Category Archives: Education

Positive Deviance

The Positive Deviance Initiative defines Positive Deviance as an approach that realizes “…that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”

This methodology has been used by the Initiative in a wide variety of contexts.  One of the first initiatives involved improving child nutrition in Viet Nam.   Researchers to villages with high levels of child malnutrition found that not all children were malnourished.  They studied the mothers with healthy children to see what these “positive deviants” were doing differently and then asked those women to teach the other women.  Malnutrition was reduced.

Another action involved altering cultural perceptions towards female genital mutilation in Egypt and other countries.   When women and men  listened to stories of local women who had not been ‘cut’, were not promiscuous, and were able to marry, attitudes began to change.  Change was further propelled by women who told their stories of how ‘cutting’ had ruined their lives.

A major problem in culture of honor societies, such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the negative attitude of men towards women.  Misogyny is rampant and fierce.  How can positive deviance tackle this problem?  Fortunately, we have an important example of positive deviance in Ziauddin Yousafzai.  

Ziauddin Yousafzai


Although raised in a very traditional family in a small community in Pakistan, Yousafzai valued education so much he decided to become an educator and open schools for both boys and girls.  His first child was a daughter.  Instead of ignoring her, he made sure she knew she was valued and that she received a quality education.  Thanks to this positive deviant father, Malala has become a voice heard world-wide making the case for educating all girls everywhere.  

Positive deviance is dangerous in regions controlled by the Taliban and like-minded men.  What can we do to find and support positive deviants?


A Call to Action

Just as I finished President Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, I heard the news about the killing rampage in Isla Vista, CA.   Here was a perfect example of what President Carter described: a man who used power and violence to punish women.

While religion has not yet been mentioned as an explanation for the killer’s rampage, attitudes in the US have been shaped by religious ideologies that value men over women.   This over-valuing of men permeates all aspects of our culture.  Many laws in the US control women in ways that clearly indicate that the law-makers  do not view women as adults equal to men.  When misogyny is rampant, violence against women is the result.

President Carter is a member of The Elders, a group of ‘independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.’   One major focus of The Elders is on achieving equality for women and girls.   The Carter Center, founded by President Carter and Rosalynn Carter, lists 23 action steps that ‘can help blaze the road to progress’ and end misogyny.

Tony Porter called to men to get out of the Man Box.  The way we socialize men creates violence against women.  It is up to men to challenge and change male culture.  It is up to men to end violence against women.  It is up to men, the many men who truly care about women, to end misogyny. Let us heed President Carter’s and Tony Porter’s Calls to Action and end misogyny now.




Educated Girls

I recently finished reading two books by very different individuals who have a common goal: educating all the children in the world (especially girls, who are more likely to be deprived of an education).  The books are I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun.

Malala was born into a very poor family in the Swat Valley of Pakistan while Adam was born into an upper-middle-class family in Connecticut.  Their lives could hardly have begun in more different circumstances, but both realized an important truth: individuals can have a powerful impact.  They didn’t need to wait for the world to change; they decided to act.

Malala, encouraged by her father (who, with much difficulty and privation, opened a school in the Swat Valley), became the voice for girls’ education in Pakistan.   Adam initially followed a conventional path by becoming a consultant at Bain, although it was never a comfortable fit: he was left feeling empty and unfulfilled.

Malala and her father defied death threats to continue her education and that of other girls.  They realized that educated girls could improve their own and their families’ lives and that nothing should prevent that education.

Adam, an adventurous traveler, discovered how desperately education was needed throughout the impoverished regions of the world.  He wanted to create a foundation to build schools in those regions, but his parents and co-workers felt that leaving his job at Bain was too big a risk to take.

When the Taliban shot Malala, it was truly a shot heard ’round the world.  Malala’s voice, which primarily had been heard in Pakistan, has now become the international voice championing girls’ education.  With the aid of Shiza Shahid, Malala has an organization to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education.






After several months of a sabbatical from Bain during which he focused on laying the groundwork for his education foundation, Adam realized that he couldn’t return to Bain.  He plunged fully into his organization: Pencils of Promise.







Here are two individuals who come from very different backgrounds, but who have common goals.  They want to live in ways that make a positive difference in the world by making sure that all children (but especially girls) receive an education.

As Malala states in her book, reflecting on being shot, everyone will die.  What matters is how you live.


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The Homunculus and Personhood Laws

The other day in my Physical Anthropology class, I was showing a video on genetics that I’d shown in prior semesters, but this time one portion of it struck me in a new way.  I believe I have figured out some of the ‘reasoning’ used by those legislators who are pushing personhood bills which declare the zygote (fertilized egg) to be a person who is entitled to all the rights of an actual person.

In Medieval Christian Europe, there was little understanding of biological processes and even less effort made to rectify the situation. The views of the ancient Greeks, especially Aristotle, were taken as the ‘gospel truth’.  Unfortunately, Aristotle and other Greeks, such as the physician Galen, did not understand the mechanisms of sexual reproduction in humans.

The ancient Greeks and, therefore, the Medieval Christians, believed that the man provided everything that was needed for a new human, except for a place to grow that new human.  The woman was essentially just an incubator.  Furthermore, they believed that a tiny person, the homunculus, lived in the head of the sperm.  They knew nothing about the ovum/egg.

The man ejaculated this tiny person into the woman and about nine months later, the ‘incubator’ produced a baby.  Other than providing a womb for growth, the baby did not belong to the woman.  The baby was solely generated, and therefore owned, by the man.  Of course, women were also owned (chattel) by men, further diminishing the female contribution to the baby.

As we have seen from the comments made by many of the personhood legislators, their understanding of biology and human reproduction has not progressed beyond that of the Medieval Christians.  A belief in the homunculus, whether or not it is articulated, clearly underlies the concept of giving personhood to a zygote and the subsequent ball of cells.  Anyone who believes in the homunculus must view a zygote as a miniature person.  Following from this, their ‘logic’ leads them to wish to protect this miniature person.

Awarding full personhood rights to a zygote while ignoring the rights of the woman in whom the zygote exists also follows from the Medieval Christian view that women are just incubators who contribute nothing to the embryo/fetus.  Since a pregnant woman is an incubator, she has no rights to do anything to the zygote/embryo/fetus.  Only men can decide this for her since only men truly ‘generate’ offspring.

These same legislators want contraception/birth control outlawed because it prevents a man from generating more offspring.  In their Medieval Christian view, any sperm that is prevented from implanting in the womb results in killing a person since the head of the sperm contains the homunculus.  Life doesn’t begin at conception.  Life begins in the sperm.  Every sperm is a potential life because every sperm has a miniscule person residing in it.  This would also explain why masturbation is a sin.  Think of all the ‘lives’ that are being wasted/lost!

Since, in this Medieval Christian view, the man is the sole generator of life, and the woman merely an incubator, even rapists deserve to have rights to any resulting offspring.  If a woman becomes pregnant despite being raped, then that embryo/fetus is meant to be born.  Women (or even young girls impregnated by their fathers) must carry to term all results of sexual activity whether consensual or not.  After the birth, the woman has fewer rights over the offspring than does the genitor (man), even if that individual is a rapist.  After all, the offspring is more truly his than it is hers since her major role is as an incubator while he was the genitor.

The anti-contraception, anti-abortion, pro-personhood legislation now coursing through state legislatures can be understood if we realize that those pushing this legislation are operating under the Medieval Christian and Aristotlean view of human reproduction: the male is the genitor while the woman is the incubator.  Their ‘knowledge’ is stuck in the 11th century.  It is little wonder that those of us who live in the 21st century are shocked, amazed, and horrified by these legislators who have no understanding of human reproduction, but who are trying to control women and their reproduction.

International Human Rights Day

December 10, 2012 was the International Human Rights Day, a day that we remind ourselves that far too many individuals still lack basic human rights.  There are 27 million men, women, and children laboring in slavery.  Girls are too frequently denied an education and forced into early marriage when, instead, girls could be powerful forces of economic and political change.

International Human Rights will not be achieved until women have the same opportunities and rights as men; until we have gender equity.  Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

One day each year to remind ourselves that everyone deserves human rights is not often enough. But it is a beginning.