Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Future of the Left with Natalie and Noam

I stumbled across a video of Natalie Wynn in conversation with flippin' Noam Chomsky. They are two of my favourite thinkers, but I never, in my wildest imagination, would have expected to find them chatting together. 

Noam seems to be everywhere these days, doing one talk after another, and Natalie is an excellent guide through his version of optimism. It's a video that actually left me feeling hopeful about the world and energized to keep working for change. But the question I wanted asked throughout is, What does this type of necessary work look like, and how do we begin?? 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Paranoid or Prescient? Does it matter?

It's interesting to me when people make fun of anyone taking what they perceive as undue precautions. There are two general reasons for precautions that seem unreasonable: #1 a lack of education or understanding on the part of the viewer and #2 a means to cope with stress on the part of the actor, i.e. a superstition. You'd think that neither of those scenarios would be enough to elicit harassment, but we're not there yet. 

A great example of the former is when a neighbour was gardening in front of her house and her daughter asked to go inside. The mum had to get up to unlock the front door. So, that seems weird, right? She locks her door even when she's standing ten feet in front of it?? But she explained that, since her husband's a cop, she's acutely aware of how easily and how often people's homes are robbed, even with the owners standing right out front. This is a case of the actor having more information than the viewer. I still leave my doors unlocked when I'm in the yard, but I understand why she doesn't. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Unpopular Opinions: On Failing Credits, Teaching Hybrid, and Grading Student Work!

Riding on my high that a post-covid education system could be different, I joined a committee. It quickly killed my buzz with a reminder that bureaucracy will only allow choices between a very narrow range of options. But I also appear to be in the minority of teachers on many ideas discussed, including this one...

Regardless, I'll state (or re-state) my case for letting kids fail, teaching hybrid, and assigning numeric grades. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Kolbert's Under a White Sky

It's World Environment Day (who knew?!), and the Independent published a collection of hopeful messages despite the world not being on track to keep temperatures below two degrees this century. Some are pinning cautious optimism on youth climate movements. Others are hopeful that this time, at COP26, things might be different since tackling climate can transform society. If we fix this one big problem, then everything will be better. Others point to stats: 70% of GDP in the UK is covered by net-zero targets, up from 30%, and the G7 is taking steps towards decarbonizing the power system. And others focus on a court case won against Shell as a reason to look forward to the future. Generally, they acknowledged that "the geopolitical landscape around climate change has shifted seismically." I've seen that shift too, in my classroom, where climate change is finally (finally?) a concern for students, but I'm not quite as hopeful. 

And then I finished Elizabeth Kolbert's book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Kolbert wrote the provocative Sixth Extinction, and her writing here is just as clear and concise but far more poetic and often humorous. This new book has a few black and white photos but should really be re-released with colour pictures of all the incredible things she describes in her journey through beautiful landscapes to talk with fascinating people in order to find solutions to the problems plaguing our planet. Although they discuss many of the same things, this is the antithesis of Mann's most recent book both in style and in substance. Kolbert's book focuses on specific examples to explore each new technology, which makes it more accessible for the non-scientist, while also looking more profoundly at the conundrum we're in.

Kolbert's guiding question is the Jurassic Park nugget: now that we know we can change the world, should we? If we fix one mistake, it often creates another, but "What do you call natural selection after The End of Nature?" (97). Do we even have a natural environment to make unnatural with our technology? This is "a book about people trying to solve problems create by people trying to solve problems" (200).