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Category Archives: Ideas

Teach me to live in a biosphere, which is real, not a global economy, which is not.

Sat on the chaise lounge and watched the bumblebees work over the raspberry blossoms in a sea of green. After three days of warm, sunny weather I felt confident in my decision to put away all winter coats, turn off the pilot light to the gas fireplace insert and switch off the main furnace. I’d seeded another round of four inch pots in lettuces, peas, onions,herbs, and a few flowers, and sowed beans and chard in the new garden plot off the patio, reclaimed from another corner of lawn. The air was turning cool, with rain expected–perfect for the seeds, though the tomatoes would slow down a bit. Almost time to put a bird net over the cherry trees, and the gangly limbs of the apple trees definitely needed some training and support–they were loaded with baby fruit.

I was thinking about the ways in which some of my students, maybe even a decent body, had been brought to understand something of the laws of nature–the ones that we humans ought to stop trying to ignore–such as there being finite resources on Earth that needed to be continuously recycled, that evolution is a constant and inevitable process, whatever religion says, and that there are fascinating miracles to explore at every turn, as well as inexorable forces we must reckon with, organism among organisms as we are, perched on this spinning rock blasted with radiation more powerful than thousands of nuclear bombs.

I have a mental space full of faces, ever expanding as I go through these years of teaching. Names may fade, but I will never un-know these young people, the 35-odd students I taught last year, the around eighty this year, counting middle, high and third graders. For once I get to teach at the same school–another novelty I look forward to. Ninth graders I’ll see in Physics and Algebra 1 next year, this year’s group will move on to the next math and show up for physics, too. Could be teaching some of the younger ones, though mostly high school. All the same colleagues with the addition of a new teacher–I hope I like her, bet I will.

Dan O’Neill, writer I sublet my summer office space from gave me his book, The Firecracker Boys, to give to my father, and since he’s all the way across the continent, I’m reading it before I send it there along with my son when he goes to college. It tells the story of how the Atomic Energy Commission started a group that was eager to test “peacetime uses” of nuclear power, and their first project was to be blasting a new harbor into the coast of Alaska. Their ignorance about the systems of the Earth and the disastrous effects that would result from their plan is astounding, and even though I know how the story ends, with the killing of the project and all similar ones due to the newly birthed environmental movement that arose there, I feel sick just thinking about how it might have been.

In environmental science we discussed why humans can have, want to have, even, such an outsized effect on the Earth’s systems, and yet do not seem essential to any of them in comparison to other organisms, such as, say, ants or eelgrass. The students were in agreement that if all humans suddenly vaporized, nothing would fall apart. We also explored the question of why humans, of all organisms, deliberately flout ecological principles, and what effect that might have, long term, on our species, on society. And, could there be a way to reconcile our ambitions to discover, build, and create, with the limitations that scientists are discovering that we must live within? Not to overly credit scientists–it took them hundreds of years, two steps forward, one step back (or vice versa) to catch up to some of that instinctive body-knowledge, that innate genetic wisdom, of our pre-historic ancestors.

The Fall–when and how did it happen? Was it the dawn of agriculture, or just agricultural commerce? Did it derive from the spread of the expression of new genes of cognition and self awareness? Was it accelerated by symbolic language and institutionalized ancient religions? Or was all that, really, progress?

Nowadays, just like the real estate bubble, we are talking again, in education circles, economics, science and technology, as if trends, what is happening, are the same as vision. “It’s a global economy–it’s an information age, so let’s get with it.” As I asked a mom I confide in periodically about my doubts about the value of schools systems, “Who’s driving this train and why should I get on–just because it’s going somewhere?”

My younger daughter shared with me how stressed she was about school–with the drive to maintain good grades, the pace, the hours, the lack of joy, the social pressure. By all appearances, she’s a successful student, but here she was in tears, wondering what the purpose of it all was. Her teachers were part of the problem, just because they had bought in. Their success wrapped up in rigor and performance-based assessment, not impact, enlightenment, and empowerment. I thought about the pressure I put on my Monday/Wednesday high school students, how as the test approached, I accelerated the pace of content exposure, started giving them testing tips and practice (while advising them, as the testing websites claimed, that success did not come from “test practice”  or extra study.

Friday classes were different, with only “delight-directed” activities (such as we could manage), no grades, no homework. That too appears to be about to be corrupted by the managers of the system, with a drive toward more “accountability” and record keeping. Hearing this fact at the staff meeting, I expressed my displeasure, tried to voice how dear are the values, to many homeschool families, of freedom and flexibility, as they are to teachers and students. Yes, it would drive away some families, it was acknowledged, this change, but it was what the state needed for financial accountability. Yes, families should drop out–they should save themselves, I thought. Funny how this whole parent partnership started to rope back in some of those opted out families with our flexible.part time program, and now that they’re hooked on the funding and free curriculum, we change the rules.

I sanctioned some respite for my daughter, called in and excused some skipped classes without giving clear reasons to the voice mail recorder, ignored the alarming-sounding letters citing the Becca Bill and mentioning court. She explained why she was skipping–the others were doing standardized testing she didn’t have to do and there was a sub; she’d already done the work and they weren’t learning anything new; they were playing soccer instead of having a lesson; she wanted to spend a few hours on her ceramics project. The ceramics studio, and its teacher, being the sanctuary so many students needed, a kind, blind eye turned and no questions asked. Refreshing subversion.

School is definitely part of the problem. We only need school because we’re a modern industrial society on a crash course with our destiny of ecological disaster, and it takes a lot of rigor to learn all the techniques that have got us into this mess, let alone the ones that maybe could get us out without sacrificing any modern luxuries–the ones we need at the end of our twelve hour labors. The future is coming. Let’s get there first.

Or, we could learn contextually everything we really need to know, like a cub from momma lion–how to get food and water, defend oneself without unnecessary energy expenditure or excessive harm to anyone else’s system, key social norms and boundaries (with the option of challenging them), how to play a musical instrument, and never to poop  in the water hole.

 

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Planned ignoring could be the answer

As a nineteen-year-old counselor at a camp for children from inner city Halifax, I first learned about the idea of planned ignoring (https://www.mayinstitute.org/news/topic_center.html?id=395). I was shocked that there could be such a technique, that being ignored could be recommended as a way to help children, that it could be therapeutic. But then I wasn’t a kid whose acting out, and only acting out, was reinforced by attention. And I suppose it wasn’t in my character anyway, since I did want more attention sometimes than I got. As a person working with children and youth, I thought that all children’s expressed needs, frustrations, complaints, and antics should be responded to in some way.

I have come to know better over the years to respond to people–my children, students, and others, on a continuum of attention, including sometimes purposefully ignoring behaviors or comments that don’t deserve a response.

Now I see planned ignoring as a possible answer to the problem of a Donald Trump presidency. The more I learn about Trump, the more I believe that the only thing that matters to him is attention, and whatever behaviors get that attention will become his modi operandi. So planned ignoring of certain behaviors of his should have the effect of extinguishing them through lack of reinforcement, as long as his more desirable behaviors are reinforced at the same time (https://www.special-learning.com/article/extinction).

Most of us are only exposed to Trump’s behavior through the media, and we know that the purpose of for-profit media is to win our attention long enough that the advertisers see increases in sales. So no one can expect the corporate media, however horrified they appear to be by Trump’s words and actions, to initiate any sort of campaign to ignore him. We’ve seen that his ability to shock, offend, perplex, and provide comedy to the public tends to increase ratings and readership of outlets that cover it. And when increases to readership and viewership of specific types of stories can be tracked, as they can for online media, there’s another layer of reinforcement added, this time for the media to spend more time spreading stories of Trump’s undesirable behaviors, if they are the most consumed.

So it has to come from us. Media consumers can and should make the choice to withdraw attention from all forms of coverage that reinforce negative, attention-seeking behaviors by public figures. Not that we should ignore important coverage, but we need to distinguish between that and coverage that effectively reinforces what’s worst in human nature.

This idea could certainly be applied more broadly, such as to a move to cut down on gluttonous consumption of stories about violent offenders, terrorists, fringe elements, and copy-cat offenders. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/12/04/yes-mass-shootings-tend-to-produce-copycats-so-do-terror-attacks/?utm_term=.2ee9e5a59024)

Is it even realistic to suggest the idea that media consumers can make the kind of concerted effort that could move a person like Trump to behave? Probably not, if it means there is real consensus about what behavior is wanted. Many people love the fact that Trump will say and do anything, and call it a virtue. But from what I can tell, if enough consumers of media did participate in a movement to avoid coverage (and intervening paid advertisements) that’s mostly spin and hype and had no practical application, it could affect ratings and send the heads to media scurrying into the meeting room to adjust their coverage (how ratings are determined: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/solutions/measurement/television.html).

It’s not helpful to watch five minutes, be appalled, and watch ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes more. That kind of thing gives some of the least trusted news sources the highest viewership. (http://www.businessinsider.com/here-are-the-most-and-least-trusted-news-outlets-in-america-2014-10) So there’s no incentive to be more trustworthy, and certainly none to provide coverage not solely designed to entertain. Personally, if I get sucked in that way as I pass through the living room, I feel defiled and stupider for it afterwords. the phrase amusing myself to death comes to mind. There’s a book that’s as relevant as ever. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death)

Neither is it effective, apparently, to specialize in coverage critical of Trump, since although he occasionally gets irritated by it, he probably still believes what he was quoted as saying in The Art of the Deal:

“Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”

 SO here’s an invitation to one and all. Ignore most of the coverage, and try to get the essentials from sources not dependent on corporate advertising and have excellent journalistic principles and a history of covering what’s truly important. Some diseases can only be cured by being starved of nourishment.
 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Culture & Society, Ideas, Media

 

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Would you like to auto-recycle all your old items now?

When you’re interested enough in something, and sense that there’s so much depth to plumb and you know so little, the beginning of the pieces coming together, for you at least, can seem like a revelation. Like, maybe this stuff is actually not only the key to my life, the way out and up and on to my full potential (which might not be much, but at least it’s an honest evaluation), but it might explain a while lot more. It might explain the entire span of evolution, of the rises and falls and ultimate future demise of human civilization, and even why Trump got elected.

For you, the defining paradigm might be electrolyte balance. Or maybe a macrobiotic or paleolithic diet. Maybe it’s mindful living, or a growth mindset. Maybe keeping your home fires burning, or an attitude of trust and obey, for there’s no other way (not likely, if you are reading this). I respect your right to choose your own lens through which to see the world, but the one I’m trying on is the biology, my love.

The genes we carry want to carry on. That’s by definition, not necessarily an indication of divine purpose (though I don’t rule out the possibility). According to Richard Dawkins, the ultimate unit of life and the driver of all survival instinct is the gene. How genes operate is by building bodies around them made of cells, in myriad forms which carry them into all kinds of environments so they can absorb resources–atoms and molecules to be made into genes and cells and body copies to carry them around. Doesn’t even matter which kind of body they build, as long as it efficiently does the work of replicating those genes and spreading them around. That can be by reproduction, but also by being a host for the replication of other cells and bodies such as parasites, bacteria, and viruses, or food–a quick remix of ingredients, of another beast carrying around similar genes. It’s not the species that’s trying to survive, or the population, or family, or individual, but the genes inside them all.

So if a species which has so far been successful at allowing the replication of the genes within it starts to threaten the replication of the exact same genes in other species (such as chimps, dogs, frogs, or bacteria, all of which are carrying around many of the same genes in varying degrees) it would make sense that the other carriers of the genes might take it down in some way. Likewise, if a carrier gets off on a side track of thinking and behaving as if replication isn’t so important after all, that it’s the life of the spirit, or culture, or just the individual me, myself and I, that matters, then again, the genes influencing that carrier either directly (from within) or indirectly (in the ecosystem) should interfere and go to plan B.226.3alpha, which is, let that species self-destruct, releasing its genes into the parasites, symbionts, decomposers and predators better equipped to do the job. Fire and the gnashing of teeth, start again.

A bit more about the curbing of reproduction: If the evolutionary success or fitness of a species is defined as its ability to sustainably reproduce, why would a population ever stop trying to be fruitful and multiply? Why is it that as humans become more “educated,” they are less likely to try for large families or engage in polygamy, and more likely to use contraception, delay childbearing, or choose not to have children at all? Not, as in the bees and other species, to take care of the head couples’ brood because it ensures the survival of the genes we share in common. Why would genes, which by definition are replicators, allow the formation of thoughts and behaviors that lead to the reduction of reproductive behaviors?

History shows that it’s the most educated and technologically advanced that use, waste, and pollute the most resources, so it’s definitely in the interests of genes to curtail the reproduction of such beings. And we thought it was a sign of higher culture to exercise choice over our own bodies, and of progress to embrace a diversity of types of love, even if they aren’t centered around procreation! Instead, it could be an adaptation to the rise of extra-destructive variations in the human genome, a function of genes that are cutting down on a bad model. Maybe a subsistence life with a good deal of natural mortality might be better for the survival of the fittest. A cultural agenda focused on the eradication of poverty, disease, and homelessness may be at odds with the agenda of the genes within our bodies and in the bodies around us, from the tiniest virus to the dearest friend or relative.

I don’t want that to be true. I’ve got attached to those aspects of my culture and beliefs. Dawkins says we can “rebel” against our genes, the main example being contraception. I’m not convinced—I think Dawkins is being inconsistent. I think he just wants to believe that being an intellectual is higher on the evolutionary chain of fitness than being the head of a polygamous cult in the desert or one of the throngs of wiry street urchins of the inner city that grows up to leave broods of unwashed, unloved children staring through laundry hanging in urban alleys crawling with rats, disease, and criminals. Just like he wants to believe that there is a divine and benevolent creator, though this belief is differently expressed, as a reckless, headlong plunge into logical analysis of biological evidence to the apparent contrary. I can relate to that.

 

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2016 in Ideas, science

 

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Survival of the fittest, moving cheese, and losing my religion

Let me just say first that this is all coming from a sense of failure as a parent, as a family member in general, and a feeling that I have inherited a way of life from my culture that is dooming us all to failure. Also an undying sense of hope that there might…just…be…a..way, if only… Putting this and that piece of understanding together into a picture, dim but somewhat coherent.

First, I’ve been leading my high school students through Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. My thoughts on this have been turbocharged by reading Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. Upshot being only those types of individuals who successfully pass on their types of genes will inherit the Earth, all others go extinct. By definition, I tell them, the only species alive now are those that proved that ability to pass on genes over the long term and in given environmental conditions. Dawkins goes further to argue that the unit of successful survival isn’t even the species, but the genes within, and these aren’t picky about the bodies they use–whatever works for the replicators gets continued into the new line.

Those are the basics, which we might say (no other species being able to join the debate) have favored the pinnacle of creation, humankind. A stupid thought, really, but perhaps born out of wonder at what we see when we step out into self-consciousness–hey, that’s me? No way!

But what about when environmental conditions change, either by acts of God in the abiotic spheres, or the evolution of entire ecosystems in the biosphere? The forest grows up and getting light is a new challenge, so the shorty plants die out. Owls’ hearing gets even better so only mice with genes that give new survival strategies survive. Humans cause mass destruction of ecosystems, disrupt environmental cycling and equilibrium, so begins the sixth massive extinction, and then what? It’s early yet, for real evolutionary change in humans to show, but what’s the trend? Or, is it all too fast for us more complex, slower evolving species and only the bacteria will survive and the whole march will start over, toward what end? The idea of an end being a Western bias, for sure, because in terms of evolution, I suppose there is no end. Even if our planet becomes uninhabitable and we don’t get off onto another one in time, some passing asteroid will  catch the microbial drift somehow.

There are some interesting trends in the human species, for sure, that seem to go against the survival of the fittest rule. One is the tendency of more technologically advanced, educated, less religious people to breed less. Unless those folks simultaneously suppress the higher reproductive success of fundamentalists and the less “educated,” can we predict that natural selection will favor the latter, all other things being equal? Maybe that’s always been the case, and the real reason for the falls of Indus, Rome, and Atlantis.

But there are density-dependent factors too, such as competition for resources, and the requirement that we llive within our means. So quietly living indigenous people, who carry very old surviving genes from people who lived that way for eons, or slipped back into the jungle when past civilizations came to similar crises, will be the means of humanity outliving this crisis, too. Most of them, I hear, practice reproductive self restraint, even without careers and luxury urban apartments. All the reproductive restraint without the economic growth that destroys the habitat. Not so nasty and brutish after all.

A few weeks ago heard a piece on CBC Ideas about the evolutionary advantage for humans of story telling (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/vestigial-tale-part-1-1.3086744). We can assume that up until now there has been a real advantage in most populations, or we wouldn’t be still telling them. A big part of those stories are the mythologies that help people understand their place in the world and what is to be valued, feared, sought, expected.

Tying that to my own experience of losing a grip on the mythology I inherited, thanks to the Age of Reason and Science, combined with a sense of intellectual dishonesty I have frequently encountered in the religious community. Started out with Our Lord Jesus and His body the Church, prayer and sacraments and Sunday school and Resurrection Day, God made the sun, moon, and stars and the purpose of our lives is to worship God and enjoy him forever. Not without a study of molecules, other galaxies, and evolutionary marvels, and an emphasis on stewardship. What I was trying to pass on was that we are to be a blessing to the world. I had occasional real mystic experiences, and most of the time accepted that my spiritual gifts and God-given personality made me prone to listening to my head more than my heart, to nature more than preacher.

It was so easy to stop going to church, once we stopped home schooling. Our public school system, which does such a fine job here up north separating Church and State, has also, by default, conveyed the idea that religion, with its God talk, morality, and exclusivity, is a primitive, private, and personal pastime awkwardly  appended to one’s 145 hour a week push for college and career readiness. That the essence of living is success in the competitive economy, pluralism, and peer socialization. Going to church felt like an anachronism, with its emphasis on discipleship, sacrifice, and worship of the Unseen One. Formal studies in the faith had its pros and cons. Over the years my spouse and I have always openly critiqued every oversimplification of religious ideas, dogmas, and interpretations, so our kids didn’t get any sense of uncritical loyalty that might have kept them attached to church life. They found they didn’t fit in well with the youth group summer mission trip crowd, and couldn’t sign the statements of faith required to be a blessing through youth leadership or working at summer camp. We went to one of those urban, young professional type churches without a strong sense of community (and with a respect for privacy), so when we drifted off weekly attendance, no one noticed.

In homeschooling I had good friends–we all did, but only a few. We never really fit into the religious subculture there that availed itself of its right to educate its own from cradle to loose ends, all under the umbrella of the church, which provided its own sanitized version of biology and the scientific method.

Now we are at loose ends at home, without a community to come alongside and share the pain of bringing up teens to love God and enjoy him forever, without any ritual and tradition–of seasons, coming of age, or divine sacraments. It feels like we’ve lost our way, but the usual road signs offered are outdated brands. I find myself thinking, what is it we have to pass on? What was that blessing we were supposed to be offering to the world?

Is that lack of grounding in myth, in addition to the cultural angst we have absorbed, signs that our genes are not all that fit? None of my kids expresses any strong desire to be a parent. Although the traditional view is for me to look forward to being a grandparent, I’m starting to think it wouldn’t be responsible to pass these exploiter genes on. Maybe the fading of parental longings in so many moderns is a result of the signals coming back from the ecosystems we have wrecked, the zoos and Sea Worlds we have created, but which can’t give us food, shelter, and clothing enough for the propagation of the genes we house.

I do get excited about the possibility of my kids fostering and adopting, though, which seems a more just expression of parenting that adding more feet to the sun baked ground. Would have done that myself, if I could have won over the camp.

At the high school where I teach, I’ve brought up the idea of a survival skills elective (elective!) class that could be offered, and there has been universal interest among the students. Seems like the proper thing to do. I noticed that the idea is trending–there is a display of titles on the topic at the library. One ought to be able to slip off into the woods, live off the land, leaving only organic fertilizer, and footprints, and re-establishing a culture of harmony. I feel it in my genes.

 

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Recommended reading list for educators

How Children Fail by John Holt – published in 1964, but still a very useful read. The whole book is built on observations of what children do to get through what’s asked of them in the typical classroom–often coping strategies rather than real problem solving, and the ways teachers interfere with the process of the development and use of of intelligence in the classroom. Also How Children Learn

How to Survive in Your Own Native Land by James Herndon – I read this a few decades ago, so I can’t give a very good synopsis. I was reminded of it by reading Holt. Herndon taught in low income black neighborhood schools and wrote this description of the craziness brought out by the combination of generations of marginalization and being in a typical public school setting for these kids.

The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn – she cites her favorites also, which I won’t list here. This is the kind of book of which I want to buy multiple copies, donate it to school libraries, plant it in the cafeteria, then check later to make sure it hasn’t been removed and recycled. I leave it around my house and hope my kids will decide to do what the subtitle suggests: “quit school and get a real life and education.”

The Underground History of American Schooling: A School Teacher’s Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling by John Taylor Gatto – it’s a wonder that he ever won Teacher of the Year Award, but that must be something independent of politics, because, man! he is a real pill to administrators and politicians! Great bibliography in the back, too. Also A Different Kind of Teacher, Dumbing Us Down

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (1971). This is not only a great book, a paradigm-shifting, subversive book. Champions freedom in education. As in people who want to learn, go find a teacher or organize a class, course, school even, but client driven. Teachers are sought out, not given classes full of students who have no choice. Again, read a long time ago–assigned by an Acadia education professor, which is much to his credit.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck- pretentious and inaccurate title (probably the marketing people came up with it), as the idea of a growth mindset, intellectual growth, that is, isn’t new. As my father-in-law says, “You can’t learn any younger!” to each new challenge, and I’m sure he inherited the phrase, and attitude, from his parents. Still, the book provides a good reminder, with lots of supporting evidence, both empirical and anecdotal, of the fact that the more learners young and old believe that intelligence (of any type) is not fixed and that talent, like skill, is mostly a developed trait, the more they learn, grow, and excel. Also provides guidance for teachers and parents in communicating a growth mindset to those in their care and avoiding language and attitudes that set up barriers to the growth mindset.in others. For example, telling children they are smart or talented can backfire, setting up a fear of risk taking for fear of losing the label.

A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education by Mercedes Schneider (2014) – identifies the power players attempting to capitalize on the disruptive corporate-friendly reform of educational policy, leadership, infrastructure, data, and markets.

The Language Wars by Diane Ravitch – uncovers the private policies of textbook publishers who actively self censor content, language, and ideas in order to secure education markets when those markets are controlled by multiple and competing private interests across the liberal-conservative spectrum. Only a few large publishing companies can and are willing to compete to sell material that doesn’t offend anyone, from the Christian right to senior citizens to advocates for people with disabilities to LGBTQ activists and more. Even literature and historical sources are edited for acceptability, provided with corrective commentary, or eliminated, resulting in the predigested pap of the typical school text.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2016 in Culture & Society, Education, Ideas

 

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Who’s making the decisions here, the genes of the masses, or great men of history?

What I hear about in the news and see going on, like war and xenophobia and altruism, and love, and all of it, really could be seen as biologically driven phenomena, and I want more of us to admit it. I’m all for a spiritual or humanistic interpretation too, but it’s also the biology, stupid. There are undeniably biological, biochemical, and fundamentally genetic and epigenetic roots of behavior, and I’d like to see that aspect to be addressed along with the socio-political, ethical, and economic. Should we let Syrian refugees in, mitigate the chaos that’s over straining their homeland resources so that it can recover? Or should we slam the door shut on those displaced by cultural influences they cannot overcome, that lead to civil war and murder and environmental abuse? Should we protect for ourselves and our offspring these finite habitat resources, favor the genetic variations most closely akin to us, and maintain social stability? Or should we welcome these fleeing young families who have survived, who had the strength and intelligence to migrate all the way here, and so will seed our stock with strong genes? Both altruism and xenophobia can be argued to have biological, or genetic, root causes, that’s what I think. Same with race relations, gender identity, sexuality, resource politics, and so much more. Acknowledging evolutionary roots does not mean caving in to determinism, but provides balance to the wishful thinking that education and the exertion of individual and collective will can make all our “problems” go away. A simplistic social Darwinist perspective certainly acknowledges the influence of evolutionary biology, but equates evolutionary weakness with lower class, while contradicting itself with the complaint that the “weak” are multiplying too much (which should be considered a characteristic of the strong or fit, by Darwinian thought).

Now that I’m almost done with Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene, I’m even more convinced, except that I accept his argument that it’s not fundamentally the individual or group that is the root of selective pressures, but the genes themselves. It must be so, or the same genes wouldn’t still be around. The same individuals never occur again, after all. Not sure how that would pan out at the socio-political level, this apparent drive by genes themselves (really just random natural selection of those able to successfully replicate). Maybe just a manifestation of a healthy variety of social views resulting in various social trends and cultures, all derived from a hodgepodge of gene-driven influences at the cellular level.

This point of view is influencing what I tell my high school students, too. When we were on the topic of plants that germinate in the dark and then grow for the life of them, or die trying, I told them that the plants do that because they are descendants of plants that survived because they did that too, and the rest, apparently, didn’t succeed.

Apparently no one response to mass migration or economic policy or social views on self governance has proven to be significantly effective for the propagation of genes, or we would have ended up with mainly one point of view. All the points of view that were disastrous all the time are gone. Or maybe the environment has fluctuated so much, we’re still in that cycle, letting it all play out, and haven’t yet reached an evolutionarily stable strategy–an kind of Age of Aquarius many hope for, and Imagine. A good number of folks have carried forward genes that manifest as a drive to change things, sure, campaigning and writing and preaching and teaching. Others have successfully populated the Earth with conservative human minds, with people who wish to be led, who don’t want change, and so that must be an important part of the genetic survival strategy, too. At least up until now.

Because now, the most educated and affluent have rebelled against their genes, choosing to have few children or none at all. Dawkins believes we are capable of rebelling against our genes because of consciousness. I’m not so sure. I think maybe our genes have responded to the tendency of affluent people to destroy their own resources by cutting down on their reproductive rate. Pro-Choice, indeed. Sure, overpopulation is a problem in India and so on, but just watch what happens when the “standard of living” rises there. It will be like rabbits reabsorbing their fetuses, combined with lemmings running over a cliff. In the West, the Plague wiped out a third of Europeans, then a bit of European pathogen DNA killed most of North American residents early in the Age of Discovery, so it seemed for quite a while that colonization, expansion, economic growth and Industrial Revolution might be a good thing, maybe even the best thing, for the human race. All those suffering from its effects in Europe either died or escaped to America, but not before featuring as at least a minor character type in a good nineteenth century novel, asking for alms for the poor or being told to eat cake. Though they were never required to dress for dinner.

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in Culture & Society, Ideas

 

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Twenty-first is just a number. The previous one was twentieth, and the one that follows is twenty-second. So what?

Twenty-first century education: more use of digital and web-based technology such as game based learning and online curriculum, more “accountability” in the form of testing, more top down decisions about what is taught at what age, a focus on getting everyone why do we always assume that means we should get on board?

Let’s get all excited about getting ready for all points beginning now, or at least beginning at graduation. The invisible vector of the future starts now. We have to be more ready than they are. We are behind in getting our children prepared.

It’s like a fear-driven secular version of Left Behind. What is it, at the root? And why won’t anyone publicly question the direction in which we’re headed? As far as I can tell, it’s a global economic competition in growth, growth, growth.

Economic growth is an increase in the amount of goods and services produced per head of the population over a period of time. While deftly avoiding all consideration of the ecological and cultural repercussions of economic growth, it’s held up as the ultimate goal of every nation.

Heard an interview on CBC last week with Hal Niedzviecki on the advertising industry’s heavy use of the temptation we have to obsess about the future. How the hurry to get to it and establish some kind of position of advantage costs us the present, and even the possibility of a sustainable future. (http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2679232693) Reminded me of that hollow ring of the oft-repeated call to “prepare young people for the twenty-first century.” Makes me especially suspicious when the path to that furture is strewn with the remnants of fine arts, home economics, and shop programs, when it fails to incorporate ambitious, eclectic reading lists featuring the best of classic and contemporary fiction, and when the students on the path are whipped along by fears of not being able to compete for a spot or scholarship at the best colleges, by teachers who are “accountable” for test scores and not much else.

 

Diane Ravitch
Education Historian; author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, says:

Diane Ravitch

To be prepared for the 21st century, our children require the following skills and knowledge: an understanding of history, civics, geography, mathematics, and science, so they may comprehend unforeseen events and act wisely; the ability to speak, write, and read English well; mastery of a foreign language; engagement in the arts, to enrich their lives; close encounters with great literature, to gain insight into timeless dilemmas and the human condition; a love of learning, so they continue to develop their minds when their formal schooling ends; self-discipline, to pursue their goals to completion; ethical and moral character; the social skills to collaborate fruitfully with others; the ability to use technology wisely; the ability to make and repair useful objects, for personal independence; and the ability to play a musical instrument, for personal satisfaction.

As I engage with the ideas presented in the Project Based Learning movement and feel myself inspired by such models as Dan Diego’s charter school High Tech High, I see behind the curtain, perhaps meaning well and certainly generous with their money, social entrepreneurs whose main goal seems to be, essentially, to fill their meeting rooms and cubicles and conference rooms with “innovators” who can make them lots of money. How do wise educators keep that goal from superseding true education? How does a community cling to its right to collectively and wisely envision the future, rather than yield that visioning power to those who pay the bills? Are we naively looking forward to a free lunch once again?

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2015 in Culture & Society, Education, Ideas

 

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