slubs in the city

Slub (adj): Maverick; unorthodox; independent in behavior or thought.


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what it means to be America

This past Monday, in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the slubs paid homage to our academic foundations. First, we sat down to watch Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, given in the formidable shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of over 200,000 marchers on August 28th, 1963.

If you have never heard a recording of Dr. King giving this speech himself, it’s entirely worth the 17 minutes to experience. He was a true wordsmith, a master orator, and the way he draws listeners in to the hypothetical and idealistic world of his dreams is an art form. The imagery used in this speech is legendary. His words powerfully unfurl themselves in waves over the crowd and they react in turn, as you will too.

Notice how Dr. King repeats key phrases at the beginning of the sentences of select paragraphs in his speech. He does this to over-emphasize his point, in effect stirring up the audience and clearly driving his message home. The slubs would like to point out that this rhetorical technique is known as anaphora.

After we had spent some time discussing the legacy of Dr. King’s dream and the relevancy it holds for America today, we moved on to watch President Obama’s 2008 election victory speech. This speech, as well, is rich with imagery. Particularly powerful is President Obama’s story of Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106 year-old American whose lifetime has witnessed the most drastic events of the 20th century. His speech is a true lesson in election-time patriotism.

As a Political Science major I recognize the craftsmanship in both of these pieces. Dr. King and President Obama take full advantage of our uniquely American brand of civil religion, infusing time-honored messages of American patriotism with (Christian) religious undertones to create a political-spiritual cocktail of words. (To conceptualize American civil religion, examine the text of nearly any speech given by George Bush directly following September 11th – he portrays America as a city on a hill, a super-unique nation where the word “democracy” evokes the same type of spiritual reverence as “righteousness”.) Each section of these two speeches acts as a subconscious cue for the audience to respond appropriately. Based on the textual meaning of a phrase or the tone of the orator’s voice, each listener knows what he or she is supposed to feel – elation, approval, hope, victory, perseverance, thoughtfulness, joy. Dr. King and President Obama guide their audiences through a range of emotional reactions, and by the end of their speeches we’ve all experienced the intangible influence of their words.

As citizens, though, my roommates and I can appreciate the social value of Dr. King’s and President Obama’s message. Each speaks of a nation of freedom and responsibility, where all inhabitants have a right and an obligation to change their worlds to achieve a holistically “better” standard. They extol the virtues of the individual, but they are careful to remind us that our strength as a nation lies in our collective ability to believe in the potential of America. Can Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech still resonate as powerfully today as it did 50 years ago? Perhaps not in the same sense as it did during the Civil Rights Movement, but the idea that we can and must achieve the social vision outlined in the Declaration of Independence is the undercurrent which directs nearly every conversation in our public government arenas. History will look on these two speeches as snapshots of our citizenry’s particular and endearing brand of social capital.

We have so many blessings as Americans, not the least of which is the right to access our own governmental institutions (though this right is not currently extended to every individual living on our soil). Dr. King and President Obama reminded Kat, Anna, Nora and I of this on Monday, and for that we are grateful.

“…Young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled…we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red and blue states; we are and always will be the United States of America.” – President Barack Obama, 2008

con amor,

shan

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afortunadamente, hablo español

First off, I’d like to give a huge shout out to you readers – Kat’s post last Wednesday has received over 100 views. That is absolutely phenomenal. Thank you all so much for tuning in and keeping in touch with the slubs!

And now, to explain the delay in updating: I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days, trying to think of something to share with you all that could ride well on the coattails of Kat’s beautifully written piece about volunteerism. This is what I’ve come up with…

As many of you know, the slubs graduated from St. Olaf College brandishing sharp minds and hard-won liberal arts degrees. No doubt this is the result of our extremely impressive education as well as tirelessly engaging professors. But the influence of many nights spent lounging in uncomfortable dorm chairs in our Ytterboe pod, discussing our thoughts on the work of this cultural ethnographer or that political theorist, cannot be underestimated. In the slub house, as much as we enjoy spending hours on pointless youtube videos, there is always time for an intellectually stimulating conversation.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to read much of anything intellectual lately. Humanities courses at St. Olaf are known for dutifully cramming nonfiction into parts of your brain you didn’t even realize were dormant. I’ve been struck down with an academic sickness: I haven’t been able to finish one book that I’ve cracked this entire summer. So I’ve given up the good fight – for now – and taken to reading the New York Times instead.

Last week, I stumbled across this article.

I know some of you are lazy like me, so I’ll provide you with the summary (although the piece is definitely worth the read and not at all as long as an entire novel): while research in the area is still relatively underdeveloped, scientists are now beginning to unveil the benefits of growing up bilingual.

This is how much cooler bilingual babies are than you and me:

  • Bilingual infants aged 10 to 12 months can discriminate between words uttered in distinct languages. Monolingual babies are stuck muddling through sounds in just the one.
  • Bilingual babies are trained to be more open to neurological experiences, and aren’t as quickly prone to perceptual narrowing as monolingual babies. It’s all peace, love and sunshine for the bilingual babies. Perhaps this means they would make good hippies.
  • Bilingual infants who are 8 months old are able to remain engaged with a silent film in which an actor switches from one language to the next, while same-aged monolingual infants don’t respond to the difference in language. According to Doctor Werker, professor of psychology at the University of British Colombia, “for a baby who’s growing up bilingual, it’s like, ‘Hey, this is important information’”. What’s it like, Dr. Werker? Oh. Bilingual babies are observant and adorable. That’s what it’s like.
  • Due to their bilingualism, babies who learn two languages simultaneously pick up different ways to solve logic problems or to handle multitasking. I will freely admit, as a monolingual child, that I absolutely suck at multitasking. Kathryn, however, is a chronic multitasker and she does it admirably well. Hmmm.
  • Bilingual babies are “more cognitively flexible” and have “precocious development of executive function”. I totally want somebody to describe my baby as cognitively flexibly and precociously developed. There would be no higher honor.

So basically, the argument of the article is: you should probably raise your child bilingual.

Obviously this isn’t the simplest thing to do if you yourself are monolingual and marry someone who is equally as language handicapped. It is my deepest darkest dream to get hitched to a Spaniard, but let’s face it, reality is working against me on that one.

Here’s the sticking point: babies are like sponges. They have to start from scratch with the whole ‘becoming a functional member of society’ routine, so naturally they absorb anything and everything thrown at them. Ideally, this would include communication skills. And research is showing that you won’t permanently screw your baby up if you teach the little one how to speak two languages within the home. Huzzah! My baby will be proficient in Spanish by the time he’s 3.

But what’s the advantage of raising your child bilingual? Well, primarily, you get to be the egomaniacal parent who boasts to the other parents at daycare that your baby is cognitively flexible, and that’s obviously why she’s chewing on two toys at once as opposed to just one. What a proud moment. On top of that, though, there’s this totally random thing called globalization that everyone’s talking about lately. As our world shrinks (what a funny phrase), it’s becoming increasingly important to know more than one language. Many colleges now require students to meet some level of proficiency in a second language before he or she can graduate. Large American corporations have fleets of international business associates who are hired for their dual-language capabilities. Walk down any street in downtown Minneapolis and you’re bound to hear at least four different spoken languages within a five block jaunt. I don’t want to get political here, but it is an inescapable reality of our modern nation that knowing English does not automatically classify an individual as an American citizen. If knowing a second language is such a useful capability, why not teach your child to speak Spanish, or Mandarin, or French, or Swahili, when they’re young and most likely to retain what they learn?

I think I can speak for the rest of the slubs when I assert our house’s solid belief in the beauty of multilingualism. Nora, Kat and I all studied Spanish during parts of high school and college, and are at least conversationally fluent. Anna and Laura have taken French, a seriously undervalued language in our public school system. Anna, Kat, Nora and I all learned a bit of Arabic on our study abroad trip (Anna and Nora more so than the rest of us), and Laura picked up some measure of Italian during her semester in Italy. Think of your own life: how many of you were taught a second language in school? Have you ever been in a situation where you thought, ‘if only I knew another language’? Have you ever traveled abroad and tried to learn the native tongue in order to be more culturally sensitive? How many different languages do you come into contact with on a daily basis?

Like the article argues, bilingualism isn’t a thing to be feared: it should, and must, be embraced.

I’m going to end this on a light note – if you want a more serious and heart-tugging post, you’re going to have to hit Kat up for more of her well-penned prose. Just imagine how cute your child/grandchild/niece/nephew/stolen baby would be if they babbled partly in English and partly in Hindi. I know. It’s almost too much to handle.

con amor (do you see what I did there?!),

shan