James’s reply to Carolyn Frank


Response to Carolyn Frank’s, “An Ethnographic Perspective:”


I read this with interest and was impressed by Frank’s ability to identify the cultural bias in her perspective through reading other people’s interpretation of events. Most people do not do this, particularly in America, the U.S. that is, not all of the America’s. As far as how I feel that Frank’s ability to identify her cultural bias is unusual, it is revealed in the sections relating to how she learned about Ethnography from her dissertation advisor, Dixon. Specifically, I am speaking of the section titled “Ethnographic Fieldnotes,” where she noted that,

[…] it is normal to leap to judgment, I talked to the student teachers

about my own experiences with participant observation […] I

was not experienced in recording these observations in the field. My coresearcher

and dissertation advisor, Dr. Carol Dixon, suggested that we begin

together in a first grade classroom with Lois Brandts (Frank, Dixon: and

Brandts 1998). In contrasting Carol’s descriptive fieldnotes wIth mine, I

showed the student teachers how my notes (see the following fieldnotes) only

named events and activities in the classroom between 9:30-10:00



A.M. and recorded only a brief description: […]

In contrast to my descriptive fieldnotes, Carol’s descriptions were much

more comprehensive, describing the action and talk of the members in.as

much detail as was possible for her to write. In this more complete descnption,

the chain of actions and talk that occurred between 9:30-10:01



could be reconstructed: […] When I looked closely at the way she described the talk and actions and contrasted it with the way IdId, I found that I also used “cultural” phrases that could have included my biases and interpretations. (Frank, 5-6)

We may be the most ethnocentric country on earth since the fall of the British Raj, and the collapse of the Empire of Japan, and Nazi Germany. Particularly Anglo-American culture is so sure that its ideals and ideas are the correct ones for everybody, even when those ideas and ideals are fractured along political and religious lines, they are still assumed to be better than the ideas and ideals, political beliefs and cultural systems of other cultures even when those cultures are as U.S. of A as ours.

It drives me crazy, today I happened, upon a Yahoo news board that happened to be about President Obama’s assertion that we need to make sure that “every American” graduate high school and get some post secondary education. The first reply to this story went something like “Oh yeah, now welfare isn’t enough we’ll just pay to put all those poor huddled masses through college because this idealistic new socialist President who is also of mud-race extraction (not stated but implied) says we should, then our economy will really be in the crapper.” (this is hyperbole but not far off a fair representation of the comment board in general) I replied that, A. most of the developed countries in the world already would pay for the education of students who were willing to, and capable of doing the work, and B. most of them seemed to be doing better economically than the U.S. right now, and C. that a social safety net is not communism, but good business practice in a global economy. More or less, and also, I was irritated by the guys tone so I started my reply with “Hey dumbass,” but other than that I did not make any extraordinary claims about either the state of the world or economy I don’t think. My comment was hidden because of more than a dozen negative responses in about five minutes. I later posted a comment to the effect that my previous comment had been hidden because people did not want to listen, but preferred to bury me with bullshit, and they didn’t like that either, then I left one that said something like.

“Oh yeah, when Clinton left office we had the largest budget surplus in American history, after four years of Bush it was gone, and after eight years of Bush we have the largest budget deficit in American History and we are in the middle of the worst recession in at least twenty five years, and I suppose that is the liberal socialist jerk-offs fault as well.” That post also disappeared in minutes, in a barrage of negative ratings. So I gave up for today. And, maybe I shouldn’t get so frustrated and aggressive, but aggressive is one of the things that I do best, and I am very frustrated. 

It is not that I think everyone needs a college education, or is even capable of making it through, but everyone that wants one should have at least a chance, and taking money out of education so that we can blow up more stuff, half a world away, is seriously counter-productive in a global, information based economy when all the solid manufacturing jobs that got this country through the twentieth century are moving to Malaysia, China, and Vietnam. Nation states as such are probably on the way out anyway, but I don’t want to be living in this one when it goes down, I don’t want escalating violence caused by people being unable to support their families, ending in civil war and the rise of and American fascist state to be the legacy we leave my kids either. These people should read more history, and reflect on the meaning of civil liberties coming with civil responsibilities just a tad and put a little ethnography and understanding of other peoples perspectives in their diets while they are at it.

I was talking to my dad today and he said that the U.N. was putting together a resolution that said something like U.S. but out, you are making things worse, this is an institution that we helped put together, and dominated for many years. Go figure…hmmm…I wonder why everyone in the world is pissed at us if we are always right?

1 comment for “James’s reply to Carolyn Frank

  1. Kim
    March 2, 2009 at 11:09 am

    James, I can see how frustrated you are. Can you tell from the reading what helped Frank to see her own bias?

    Message board conversations are probably not going to change anyone’s mind about anything. I wonder though if as an exercise you can imagine what would lead someone to believe supporting educational access is the wrong course?

    Or suppose a student made this argument in a paper, or in class discussion? What kind of response might really make them think or question their own certainty?

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