Term of Award

Fall 2006

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies (Ed.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Department

Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading

Committee Chair

William M. Reynolds

Committee Member 1

Karen Anijar

Committee Member 2

Marla Morris

Committee Member 3

John A. Weaver

Abstract

Over the past two decades, mass media coverage of certain infectious diseases has become more abundant. News reports of many of these contagious illnesses invoke fear in many people, such as Ebola and pandemic influenza; multidrug-resistant strains of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis; and agents of biological warfare, a concern that is now at the forefront with many Americans due to the most recent act of bioterrorism on American soil following the events of September 11th. This dissertation focuses on the American public's perception of infectious diseases, particularly as portrayed in the cultural science curriculum. I examine the cyclic nature of the discourse of contagion and its consequences. In doing so, I present a critical analysis of who controls what is included in the discourse, how agendas contribute to what is considered important, and how various threads of the discourse intertwine to create a gestalt-like complex. With this controlled discourse in mind, I discuss how experiencing the conversation contributes to what people believe about the threat of contagion and present how these assumptions shape our perception of reality. Lastly, I demonstrate how our altered perception of reality leads to behavioral changes that alter our world. To illustrate this, I provide examples of two types of reality shifts that occurred over the past few decades: the increase in commercial antibacterial products and antibiotic use contributed to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains (a biological shift), and the fear of weapons of mass destruction lead to increased support for a war against Iraq (a sociological shift).

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