Stepping back on the Merrygoround

SUNY EDC 604: Visual Literacy: Effective Communicators and Creators

“Write a reflective blog post on how the courses to date in this program have changed your teaching for the new year.

This blog has languished since the end of the last SUNY course at ISB in May, and now I have to conclude that frankly, the two SUNY courses we completed last year have NOT changed my teaching for this year.

I’ve been asking myself why – even before this question became a course assignment. It’s not that I’m not interested in helping kids “achieve their academic potential”.  It’s not that I’ve lost sight of ISB’s mission to foster “passionate, reflective learners”. It’s not that I’ve given up on our collective goal to help develop kids into “caring, global citizens”. And it’s not that the courses, in of themselves, weren’t  engaging, informative, and fruitful in terms of raising my awareness of new tools and technologies available to me and my students.

So what is it? In a nutshell, it’s a growing sense of impending doom; a feeling that we’re being overwhelmed; and not on the technological front, although certainly it’s become increasingly difficult to keep up with the weekly round of enhancements to online database interfaces, electronic book readers, all-in-one USB devices and “i-everything”.  Instead, this fall, I am overwhelmed by the following;

  • I am concerned about the resignation to the inevitable I’m seeing in  my immediate “sphere of concern”.  At the beach that I could once keep reasonably clean by picking up two bags of trash each visit, I now find four to be the norm.  In my small off-campus housing development, rats have become new and unwelcome residents and I feel alone in fighting their encroachment.  I’ve given up trying to maintain on my own a small public park space at the entrance, and it has now become a rampant, weed-choked jungle.
  • I am dismayed by the escalation of disregard I am seeing for the larger local environment. I live 20 minutes from this tiny western school enclave, and in my daily commute (by SUV!), I see streets becoming ever more congested and garbage-strewn, roadsides becoming defacto waste-dumps, and once pristine rice-paddies being paved over with first a meter of household garbage (pix to prove it), then a meter of fertile topsoil that should be growing a crop, and finally, two stories of glass and concrete that I fear will become Thailand’s Love Canal.
  • I am staggered by the sheer global scale of irreparable damage to the environment I see perpetrated in support  of “business as usual” . We need to maintain “BAU” to support our insatiable demand for superfluous consumer products, unnecessary technology-laden “infomedia” capabilities  and an inappropriat global jet-setting lifestyle. A recent report by the BC Forest Service in Canada projects by within 10 years, the Pine-Beetle infestation will have destroyed 71% of all extant BC Pine Forests. That will bring about shocking changes in the appearance, climate and economic viability of Canada’s richest province.
  • I am appalled at the scope of change sweeping the planet as a result of the above, from the speed of arctic sea-ice melt (a trend that’s, thankfully reversed slightly in 2009)  to the routine collapse of Antarctic ice-shelves, to the inexorable upward creep of atmospheric CO2.

Read James Howard Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency” (this link to the Rolling Stone article, but we have two copies of the book in ML) and consider how prescient he seems now to have been so far. Read his new novel “World Made by Hand” and consider what’s going to be important if his vision of America in 20 years turns out to be even partly true.

Then ask yourself, “How can I best help students achieve to their academic potential, become passionate learners, and prepare them to be caring, global citizens in a world which might not have functioning electricity or adequate freshwater – even at their soci0-economic level?”

Should I continue to obsess about flavor-of-the-week technological wizardry, or should I concentrate on rubber-meets-road learning skills that will transcend “the long emergency”,  when being able to learn, from a technology not dependent on electricity, how to purify unsafe drinking water, will be a skill more prized than knowing how to assemble a cloud-based mashup of irrelevant extrivianza?

I haven’t changed much about how I’m teaching this fall – except the time-frame within which I’m placing it.  I’m trying to keep my finger on the pulse of new technologies for information seeking and learning, but I’m concentrating on personal connections, practical learnings and transferrable skills that I can impart regarding the already rich array of tools available to our students.

This places me squarely in the left-hand column of Greg Craven’s Magic Grid Machine if you were to exchange his “Significant action now” and “Little or No action”  to combat climate change with “Hedge your bets with traditional vs. technological learning tools” and “Put all your eggs in the technology basket”.

Whether global warming is going to lead to uncontrolled and irreversible climate change is still, unfortunately, a matter of debate (albeit mostly from “outlier” opinion-leaders).  But using Craven’s irrefutable logic, I’ll fight to preserve the best of the past while critically examining, and implementing where it proves really useful,  technology’s promise for the future.  We’ve already made huge changes in the way we do business in our Main Library from 5 years ago.  This year we’ll concentrate on fine-tuning those rather than introducing a host of yet newer experiments in learning.

7 thoughts on “Stepping back on the Merrygoround

  1. Came across this entry when my “Google Alerts” for my name, in my forlorn hope that someone somewhere is reading my book. Who are you, and are you referring to my videos, or my recent but unknown book?
    Greg Craven (of “Most Terrifying Video,” “How It All Ends” video project, and now the book “What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate”)

  2. Both. Keep up the fight, Greg, and keep using the technology – to the most appropriate ends – like saving the planet…
    “It’s not what we say, it’s what we do, day, by day.” – rjr, 2005

  3. Great thinking here Rob. You have me pondering many things and trying to figure out where all this fits in the larger terms of global education. Next month I’ve been invited to a conference in Bahrain where I hope we’ll get a change to talk through some of these issues and how and where does technology fall on a global scale of helping to solve world issues.

  4. Pingback: fatalist librarian « adj.librarian

  5. I love the fact that a professional librarian out there actually cited my little cry in the wilderness. I was a bit taken aback at the label “fatalist librarian”, but on digging deeper into your blog, find that I’m in good company with the “cynical librarian” and “annoyed librarian”, so that takes the sting out a bit. I also note that you seem to share some of my concerns for the future. Thanks for sharing.

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