2010 Newsletter

From: Jeff Thaler ’74
Date: May 13, 2010
Re: 4/16-18/2010 Gaudino Commemorative

On Friday evening well over 100 Gaudino Alumni, significant others, and faculty gathered in Paresky Center for dinner and talk. Speakers at the event included Jim Burns, Fred Greene, Kurt Tauber (all of whom are still remarkable articulate, mentally sharp, and insightful), Ray Baker, Craig Brown, Charlie Baer, and George Marcus. Unfortunately, I did not make detailed notes of what they said. A few things I jotted down were: questioning as a sign of respect; Gaudino’s ability to be friends with people who strongly disagreed with his views (for example, Charles Samuels); Gaudino’s laughter and sense of irony; Gaudino’s belief in collegiality, conversation as a form of friendship, sense of “The Commons” as from Aristotle; Gaudino never criticized other professors.

After dinner, 9 Williams-at-Home alums and friends went upstairs to look at Joe Standart’s photos from Williams-at-Home. It was interesting how much we still don’t know about each other’s home stay experiences in different parts of the program and the country!

Saturday morning everyone was divided into 2 groups. One group spent three hours trying out Professor Ed Burger’s “Exploring Creativity” course activities, lead by his students, focusing on Studio Art, Philosophy, and Creative Writing. The second group, in which I was part, was actually then split into three smaller groups that rotated every 60 minutes. There were three sessions: one was led by former Williams Political Science Professor Craig Brown, one by still Williams Political Science Professor George Marcus, and one by Philosophy Professor and incoming Gaudino Scholar Will Dudley. Brown led a discussion on Burger’s recently-approved proposal for creation of a “Gaudino Option” grading system (where a student can decide by the end of the semester to have one course “G” that will still count as a course credit for graduation); the Dudley group discussed “Philosophy of education: why are you here at Williams?”; and the Marcus group discussed what role was religion meant to play by the Founding Fathers.

My first group was with George Marcus. We first talked about what types of lists are there; we “listed” sequential (time), importance, pros/cons, relationships, time. Looking at the Declaration of Independence, the first draft said “life, liberty and property”, not pursuit of happiness. Marcus said you can’t change the sequence, because life is fundamental, you can’t have liberty and pursuit of happiness without life. Without liberty you can’t pursue happiness. This has a developmental structure. Liberal Arts are arts that make you free, liberty. But if you secure liberty and the pursuit of happiness, things could be chaotic and therefore you need government.

The phrase “endowed by their Creator”—not Monarch, not God. The Founders wanted to stay away from a particularized religion. Massachusetts had Puritans, the South Baptists, Baltimore had Catholics, Pennsylvania its Quakers. If you moved to a different State/Colony and were of the wrong religion, you were forced to give up your own religion back then. So the goal was to use “Creator” to get away from that past history.

We then looked at Article I of the Bill of Rights, at the punctuation, dividers and groupings. Marcus says originally no Bill of Rights was envisioned. The first version of the Bill of Rights had 12 Amendments, the first 2 were administrative. We talked again about the sequencing in the First Amendment, in terms of establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion; no abridging of free speech or free press; and no restrictions on peaceable assembling or petitioning for redress. Why the sequence? It is a list of importance. #3, assembly/redress, is done after government is formed to ensure an active citizenry. Religion and speech/press freedoms are needed to protect assembly/redress. This was a secularizing approach of free citizenship relating to government. The Founders saw religion as an object needing to be managed because it could be very divisive. Zeal can cause factions. Religious fights can go on for thousands of years, while disputes between backers of different leaders have shorter time frames. But the zeal for property can also be very divisive, and property is common and durable. Property can particularize conflict. The Founders wanted to create a government manufactured to create coalitions, with no natural majorities.

Thomas Jefferson had the slavery issue in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence; it was taken out because it was viewed as being an issue too vexatious.

Coming to 2010, you can analyze issues like Iraq and Afghanistan by reading Madison and the Federalist Papers. Can you make Afghanistan or Iraq republics, with no tribalism, nationalism, religious sectarianism? If you have at most 2-3 major religions in a country, then you have more instability for your government. It is better to have one religious sect that will be the greatest, the majority.

Today, there are just 2 political parties. Ours is one of the few democracies where the Constitution does not mention political parties. This is because the Founders thought parties were corrupt. All Founding Fathers knew that George Washington would be President and John Adams Vice-President. It was not until a little later, when Jefferson needed a political party, that this was first developed. His problem was that he was Governor of Virginia during the Revolutionary War. The British captured Virginia. After the war, he goes to France, and thus is largely unknown in the United States. He was also an advocate of the French Revolution. Madison helped Jefferson get the America Republic party formed. There was a need for “wide-tent” parties.

The second session was with Will Dudley. The central question of The Republic is, “What is Justice?” What is knowledge, what is beauty? The “what is” question is what draws philosophers and helps define philosophy. “Philos” means the love of wisdom.

So what is “education”? The word “educate” can be broken down into “e”=outward, and “duce”=drawing out, pulling out. It is the drawing out of human potential, activating a person’s capacities.

What is human potential? For John Stuart Mill, utilitarianism, he had the Greatest Happiness principle. Do whatever maximizes total human happiness. Human potential, you then focus on intellectual and character potential.

It was Mill’s view that you 1) discover truth, do deductive reasoning, logic, math; 2) philosophy, questioning our assumptions inherent in the beliefs of us or others; and 3) express truths, such as through literature, rhetoric.

Mill’s Induction Address is a reflection on liberal education. Encounter other perspectives, encounter/study foreign cultures. For truths and science, there are the social sciences, psychology, political science, and economics. Excluded are modern languages (you go to the country to live, versus learning in a classroom), and history (you do not need experts/teachers to guide you).

The goal of a liberal education is to develop human potential without a particular professional goal. This contrasts with “professional education”.

Courage, curiosity, humility, are all important. With education, you need to ask what type of people are we developing. Peer learning is also important.

Then to the third class, which basically was a free-for-all discussion on the Gaudino option. A number of Alums were somewhat critical of the proposal and its link to the name of Gaudino. One person said students today have a significant feel of failure, thus are more reluctant to take courses outside their comfort zone. Someone suggested as an alternative just requiring students to take one pass/fail course per year.

A discussion about what should Williams students be capable of when they graduate—importance of character development, intellectual curiosity, willingness to take risks. One ’71 Alum referenced Dean Hyde saying “take a course you’re going to fail”. By contrast the Gaudino option minimizes risks.

Someone suggested designing a curriculum to encourage a breadth of courses. Professor Brown urged a broader perspective on the nature of risk. An alum said that if Williams is at the top of the liberal arts heap, but can’t take the risk of four pass/fails per year in terms of its students getting into graduate schools, then no school will take risks.

There was talk of needing an institution tolerant of uncomfortable learning, failure, discomfort. India was a great venue, failure was guaranteed for traditional Williams students. You needed a “turning of the soul” to be successful in the world. Be ready for paradox, uncertainties, disappointment. Gaudino used the Williams institution at times, then went away from it at other times.

At lunch, a couple students say that students generally shy away from disagreeing with each other in class.

In the afternoon we moved to a series of panels in Brooks-Rogers Hall. The first panel topic is, “Can and Should Courage of Independence of Mind be Taught?” Marty Linsky’61 told a story about Gaudino, when Linsky was being vetted for a federal position and background checkers came to campus. Gaudino said to one of them, “Of course Linsky is trustworthy, he tells me everything!” Linsky also remembered another discussion with Gaudino concerning Spinoza where Gaudino said “but what does that have to do with you, Mr. Linsky?” In other words, he was trying to tie the student’s life and identity to the great books.

Steve Lewis’60, former Williams Professor and Carleton College President, said that Gaudino got students into the position of the writer, inside the text. He also talked about Gaudino’s use of Jim Burns trying and failing to be elected to Congress, about his commitment to the effort of seeking election; Gaudino put students into Burns’ shoes. Lewis said that when he was at Carleton, one lesson that he took from Gaudino was a willingness to “lean against the wind”.

Alan Schlosser’63 said Gaudino used to assign 150 pages of reading per assignment, which was pretty heavy. He remembered Arendt on Totalitarism. Gaudino pushed Schlosser to do a Fulbright in India like Gaudino had done. Ellen Sherberg’70 was an exchange student from Vassar at Williams in 1968. She had a class on film from Gaudino, it changed the way she saw the world.

The next panel was entitled “Experiential Education: Past, Present, & Future”. This panel was moderated by Ed Burger. Bill Loomis talked about the India program. I talked about Williams-at-Home as a pedagogical tool, a way of in part making students be more responsible for his or her own education. WAH involved questioning all of your assumptions, confronting difference and otherness, learning empathy. I referenced the use of film, since Gaudino used the Fred Wiseman series of documentaries, like Education, Police, Hospital, Ghetto, and Basic Training. I mentioned Gaudino’s humor, such as when I gave him the first draft of my senior political science thesis, and his first comment on it was “Mr. Thaler, you have no thesis!” I mentioned Tuesday’s with Morrie, as analogous to Gaudino, how he used dying as a text, a teaching tool for students. Like Morrie, the importance of really listening to someone, learning how to learn and re-learn. Death ends a life, not a relationship.

Williams-at-Home involved the use and analysis of experience, somewhat like 12 years earlier when Gaudino said to Linsky “what does Spinoza have to do with you, Mr. Linsky”.

I said that I felt that one of the legacies from Williams-at-Home for me was a lifelong intellectual curiosity, passion to learn new things and meet new people and encounter new cultures, taking risks, questioning assumptions, a love of people.

From the audience someone said that for Gaudino, college had a goal of development of a good citizen, whereas the University pursued “truth”. Kurt Tauber said Gaudino taught people to “swim upstream”. Jeff Niese, referencing how trees grow against boulders or obstacles, talked about growing against obstacles as a person, in response to “no you can’t” you have the courage to try anyway.

Two of my Williams students who had participated in 2008 and 2010 in my Resettling Refugees WSP in Portland then spoke. Bianca Martinez’12, who had lived with a large Rwandan family, talked about learning how to be a sister, daughter, tutor in a whole new situation and way. (Bianca is the single child of a single parent). Charlotte Silverman’10 who did my program two years ago, felt that living and working with refugees was an experience that made her feel “further” from Williams than she had ever been before. While there were some similarities between Portland and Williams, it was the significant differences that she had to encounter, how to learn from them, that she got the most out of. She commented that Williams, despite its significant racial and international diversity can still be fairly segregated. From her WSP experience she began to understand how to reach out to others different from her; it changed the way she thinks, and changed completely some decisions she made back at Williams (quitting the soccer team, getting involved with a whole new group of people and activities, pursuing some different academic interests, writing her senior thesis on the Harlem race riots).

There was then some discussion with the audience. Bianca talked about at the end of her WSP feeling a “prideful glow”, of having experienced the world beyond the purple bubble; she also mentioned teaching her family how to bake their first cake ever. Others talked about learning how to feel at home abroad, or bringing “home” back to Williams. There was talk of uncomfortable learning, otherness, leaning into difference. Also talk of the contrast between sympathetic engagement and intellectual distance.

After the break, I confess I was in and out of the room for the last panel, which was entitled “Mark Hopkins Today: Professor Gaudino’s Impact”. Matt Nimetz’60 said Gaudino changed over the years. Gaudino, Fred Shuman, Fred Greene, were part of a social community, urged students to try to act in the public sector, the social community, to pursue obligation to a good society. There was a sense that so much leadership was mediocre, destructive. There also was a sense of Gaudino’s methodology as being constantly challenging, constantly pushing students. Richard Herzog’60 talked about the nature and effects of “great teaching”, what is great undergraduate teaching, what is “change”. Can you do great teaching and not change the ways of learning and seeing the world. He talked of leadership. There was talk of Plato, living differently from learning differently, different habits of mind. Marty Linsky said Gaudino was interested not just in what is above the neck, but also what is from the neck down to one’s navel. You are what you teach, teach what you are.

Ed Burger said that great learning is more important than great teaching. The focus is the student. What’s the most effective way to learn, what is effective? The model is hundreds of years old of a teacher standing up and lecturing. Questions include– how should we teach in a way best for students to learn. Part of education is to change lives, offering methods of thinking, analyzing the self and the world. Education is supposed to mess things up. The point of Williams is to challenge your assumptions that you had coming into Williams, maybe mess them up. Teach life lessons.

After a short break, everyone gathered at the Faculty Club. There was an Indian food dinner. Speakers included John Chandler, Steve Lewis, Ed Burger and the current Gaudino Fund Chair, Michael Pucillo’75. Sorry, I took no notes during dinner.

We then all went over to Paresky to the lower level to watch the premiere of the documentary film by Paul Lieberman’71 entitled “Mr. Gaudino”. It is about a 55 minute compilation of interviews of students, alums, teachers, and Gaudino family members. Gaudino’s family from California was present throughout the weekend—including his brother John/Jake, who was very funny. They were very touched by the whole weekend. Also interestingly, the Lieberman film included footage from Williams-at-India– apparently Marc Blundell’71 had taken a video camera over to India! Too bad none of us during Williams-at-Home had done the same. Oh well—next time!

There was no discussion after the film, everyone was pretty exhausted.

Sunday morning after brunch, from 9:30 to 11:30 was a public meeting of the Gaudino Fund Board. I agreed to go back on the Board after being away for 14 years; William Lee’11 and Chuck Senatore’76 also came on as new members. Ed Burger talked about a recent international studies report at the College, some discussions about how to possibly expand the Gaudino Fund scope of influence beyond winter study to summer opportunities, and students working with faculty on research issues during the summer. Also there was talk about a program for effective teaching.

There were then a series of student presentations, by students who directly or indirectly received funding or support for programs in 2010 WSPs from the Gaudino Fund. My 6 Resettling Refugee WSPrs each spoke; then the 9 Gaudino Fund “Fellow” grantees spoke about their international projects.

Jenny Coronel’10, a daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, spoke of having done a program in Morocco and becoming interested in migration issues. She wanted to learn about United States refugees, so the WSP was perfect. She lived with a Cambodian family, and worked at Portland High School with students trying to learn English. She had students who did not know how to hold a pencil because they had not been taught how to read or write in their home countries. Jenny said she learned a great deal from her month in Portland.

Emily Schwab’12 signed up for the WSP to learn more about America. It was a very eye-opening experience. She lived with a large Congolese family. She worked at Riverton Elementary School, where over half of the students are English language learners. She worked in a fourth grade classroom. This was the first year that all ELL kids were mainstreamed. Of the 28 kids in the classroom, 17 were ELL–they were from places like Iraq, Cambodia, the Congo, El Salvador, China, and Somalia. Overall, the kids mixed well.

Natalie Davis’12 lived with a Somali family of three kids and a single mother. She took on a lot of responsibility to help the mother. She worked at King Middle School; some of the kids in her ELL class spoke no English or knew virtually no math. Kids were from places like the Dominican Republic, Burma, Somalia, and Iraq. Natalie had done a home stay in Tanzania the year before, and was interested in learning more about American immigrants. Since her return to Williams she has been shocked by how unaware many people are of immigration and refugee issues in the United States. Natalie had a very intense experience; the family was Muslim, and Natalie was able to see the religion practiced from a woman’s perspective. The month left her emotionally drained and exhausted; she likes to solve problems, but saw there was much for which she did not have control over. Healthcare issues, financial resources were all incredibly frustrating.

Bianca Martinez’12 is a single child in a single-parent family; thus, living with a Rwandan family of 9 was quite a shock for her. Her host parents wanted to hear a lot about her college experience, and there were two 15-year old girls in the family for whom Bianca was sort of a role model for what you can do in America. Bianca worked at a relatively new experiential high school, Casco Bay High School in Portland. There were kids there from the Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Dominican Republic, and Cuba. There were students she met who had been in school in their home countries while other students had never been to school. Bianca learned to balance being a friend, mentor, and teacher. She is short, so many thought she was an eighth grader herself!

Jordan Freking’12 has an academic and personal interest in identity issues. What does it mean to be American? The WSP gave him a new way of looking at America. He worked in 4 different classrooms at Deering High School, including Reading, English, and Math. Students were from places like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, the Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, and Cambodia. Two of the most recent arrivals were brothers from Azerbaijan. They had been to school, but did not know English. Jordan felt they were smart, but they had a hard time being able to show that. Jordan worked with two Iraqi kids the most, who did not really understand why they had to go school. He tried to get them focused. Jordan said his friends at Williams teased him about coming to Maine in January for a WSP, said it was “so lame”. Jordan said it gave him a view of New England he did not know existed. With International WSPs everything is “over there”, versus with a WSP in Maine with refugee and immigrant families it is all “here”. He said so much is going on here that we need to understand.

Jason Rapaport’11 lived with a Congolese family. He was immediately made part of the family on his arrival. When one of the parents gave up a bed for him to sleep in, Jason offered to sleep on the couch but they insisted that it was required that he, as a guest, not do so. His host father worked until about 2:00 am, but insisted on getting up to have breakfast with Jason every morning. They had constant and intensive conversations about religion, politics, life in the US, information about the world. His host parents were curious about everything. Jason learned about the Congo and injustices. His host parents were political prisoners who had been tortured in prison. His host father has “adopted” the US, wants his children to be fully part of America. He is coming up for his asylum hearing shortly, and told Jason that he would rather be in prison in America than be deported back to the Congo. His passport stamp means the world to him.

Gaudino Board Trustee James Mathieu asked how the WSP influenced the students’ choices of courses at Williams. Jordan said he is increasing his focus on immigration; he’s taking a Latinos in California course. Emily said she would like to see a Williams-at-Home offered again at Williams, but in its absence is going to spend a semester in Argentina. She’s taking a study of immigration course as well. Natalie is interested in public health, and the WSP increased her awareness of the “uninsured populations”. She wants to restart taking Spanish because she saw how huge a problem language can be. Her host little brother, who was 5, had a high fever while Natalie was in Portland, and her host mother did not know how to respond to it. Bianca said she’s going to take a semester away from Williams to do a multi-country program, where she spends 5 weeks in 3 large cities in 3 different countries. Jason, who is going to medical school, is more deeply committed to having diverse experiences with people in need (not only health care, but otherwise).

We then heard from the Gaudino Fellows, each of whom had gone abroad for his or her WSP. Gonpo Lama (from Nepal) had worked in a leprosy camp in central India. He himself is from Tibet and is Buddhist. At the leprosy camp he lived with a guest host, who was an atheist, and they had a lot of discussions about religion and atheism. The word “leprosy” means undead, cursed of God. He became disillusioned with the medical field, because leprosy is curable, use the same medicine as TB. If caught within 2-6 months you can be cured for good. He says that there are 1,000 leper colonies, why would drug companies and doctors not care about all of these people with leprosy. He wants to go to law school.

Next, Sameer Aryal (from Nepal) and Tarjiinder Singh (from Toronto) discuss their WSP in Nepal, where they lived in a small village looking at demand side barriers to health care. Barriers included levels of education, religion, gender, biases. There was a local organization called Rural Women in Poverty who had fought to band together to provide better local health care. One mentioned that 300,000 women are trafficked to India. Girls as young as 12 years old are sold.

Zeynep Coskun from Turkey did her WSP in a small Kurdish village near the Iraq border. Her local contact was killed before she got there, but she still went anyway. While there, locals could tell she had an Istanbul accent, asked why she was there. When they heard she was an American college student, they asked why does America care about us. This coming summer she wants to be in Jerusalem and Northern Iraq….The following summer, Syria and Iran.

Shara Singh (from India) did her winter study in a small Finland village in the very far north of that country. There were 250 people, who spoke an endangered language. She is a linguistics student, had never been to Europe before. She found when she got there that the sun never rose the whole month she was there. It was dark 24 hours a day. Most of the people were reindeer herders and did crafts. She being from India had somewhat dark skin; everyone from the village there was blond.

Next up was Emanuel Yekutiel, who is from Los Angeles and is Jewish. He went to Israel to live with Afghan Jews. He interviewed about 30 people. Afghan Jews are one of the oldest Jewish communities, dating back to the 4th century. They are a historically significant community, with their own diet, writings, and community structure. Not much has changed since the 4th century because they have remained so isolated. Their 3 major points are an extreme faith in God, with rituals almost like witchcraft; humility and a tendency toward being quiet (because of persecution they learned to shut-up, most won’t talk, don’t know why anyone would want to know about them). Emmanuel’s father is an Afghan Jew in this country. There is one Jew left in the country of Afghanistan, 2000 Afghan Jews in Israel. Most people think the community will be gone in 50 years, because there is a lot of intermarriage, and only 4 large Afghan Jewish families left. This was a “roots” experience for Emmanuel.
Hannah Cunningham, a sociology major from Chapel Hill who is pre-med, went to Uganda to study female genital modification (not mutilation). Young girls undergo labia elongation, and the WHO decided in 2008 to change the classification of mutilation to “just” modification. Hannah wanted to go to Uganda to see what the people thought of the reclassification by WHO. She found that the villagers had never heard of the WHO, had never heard of the elongation being called female genital modification or mutilation. Hannah looked at how the elongation was passed on from generation to generation. She questioned people about why they viewed it as being a good. She learned that it is done to enhance male/female sexual pleasure, versus the typical female genital mutilation. It is viewed as positive in Ugandan culture, while mutilation is viewed negatively.

Adam Century, a Canadian now living in Troy, New York, has studied in and about China for the last 4-5 years. He went to Durban, South Africa to study the local perspective on Chinese. When Adam had been in China, his fellow African students struggled in Chinese society, feeling “objectified”. He encountered Chinese at the University in Durban, and other parts of society. Adam liked to get up early and have breakfast with Zulu street workers and others. This was his first introduction into field work. Adam then related a story about his recent Spring Break when he went down to New Orleans for 10 days for home building. He then decided to take the train back to Williams, up the east coast. He met on the train a Williams’67 Alum, who said he had taken 3 courses with Gaudino. The Alum claimed in the early 70’s to have offered Gaudino euthanasia. Gaudino said that he wanted to endure the disease that was affecting him, in part to study it, and to undergo the trials and hardships, the uncomfortable learning that he had preached to his students. Gaudino wanted to subject himself for scientific and education purposes to his terminal illness, all the way.

Last, Leah Eryenyu (from Uganda) went back to Uganda to study and work with street children. She learned that most of the kids were from one ethnic group, from one area in Northeastern Uganda. The group tended to be nomadic, sort of like the Masaii. For that group, cattle were a key source of their livelihood, but when hit by a drought all of the families suffered terrible. Street children are not against the law, are just a “nuisance”. They are almost all girls; the few boys are “really, really young”. In Uganda 55 different languages are spoken; Leah was helped by an interpreter. She became angry at the mistreatment of children and women that she encountered.

There was only time for one or two questions and observations. There was a suggestion that the International WSPs write-up their experiences so that it could be pulled together. All of them had to deal with language barriers in different ways, including the Maine WSP students. Hannah suggested that there be a forum in a more public setting for students to report back to their peers on their experiences.