About the Readings
- Susquehanna University Learning Goals
- Lolita (Chapter 1) from Reading Lolita in Tehran: A memoir in books
- Investing in Education from Half the Sky: Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide
- Liberal Learning and the Practice of Freedom
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Letter from a Birmingham Jail
- The United States Constitution
- The American Constitution (Chapter 5) from Freedom in American
- Happy Illegal Holiday
- Four Freedoms Address to Congress excerpt
- Freedom to offend
- Freedom and Responsibility
- My Genome, My Self
- Facebook Nation (Chapter 1), from I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social networks and the death of privacy
- A Sound of Thunder
Faculty, staff and students
One of Susquehanna’s distinctive hallmarks is the Central Curriculum, which represents the faculty’s commitment to provide the broadest opportunities for students to achieve the Susquehanna University learning goals. The learning goals emerged from a campus-wide dialogue about what kinds of learning, both knowledge and skills, should distinguish Susquehanna graduates. The Central Curriculum was designed to provide you a pathway to attain the learning goals.
The Central Curriculum provides the breadth of your Susquehanna education, complementing the depth of learning provided by your major. Your learning doesn’t stop at the classroom door, however. You will find the influence of the learning goals in your residential life experience, your participation in athletics and student organizations, and your work experiences in academic or administrative offices.
The common reading is the first of many invitations you will receive in your time at Susquehanna to learn in a mix of formal and informal settings. Just as the Central Curriculum is a common framework for the education of all Susquehanna students, the common reading is a shared experience that enriches learning for all first-year students and strengthens your connections within our intellectual community. I hope you will find rewarding your opportunities to discuss the readings in class, participate in campus events built around the theme of the readings, and share thoughts about the readings with your fellow students.
—Carl Moses, provost and dean of the faculty
After the revolution of 1979 overthrew the Iranian government, several thousand Iranians, including girls of 12 and 13, were executed by the new Islamic Republic; a purge of universities was begun; censorship severely stifled intellectual freedom, and women in particular were subject to stringent rules.
When she could no longer teach with good conscience in the university in Tehran, literature professor Azar Nafisi forged her own resistance to the post-revolutionary terror: she invited women students to meet secretly in her apartment to discuss Western classics such as Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.
Her book Reading Lolita in Tehran is the story of their meetings over a period of two years; thus, it is both memoir and literary analysis. In it we discover how literature supports the freedom of the imagination. Just as Scheherazade’s storytelling (in A Thousand and One Nights) kept her alive, Nafisi’s students use stories to sustain their independence and freedom as intellectual beings in a totalitarian environment that proscribes their every action.
—Susan Bowers, Associate Professor of English
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Investing in Education from Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky (2009) explores the complex economic, medical, cultural and political conditions that result in staggering numbers of females in many nations being denied basic educations. As the authors argue, the solution is not simply a matter of providing money and schools for girls in developing countries. There are less obvious factors that contribute to the epidemic. For example, diets lacking adequate iodine and the prevalence of intestinal worms result in diminished cognitive capacity in children living in impoverished communities. Both of these problems can be resolved through straightforward, inexpensive dietary and medical interventions. However, other more insidious issues such as cultural-based devaluing of women and the wide-spread victimization of female students by school officials and teachers cannot be solved simply through the infusion of resources.
Addressing the deficits in the education of females will require a multifaceted global campaign. Kristof and WuDunn assert the far-reaching impact of that work will not only improve the lives of the girls who are educated, it will pay exponential dividends for their families and communities, and ultimately, have positive global consequences.
As you read, consider the following questions: Is it the responsibility of those of us in the U.S. and other first world nations to be the stewards of efforts to insure an education for girls throughout the world? What level of education should be the guaranteed birthright of every child (female and male) in the world?
—Valerie Allison-Roan and the students enrolled in Literacy II (EDUC:377), spring 2012
Philip H. Phenix
The word “liberal,” as it is used by Professor Philip H. Phenix, is quite different from its use in political discourse today. Historically, the word “liberal”—as used to describe education here—is rooted in the Latin word “liber,” meaning “free.” In this essay, first published in 1967, Phenix explores four ways in which liberal learning is related to the concept of freedom.
Phenix first considers liberal learning as a privilege of freedom. Only those free to pursue leisure activities, rather than worry about their daily survival, have the opportunity to devote time to studying the liberal arts. In Phenix’s words, “liberal studies are a luxury enjoyed by those who can afford to live the good life.” Second, Phenix considers liberal education as a right of freedom. All free persons are entitled to a liberal education. Third, he considers liberal learning as a source of freedom. A person who gains a clearer understanding of the “truth” through education will be freer. Thus Phenix explores the ways in which liberal learning can be liberating. Lastly, Phenix explores liberal learning as the practice of freedom, which he considers to be the point that has been least considered by other scholars. He argues it is critical to recognize the nature of knowledge as more than an objective truth that must be accepted by the student, but instead as the “progressive discovery of truth that is a constructive achievement requiring the active participation of the creative personality”—you, that is!
As you read this essay, consider your thoughts on the purpose of this liberal education on which you are now embarking. Philips contends that the views liberal learning have changed over time. He writes that many students now consider “their studies as chores to be fulfilled in order to earn a degree ... as fostering conformity and dependence rather than freedom, imagination, and creativity.” Do you agree with that this contention? If so, what factors might be responsible for this change? Are there ways in which you anticipate that you might be expand your own freedom as a consequence of a liberal education?
—Alissa Packer, associate professor of biology and director of the common reading program
The United Nations
For most of history, people understood their rights and responsibilities purely in terms of the groups they were born into. Think of a Brahman priest under Hinduism, a knight in the Middle Ages or a woman in Mohammed’s Mecca. This person would have a role in society, and with that would come certain privileges, restrictions and duties. It was only with the rise of the modern world that the idea of universal human rights came into existence, and even then the rhetoric didn’t always line up with reality. Thus the U.S. Declaration of Independence could proclaim, “All men are created equal” while the U.S. constitution counted slaves as three-fifths of a person, for the purpose of assigning representation to the states.
Then, in 1948, just after World War II and the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, the newly formed United Nations General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was the first time the whole world tried to say, together, what rights every human being possesses. Eight countries abstained from this vote. Stalin’s Soviet Union did not agree with freedom of speech, information, or association (Articles 19 and 20), nor with private property rights (Article 17). My native South Africa, which had just elected the first apartheid government under D.F. Malan, was unwilling to sign onto Article 2, which said that governments do not have the right to discriminate on the basis of race.
But 56 countries did support the document, which became the foundation of customary international law. Its passage heralded a half century, which saw everything from colonized people’s independence struggles, to the African-American Civil Rights Movement, to feminism, to the battle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
As you read this document, you might want to ask yourself:
- Does the age of this document show? For example, many human rights declarations today include sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental disability, and age as traits that do not justify discrimination, but in 1948 these particular issues probably weren’t on many people’s radar screens.
- How well do we, in America today, live up to these ideals? Which rights do we do the best job of protecting? Which rights do we most neglect? How good a job has the world done of fulfilling the promise we made to ourselves 65 or so years ago?
—Glen Retief, associate professor of English and creative writing
Martin Luther King, Jr.
In this open letter to other U.S. clergy, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. uses his own period of incarceration to reflect on the importance of freedom and responsibility. Though the 1963 letter begins as a response and explanation to critics of the recent non-violent action in Alabama that got him arrested, its most radical message comes midway through as he calls out moderate white rabbis and ministers for not being more supportive: “shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
King uses his position as a minister to remind his colleagues that they have a responsibility to be leaders for justice. He invokes the language of the Bible to say that we cannot “stand idly by” (Leviticus, 19:16) to remind us that people who are not actively oppressed, who enjoy privileges to which others are denied, have a responsibility to work for the freedom of everyone. As he writes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Think about what freedoms you have that others in our country, or our world, do not: education, safe drinking water, access to sufficient food or simply the freedom to love who you want. Are you doing enough to ensure that everyone has those freedoms? To what extent is it your responsibility to fight on another’s behalf?
—Rabbi Nina H. Mandel, Congregation Beth El in Sunbury, Pa.
As an elected official in our local government, I am expected to uphold the United States Constitution, the “operating manual” of our nation, but that responsibility is not limited to the people we elect. Together, we are the government: citizens cooperating to protect our rights from violence, coercion and fraud. The Constitution exemplifies the delicate balance between freedom and responsibility that we all must navigate.
The Constitution may be changed as our civilization matures, via the amendment process outlined in Article Five. Perhaps the wisest decision made by the authors of the original Constitution is how we are not permitted to erase the record of our historical foolishness and immaturity. When we amend the Constitution, the former language always remains, as a reminder of where we’ve been as a national community, from the mind-boggling legality of people allegedly owning other people and women not being permitted to vote, to the absurdity of prohibiting alcohol use by peaceful adults. As younger citizens accept responsibility for the nation, we can hope that they always avoid making the mistakes of the past, or taking action that could lead to a reversal of our nation’s ongoing improvement.
Our national Constitution doesn’t provide any nationally-approved dogma or ideology. What it does do is guarantee citizens’ rights to peaceably assemble, worship, and own property as they see fit to do, and ensures we know how to use our collective power wisely.
We don’t have a constitutional right to never be annoyed, uncomfortable or disgusted, but the Constitution ensures that we have the framework necessary to treat each other with fairness. The Constitution is the supreme law of our nation; it’s greater than emotions, more powerful than grief, and trumps courtesy, taste, and personal opinion. It transforms millions of random people on a big piece of land into a nation, a community dedicated to liberty and prosperity.
—Erik Viker, associate professor of theatre and member of Selinsgrove Borough Council
William Ker Muir, Jr.
This chapter from Muir’s book, Freedom in America, examines the goals of the American constitution—both as a document that outlines how the people should be governed and also as a document that serves as a restraint on those who are governing. Before exploring the potential strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. Constitution, Muir discusses the first attempt by American colonies’ to “regulate their relationship with one another”—the Articles of Confederation. Although this document created an alliance among colonies, it did not forge a unified government and thus created no structure that could exert authority in the affairs of the member colonies.
Subsequently, the founding fathers set out to remedy the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, and in doing so, drafted the U.S. Constitution. This new framework established a powerful national government, but placed internal checks and balances in place to prevent tyranny. However, citizens of the colonies required convincing. In order to convince the people of the strength of this new document, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote a series of essays published in New York City newspapers. These essays, collectively known as The Federalist Papers, explain the logic behind particular aspects of the Constitution.
In this chapter, Muir points out the perception that internal checks and balances can, at times, be cumbersome, making action impossible. Muir however contends that this is exactly the point intended by the founding fathers. He critiques the arguments presented by those who think our political structure results in an “endless deadlock.” As you read this chapter, consider whether you agree with Muir’s critique. Can you think of political debates today where it seems that as a nation we have entered such an “endless deadlock”? Does the failure to act reflect true disagreement among the citizens or does it result from internal
checks and balances?
—Alissa Packer, associate professor of biology and director of the common reading program
In the following editorial, Kent Greenfield, a professor of law at Boston College Law School, presents a common criticism of the federal requirement that all educational institutions that receive federal funds must recognize Constitution Day—isn’t there something ironic, if not unconstitutional, about forcing Americans to honor this document? After all, doesn’t this very same document represent America’s commitment to liberty of conscience?
As Professor Greenfield notes, this requirement for receiving federal funds may run afoul of the “unconstitutional conditions” doctrine. Even if this is not the case, however, one could still raise concerns about this requirement from a philosophical perspective. After all, respect, when forced, isn’t really respect. More importantly, the freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution carry with them a responsibility.
This responsibility is not just to respect the liberties in words, but also in actions. Professor Greenfield is not alone in his criticism. Faculty members across the country express this sentiment every year when September 17th rolls around; I have been known to express it myself. Is it because we don’t respect the US Constitution? This is not the case for me, and I would guess that it is not for others. We teach about this document every year, and our connection to the Constitution is likely to engender an even greater respect on our part. It is this respect that leads to our concern. Sometimes this may require us to speak out and make sure that those freedoms are recognized and protected. Those freedoms found in the U.S. Constitution, including the freedoms of thought, of speech, of conscience, that are embedded in the First Amendment, deserve nothing less.
—Michele DeMary, associate professor of political science
Franklin D. Roosevelt
In his 1941 State of the Union address, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed a Congress and a nation deeply troubled by the military conquests of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Although much of Europe and North Africa had fallen to these armies, many Americans continued to believe that the United States should stay out of the war. Roosevelt himself, in his 1940 presidential campaign, promised to keep American troops out of the war.
In this speech, President Roosevelt argued that the democratic way of life with its cherished freedoms was at risk. He therefore asked Congress “for authority and for funds sufficient to manufacture additional munitions and war supplies of many kinds, to be turned over to those nations which are now in actual war with aggressor nations.” Congress passed his proposal, called the “Lend-Lease Act,” two months later.
Eleven months and one day after this speech, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. The next day, Congress declared war on Japan, followed by a declaration of war against Germany and Italy three days later.
In the concluding portions of this address, FDR detailed the “foundations of a healthy and strong democracy,” and in the closing paragraphs he enumerated “the four freedoms” that have made this speech an enduring and celebrated part of American rhetoric.
As you read this excerpt, I invite you to consider the following questions:
- President Roosevelt listed six items that he said are “expected by our people of their political and economic systems.” How do these expectations relate to freedom? Do Americans still expect these things? Should they?
- How do these expectations figure in the current presidential elections, 71 years after FDR’s speech? Consider such matters as higher taxes, “special privilege for the few”, unemployment, adequate medical care and a secure retirement.
- What did FDR mean by calling the four freedoms “essential”? Do you agree that they are essential? Are they of equal importance?
- Do you believe his vision of a “world-wide reduction in armaments” is attainable in today’s world? Why or why not?
- What do you make of his concluding each of the descriptions of the four freedoms with the words “everywhere/anywhere in the world”?
—Mark Wm. Radecke, D.Min., chaplain to the university and associate professor of religion
In the following New York Times article, Adam Liptak examines how the United States and Canada differ in their approaches to the notion of free speech, centered around a 2006 article published in the Canadian magazine, Maclean’s. Here, the question was whether the Maclean’s article violated a British Columbia hate speech law by inciting animosity towards Muslims. The Maclean’s article was an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s book, America Alone, and legal counsel for the Canadian Islamic Congress argued that the article presented Muslims as a “violent people” and as “inhuman.” The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall make no law that limits freedom of speech, though the U.S. Supreme Court established in 1969 that such speech may be limited when the speaker intends his speech to incite an imminent and likely violation of the law. Merely attempting to incite racial hatred, however, will not qualify, and so such speech will be legally protected. In Canada and many other Western countries, speech is more limited. Do you have a right not to be harmed? Do you have a right not to be offended? If so, should your right defeat the rights of others to free speech? Does it matter how much harm or offense we’re talking about? Is there a difference between the United States and Canada that might explain the differences in their approaches to free speech and hate speech?
—Darren Hudson Hick, assistant professor of philosophy
Humans are strange because, in the words of the American philosopher Erich Fromm, we find our existence to be a problem which we have to solve. Our drive to question reality also leads us to assign meaning to this reality. In the following passage the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre describes humans in similar terms. We are those beings “compelled to decide the meaning of being,” stricken by anguish in the face of our freedom to decide.
For Sartre we feel anguish when we realize that we are radically free, that are we not bound to a play a pre-determined role but instead responsible for everything we do. In order to avoid complete responsibility for our choices we take comfort in a social identity that predetermines what we “ought” to do; we deceive ourselves into believing that we have “no other choice” but to do what we are expected to do by the requirements of our social roles (mother, student, waiter). Sartre calls this “bad faith,” and it is one way of avoiding the nausea that leads to radical self-inquiry. In truth, I am nothing as existence precedes essence and there is no-thing that essentially defines who or what I am. This is liberating and terrifying at the same time, for while I gain the freedom to act in any way I desire, I also gain the knowledge of that freedom which forces me to take responsibility for the shape of the world—no matter how wretched it may be.
Sartre characterizes human consciousness as what exists “for-itself,” as opposed to what exists “in-itself,” as a mere thing. Consciousness relates itself to itself for-itself, and creates a world for-itself through its freedom to think and question. When I realize the magnitude of my freedom I can no longer view myself as a mere thing moved around by others, but as an essential actor in life.
As you read through the passage, ask yourself if you have ever experienced relief at feeling as though you have “no other choice” but to do what you are currently doing. Conversely, have you ever been terrified by actually having to choose your actions and goals for yourself?
—Lissa Skitolsky, assistant professor of philosophy
by Steven Pinker
How well do you know yourself? Who are you and what is in your future? The answers to some of these questions are clearly unattainable except with hindsight, but what if you could find answers now to questions that might not arise until much later in life. Would you?
In this 2009 article, the renowned Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker, discusses some of these questions in this new age of personal genomics. Now for only $99 plus $9 a month to access the data online, you can spit in a cup and, in the advertising of companies such as 23andme, “take a journey through your DNA.” Incredibly, genetics is now reduced to the status of a mobile phone contract! 23andme will screen your DNA against one million SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms— AKA potential genetic differences) mounted on a “gene chip” to determine your probability of developing conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or even cancer some time in your future.
Perhaps it would be useful to know that unless careful, you might one day become an alcoholic, but would you want to know that in years to come, you have a 50% chance of developing a devastating condition. How would this affect the life you would then choose to lead? Would you still go to graduate school, or have children or would you perhaps sink into a paralyzing depression and thus gain nothing from the one life you have? Frankly, are you even really qualified to understand the complexities of the genetic information you received?
Once so informed, would you feel obliged to tell relatives who may share the genetic traits? But what if they don’t want to know? Does the 25% chance of developing heart disease constitute a pre-existing condition and thus do insurance companies have a right to know? Perhaps one day, they might even require SNP testing prior to the issuance of a policy.
As the son and grandson of women who developed Alzheimer’s disease, I watched their anguish as they gradually lost control of their minds. In this “Brave New World” of personal information, should I find out my own probability of following them down this path and if it was likely, what would I tell my daughter? Honestly, I don’t know. What would you do?
—David Richard, professor of biology
Facebook Nation (Chapter 1), from I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: Social networks and the death of privacy
According to Lori Andrews, author of the new book I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did, social networks such as Facebook are unilaterally redefining the established social contract, in part by making the private now public, and the public now private. Are you a devoted user of Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Pinterest, etc? Most of us now are. If Facebook Nation really were a nation, it would be the third largest in the world. But unlike a democracy, its “citizens” have little to no say in its governance. Of primary concern to all of us should be how little control we have over how the information we post gets shared and used. And for the most part, our legal system protects social networks from liability when things go wrong.
As you read this first chapter from Andrews’ book, you may be alarmed by her accounts of the ways in which your “private” information can legally be used by the government, police, advertisers, credit agencies and others to learn about you. Many of you may be looking to reinvent yourself as you start college—but if you are a Facebook user, you will be leaving behind a trail of information that may be hard to overcome. In addition to learning more about how to protect your personal privacy, Andrews will ask you consider larger questions about how social networks operate in society, and what guiding principles should be used to ensure our simultaneous rights to freedom and privacy, even as our lives continue to be transformed by these rapidly evolving technologies.
—Margaret Peeler, Degenstein Professor of Biology
First published in 1952, A Sound of Thunder is one of the most iconic science fiction short stories to date and has been re-published more than two dozen times in various collections and anthologies. The story revolves around the chaos theory idea that a small change, like the death of a butterfly, can rewrite history. The term for this theory, the butterfly effect, was inspired by this short story and the story itself was the first suggestion in chaos theory’s history that the butterfly effect could have such a far-reaching impact on time and history.
The story is set in the year 2055, where, through the advancement of science, people are now able to travel through time. However, with this newfound freedom to explore time, mankind also has a new set of responsibilities, namely, not changing history. The story follows Eckles in his guided time safari to kill a Tyrannosaurus rex. For hunts like the one Eckles is on, the time safari guides follow a dinosaur until it dies and makes sure the hunters kill it mere moments before it would have died otherwise, thereby minimizing the change to history their hunt makes. They also set up numerous other safety measures to ensure history stays the same, such as a floating metal path all people are to stay on at all times. However, despite these precautions, Eckles steps off the path and inadvertently changes history.
As you read this short story, consider the implications of time travel as suggested by this theory. Is the freedom of time travel worth the gigantic responsibility that goes along with changing history, for better or for worse? If this technology was invented tomorrow, would you be interested in trying it?
—Hannah Leavens, creative writing major, class of 2012