

  • Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.

    Peter Felten, our leader on teaching and learning at Elon, turned me on to this one.  As a teacher who struggles to plan ahead very far, this one helped me by offering alternatives ways of planning.  I knew where I wanted to end, but didn’t plan with that in mind, much of the time.  This process helped me most when planning for new classes.

  • The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, 10th Anniversary Edition, Parker Palmer.

    Excellent book for exploring our necessary commitment to teaching, an especially important discussion for those of us teaching at Elon.  The book can help new teachers understand how to  be successful as a person in the classroom.

  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Freire.

    Still the best book I have read on exploring the necessary subversive nature of teaching and learning. 

  • Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment, Barbara Walvoord.

    We all do it, probably worry too much about it and spend too much time on it.  Walvoord can help us do it better in less time.  She doesn’t have a specific agenda, either, so I find this book works across disciplines and approaches.

  • Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. John C. Bean.

    We all use writing in our classrooms, even if we are not aware of the extent.  Bean helps us to see how we can create dynamic classrooms that can push students to develop complex thinking skills.

  • Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers.  Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross.

    You won’t spend much time researching learning and teaching before someone will refer to CATs.  This book gives a nice range of options and helps us understand how we can better assess what is going on in our classrooms.

  • Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning.  Mary E. Huba and Jann E. Freed.

    A good book for those attempting to understand learner-centered education and how it can differ from the traditional narrative model. 


The Brain

Two recent books have me exploring some of the newer developments in neuroscience, especially in how we understand the brain.  I really liked John Medina’s Brain Rules:  12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.  This book will influence the ways I teach.  I have also found Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide helpful in thinking about how we learn, especially in understanding our emotions and learning.