NEW: COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS FROM THE
FACILITATORS/STUDENT ADVISOR DISCUSSIONS
At Meredith we will follow Dr. Maathai's example and plant a green belt of trees on our grounds. The environmental message in the book is strong. As you read, however, you will find that Unbowed is a book about many ideas that apply to our lives and culture. Here are some topics to look for as you read:
Childhood and family
A sense of place or home
Role models and core values
Shaping one's education
Thriving in the workplace
Women's place in public life
Political activism: risks and rewards
The reading questions below ask you to think about these issues in preparation for small group discussions of the book.
Unbowed Reading and Discussion Questions
- You may have grown up in circumstances very different from those described by Wangari Maathai. In spite of the differences, what similarities do you find between your childhood and hers? You may want to think about relationships with your parents and siblings, the opportunities you enjoyed, and the way your time was spent.
- What aspects of Maathai’s life contrast sharply with your own experience? Which are difficult for you to imagine or understand?
- The early chapters of the book describe missionary work in African from an African’s perspective. How does this description contrast with the ideas you have about mission work, particularly the spread of Christianity in third world countries?
- Maathai places a high value on the stories she was told and the environment she grew up in. In what ways is your identity connected with the physical place where you grew up (the land, the climate, the culture)? What stories and tales from childhood do you remember vividly? How have they shaped your identity?
- This book is a memoir that draws upon more than fifty years of WM’s life, including her youth and college years. If you were to begin a memoir at this point in your life, what incidents and impressions would you include?
- In Chapter 3 Maathai describes the struggles between the British and the Africans, struggles that led to a guerilla war, the use of detention camps, and many deaths. What efforts does she make to narrate these events in an objective manner? What concerns you about the way this struggle was carried out?
- Maathai attends college in the United States at the time of the Civil Rights Movement and John F. Kennedy’s short presidency. How do her impressions of the United States compare with your understanding of that time in history?
- What signs do you find throughout the book that Maathai is becoming an independent thinker? What signs do you find that Maathai is becoming aware of the challenges and responsibilities of being a strong and educated woman?
- How did Maathai balance her status as an educated woman with the need to connect with poor, rural women? What strategies did she use involve people in the Green Belt Movement? Do you think these strategies were successful?
- Throughout her life, Maathai makes a number of choices that involve risk and controversy. Which of these choices do you find most interesting and/or troubling? Explain your response.
- What are some of the organizing and leadership strategies that Maathai introduces to her environmental and political activism? Which are especially effective?
- Maathai is often very critical of her government. This critique is especially strong when she describes what she believes to be the government’s role in ethnic violence in Chapter 11. There is a similar debate in the United States over the value of such criticism, by individuals or by the press. Some say that criticism weakens the government by sharing too much information and showing disloyalty, while others suggest that the freedom to speak out is crucial to a strong democracy. After Reading Maathai’s comments about Kenya, where do you stand on the issue of criticizing one’s government?
- Please choose a passage from the book that made a strong impression as you read. Bring it to the group discussion to share with your fellow students.
Notes from SRP Workshop on August 13, 2009
What are the most important points that you hope come out of the discussion with your students?
- Oral communication***
- Community of learners balanced with individual empowerment
- Business/economic interests vs. “green” interests
- Impact of education on her life - & personal**
- Impressions of the US/Civil Rights era & current cultural landscape – she didn’t question her own discrimination in Kenya – she saw it when she got here – movement to another country helped her see her own country
- Memoir question – what have they done and what do they plan to do?
- What can you do to help – don’t have to win the Nobel peace prize (see afterward)
- Leadership **– hers, yours, others that you admire – how are you like her? How are you not like? What quality/ies do you wish you had? How you grow into be like your role models. Each thing you do helps snowball into next. As freshmen, you’re still making a difference on campus…join a club, start a club, run for an office
- Divorce – her experience, role of women
- Education – valuable – honor for a female to get that
- Sometimes okay to overload / challenge yourself just to show yourself you can do
- Overcoming challenges
- Not a bad thing to make mistakes – what do you take away from it? Her examples and then students’ own.
- Connection with green/planting trees
- Different culture – how stories are different – good question “what are some of the assumptions that you had that are kind of breaking down from this book or from arrival at college?”
- #4 & #5 of discussion questions
- In moments of doubt, what helped her dispel these doubts and get back in powerful woman mode?
- Her sacrifices – as she looks back on life, are there things she would have done differently?
- How would life have been different if she were a man?
- Her strong sense of justice, courage, leadership and passion.
- Peace, democracy and good management of the environment.
- Unity through diversity
- Developing opportunities for yourself
- Life will be full of opportunities and challenges—be ready and open to them!
- Family vs. Career—life balance
- Destruction and Reconstruction of land, a culture, a nation
- Respect for your culture and values
- Empowering others
- Bring in the ideas of personal interests and majors* and how they fold into the themes in the book
- Her perception of America/struggle of African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement/Discrimination/Injustice. How US changed her perception of justice in Kenya.
- Thinking about how little we know about our own country.
- The impact of her early childhood, her mother, her religion, her Catholic School experience.
- Her ability to not conform—to be herself
- The ability to take risks—compare to college risk*
- Pressure to succeed—as a woman and a Kenyan
- Critical Thinking
- Community of learners—individual empowerment
- Once in a life time opportunity (college)
- Criticism of government*: Federal, State, Local, Campus.
- You’re on a journey here—be open minded.
- Inspire students to make a difference!
- Which qualities of Wangari Maathai do you see in yourself?
- Parallels between her education/life and ours
- How her time in America led her to truly see her own country
- What can you do to make your mark on society?
- What would be in your memoir?
- Challenge and responsibilities of being an educated person
- Opportunity Development—Kenya vs. US
- Certain life decisions involve sacrifice
- The importance of critical thinking and thinking analytically.
- Mother’s support – family support – hers and yours – when were you supported? When not? Others’ questioning your choices? (i.e. why Meredith?)
- Profound life experiences
- When you felt out of your element and what they learned from that
If you could ask Wangari Maathai one question, what would it be?
- Ask her - What drives you?** Is there a spiritual element to that drive?
- How would she define leadership?** Does she consider herself a leader?***
- Looking back on your life, are there some things you would do differently?*
- How would things have been different if you were a male?
- What are your expectations of young women reading the book today?
- How do you dispel doubt?
- Is there anything you regret?
- What is your impression of Meredith College?
- What advice would you give to women leaders of the future?
- What do you believe is the next step in Kenya? Globally?
- When you had moments of doubt about your path, what helped you to dispel those doubts in order to get your power back?
- What keeps you motivated?
- What was defining moment in your life?
- Why did you decide to become a Christian? What made you decide to embrace the religion?
Name a challenge/controversy that could arise in your group discussion.
- What if the students don’t read the book?*** Talk about themes and bring our own majors and interests in – environmental challenges, women’s rights, political issues
- Challenges/controversies: religion (black Jesus), missionary experience, tensions over “green” and overkill.
- Role of women/Women’s issues/Gender Roles
- Traditional vs. modern
- Question #12
- Environmental Challenges
- Family vs. Career
- Politics—left vs. right
- Do powerful women have doubts?
- Differing opinions
- Getting quiet people to talk and engage in the discussion.
- Creating a discussion rather than a Q&A
- Criticizing your government
Activities/ways to engage students in your discussions
- Make something on a whiteboard
- Could play a game – like a jeopardy game
- Could read some passages and then discuss:
- Write questions on a beach ball – wherever they touch they have to answer – personal connections/questions?
- Pull items out of hat
- Bring a passage/quote/selection that you’d like to discuss
- Candy/chocolate/toilet paper - # of pieces = how many things you have to say
***denote repeat answers