Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Teaching in the Face of a Bleak Future

I can't imagine teaching right now. This post is a mishmash of thought around teaching at such a momentous time in history. Well, momentous for us

I've only been retired a year, but the world has gotten so much worse in that time with climate change hitting some serious tipping points and potential collapse predicted to come 38-81% sooner than expected from older models (and we won't even get into Russia's "zone of nuclear catastrophe"). We tend to underestimate our impact on the world while overestimating our ability to fix the damage, so here we are!

John Gibbons: "There is NOTHING like this on the instrument record."

Tons of fish are escaping the oceans as their habitat becomes unliveable: in Texas a lack of dissolved oxygen in the water caused them to suffocate, and in Thailand they bailed because of plankton blooms. Both are a result of the warming of the oceans primarily from human consumptions of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) and methane production from farming cattle (not from littering, as a few students each year bizarrely believe, conflating litter with air pollution). It's no wonder the orcas are revolting. 

Fun fact: We can judge the capacity to think in animals by looking at their brains: the thickness of their cerebral cortex (consciousness), the number and depth of folds (data storage and speed of retrieval), amygdala development (emotional learning and long-term memory), and insular cortex development (empathy and self-awareness). Orcas do better than human on most of these. They are highly intelligent, self-aware creatures. And they've tolerated our shenanigans in their homes long enough. The party's over.

Those are some deep folds!!

My lessons always had an overarching tone of moral provocation, what some might complain of as a socialist agenda. Whatever. I advocate maintaining compassion and integrity to the very end, but much more is needed when things are this dire. 

I was already one of the naysayers refusing to teach the dominant rhetoric that they can all have the job of their dreams if they just work hard enough. I gave them the stats: that most people just tolerate their jobs, and then encouraged them to build hobbies and a whole life that has nothing to do with their "chosen career." Work to live; don't live to work. How can careers teachers still maintain the illusion that they'll all be able to get a job, or a job that they can survive on, much less their ideal placement?? Some see that tactic as motivating; I think it's cruel. By high school, at least, shouldn't we be giving them a sense of the reality they're about to face, and, maybe how to face it?

It's really tricky to convince high school kids to learn math and literature when they can see, right in front of their eyes, that many potential jobs prospects within reach won't be enough for them to pay rent and buy food, much less afford university or ever afford their own home. 

But how do we convince them to even show up while the world is burning?

Dr. Tyler Black, who studies suicides in children in BC, has deduced from available data that, 
"SCHOOLS ARE STRESSFUL FOR KIDS, and every teacher, parent, administrator, and government official should REALLY know the data. . . . Overall, school days are associated with a 65% increase in suicide rates. . . . It's been true since 1983. We see the same in the UK and Australia (despite completely different school year structures). When school is in session, kids are more likely to die by suicide. . . . School can be incredibly stressful - whether its stress due to academics, social groups, bullying, health-wise, barriers/discrimination, disability, and abuse. . . . And yet daily in my line of work I'm literally phoning schools and asking for concessions for overburdened kids, convincing parents to lighten up on academic expectations, and many fell for the 'to reduce suicides in kids, we need to get them back to school PRONTO!'"

Lots of parents, particularly of kids who are on the spectrum or bullied (or both), discovered during the lockdowns that their kids thrived working from home. He cites this study, and says: "In the first 15 months of the pandemic, youth ER presentations of self harm, overdose, and hospital admissions of both decreased by ~18% in Ontario." 

His recommendations include: no homework, a mental health curriculum, solutions to discrimination, better anti-bullying strategies, more art and music, no attendance awards, allow mental health breaks, start later in the day, stop punishing kids, and recognize and address abuse in homes and schools. "Many teachers are abusive, punitive, and cruel. Not OK." There is no evidence that schools are good for kids' mental health.

A hundred percent to all of that, but that mental health curriculum has to be done well. Far too often it's just a call for kids to figure out how to be more resilient (which is the new term for grit, which was the previous new term for pull yourself up by the bootstraps - also check out this thread from Dr. Naomi Fisher on the problem with resilience). What does resilience even look like in the face of calamity? Is it going gentle into that good night or fighting to the very end? Or is it Diogenes of Sinope, living in a barrel, laughing at his neighbours covering their windows and gathering up their most beloved possessions before a coming storm? 

Public schools were originally created in the throes of urbanization in order to keep kids off the streets. We used to train kids at home for whatever we do for a living, then we moved towards having a common knowledge everyone should have if we're going to live together well in society, which is a fantastic idea. Imagine if it worked and every adult understood the scientific method!    

Switching gears a bit, but it's all related, I also really worry about the mental health of millionaires. It's as if they have no capacity for enough, no sense of contentment. For a long time, many of us have looked up to them, jealous, thinking if we only had that much dough, then we could kick back and relax. But they don't relax. They're out there needing to be rescued from the tops of mountains or the bottom of the sea. They're addicted to high-risk adventures. 

From @angie_karan

"A man hits a very large, slow-moving, peaceful creature at close range with a high-powered rifle to help him feel like more of a man. Legal, endangered, threatened, or none of the above, it's still wrong and barbaric."

Their wealth is growing as they maintain an outdated minimum wage and make people pay for more essential services (privatization) while they remove any protections and safety features from the workplace (deregulation), so people's lives are at risk just going to work. En masse, they display a profound lack of compassion and empathy for human life. It's as if there's something seriously wrong with their insular cortex!

This isn't healthy behaviour. 

And they are largely in charge of this mess! 

So, if that level of wealth is unattainable, and that level of, maybe, narcissism is what's steering the ship at this point in our trajectory, and if high marks don't guarantee university admission, which is completely unaffordable, and if a full time job won't cover the cost of rent and food, then what should education look like?? Do we keep doing what we've been doing and pretend it's all fine?? It's not fine!!

I remember at different times when Budd Automotive shut down, or later when there were a ton of layoffs at Blackberry, and you can see it in the classroom. Kids whose parents just lost their job are distracted. They can't be expected to get everything done on time, and it's hard to make them care about school when their worries are so much bigger. So, now what??

Let's talk about it. That's my go-to. Let's get it out in the open. What are your fears for the future? But I used to be able to spin hope our of lowered expectations and letting go of perfectionism and the capitalist dream. I have no idea how to spin hope out of this. Just try to be kind to one another as we all struggle through some lean times??  Even that has an air of bullshit. 

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