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Individualistic Mentality and Ethics from the Margins:


A Semester-Length Investigation

Liza D. Kroeschell

Dominican University of California


HONO 3501: Moral Philosophy
Dr. Laura Stivers
05/07/2013

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02/17/2013
Journal 1
Military Infidelity: A Sub-Cultural Destiny or a Judgment-Worthy Anomaly?

My best friend from high school, Rachel, joined the army in January of 2010 when she
turned seventeen. In February 2011, she married Kyle, who she met at language school in
Monterey and had known for less than a year. In November of 2012, Kyle fell into a fit of
madness, accused Rachel of adultery with a married sergeant and threatened her with a knife.
The two separated in December 2012, and two weeks later she spent five days at my familys
home in Iowa. During her visit, she explained that in the days following the separation from her
husband, she and the Sergeant, though violating a no-contact order from her commander, had
commenced a secret romantic relationship.
I will examine my quandary of whether I could judge Rachels actions through the
theoretical lenses of ethical relativism and moral objectivism Ethical relativism asserts that every
culture has a different moral code and that actions can only be judged from within individual
cultures, while moral objectivism maintains that all cultures adhere to some basic moral
principles and people can therefore judge actions from outside particular cultures.
After I gently expressed disapproval of Rachels affair, saying, Why does this
relationship need to happen right now? Couldnt it wait until things have settled down? Rachel
informed me that I could not judge her actions without understanding the environment in which
she lived. According to Rachel, the control exercised over minute details of soldiers lives
encourages sneaky, rebellious behavior. This kind of thing happens all the time, she said. Its
normal.

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After absorbing her argument, I yielded to her logic. I did not want to impose my naive,
art-major vision of morality on her fast-paced, real-world, working life. I subconsciously
believed that, by engaging ethical relativismaccepting the fact that I did not know anything
about army mentality and therefore could not judge Rachels choicesI promoted pluralism and
tolerance. However, Princeton philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah demonstrates
problems with this argument in his book, Cosmopolitanism:
People often recommend relativism because they think it will lead to tolerance.
But if we cannot learn from one another what it is right to think and feel and do,
then conversation between us will be pointless. Relativism of that sort isnt a way
to encourage conversation; its just a reason to fall silent (Appiah, 31).
Appiahs words reflected the regret I experienced after Rachel left. I wished that,
instead of showing relative politeness, I had taken a more aggressive, objective
approach by expressing my disapproval of her actions. I understood that certain
circumstances required breaking rules. However, I also believed that Rachels affair with
this sergeant did not represent justifiable rule-breaking. I also believed it was immoral to
date a man with three children who was still living with his wife, especially considering
Rachels marriage.
Although I feel this way, it was difficult for me to take an objectivist stance with Rachel
because I understood that concepts of marriage, sexual relations, and familial responsibility
range widely across the planet. For example, some Mormon and Afghani women under the
Taliban marry into polygamous families. However, upon further reflection, I discovered that I
could excuse these instances of polygamy and infidelity either on the premise that, in certain
cases, lack of men in a community presented justification for the act, the example represented an
anomaly Appiah might call counter-cosmopolitan or the instance exemplified a long tradition

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Comment [1]: It is better not to end paragraphs in
long quotes.

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of patriarchy which I could critique (Appiah, 143). As Appiah points out, not every person has
these universal traits or capacities-- in this case, the value of monogamous fidelity. As long as
an overwhelming majority of people recognize these universal laws, however, they represent
points from which we can judge the morality of others (Appiah, 95).
According to Cosmopolitanism, I could judge Rachels relationship while acknowledging
Rachels claim that the strictness of military life invites rebellion. According to a Slate article by
Alison Buckholtz, What Military Spouses Know About Infidelity, the military seems to
exacerbate the normal tensions that any couple might face, whether they involve money, raising
the kids, or extracurricular sexual activities, leading one woman to claim that the culture of the
military contribute[s] to the [infidelity] problem (Buckholtz). My perspective outside of the
military clearly limits my understanding of Rachels environment. Nonetheless, my

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cosmopolitan interpretation of her affair leads me to see it as an unjustifiable inconsistency with


the semi-universal value of fidelity. This value, I point out, is prevalent in the military, the
United States and the Catholic Church, all to which Rachel belongs.
Works Cited
Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Cosmopolitanism. London: Penguin, 2007. Print.
Buckholtz, Alison. "What Military Spouses Know About Infidelity." Slate.com. N.p., 14 Nov.
2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2013.

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02/23/2012
Journal 2
Virtuous Students: How College Costs Encourage a Cycle of Privilege

. . .the ideals and the creativity of the practice are always vulnerable to the
acquisitiveness of the institution, in which the cooperative care for common goods
of the practice is always vulnerable to the competitiveness of the institution. In
this context the essential function of the virtues is clear. Without them, without
justice, courage, and truthfulness, practices could not resist the corrupting power
of institutions (Alasdair MacIntyre, in Pojman, 332).

Last semester, I took what I considered a challenging Shakespeare class at Dominican


University of California, taught by Sister Aaron. To devote a necessary nine hours of my week to
reading and analyzing the plays, writing essays, studying for quizzes, and eventually receiving an
A, I cut my work hours at the cafeteria by more than half, a privilege I could afford as a result of
my parents secure financial situation. I show, in this essay, that the educational institution and
policies surrounding education funding prevent students from becoming virtuous students by
forcing some to work excessive hours. I also demonstrate that this necessity for some students to
work distributes power and privilege unevenly because some students can borrow money if
[they] have to from their parents, as Mitt Romney proposed during the 2012 presidential
campaign (Friedman).
Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre developed a form of virtue ethics focused on
practices. He believes that everyone participates in a practice and that each practice requires the
cultivation of certain virtues. For example, a nursewho practices nursingcultivates the
virtues of compassion and honesty when performing her practice properly (Stivers). Similarly, a

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studentwho practices learningcultivates the virtues of diligence and patience when


performing well in school. However, in the case of the latter example, the educational institution,
often concerned with money, forces students into situations which prevent these virtues from
manifesting.
According to Battling College Costs, a Paycheck at a Time, a New York Times article
detailing the experiences of three working college students, grades suffer when students work
excessive hours (Lieber). For example, a colleague in my Shakespeare class, Nicole Maguire,
worked full-time in addition to her responsibilities as a single mother and her 15-unit class load
through the Pathways program at Dominican. Her impossible schedule prevented her from
completing all of Sister Aarons readings or finishing papers to her best ability, although she was
capable. She had earned a 4.0 GPA in high school, but struggled to maintain a C in Shakespeare.
Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Florida, Pilar Mendoza,

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addressed Maguires situation in the Journal of Student Financial Aid. She said that students

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who work excessively receive worse grades and are less likely to graduate than those who do

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not. Mendoza also noted that because of the cost of higher education, some students must choose
between debt and work (Lieber).
Nicole Maguire is a motivated, smart, dedicated individual. She demonstrates these
virtues by pursuing an education despite her lack of time and energy. However, because of her
financial situation, her grades last semester did not reflect these virtuous qualities. She was
unable to borrow money from her parents, she received insufficient scholarships from the
government, and she had such a heavy workload at the university that she did not have time to
complete her school work to her best, most virtuous ability.

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To MacIntyre, Maguires experience exemplifies how the ideals...of the practice are
always vulnerable to the acquisitiveness of the institution (Pojman, 332). However, in addition
to corrupting Maguires virtues as a student, the education system, which charges students more
than is possible to pay without accumulating debt or working full-time while in school,
privileges students like me over Maguire. Unlike Maguire, I can receive something closer to an
A-minus average in school because of my more flexible work schedule. Hypothetically, my
grades might provide me better, higher paying jobs or more financial aid for graduate school
compared to Maguire. I might be able to help my children pay for college, while her children
may have to work full time. In this way, the cycle of privilege prevents Maguire and her
descendants from ever exceeding my income though she works as hardor, arguably, harder
than I do.
To disperse privilege more equally, we must, as Harry Brod, a founder of Mens Studies,
writes, change the institutions which give [privilege] to [us] (Johnson, 35). Until then students
in precarious financial situations must decide whether to assume debt they might never repay-which Immanuel Kant, an ethical theorist of the Enlightenment, deemed unethical through his
theory, the Categorical Imperative (Pojman, 230)--or struggle for a C-average while working
full-time. In any case, education is worth the price to John Stuart Mill, another ethical theorist
who said, It is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied (Pojman, 158).

Works Cited
Friedman, Emily. "Mitt Romney Offers Advice on Parental Loans, Majoring in English, and
Sticking to the Facts." ABC News. N.p., 27 Apr. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

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Comment [2]: Since most universities are nonprofit, it seems to me that it isnt simply an issue of
the acquisitiveness of the institution but an issue of
our society not giving priority to education. We
could as a nation decide to subsidize college
education for students like Europe does.

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Johnson, Allan G. Privilege, Power, and Difference. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.
Lieber, Ron. "College Costs, Battled a Paycheck at a Time." New York Times. N.p., 9 Feb. 2013.
Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
Pojman, Louis P. Moral Philosophy: A Reader. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1993. Print.
Stivers, Laura. "Virtue Ethics." Moral Philosophy. Dominican University of California, San
Rafael. 21 Feb. 2013. Lecture.

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03/01/2013
Journal 3
From Individual to Society: Racism as an Immediate, Systemic Issue
From an individualistic perspective, if you arent consciously or openly
prejudiced or hurtful, then you arent part of the problem. You might show
disapproval of bad people and even try to help out the people who are hurt by
them. Beyond that, however, the trouble doesnt have anything to do with you so
far as you can see. If your feelings and thoughts and outward behavior are good,
then you are good, and thats all that matters (Johnson, 85).
Two and a half minutes: thats how long it took me to find two online news articles from
the past ten days dealing with race-related issues in the United States. One New York Times
article, Magazine Cover Draws Claims of Racism, outlines reactions to the Bloomberg
Businessweek magazine cover published February 25 about the housing rebound in the United
States. According to the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Hugo
Balta the cartoon image, which features cartoon figure minorities holding fistfuls of money,
blames minorities for the housing crisis blames minorities for the housing crisis (Vega). The
second article, also from the New York Times, and titled Emory Universitys Leader Reopens its
Racial Wounds, explains the backlash experienced by the president of Emory University, James
W. Wagner. In the universitys magazine, Wagner praised the 1787 three-fifths compromise,
which allowed each slave to be counted as three-fifths of a person in determining how much
Congressional power the Southern states would have, as an example of how polarized people
could find common ground (Severson).
We could interpret each article as an isolated, unintentional act of racism. However,
together, these articles represent a systemic issue. The articles demonstrate that, while not every

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United States (US) citizen acts on an external belief that ethnic minorities are inferior, the
structures in which we live and our socialization contribute to the permeation of racism. In my
essay, I define the three levels of oppression, explain how people interpret these two specific
incidents as individual racism, evaluate the incidents in terms of the larger, cultural milieu and
societal structures that support racism and consider whether we can blame the individuals
implicated in these two incidents.
At the individual level of oppression, one person or group expresses racism and receives
responsibility and blame for that action. At the cultural level, society cultivates social norms that
render actions at the individual level acceptable. For example, it is normal for a white man to
become president while it is an anomaly for an African American to take any leadership role.
Society communicates norms such as this through television, art, music, history books and
advertisements. At the institutional level, governments and organizations apply social norms
created at the cultural level through laws and guidelines, placing white upper-class men in
leadership roles while preventing ethnic minorities from achieving power and privilege.
Our culture interprets both the magazine artwork disproportionately representing
minorities as those responsible for and affected by the housing crisis and James D. Wagners
outdated support of the three-fifths compromise as racism on only the individual level of
oppression. We argue that Wagner made the comment on his own and that the artist of the
magazine cover is alone responsible for his artwork. We convince ourselves that not everyone
commits these racist actionsthat the mistakes of these two people are rare.
However, a more comprehensive analysis of these two incidents demonstrates the
implication of the cultural and institutional levels of oppression in forming a society in which
racism occurs. The magazine cover represents cultural oppression because it is in the media,

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Comment [3]: Good explanation of these.

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which has a profound effect on peoples attitudes and beliefs in relation to social norms.
Additionally, the artwork assumes that all those benefiting from the housing rebound are
minorities. The artwork is an example of institutional oppression because the small group who
approved the artwork, at least the editor, consists solely of white males. Similarly, the Bloomberg
Businessweek magazine is run by an institution, thus the institution approved the cartoon.
Wagners comment represents cultural oppression because he assumed that the three-fifths
compromise was a progressive deal that satisfied all US citizens, when it degraded African
Americans to something less than human.
Both the editor of Bloomberg Businessweek Josh Tyraniel and Wagner apologized for
their respective mistakes. Tyrangiel said, our intention was not to offend while Wagner called
his comment an oversight. The cartoon artist who drew the magazine cover is himself Hispanic
and has claimed that the characters he drew were simply the result of his culturehe knows
minorities thus he draws minorities. These apologies and explanations challenge whether we can
judge racist actions inexcusable when they were unintentional. As professor of religion Jennifer
Harvey points out in her blog,
Intent and impact have (almost) nothing to do with each other...Ironically enough,
the only way to actually prove good intentions is to stop insisting they are there
and instead take the impact so seriously that we admit how much we don't know,
work to change our understanding and behavior, and insist again and again that
others do the same (Harvey).
The flow of individual racial comments and insensitivity will not change as long as racism is
supported culturally and institutionally. Thus, we must reconstruct our institutions. For example,
as President of the National Association of Black journalists Gregory Lee Jr. suggested in
response to the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek, The image that was published by Bloomberg

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Businessweek is just a microcosm of a bigger problem in the magazine industry the lack of
diversity. Promoting privilege for more people by enacting policies which encourage minorities
to become editors of magazines or attend Emory University, for example, would be one way to
more effectively challenge racism in our culture and institutions.
Great rewrite of this entry!
Works Cited
Harvey, Jennifer. "It's Not About the Onion: Intent vs. Impact." Web log post. Huffington Post.
N.p., 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.
Johnson, Allan G. Privilege, Power, and Difference. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.
Severson, Kim, and Robbie Brown. "Emory University's President Reopens Its Racial Wounds."
New York Times. N.p., 23 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.
Stivers, Laura. "Levels of Oppression." Moral Philosophy. Dominican University of California,
San Rafael. 28 Feb. 2013. Lecture.
Vega, Tanzina. "Magazine Cover Draws Claims of Racism." New York Times. N.p., 28 Feb.
2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

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04/09/2013
Journal 4
Service Meets the Workplace: What my Job has Taught Me about Underemployment
Ive worked at Dominican University of Californias cafeteria for almost two years now
and with every shift I realize more about the way this business plays into wealth inequality in the
United States. Ive heard managers brusquely remind Rawda, a twenty-year employee at the
cafeteria, that, as a business, Bon Appetit, the management company that controls the cafeteria,
cannot guarantee hours, especially when business is slow. For Rawda, this means that
whenever the university has an academic holiday, her paycheck suffers. During those weeks, she
begs to come in and do extra work, such as clean the catering office. Unfortunately, management
usually informs her that she will have to stay home.
At the St. Vincent de Paul help desk as part of my service learning, I met a homeless,
unemployed El Salvadorian man named Felix. Felix is a single father of four children. When I
met him, the regular help desk volunteer, Bonnie, tried to enroll Felix in the REST program,
which provides a place for homeless people to sleep at night, while encouraging him to have his
children sleep with his friend for as long as possible while he continued to search for work in the
area. Bonnie asked him if he had been to the Ritter Center, which organizes case files for
homeless and unemployed individuals and helps direct them to work and services. To this
question, he listed at least five wait-lists he had joined in the last two weeks and rested his head
on the desk in defeat.
Last Sunday, I ran into Felix in the dish room at work. He wore a huge grin. Five days a
week! he told me when I asked him how often hed be working at the cafeteria. Though I am
thrilled that Felix found a job, my understanding of the difficulty of climbing out of

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homelessness in the United States coupled with my understanding of businesses and hours,
specifically those at Dominicans cafeteria, cause me to worry about Felixs future. The cafeteria
offers him twenty hours per week, so Felix continues to search for work, even work that would
require him to relocate with his children. This situation has inspired me to wonder what I can do
and what we can do nationally to solve the problem of underemployment in the United States.
Susan J. Lambert, an expert on part-time work and a professor of organizational
theory at the University of Chicago, said the use of part-timers had also escalated
because of the declining power of labor unions. They set a standard for what a
real job was Monday through Friday with full-time hours, she said. Weve
moved away from that (Greenhouse, p. 4).
My mother, a state legislator in Iowa, will be the first to say that the efficacy of unions
has weakened over the past several years, an observation Professor of Ethics Laura

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Stivers credits to competition from the global economy as well as anti-labor government

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policy (Stivers, 35). Some of this weakening of unions my mother blames on states

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right to work policies, which allow both workers to choose whether they pay unions to
represent them and companies to fire employees without just cause. At the same time,
federal law, or the Taft/Hartley Act, requires unions to represent every worker under their
jurisdiction, whether or not that worker pays the union dues.
Other policies related to union strength that hurt workers such as Felix are the
ways in which we finance campaigns in the US. Capitalists, who sit on the boards and run
corporations, no doubt have more money than their hourly workers, and can pour that
money into campaigns and lobbies that support their agendas. Campaign finance reform
could strengthen unions by reducing the privilege of corporations and the top 10 percent
to influence public policy. Unfortunately, corporations already control much of the
government with their money. Additionally, voters, educated on campaign finance reform

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through the media, which is owned by affluent people, often buy the claim that union
choice represents freedom while misunderstanding the essential workers rights achieved
by unions. For these reasons, progressive campaign finance reform and an end to right to
work legislation have been politically impossible to achieve. Thus, unions continue to
weaken and Felix and Rawda have less autonomy and control over their hours and
working conditions.
Works Cited
Greenhouse, Steven. "A Part-Time Life: As Hours Shrink and Shift." [Spring Valley] 27 Oct.
2012: n. pag. Print.
Stivers, Laura A. Disrupting Homelessness: Alternative Christian Approaches. Minneapolis:
Fortress, 2011. Print.
Sounds like you have a future in politics! J You have really important insights that many do not
have into the importance of unions for workers.

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04/24/2013
Journal 5
Tackling Homelessness: Criminalization versus Social Network Construction
Interfaith Homeless Chaplain of Marin, Paul Gaffney, defines homelessness as a loss of

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social network (Gaffney). By social network, he means back-up plans. People who are homeless

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do not have anyone to which to turn when things go wrong. For instance, if I were to become

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sick and unable to work, I could turn to my parents. If they could not take me, I would call my
aunts and uncles or my cousins. Perhaps I would stay with a close friend. This system of people

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Comment [4]: My understanding of this term was
not simply back-up plans but deep relationships with
people who will and can support and care for one
another.

on which I rely does not exist for people who are homeless. Therefore, when they become sick,
lose their job, or move out of a dangerous home, they become homeless.
If we define homelessness as a loss of network, the question is not, Why are people
homeless? Rather, the question becomes, How do we cultivate a system of networks for people
who are or might become homeless? The answer is not law enforcement, which assumes that
people are homeless because of personal deficiencies. Rather, the answer lies in developing
reliable social networks, or back-up plans for people who are at risk for becoming homeless.
Laura Stivers notes in her book, Disrupting Homelessness,
People who are perceived as victims of misfortune and are willing to be helped
are deemed deserving and offered aid that aims to form them into responsible
citizens who can be successful in our society. People who are perceived as
making bad choices and causing their homelessness and/or are unwilling to
cooperate with aid agencies are deemed undeserving and subjected to laws that
criminalize them (Stivers, 57).
To shift from criminalization of the homeless to policies that create networks, we can include
people who are homeless in our conversation about homelessness.

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Comment [5]: Not exactly clear what you mean.

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When law enforcement and other governmental agencies make decisions about
homelessness, they often listen to anecdotes and suggestions from people with full agency who
are not homeless. This is how we end up with laws that criminalize panhandling, addiction, and

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camping. These activities make some privileged people uncomfortable, but represent necessary
survival tools for people who are homeless. For example, Gerald, a man who wanders in and out
of homelessness after a debilitating car accident in the case Homelessness: the How and Why of

Caring, could be fined $50 and receive a civil infraction if a police officer thinks he has

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Comment [6]: No italics for article titles.

crossed the line and intimidated someone [while panhandling]. Failure to pay the fine or show
up in court could mean criminal prosecution and jail (Case, 1). This is true even though
panhandling represents the best way for Gerald to subsidize his income to both pay for rent in a
Housing First apartment for chronically homeless people and afford food and other necessities.
Similarly, Jim Loveland and two friends who camp under a bridge in Des Moines, Iowa,
received eviction notices in the middle of winter, when it was most difficult to move their homes.
I didnt know it was a crime to be homeless, said Loveland in a video tour of his dwelling
(Visit a Des Moines Homeless Camp).
If the communities and governments included Jim Loveland and Gerald in conversations
about homelessness, they would realize that bringing these two men off the streets means
creating a social network for them. This network can materialize in the form of certain safety
nets on which people can fall back when they do not have family or friends to help them. As
Timothy Harris in The Politics of Disgust, wites: When people talk about the new normal,
whats being discussed it the acceptance of a permanent impoverished underclass, high levels of

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Comment [7]: Involving them in community
groups, especially churches can be very effective as
well.

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unemployment, and the absence of a safety net for those whose labor is no longer in demand
(Harris, 1). These safety nets could appear at the government level in the form of tax reform

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Deleted: mentions

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that redistributes wealth, allowing lower-income people to afford housing. Government could
also prevent people from becoming homeless by building enough affordable housing to
accommodate the working class. Similarly, communities could create social networks by
founding art programs for impoverished youth (Stivers) or engaging a local mechanic willing to
teach poor people to fix their vehicles (Gaffney). As Harris states,
I think that creating the real change that we all need begins with simply seeing
people as people. Im afraid that might sound awfully obvious, but its easy to
miss how stigmatizing homelessness is, and how the everyday dehumanization of
extreme poverty gets internalized in ways we dont always appreciate (Harris, 1).
These approaches recognize that homelessness is not simply a result of individual deficiencies,
but largely a product of structural oppression and privilege permeating society.

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Comment [8]: You didnt really talk about
privilege per se so it is a little strange to conclude
with it.

Works Cited

Case Homelessness: The How and Why of Caring. N.d. Dialogue on Public Policy.
Gaffney, Paul. "Homelessness." Moral Philosophy. Dominican University of California, San
Rafael. 11 Apr. 2013. Lecture.
Harris, Timothy. The Politics of Disgust. N.d.
Stivers, Laura A. Disrupting Homelessness: Alternative Christian Approaches. Minneapolis:
Fortress, 2011. Print.
Visit a Des Moines Homeless Camp. Perf. Jim Loveland. Des Moines Register. N.p., n.d. Web.
20 Apr. 2013.

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04/30/2012
Journal 6
Room to Learn: Why Some Children Dont Pass the Tests
Summer of 2012, I volunteered for one week at NAGATA Dance camp, founded and
maintained by LINES Ballet BFA Horton instructor Corinne Nagata, known as Ms. Nagata to
her students. NAGATA Dance Camp is an annual for-profit summer program designed to
enrich the lives of children and adults through dance course work and a unique curriculum,
which inspires excellence, uplifts the human spirit, instills a sense of team work and fosters a
lifelong passion for the arts (Nagata Dances Mission Statement). The camp represents Ms.
Nagatas main source of annual income. It takes place at and attracts students from the San
Francisco Friends School, a private elementary institution, the yearly tuition for which is
approximately $26,000 per child.
While working at NAGATA Dance Camp, I learned a lot from Ms. Nagatas diverse
teaching experiences in urban schools. Ms. Nagata teaches free Saturday classes at inner city
schools in addition to NAGATA Dance Camp and weekly classes at private schools, such as the
San Francisco Friends School and the French American School.
After all the Dance Camp parents had picked up their children one afternoon during
NAGATA Dance Camp 2012, I commented on the small outside play space at the Friends
School. As a Midwesterner, I expected elementary school playgrounds to include a swing set,
large soccer field, and complex play structure with a slide. The tiny netted climbing ball, picnic
benches, concrete steps and turf at the Friends School dumbfounded me. These kids are lucky,
said Ms. Nagata. At a public school in New York, I taught an entire dance class on a staircase

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because there wasnt enough space. This realizationthat some children attend schools where
lack of space forces them to learn dance while standing on a staircaserepresented my first
tangible insight regarding inconsistent quality education in the United States (US). Since then,
my understanding of the ways the US government evaluates and addresses education
shortcomings has shifted.
In the US, we test students to determine student and teacher progress. When students
and teachers do not meet state and national educational standards, we punish them: we put them

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on lists until they improve and if they do not improve, the federal government cuts their funding.

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(Wessel-Kroeschell). As Jonathan Kozol states in his book The Shame of the Nation,

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Higher standards, higher expectations, are insistently demanded of these urban


principals, and of their teachers and the students in their schools, but far lower
standards certainly in ethical respects appear to be expected of the dominant
society that isolates these children in unequal institutions (Kozol, 34).
The government cannot hold students and teachers accountable for poor learning outcomes when

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lack of funding requires, for example, students to learn how to dance in spaces that do not
facilitate moving, such as staircases.
The governments emphasis on student and teacher performance as determined by testing
disregards the multitude of reasons that some students, especially minorities and people who are
poor, do not achieve educational standards and goals outlined by the government. The fact that
poor kids who attend school with other poor kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods are less likely
to graduate from high school than rich kids who attend well-funded schools in wealthy

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neighborhoods hints at the fundamental issues behind problems with the US education system.
For example, school funding reliant on property taxes disadvantages poor neighborhoods.
Additionally, an emphasis on testing leads teachers to focus on content and not divergent,

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Comment [9]: Id say it disadvantages the kids
not the neighborhoods per se.

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encourage

K r o e s c h e l l | 21

creative thinking (RSA Animate). Rather than focusing on the issues of power and privilege or

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the importance of creativity in learning, the education debate targets teachers and students as

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individuals responsible for the fate of their students and their own success, respectively.

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As is often the case with morally charged policy issues false dichotomies seem
to have replaced fruitful conversation. If you support the teachers union, you
dont care about the students. If you are critical of the teachers union, you dont
care about the teachers. If you are in favor of charter schools, you are opposed to
public schools. If you believe in increased testing, you are on board with the
corruption of our liberal societys most cherished educational values. If you are
against increased testing, you are against accountability. It goes on. Neither side
seems capable of listening to the other (Mahler).
Concentration on the failures of individualsteachers and studentsignores the truth that US
policies related to education do not address the salient issues facing students, such as lack of
funding in poor neighborhoods and schools, where money is even more necessary due to a high
number of ESL and reduced-lunch students. Students in poor schools are not inherently lazy.
Rather, they face structural issues that prevent them from learning in a nurturing environment.
Every student could benefit from an environment which facilitates learning, just as children will
learn to dance better when not dancing on a staircase.

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K r o e s c h e l l | 22

Works Cited
Kozol, Jonathan. The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America.
New York: Crown, 2005. Print.
Mahler, Jonathan. "The Deadlocked Debate Over Education." New York Times. N.p., 9 Apr.
2011. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
"Nagata Dance's Mission Statement." About Nagata Dance. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
RSA Animate--Changing Education Paradigms. Dir. Ken Robinson, Sir. TheRSA.org. YouTube,
14 Oct. 2010. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
Wessel-Kroeschell, Beth. "Funding Schools." E-mail interview. 30 Apr. 2013.

K r o e s c h e l l | 23

05/07/2013
Conclusion
Reflecting on my study of ethics from the margins, my most pervasive discovery has
been the harmful effect of individualistic mentality on the margins. In the United States (US), we
focus on the successes and failures of individuals, believing in the American dreamthat every
person can succeed if only he or she tries. As a result, we tend to punish or oppress people for
their failures and lift up those who have succeeded, through home ownership, full-time work,
and having a family. Unfortunately, in doing this, we fail to note that structures of power and
privilege often predetermine these failures and successes. An individualistic mentality blinds
citizens and policymakers from the role cultures and institutions have in nurturing economic
opportunity. Each of my journals addresses a different aspect of this idea.
In my second journal, my peer Nicole Maguire suffered in school because the system of
higher education in the US forced her to work full-time as a single mother while attending
Dominican University or accumulate massive debt. Meanwhile, I thrived because I was born into
a family with resources that allowed me to cut my work hours to study.

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My third journal demonstrated that, although the media often depicts acts of racism such

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as the Bloomberg Businessweek magazine cover over-representing minorities and Emory


president James D. Wagners quote endorsing the three-fifths compromise, as individual, rare
acts of racism, structures in the US, such as the overrepresentation of white men holding
powerful positions, leads to these acts. As I state, Promoting privilege for more people by
enacting policies which encourage minorities to become editors of magazines or attend Emory

K r o e s c h e l l | 24

University, for example, would be one way to more effectively challenge racism in our culture
and institutions (11).
In my fourth journal, I addressed the near insurmountable obstacles keeping my coworkers at Dominicans cafeteria, Felix and Rawda, from acquiring or maintaining reliable fulltime hours and, thus lifting themselves out of poverty. The situations of my co-workers led me to
a discussion of campaign finance reform in the US and how the rich control policy through

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campaigns and the media, preventing unions from substantially supporting Felix and Rawda,
who are both capable, willing, hard working individuals.
My fifth journal focused on the efficacy of criminalization of homeless people versus
more community-based approaches that create social networks. My analysis of two men, Gerald,
a panhandler, and Jim Loveland, a camper, revealed that, without safety nets, poor people in the
US might justifiably break the law to survive. This journal makes a distinction between
individual failures or laziness, considered punishable, and societal failures and laziness to
support people who do not have agency or social networks.
My sixth journal showed how systems of power and privilege disadvantage people before
they become adults, when they enter school in the US. Because the US funds schools unequally,

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Comment [10]: This makes it sound as if any
individual failure or laziness can be considered
punishable.

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some children are forced to learn in places that do not encourage learning, as I demonstrated

Comment [11]: Sentence a little confusing.

through my image of learning dance on a staircase, where it is nearly impossible to move.

Comment [12]: Dont start sentences with


because.

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Although my investigation of ethics from the margins has revealed the faults of an
individualistic mentality, I cannot assume that everyone in the margins is a victim of systems of
power and privilege. People in the margins make decisions despite the systems oppressing them.

Comment [13]: Could be said more clearly.

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K r o e s c h e l l | 25

This idea is related to my first journal, in which I tackled the line between ethical relativism and
moral objectivism when considering my friends romantic affair. I concluded by endorsing
Cosmopolitanism, which recognizes the cultural differences that cause people to act in ways that
might be strange to me, but also considers that some acts are intolerable based on universal
ideals. When looking at ethics from the margins, we can integrate Cosmopolitanism. Perhaps
there are people in the margins that abuse the welfare system, for example. We might consider
this an intolerable act. However, we cannot judge that abuse without putting it into perspective of
money in the US at large, where Wall Street bankers have abused millions more dollars without

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receiving punishment due to structural insufficiencies. Accountability lies somewhere, but not all
of it can we attribute to individuals living on the margins.
Journal Grade A
Course Grade A

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Liza,
This is a wonderful journal! You reconstruct the theories from class really well and you relate
them in very creative ways to current events and issues. I like that you identified a theme
throughout the entries the individualistic mentality and how it especially hurts/further
disadvantages people on the margins and keeps us as a society from addressing oppression on a
structural level. I think this is a very important insight.
It has been a joy to have you in class. You are a deep and creative thinker. I really look forward
to what your future holds. Please stay in touch.
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