Stuff

Stuff

There is a lot of pressure at this time of year to dive unquestioningly into mass consumerism. Adverts and peer pressure have encouraged us to believe we will be happier, hipper and whole-er when we have more stuff, preferably the latest incarnation.  We also believe we need to shower other people with similar stuff to show we care. This makes it a great time to ask students to consider if this is actually true, and if not, what’s really going on. You might help them make happier choices, increase their sense of freedom and take pressure off the planet’s resources in the process…

Should we encourage students to think they can create change?

Should we encourage students to think they can create change?

One of the occasional joys of the net, is that it can facilitate thought-provoking communication with people who one would not otherwise have met. 

One of these interchanges for me was with Chris, a passionate and experienced educator in Spain.

He asked, "How do you feel about IgnitED informing young people about the state of the world, politics and economics?  Although I agree that we should offer this, I worry that it will cause helplessness and despair".  He elaborated on his concerns by suggesting I read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by John Perkins. To the uninitiated, this is an autobiographical account of Perkin's work as an ex "economic hitman" -  hired by corporates and powerful individuals, to facilitate their economic agenda, often at the expense of democracy and the environment. 

One classic example of this kind of corporate intervention was the hounding of Aaron Swartz - documented in the captivating, tragic doco  - The Internet's Own Boy. When one reflects upon his life, work and ultimate suicide in the light of the recent demise of the net neutrality which Aaron fought for in the USA, his idealism is sobering. Environmental activists and journalists are often at the forefront of similar struggles. There are many others.

President Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore reflected on the concept of "irresponsible" idealism a few years ago, discussing the West's encouragement of pro-democratic demonstrations in the Ukraine, resulting in the crackdown by Russia:

"I think some people didn't think through all the consequences. You can understand the emotional sympathies: they share your values, they want to link up with you... these are idealistic and enthusiastic revolutionaries, in a way, you think back to Les Mis.

"But can you take responsibility for the consequences and when it comes to grief, will you be there?"  He answers his own question. "You can't be there, you've got so many other interests to protect."

One of the premises of IgnitED, is that if students are able to learn to intervene intelligently, they are more powerful than they realize in creating meaningful and important change.  However Chris was asking something deeper -  even if our students do create such change, are we doing them a favour by promoting this as a way of life - to live as an ethical member of the community, when the best of them may ultimately find themselves crushed between their idealism and the weight of reality?

I have thought about this question for many years.  My answer is a qualified "yes".

If you can educate them about what they are up against in terms of political or financial power, and help them deal with the fall out, you may create an empowering way forward. 

The incredibly effective response of the Parkland students in response to the recent school massacre is an interesting case in point. The fact that shooting survivor, turned activist Emma Gonzalez, has more Twitter followers than the NRA, shows the students' passion and message is celebrated in a country which until recently had become disillusioned by the inevitability of the lack of legislative change.

Robert Reich reflects:

"Why have the surviving students in Parkland, Florida, been so strikingly passionate, articulate, and effective? Maybe because they had a good grounding in civic education. In 2010 the Florida legislature required civics be taught in 7th grade -- including civic activities requiring teamwork and collaboration, student participation in school governance, and simulations of democratic processes such as town meetings and mock trials.

The purpose of education isn’t just to get good jobs. [...] civic education is critical to our democracy."

I don't think teaching students to go for the safe path at the expense of their inner voice is the right way forward for them (or anyone). When one practices hiding what is truly important to oneself, it doesn't disappear.  The void might be temporarily filled - self-medicating with food, booze, gym or drugs, unhealthy relationships, career status, or possessions will do the trick for a while.

The harder but more satisfying path is to educate students to take on intelligent, meaningful change.  They don't need to change the world - just the things they understand, have influence over and can judiciously intervene in. It may as simple as outlawing the use of straws in school, preserving a local natural habitat, standing up against a bully, or voting for a politician with integrity. Or they may step up to the plate when bigger issues arise, as in Parkland.

When the big issues arise, at least they will be prepared.  Make them aware it won't be easy. Any action taken must take into account the system within they operate. What works in one country, may not work in another.

Teach them emotional resilience. Calm in the face of opposition. Kindness. The ability to listen. Self-possession.

Let them know they don't need to know absolutely everything, to make a stand. Everyone who makes a stand has doubts about whether they are worthy. A solid basis of understanding should be enough. If they’ve been paralyzed, because they worry they won't please everyone, let them be assured, if they are doing important work, opposition is guaranteed. Many will criticize them but the people who need them will be encouraged.  There is more safety in numbers. 

As art critic Robert Hughes once said; "The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize." Comfort your brilliant, sensitive students when they are inevitably attacked.

The caliber of teaching required to instill these attributes is a big ask... but there are many great teachers out there - they need to be supported. 

As the Parkland students show, the rewards for such education can be great. 

Congratulations to those teachers who laid the ground work, and to the students who are now battling the wave of resistance. There are powerful interest groups under attack here, and progress may be two steps forward, and one back. But like the #metoo movement, something has shifted. And the students' response has been much more empowering for all of us than the usual saddened apathy.

Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan says:

“In the end, the only answer we have to politics, to power, to horror, is the love we might know for each other. It’s not a full answer, it’s not the basis for anything, but it is all we have.

And I would say love is the starting point, but then use that as a springboard for intelligent, thoughtful change. 

---------------------------------------------------------------

Quotes above found in the following sources:

https://washingtonmonthly.com/2018/03/05/the-civic-education-program-that-trained-the-parkland-student-activists/

https://www.ft.com/content/4511f092-bf2c-11e3-8683-00144feabdc0

https://www.theguardian.com/membership/2015/sep/26/guardian-live-richard-flanagan-on-love-life-and-writing

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/02/26/parkland-student-emma-gonzalez-has-more-followers-than-nra-days/372757002/

What we are up to now...

What we are up to now...

IgnitED's latest version of Social Media Revolution is ready to go!  The first fifteen interested organizations who make contact from now until end-November will be able to access the materials without charge in exchange for feedback on usability and student impact.  We are looking for schools or companies who think global-mindedness education could help their students or employees navigate their future. 

The places are first come, first served - so please touch base via our contact page asap if tempted. 

[Click "View Post" for full blog entry...]

Independence Day 2017

Independence Day 2017

It is Independence Day, and normally I am happy to celebrate that virtue. I am getting to witness its power firsthand as my daughter, into her eighteenth year, revels in her independence daily by driving, working and thinking for herself. I am inspired by, and more than a little proud of, her growing independence.

But like all prescriptions, the medicine of independence can become toxic if we take too much, and this year I wonder, not for the first time, if our country has overdosed on independence to the point where many of us practically reject the very notion of society...

Where black is the colour, and none is the number

Where black is the colour, and none is the number

We’ve stumbled out of a Brexit/Trump/Aleppo year as if we have stumbled out of a blown up building, with the dust barely clearing and watering eyes. The speed of change has been mesmeric and the suffering has been medieval in its scale – pre trust, pre conscience and pre individuality. The lack of a long term view has been matched by the desperate desire of the powerless for a short stop solution to make all this go away. The fact is, however, that we don’t understand any of it and all of our speculation and prediction remains just that: guessing. Not for a long time has the world felt so insecure.

What has also suffered, with some notable exceptions, is the production of objective, history-based news writing and broadcasting. What we, as news consumers, need, is perspective and background to put our train-wreck news reporting into a larger picture and to counter the feeling of helplessness that we are left with when we turn from the news programme to the soap opera or the arts programme for some light relief. After all, it is this feeling of powerlessness that caused the Brexit vote and the election of DT. God in all his forms only knows what an ordinary observer can do about Syria.

But does it really matter? How much should we try to understand current affairs? Will it leave us any richer to know the background to Syria’s religious tensions? or the condition of the American rustbelt? Or that of the north/south divide in the UK? More importantly, how important is it for our young people to be confronted with apparently insoluble problems by their, so the myth goes, wiser, elders.

This is what has dogged and bedeviled that other sad story, the environmental movement, over the last 45 years. The experts/guys in white coats have lectured us solemnly about energy shortfalls, catastrophic waste disposal problems and ecological collapse points without the slightest hint about what the ordinary folk can do about it, apart from the ultra Green solution for us all to time-shift back to the seventeenth century with starvation at the door, but, thank God, no plastic or cars. Oh, yeah, and we can recycle and pay for plastic bags. Young people have been constantly left with apparently insoluble problems.

So what do we tell our students? How do we teach them well? And how do we expect these natural conservatives to react? Suggestions, please, on the back of a used newspaper, and make it snappy.

cgcgreaves@gmail.com

 

When they go low...

When they go low...

At Independent Thinking, we’re naturally optimistic and prefer to see the best in most people.  

(Except for misogynist, racist, selfish, greedy, abusive, lying, climate-change deniers.)

So, what with all that’s happening in the world, we thought we would identify fourteen really important lessons we can all share with young people, lessons we might otherwise have overlooked.
 
After all, as we all know deep down, hope is better than the alternative.

Your Brand of Magic

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Your Brand of Magic

At IgnitED, we are laboring over the writing of a "Creating Change" manifesto for school students.  It's tricky to write because we want to keep it short-ish, and yet include the myriad of ideas students can embrace in applying core subjects while making thoughtful, systemic, real change. 

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Do No Harm

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Do No Harm

It was hot, dusty and humid in Pitchampatti. Probably around 38 degrees. The students tumbled out of the buses and stood around, fanning themselves and sweating, not quite knowing what to do. They were there to listen to and question the villagers. Their guides spoke to members of the local Women’s Federation Group in this Dalit village, not far from Aundipatti, itself a sizeable market town in Tamil Nadu. [...]

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How to Read the News

How to Read the News

In the past it was easy - at nine o'clock the BBC news bulletin came on to let us know what was going on in the world. There were other options, such as a detailed read of the Economist or newspaper of choice, but in general news was something that was shared - if not among the whole community, then within social groups.

This began to change...

Why it's imperitive to teach entrepreneurship

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Why it's imperitive to teach entrepreneurship

Our education system is responsible for preparing young people to build successful lives. They should be ready for the wide range of possibilities ahead of them, including working for others, starting their own ventures, and contributing to their communities. [...]

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We are all social entrepreneurs

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We are all social entrepreneurs

It's interesting to see the diverse ideas around what is meant by "social entrepreneurship"

Some think a social enterprise aims to improve the condition of society, regardless of whether the process is supported by market fundamentals.  Others believe that running a successful business is key as long as all proceeds are channeled back into the social cause.  In either case, to qualify, the business needs to be overwhelmingly for the public good with minimal sign of profit-making along the way.

I think a more nuanced view is useful - which allows all of us - whether we are manufacturers, bankers, lawyers or cleaners (or do other work entirely) to feel like we are part of the bigger picture.  Which of course we are. 

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Do Not Track

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Do Not Track

If you want to get a handle on how your Internet usage is being tracked, and how this data mining can affect your job, insurance and loan opportunities - this new doco, "do not track", is the one to watch.

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Finland's cool new approach to education

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Finland's cool new approach to education

Finland, one of the leading educational hotspots in the world, is embarking on one of the most radical overhauls in modern education. By 2020, the country plans to phase out teaching individual subjects such as maths, chemistry and physics, and instead teach students by 'topics' or broad phenomena, so that there's no more question about "what's the point of learning this? "What does that mean exactly?

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Creating Change

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Creating Change

There is danger in teaching young people about daunting global issues, without also  encouraging them to consider how they can be usefully involved in solutions.  Compassion-fatigue can set in - molding students with a defeatist, out-for-number-one mindset.  Environmental education is littered with the casualties of scare tactics and guilt trip-style lessons.

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Just Because...

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Just Because...

There are 1.5 million people in Manhattan. Would you notice if they disappeared? Learn more at http://rfg.ee/FZodJ

Posted by UNHCR on Tuesday, December 16, 2014

As the conflict in Syria enters its fifth year, the UN refugee agency UNHCR says Syria is now "the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era".

Unfortunately, the attention of the international community has largely moved on, leaving the populace feeling forgotten. 

This is not only a human rights tragedy but the perfect breeding ground for radicalization for tomorrow. If nothing happens now, we need to live with the consequences of what we have allowed to be sown.

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Nurturing resilience, effort, empathy and passion

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Nurturing resilience, effort, empathy and passion

Although not entirely connected to the Ignited theme - in some ways the below blog post by Seth Godin is exactly on point.  Futurists predict that when our children graduate, they will only have a 40% shot at long-term paid employment of the type we used to take for granted. 

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Post Rana Plaza Shopping...

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Post Rana Plaza Shopping...

Last April, the Rana Plaza collapse brought home the appalling working conditions of many of those who make our clothes.   Despite global outrage about the numbers of dead and injured, and heated discussions about improvement, too many garment workers continue to work for extremely low pay and in unsafe conditions. (See for example this Human Rights Watch update).

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