Luther's Paideia Program Ponders Living in Community as a Divided Society

The ideas and viewpoints expressed in the posts on the Ideas and Creations blog are solely the view of the author(s). Luther College's mission statement calls us to "embrace diversity and challenge one another to learn in community," and to be "enlivened and transformed by encounters with one another, by the exchange of ideas, and by the life of faith and learning." Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of the college are encouraged to express their views, model "good disagreement" and engage in respectful dialogue.

This week in Paideia 111: Enduring Questions,  the first-year class at Luther viewed the 2019 Academy-award-winning  film Parasite, a South-Korean black-comic thriller about a poor family who “stealthily muscle their way into roles as servants for a much richer one.”  In his introduction to the unit, Associate Professor of Communication Studies Thomas C. Johnson goes on to quote the film’s director Bong Joon-Ho who explains that his film “depicts the inevitable cracks that appear when two classes brush up against each other in today’s increasingly polarized society.” In Johnson’s lecture on the film, he helps students and faculty “read” not only the ideas of the film, but the filming techniques used to communicate them. Another colleague, Associate Professor in Paideia and Asian Studies specialist Scott Hurley asks us to consider the question, “Who are the parasites in this story?” In my class, we agreed that both families, the Kims and the Parks, were parasites on each other, and we had a lively discussion about how we judged or sympathized with the actions of each family and why.

In our fall Paideia curriculum, the film is paired with “Folding Beijing,” the 2016 Hugo Award-winning science fiction short story by Chinese author, economist, and public policy researcher Dr. Hao Jingfang. In this story, Hao imagines a future city of Beijing that folds to divide into three distinct “spaces,” in which people of different social-economic classes are completely separated and are given vastly different amounts of time and space in which to live their lives.  In his lecture, Associate Professor of English Andy Hageman shares insights from a conversation he had with the author, and video images that he shot while his family visited Beijing in 2017.

In his reading questions, Hageman asks,  “How do infrastructure and architecture reflect human cultures, values, and aspirations? Think about this in the story, right here on the Luther campus, and wherever you call home.” The part of “Folding Beijing” that stays with me is about the protagonist Lao Dao sacrificing everything to give his daughter Tangtang the opportunity to go to a kindergarten where there is music and dance. However, Tangtang will have little spaceliterally or figurativelyto exercise that opportunity. Andy’s question heightened my own awareness of the privilege we have on the Luther campus, where the visual and performing arts are placed in central campus spacesthe Center for Faith and Life and the Center for the Arts and Jenson Hall of Musicshowing the value they hold in our campus community. In a fun cross-campus connection, Paideia faculty members learned about a South Korean pop song used in Parasite from students in music theory class with Assistant Professor of Music Adrianna Tam.

In a filmed conversation to wrap up our Paideia unit, Hageman and Johnson explore connections between the “Folding Beijing” and Parasite, and consider the ways in which they address the Enduring Question that ties together all of our texts in Paideia 111-12 this year: “In a divided society, how do we live in community?”

Perhaps one answer to this question lies right here in Paideia where we bring faculty members and students together to read, ask questions, confront challenging ideas, and learn from each other. On this beautiful fall weekend when family members visited campus to share music and athletics and conversation, I was delighted to hear a father say that he had checked out the Paideia Summer Reading webpage and was intrigued by the books he saw listed there. And in another connection I am constantly challenged and invigorated by conversations in and about Paideia, and am deeply grateful to be a part of Luther’s signature program.

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