Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Informed Discussion

As with much of American politics, the current immigration debate is filled mostly with polemics and demagoguery. It is often difficult to find a nuanced discussion of the issues and the wider context in which they exist. Luckily over the holiday break I was able to dive into two books on the subject, both of which provide a very contextualized account of central issues and controversies and where they reside in the course of debate.

The first one I read is They Take Our Jobs: And Twenty Other Myths About Immigration by Aviva Chomsky. It was a great book. Chomsky identifies key myths that are pushed about immigration from both pro and con positions. It places the immigration issue within the larger context of neoliberal reforms. While I wish some of the entries were longer, always good to leave the reader interested in finding out more, the book really stands out as a critically engaged account of the issues. One thing that particularly stood out was the role of marginalized labor and its place in the U.S. economy from the time of the American Revolution.

Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants by Jorge CastaƱeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico, examines the historical context that situates the current debate. He also provides an excellent discussion of possible policies and the likely proponents and opponents to these policies. Examining the ways immigration from Mexico has changed, but also how it remains remarkably similar to previous decades, helps to identify that what we face is nothing new. Also noteworthy is that it provides a Mexican perspective on the issue, particularly from a person who has had a lot of influence and experience dealing with this issue at the highest levels of government.

While these are just two of many possible books that provide accounts of the current immigration debate, they are both very accessible and well-written. A proper discussion of immigration and its ramifications must start somewhere and these are good resources for that discussion.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New Semester

This week is the first real week of TAing this semester for me. I will be teaching my first three tutorials. It will be interesting because the tutorial system is not something I ever ran into in my undergraduate education. Apparently it is quite common at Canadian universities.

In the tutorial system there is one lecture held by the professor, generally near the beginning of the week, which all the students attend. Then students come to a tutorial section where there are around 10-15 students. These tutorial sessions are taught by the TA and are for in-depth discussion of topics discussed in lecture. Previously TAing the quantitative methods course I was only responsible for helping folks in lab sessions. I think it will be interesting to facilitate discussions and have a more dynamic interaction. I have three tutorials each week and they are each two hours long. It will be interesting particularly because the first few weeks deal with things such as epistemology, ontology, and research ethics. As the students are Sophomores (or 2nd year as they say up here), this will be one of their first experiences with learning specific research methods. It is both a qualitative and quantitative course and so it will be interesting to see what biases people come in with and how they come to terms with different methods. With the SFU Sociology and Anthropology department being so qualitative in focus, I look forward to hearing students' concerns.

Over the holiday break Heather found me reading an article titled "Rethinking Critical Pedagogy and the Gramscian and Freirean Legacies: From Organic to Committed Intellectuals or Critical Pedagogy, Commitment, and Praxis." It is about creating non-hierarchal relationships in the classroom. As soon as she saw the title she just walked out of the room. I have to say it is a pretty good read if anyone is interested... Some how I think I am alone on this one.

Overall, I am really excited for this semester. I am beginning to work on the results section of my thesis, in many ways the key section, and look forward to completing the entire thesis on time (defending in July or August). I really enjoy working on my thesis and think the two RA projects I am working on are both really interesting.