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University of Wisconsin–Madison

“Tales of Two Americas” Provides Further Insight into Appalachia

Hillbilly Elegy is not the only recently published book that has been providing readers with insight into the lives of Appalachians.

John Freeman’s “Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation” provides various short stories regarding different topics that encompass the United States today, some of them being issues in current day Appalachia. A central theme in many of the stories is the large gap between the wealthy and the poor in present day America, an issue that is especially present in the Appalachia states.

Amazon gives a short summary: “In Tales of Two Americas, some of the literary world’s most exciting writers look beyond numbers and wages to convey what it feels like to live in this divided nation. Their extraordinarily powerful stories, essays, and poems demonstrate how boundaries break down when experiences are shared, and that in sharing our stories we can help to alleviate a suffering that touches so many people.”

Tales of Two Americas provides insight into the lives of Americans and different social classes. CC Image Credit Gillian Keebler.

A specific short story called “Trash Food” by Chris Offutt really dives deep into the lives of Appalachians today. Here’s an excerpt:

“I told him I was oversensitive to matters of social class. I explained that people from the hills of Appalachia had to fight to prove they were smart, diligent, and trustworthy. It’s the same for people who grew up in the Mississippi Delta, the barrios of Los Angeles and Texas, or the ghettos of New York. His request reminded me that due to social class I’d been refused jobs, bank loans, and dates. I’ve been called hillbilly, stumpjumper, cracker, weedsucker, redneck, and white trash– mean-spirited terms designed to hurt me and make me feel bad about myself” (71).

If you are looking for further insight into the lives of those in Appalachia and other areas across the United States, be sure to check it out!

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

UW-Madison Professor Provides Insight on Children’s Reading Comprehension

“The way kids are taught to read in school is disconnected from the latest research, namely how language and speech actually develop in a child’s brain.”

In an NPR interview with Mark Seidenberg, cognitive scientist and professor at UW-Madison, he offers insight on what it will take to improve reading instruction with the nation’s children.

Seidenberg is not the only one to come to the surprising conclusion that “only a third of the nation’s schoolchidren read at grade level.” He claims that in order to be a successful reader, it depends on linking the text to speech; successful reading is dependent on the child’s language, grammar and vocabulary. Where the big connection lies is through teaching kids the “correspondence between the letters on a page and the sounds of words.”

Only a third of the nation’s schoolchildren read at grade level, according to UW-Madison professor Mark Seidenberg. CC Image Credit to Pexels.

Seidenberg also notes that teachers are often told this connection is not relevant to their teaching styles and that these scientific discoveries has no connection with what they decide to teach in the classroom. In his book, “Language at the Speed of Sight,” he explains that in order to understand the scientific research, teachers need a basic level of scientific literacy in order to fully understand it. In his eyes, they can either dismiss what he is saying in his discoveries, or they can share the findings and create change.

He was motivated to write his book based on frustration that has built up. Scientific discoveries about reading have barely had an impact on educational practices and he feels that it has “put kids at risk for failure.”

“‘Reading scientists have been talking about this for a long time and tried to communicate with educators and failed,'” Seidenberg explained. “‘We have not been able to get the science past the schoolhouse door.'”

An interesting recommendation Seidenberg offers is that college graduates who sign up for Teach for America be hired for reading tutors instead of classroom teachers for supplemental reading instruction. This would put more people in the classroom or after-school programs instead of putting the entire responsibility on one teacher in the classroom.

Seidenberg also recommends that schools of education ensure that teachers have a basic understanding of linguistics and child development in order to properly teach reading. For him, it is an entire community effort, and if done correctly, it will make a monumental difference in improved youth reading levels.

 

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

The Link Between Education and Health

“Across America, people are falling ill and dying young. These men and women have something in common. In fact, they stand out because of something they don’t have: a college degree.”

In a recent analysis conducted by Princeton University, economists Case and Deaton discovered that those who have not attended college live shorter, unhealthier lives when compared to those who attended college.

In a Washington Post article published about these findings, author Karin Fischer noted that the reasons behind this discovery are not simply revolving around money- pain, stress, and social dysfunction all contribute to the problem.

Starting in the late 1990s, cases of illness and death started to increase for white men and women aged 45-54 who did not have a college degree. Case and Deaton noticed these rising death rates among those middle-aged individuals and saw a connection for less-educated adults of all ages.

In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance noted how difficult it was for people of a poorer background to attend college even if they had aspirations to (pp. 64-65). He often felt like an outsider at Yale Law School because he was exposed to people of completely different backgrounds than him, but he was also thankful for the incredible opportunities and success that his higher education brought him (pp. 204-7).

Author J.D. Vance as a child. Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

In the Princeton University study, they also noticed that life expectancy was increasing for those with college degrees.

“While there’s long been a gap in health outcomes based on education, it now looks more like a yawning gulf,” Fischer mentioned.

Stanford researchers have discovered a connection between education level and health. CC Image Courtesy of Pexels.

Those with stable, well-paying jobs are more likely to be healthier in the United States, especially since the United States holds a system of employment-based health care. However, the relationship between education and health is not strictly reliant upon solely socioeconomic status.

Case and Deaton have their own predictions as to why this is happening. They connected the mortality rate among those without college degrees to rising deaths from drug and alcohol abuse and suicide- what they are calling “deaths of despair.” Drug and alcohol addiction were also reoccurring issues that J.D. Vance wrote about in his memoir.

“Their theory goes like this: Over the past several decades, the economy has shifted, eliminating many of the jobs that once went to people without college degrees. The share of men in their prime working years, ages 25 to 54, who are not in the work force has more than tripled since the late 1960s. Those who do have jobs are unlikely to be pulling in the same sorts of wages as generations before them.”

According to Case and Deaton, those who do not have college degrees have reported being unhappier than those with college experience. From this, they may turn to drugs and/or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Rural America was especially negatively impacted by the changing economy, and the people in these areas tend to be white, older, and less-educated than those living in cities and suburbs.

Experts are not saying college is the answer for all of these striking issues, especially since college tuition is too expensive for many affected by these findings. Instead, they recommend changes in policy that “could help ease the disadvantage that comes from not having a degree.” Case and Deaton also want to alter the connection between employment and health care, where education will still matter, but policy changes could change its strong connection to health.

Even though more people today are attending college than those in the past, it is important to consider the effects it has on those that are not able to attend college.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

 

Help us Celebrate Black History Month

With so many incredible Black History Month events over here in Madison, it’s important to dive into more information about this celebratory month.

Black History month has been recognized in the United States by every U.S. president since 1976. Other countries have followed in our footsteps and also designated a month to celebrating black history. Black History Month focuses on the achievements by African Americans and their crucial roles in this country’s history.

Every year, the current U.S. president endorses a theme to accompany that current Black History Month. The theme for this year is “African Americans in Times of War,” and marks the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, honoring the pivotal roles of African Americans in wars beginning with the American Revolution up until the present day.

Come help us celebrate Black History Month by attending some of UW’s exciting events! (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a busy calendar of events celebrating Black History Month. Some of the events to come include:

  • An open house at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where powerful events will be told through historical objects, artifacts, and documents alongside contemporary performances and presentation
  • A screening of Marvel’s “Black Panther”
  • A student luncheon with Dr. Cerise Elliot
  • The African Students Association annual dating for charity

…and that’s just this week! Our calendar is jam-packed with exciting events to honor Black History Month.

If you have some time to spare, be sure to check out some of the events!

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

“Bizarre” World: The Impact of Higher Education on First-Generation Students

Every environment has its niche. Whether that be understanding how you (and your face) should respond to Mac Dre in the Bay Area, the importance of the question What part? whenever someone claims they are from Chicago but actually mean the Chicagoland Area (I’m looking at you, Evanston), or even the way that UW-Madison has changed the way that you, a student, experience the words bag, bagel, or vague as they fall from the mouths of your Upper-Midwestern peers.

“I had learned much about law at Yale. But I’d also learned that this new world would always seem a bit foreign to me.” — J.D. Vance

Institutions of higher education can provide an opportunity to interact and learn with folks through individualized, unique perspectives. However, when a campus or institution is grounded within homogeneous cultures and people, any person whose identities counter this homogeneity finds that their experience in the realm of higher education becomes a starkly different experience than that of their peers. First-generation college students, much like J.D. Vance, are well aware of the “bizarre social rituals” (Vance 202) that are embedded into the fabric of higher education deeper than the patchwork of a college apparel crew-neck. In Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, Vance explains, “I had learned much about law at Yale. But I’d also learned that this new world would always seem a bit foreign to me” (Vance 234).

According to a Quartz article from 2015, first-generation students also tend to experience significant psychological ramifications within the world of higher education. Despite roughly 20% of all undergraduate students attending a four year public or private college or university being considered first-generation students, the disconnect between the student, the family, and the institution still remains. First-gen students often experience a sense of guilt in their ability to pursue the education and opportunities that others in their family were unable to follow, a phenomena called “breakaway guilt.” These factors of psychological stress are further heightened through the reality that first-generation students are more likely, about 50%, to be low-income students, and are also more likely to be “a member of a racial or ethnic minority group.”

(Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Understandably, first-generation students have varying experiences. However, there are “four distinct domains” of difficulty for folks who fall into this category: professional, financial, psychological, and academic. First-generation students are important in the world of higher education, and the acknowledgement of this sector of students within these institutions is also vital. As Vance mentions in Hillbilly Elegy, the experience of a first-generation student is often rooted in the hyper-self-awareness of social factors and expectations that are carried along with them from the first day of class straight through to graduation.

“Sometimes it’s easier knowing that the statistics suggest I should be in jail or fathering my fourth illegitimate child. And sometimes it’s harder — conflict and family breakdowns seems like the destiny I can’t possibly escape.”
—J.D. Vance

Tackling Childhood Trauma

“‘This is not a poverty problem. This is not a race problem. This is a function of human biology.'”

In an NPR interview with Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who gave a TED Talk on Adverse Childhood Experiences in 2014, Burke Harris dove deeper into what childhood trauma does to a young child’s body and how she recommends healing its negative effects.

In her new bookThe Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, Burke Harris describes the ways in which childhood trauma can change one’s physical health for the remainder of their life.

“It can tip a child’s developmental trajectory and affect physiology. It can trigger chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that can last a lifetime. It can alter the way DNA is read and how cells replicate, and it can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes — even Alzheimer’s.”

In the NPR interview, Burke Harris compared toxic stress created from childhood trauma to an interaction with a deadly bear. First, an individual feels a sense of adrenaline, and then his/her brain regulates executive functioning on how to logically handle the situation. One’s immune system is also affected because it is preparing for a potentially dangerous situation where harm to one’s body may occur.

She notes that if this reaction happens once in awhile, maybe if you ran into a bear, then it is okay. However, what is happening with adverse childhood experiences is that this happens way too frequently and is permanently affecting their health.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris giving her Ted Talk. CC Image Courtesy of the Nadine Burke Harris website.

In relation to children who grew up in poverty, toxic stress can be seen more frequently.

“‘What we see is that poverty itself may have a very significant impact on, first, kids being exposed to adversity, and second, the probability that the kids who are exposed will go on to develop toxic stress, because of the impact of the stress of poverty on their caregiver,'” Burke Harris explained.

In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance reflected on the stresses he faced as a child growing up in a poor household and how his family has been affected by these same toxic patterns as well.

“For many kids, the first impulse is escape, but people who lurch toward the exit rarely choose the right door. This is how my aunt found herself married at sixteen to an abusive husband. It’s how my mom, the salutatorian of her high school class, had both a baby and divorce, but not a single college credit under her belt before her teenage years were over… For me, understanding my past and knowing that I wasn’t doomed gave me the hope and fortitude to deal with the emotions of my youth” (229).

J.D. Vance and his half-sister, Lindsay, growing up in Ohio. CC Image Courtesy of the J.D. Vance website.

Burke Harris also stressed the importance of health clinics diagnosing adverse childhood experiences and effectively treating them. She created the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco. Her goal is that pediatricians are doing routine screenings for these adverse experiences since early intervention makes a drastic difference.

In a school environment, some of the clearest signs of children experiencing toxic stress are difficulties with impulse control and with self-regulation, and trouble with attention. The symptoms are very similar to those of ADHD. However, it is difficult for educators to tackle the problem without enough resources to use for students in need.

She concluded the interview with suggestions on how to tackle such a monstrous and complex problem.

“‘…Schools you need help! Doctors offices, you’re part of the solution! You know, if you’re in early childhood, you’re part of the solution. If you’re in juvenile justice, you’re part of the solution. We all need to be part of the solution. If we each take off our little piece, it’s nuts how far we’ll be able to go, together as a society, in terms of solving this problem.'”

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

A Helpful Guide for Hillbilly Elegy

Welcome back Badgers! While we are easing our minds back into “school mode,” it’s also the perfect time to integrate Hillbilly Elegy into your Spring course!

Welcome back Badgers! Now it’s time to think about integrating Hillbilly Elegy into your course. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

Hillbilly Elegy contains many themes that are relevant to various kinds of courses here at UW-Madison, and these complex and relevant themes hold the potential for great discussion within each course. A list of themes with page references has been posted on the Go Big Read resources page to assist course understanding and discussion of the book.

To help out instructors, the Go Big Read team has created a Book Discussion Toolkit. Within the Book Discussion Toolkit are Hillbilly Elegy discussion questions, book discussion guidelines for facilitators and participants, planning a book discussion, a program goals handout, and general book information. This toolkit will help spark conversation and how to go about covering some potentially sensitive or difficult topics.

HarperCollins has generously also provided a teacher’s guide for Hillbilly Elegy. The guide contains guided reading questions for each chapter and potential writing prompts.

A list of reviews, interviews, and related books has been created by Madison Public Library and is also listed under our Resources page for potential discussions and other sources to use within conversations surrounding Hillbilly Elegy. 

Go Big Read has created a Resource page to help with Hillbilly Elegy understanding and discussions.

If you are thinking about integrating Hillbilly Elegy into your course or are looking for further resources while reading the book, this resource page is here to help you!

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

 

Integrate Hillbilly Elegy into your Spring Course!

I know what you’re thinking… Winter break is just about to begin, so why are we mentioning Spring semester already?

Believe it or not, Spring semester is approaching fast! If you’ve been busy thinking about the holidays or planning your winter vacation, take a quick second and sign up to integrate “Hillbilly Elegy” into your Spring course!

Integrate “Hillbilly Elegy” into your Spring course today! CC Image Courtesy of Jeff Miller.

With themes like gender roles, poverty, childhood trauma, stress and health, globalization, and many more, “Hillbilly Elegy” tackles a lot of relevant topics that are discussed in various courses here at UW-Madison.

Critical reading and engagement are necessary to explore the author’s themes, explore points/research discussed, and reflect. We expect lively discussion, debate, and further research to be possibilities within courses. It is a book to help ground a discussion on many difficult contemporary issues.

It’s never to early to get the ball rolling! Sign up on the Go Big Read site today.

We wish you the happiest of holidays!

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

Two UW-Madison Professors Investigate Childhood Trauma Effects

“‘It’s not that people are overtly deciding to take these negative risks, or do things that might get them in trouble… It may very well be that their brains are not really processing the information that should tell them they are headed to a bad place, that this is not the right step to take.'”

Seth Pollak, a UW-Madison psychology professor has spent years studying the effects of stress on children.

Adults who endured high levels of stress within their childhood have difficulty reading signs of potential punishment or loss, which makes them vulnerable to certain avoidable health, legal, and financial problems.

According to a study conducted by researchers at UW-Madison, this problem may in fact be biological, stemming from certain inactivity in the brain where a situation should be triggering awareness.

This discovery may help educate at-risk youth to avoid risky situations.

Pollak and an additional UW-Madison psychiatry Professor Rasmus Birn conducted an experiment with 50 people aged 19 to 23. These participants participated in a previous study with Pollak when they were 8 years old. The participants were those who endured high stress levels as children, such as parents killed by gunfire or substance abuse, maltreatment, and foster home placements.

The study was conducted by two UW-Madison professors. (Photo by Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The participants were put through several tasks while their brain functionality was measured for activity areas of loss, risk, and reward in the brain.

Results showed that high childhood stress participants were less attentive to a potential loss situation than the low childhood stress group, and were more stimulated by losses. The high-stress childhood group also reported more risky behaviors- smoking, not wearing a seatbelt in a car, or texting while driving- compared to low stress participants.

To the researchers’ surprise, it was solely the participants’ childhood stress level, and not the stress in their current lives, that was a predictor of their abilities to identify potential losses or avoiding risky behaviors.

“’So many of our behavioral interventions are predicated on the idea that people will understand there’s a sign they’re about to be punished,’” Pollak said. “’Maybe we need to rethink some of those things.’”

The researchers plan to further investigate their findings and continue researching this topic.

“’Now that we have this finding, we can use it to guide us to look at specific networks in the brain that are active and functionally connected,’” Birn said. “’We may find that childhood stress reshapes the way communication happens across the brain.’”

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office

The Opioid Epidemic Hits Close to Home

We’ve discussed the opioid epidemic several times- whether it be on a national level, looking more closely at Hillbilly Elegy, or hearing more about it at the Keynote Event last month.

The opioid epidemic has also caught the attention of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker, but there has been another group in the Madison area that has been focusing on this problem for years.

The opioid epidemic has been affecting the Madison community. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

In a recent article following the progress of this group, it revealed that Safe Communities recognized this detrimental problem in Wisconsin as early as five years ago. They have increased the number of MedDrop boxes in the past several years, which has shown to be a huge help in recovering old medication.

Safe Communities also helped launch the recovery coach program and are hoping to expand it outside of SSM Health’s St. Mary’s.

Safe Communities is located right in the Madison area. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

“They know about the pain and they know sort of how low people can feel and then, how hopeful they can be,” Cheryl Wittke, Safe Communities executive director, noted. “Having that message has made a big difference and we’ve seen 90 percent of folks who are going through that process sign up for treatment.”

While a lot has been accomplished to recognize there is a problem, Wittke believes there is a lot that still needs to be done.

“There’s a lot more to be done and things are not good. We’re not seeing a reduction in overdose deaths currently. I guess maybe the good news is we’ve seen a slowing in the rate of increase,” Wittke said.

There was a Stop the Overdose Summit on November 6th that created a to-do list and new goals for the upcoming months.

To learn more about how to combat the opioid epidemic in Madison, feel free to check out the Safe Communities website.

Gillian Keebler
Student Assistant, Go Big Read Office