Dates for SESP Dinner Discussions on Mountains Beyond Mountains Announced

Dates for SESP Dinner Discussions on Mountains Beyond Mountains Announced

Mountains Beyond Mountains
In conjunction with Northwestern University's One Book One Northwestern, the School of Education and Social Policy will sponsor three intimately sized "Dinner and Discussion" events on February 9 and 20 to discuss Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains.

In anticipation of this series of events, students, faculty and staff are encouraged to read or browse Mountains Beyond Mountains, this year’s One Book selection. It is available through the Northwestern Library, including a free online version, as well as local bookstores.

Mountains Beyond Mountains tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard-trained physician who spent much of his life working in Haiti and other impoverished countries. The theme of making a difference in the lives of others reflects the mission of SESP to “understand and improve human learning and development throughout the life span and in multiple contexts.”

Facilitated by a faculty member and a student, each dinner discussion will focus on a different theme presented in the book, such as motivation, organization or public policy. These are the dinner discussions are open to the SESP community:

  • Jim Spillane will be leading the discussion on policy issues suggested by the text on Wednesday, February 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Antica Pizzeria at 5663 N. Clark in Chicago (take bus 22 from Howard Red line stop). Spillane is chair of the HDSP program and also a professor in LS and the undergraduate program. He will be leading the discussion on policy issues, such as the following: Farmer is dissatisfied with the distribution of wealth and health, money and medicine. What roles do world and national politics and social systems such as education and social services play in the disparity? What is the role to be played by the international community versus the local community? Can real sustainable change be effected from outside, or must it come from within the local community? The PIH vision statement reads “PIH uses all of the means at our disposal to make [a person] well ... whatever it takes. Just as we would do if a member of our own family or we ourselves were ill.” Is putting this kind of emphasis on the individual a practical policy?
  • Mesmin Destin, assistant professor in HDSP and the psychology department, and professor Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, director of the Master of Science in Education program, will lead a discussion at the Firehouse Grill, 750 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, on Wednesday, February 9, at 6:30 p.m. Their discussion will look at Farmer himself. Questions may include the following: What makes Farmer tick?  What is his story? Has Zanmi Lasanti sustained itself and been replicated because of him or in spite of him? What characteristics does Farmer have that allowed him to turn his passion into action? Does Kidder include the descriptions of Farmer’s upbringing because it’s an interesting story, or does he want to suggest it plays a role in Farmer’s development; and if the latter, what is that role? Farmer seems full of compassion for strangers, but what about those closest to him? Is Farmer altruistic or self-serving? What personality traits do Dahl and Kim bring to the table? What are those assets worth?
  • Jeannette Colyvas will be hostessing at her home in Evanston on Sunday, February 20, at 6 p.m. As an assistant professor in Learning and Organizational Change (LOC), Learning Sciences (LS) and Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP), she will be exploring the book from an organizational perspective, taking a look at the organization that Farmer set up. The conversation may look at these questions as well as others: Why did Farmer decide to create Partners in Health (PIH) and how did he go about doing it? How did the organization grow?  What organizational structures were put in place? How successful was the model when it was transferred to other locations, and what factors influenced the transfer? How important was/is Farmer to PIH’s growth?

Participation is limited and is on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are required by Friday, February 4, at

The 2010 One Book One Northwestern project is headed by the Center for Civic Engagement, directed by SESP professor Dan Lewis. The community-wide reading program hosted by the Office of the President at Northwestern aims to create a common conversation across campus. The SESP discussions will complement a lecture by the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, Tracy Kidder. He will come to campus discuss the book at a special free lecture at 4:30 p.m. on February 10 in Harris Hall.
By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 1/27/11