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Shawn Humphrey, the creator of the two-dollar challenge (and the author of the post I linked to at the start of my entry on it) shared some thoughts on the limitations, but also the strengths, of his campaign. As cecile_c says, pedagogy is a puzzle: how best to reach people? Shawn speaks from experience. His response is here, but for the click averse, I've posted it below as well. Thanks Shawn, for being such a great model of constructive engagement!

from @BluCollarProf

Can anything good come out of playing poverty?

Thanks for taking the time to express your concerns about the Two Dollar Challenge. I started the experiential learning exercise in 2006 in one of my university courses. It has taken me a number of years to get to a place where I felt comfortable enough to push for a national movement in the US. Having said that, I am not fully comfortable with the Challenge. I never will be. Your thoughts and your reader's comments are valid. All of them. However, I am a teacher. And, after many years of trying to give my students insight into the economic lives of the poor and my attempts to create a safe space for participants to challenge their notions about poverty and why it exists, this tool has been the most effective (albeit still limited). Here on my thoughts on that: http://shawnhumphrey.com/dos-and-donts-for-do-gooders/inquiry-versus-insult-redux/).

I am also the author of the "Do-Gooder Industrial Complex." It is my belief that an effective way to get the message of that post out is through a shared experience. We want to move participants beyond a recognition of how "lucky" they have it. We want to move them to a place where they are considering/taking action to restructure a system of power the keeps so many poor. I may be wrong in my belief that this is the tool to do it with. We will see.

A few thoughts on your post regarding the Two Dollar Challenge:

1. We are very forthright regarding the limitations of this experiential learning tool (http://twodollarchallenge.org/our-limitations/). We are also very upfront about the experience being a simulation, playing poverty, and in your words "fraudulent." It is. There is no way to get around it. Indeed, we use its fraudulence as a teaching tool. A number of participants find simulated poverty challenging enough. In turn, for them to even flirt with the notion of understanding poverty...well that is beyond their reach. This recognition humbles them.

2. Participants have the choice to adhere to additional constraints beyond the $2 a day income constraint. With these additional constraints, we create interdependence among the participants. A number of them work together to fulfill their daily needs and desires. This behavior allows us to talk about the many strategies that the materially poor utilize to complement their low and uncertain daily income - networks and social capital.

3. I think if you look into our rules you will see that we enumerate a number of exceptions when it comes to your daily income constraint. Essentially, participants (who are primarily university students) are spending their income on food and hygiene products. We are aware of difference in the purchasing power of $2 in different communities. However, give the pre-existing wealth (dorm rooms, central air and heat, clean water, low cost mobility...), we are comfortable constraining their income to $2 a day.

4. I am aware of the 850 Calorie Challenge and I am a supporter.

5. I think if you review our communications strategy for the Two Dollar Challenge, you will see that we are heavily focused on asking our audience tough questions about their motivations, their understanding of poverty, and why they believe they have role in ending another's poverty.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to discuss this topic. I grow with each critique. And, I am more than willing to continue the discussion with anyone who leaves a comment - shawn (@blucollarprof)

Thanks Shawn, for taking the time to respond and for being such a great model of constructive engagement!


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 5th, 2015 03:47 am (UTC)
That's so cool that he answered, and so thoughtfully too!
Mar. 5th, 2015 12:07 pm (UTC)
Yes-- it speaks very well of him.
Mar. 5th, 2015 12:47 pm (UTC)
Yeah, and in the post he links to in his first paragraph here, he says that addressing criticism in this manner, and living with the discomfort he feels, may be part of what's supposed to happen.
Mar. 5th, 2015 12:13 pm (UTC)
You know, there are two postures I've encountered for this sort of thing.

One is that lived out by Shawn-- aware of deficiencies, focused on trying to do some visceral teaching in the difficult situation of prosperity and trained indifferent negligence.

The other is that of an entrepreneur claiming and offering to confer Poverty Experience [Deep Discounted Now!]. Yuck.

For decades I was very down on church mission trips, particularly long-distance expensive church mission trips. They struck me as vacations for people who wanted to feel self-satisfied. Then, churched again, I heard youth telling the congregation about their experience, in worship. They just spoke in cliche, but I saw their faces. And though all of them had received the customary US training in blaming low-income, low-wealth people for their lacks when thinking of them at all, and some had received intensive indoctrination in it, that expensive trip had caused them to perceive human beings in a very different situation as human beings.

So there's something to it.

Something, anyway.
Mar. 5th, 2015 12:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah. One shouldn't let ideology get in the way of effectiveness. I guess the question is, how much latent or future harm is this approach causing, or setting up to happen. But you know? Probably not that much. Unlike, say, poverty tourism, the two-dollar challenge isn't actually humiliating anyone in person. At worst, someone who's struggling with poverty might witness the challengers and feel frustrated, offended, or angry. But in actual fact, probably that doesn't happen that much. You were talking back on the other page about people feeling self-satisfied after an experience like this, and Cécile mentioned people simply feeling "Thank God that's over." But other people have the reaction of the students you mention here--it really is transformative.
Mar. 5th, 2015 01:05 pm (UTC)
I should confess how very hard I find it to feel empathy with people who have such a hard time feeling empathy. :/
Mar. 5th, 2015 02:31 pm (UTC)
Generally speaking, empathy is something you have to learn. So it's quite easy for people who have limited real life experience (say, traditional students at an elite university) to lack it. And the larger culture encourages that lack with regard to poverty because viewing those who aren't winning in the game of global capitalism as "less than" helps justify the whole structure.

Or, this is what I tell myself when I'm lacking empathy for rich college kids anyway. :D
Mar. 5th, 2015 05:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, I think you're entirely right. But I am a devotee of both Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments and of the central thesis of Ruth Rendell's A Judgment in Stone, that we can learn empathy through reading, and I feel surly about the whole safeguarded toffee-nosed mail-fisted thing.
Mar. 6th, 2015 06:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks for welcoming me into your community
Thanks for posting my comment in this fashion. I have read and re-read everyone's comments again and again. There are many point of insight and inspiration. I would love to get feedback on the following:

1. I am also concerned about "latent" or "future" harm that may be caused that I cannot see or am unwilling to see. Any additional thoughts are welcomed.

2. I want to move participants from "I am lucky to be born in this country" reaction to the Two Dollar Challenge to "I want to invest in changing the system of oppression" Toward that end, we discuss the following readings (and others):
a. Ivan Illich "To Hell With Good Intentions"
b. "Barefoot in Church"
c. "Narrative Humility"

We also do a privilege walk. Any additional readings, exercises that you have found effective please pass along?

Thanks so much again. - shawn
Mar. 7th, 2015 09:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks for welcoming me into your community
Enjoying this very much--I'll be reading the readings you mention!

What I mean by latent or future harm are some of the sorts of attitudes you mention in your piece on dos and don'ts for the do-gooder industrial complex--namely, that "wow, it's hard to be poor" might become "these people definitely need saving, and the benefits of all that we have." I'm afraid that awareness of material richness might translate into a we-know-best mentality, with the logic being, "we have to know best, don't we? since our lives are so much better and theirs are so hard?"

What I liked in your dos-and-don't article was your emphasis on being the sidekick, not the boss, and listening to what people themselves say about what they need. Complementing a consciousness-raising exercise with presentations on initiatives of local people (in whatever locality) themselves would help remind students that poor people are not passive victims. A couple of stories I've been impressed by are this story ("The Magic in Letters") of Chameli Waiba, who organized to get a bridge built so her children could go to school, and this story of women training women to become mechanics in Lagos, Nigeria. Another story is this one of floating gardens to increase arable land in Bangladesh. Interestingly, if you search on "floating gardens Bangladesh," the top hits are from aid organizations, and if you look at their pages, you'd get the impression that this technique was an outside invention brought in to Bangladesh. The page I linked to, though, points out that these floating gardens have been used in parts of Bangladesh for hundreds of years--just not in all areas.

Here's a story from closer by that I mean to promote on my blog in the near future: it's the story of a guy who set up a microloan organization here in the United States, to help people who don't have many resources get loans without having to turn to payday lenders and other predatory lending schemes. This guy listened to his clients, and gradually his mission for his organization changed--I like this because the guy is definitely providing a benefit, but he's also letting his clientele guide him. He seems like a good example of exactly the sort of do-gooder you'd like to encourage your students to be.

Mar. 19th, 2015 08:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks for welcoming me into your community
I am creating a syllabus for the Two Dollar Challenge and will be using two of the stories you mentioned: "The Magic in Letters" and the story of women training women to become mechanics in Lagos, Nigeria. I received another story idea from a friend. I am looking for two more. If you have them (in the vein of the two you shared previously), I would love to see them. Thanks so much. I has been wonderful collaborating with you. - shawn
Mar. 21st, 2015 12:03 am (UTC)
a final story for your syllabus
It's been fun for me too!

And maybe this could be a final story for your syllabus: The two different songs to raise money to combat Ebola. One was the famous "Do They Know It's Christmas" song, with lyrics repurposed--but many found it hugely demeaning and inappropriate. The other was "Africa Stop Ebola," a song created by a number of African musicians. Whereas it wasn't clear exactly where the profits from the retooled "Do They Know It's Christmas" were going to go, the money raised from "Africa Stop Ebola" were going to go to Doctors Without Borders, which was at the forefront of fighting Ebola.

Here's a link to the story as covered by the Guardian: "African Musicians Band Together to Raise Ebola Awareness"

And here's NPR's take: "A Tale of Dueling Ebola Songs: One from Britain, One from Africa"
Mar. 7th, 2015 09:25 pm (UTC)
oh oh! another story
Rowena Simmons spoke on Storycorps--she went from being in jail herself to founding an organization (2 God B the Glory) that provides housing assistance to women coming out of jail or who are dealing with homelessness. She knows *exactly* what sorts of things her clientele need and want.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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