Teaching the Disaster in Japan

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Japan.  (Haven’t we all?) There are a few essays in Emerging that might help students think about what’s happening there and how it effects all of us:
  • Thomas Friedman’s “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention” is largely about the crucial role that global supply chains play in the world today. NPR recently reported on the effects the disaster has had on the auto supply chain.  While Friedman tends to focus on how robust these chains are, students might use what’s happening now to think about how fragile they can be, too.
  • Helen Epstein’s “AIDS, Inc.” focuses on HIV infection rates in Africa, but she does so by looking at specific prevention campaigns funded by large donations. Part of what she learns is that large donations don’t always make the best change. Given the flood of relief resources pouring into Japan, how might these take into account local cultures in order to be more effective and sustainable?
  • Joan Didion’s “After Life” is a very personal reflection on death and mourning, but I am always drawn to her concept of the “ordinary instant”—that perfectly normal moment when your entire life can change. I’d love for students to think about the “ordinary instant” in Japan as well as the processes of grief that are occurring and must continue to occur.
Of course, Appiah’s discussion of cosmopolitanism (our basic need to get along in a crowded and interconnected world) is always useful for thinking about global events, but consider also “Ethics and the New Genetics” by the Dalai Lama.  Even though it’s all about the need for ethics to keep pace with science, his notion of a moral compass and his call for compassion are useful concepts for students to consider in the light of this tragedy.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.