Guest Post: Exploring Development

Hi! My name is Ale, a first-year student at IEDP, and I’ve written a guest post for this week’s blog to provide a different perspective on the EDUC 514 course. I’m in a section taught by Dr. Wagner, as opposed to Hannah who is in Dr. GK’s section. Hopefully, this post will give you a sense of variety available at IEDP by showing how one course can be similar but different at the same time when taught by two different professors!

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     As a native English speaker, the best part of having international friends who must navigate English as their second or third or sixth language is having to define and re-define words. Everything from how we greet each other to how I phrase things is broken down and analyzed (most of the time I end up apologizing for my Chicago accent, sorry not sorry), making me constantly reflect on language. One word that gave us all pause, and what Hannah covered last blog, was development

     “Exactly what is development?”, is something that we would discuss and try to define and explain, but then stop and realize it was near impossible. In our section of EDUC 514, taught by Dr. Wagner, we spent the first three weeks defining Development within three broad themes; International Development, Human Development: A Life-Span Approach, and Learning as Development. Each class added on to a discussion from the previous class, with readings connecting to each other or showing the same idea through a different perspective. We sensed that these weeks, even if they felt repetitive, were necessary to lay a foundation to hopefully answer, or approach an answer to, “What is development?”.

     For me, that question was usually followed by, ” Well then, what am I doing here?”, which would also throw me into a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. The shift from being ‘on the ground’ and working in development to back in the classroom talking about it has not been easy. Readings about policy and background sometimes feel heavy but empty. Luckily, Dr. Wagner also assigns us readings that are more stories than studies. The practicality of stories being easy to read is a nice ‘brain break’ from technical readings, but also remind me of the humanity behind the charts, graphs, and numbers within those technical readings. The power of stories is that they give context to policies and humanize big ideas.

     For the most part, stories have been about a paragraph or so, and are part of the introduction to a week’s reading. We talk about the characters in these stories, their communities, the activities they took part of, and their outcomes and analyze it through the lens of that week’s theme. Often, we find ourselves adding in previous themes that further discussions and lead to other questions. I find that by ‘grounding’ our readings through narratives, I am able to connect to the theme of the week in a way that erases my “What am I doing here?” thoughts, and steers the class into thinking about the ‘reality’ of the more technical readings.

     This past week we discussed Equity and Equality and read a chapter out of Zimabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga’s semi-autobiographical novel, Nervous Conditions. In the chapter, Tsitsi talks about her childhood and how she worked hard at age 7/8 to earn money to cover her school fees. It is an amazing story that connects to the week’s theme as well as reflect on how outside interventions help or harm children like Tsitsi. Her TEDTalk added to the discussion, although we only watched 8 or so minutes of it. (This class needs to be an hour longer to get through everything!)  

     We ended class by reflecting on the power of stories and bringing up some of the implications of allowing one story to represent a group…..which, thinking about it now, is the perfect set up for next week’s discussion on Fieldwork and the two controversial ethnographic studies assigned as readings. This TEDTalk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explores the dangers of a single story. 

Great video to sort our thoughts on the latest class discussion and segue to the next week’s discussion! 

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