Sunday, September 7, 2008

Redefining Our Complacent Zones

The first assignment we give our International Baccalaureate students before we even meet them is to research a current international issue: find at least 2 editorial/opinion articles about the issue and 2 factual ones from reputable sources; write/create some sort of reflection on the issue (can be creative); write a letter (with the recipient's address) taking a stance on the issue; and present the findings in front of the class on the first day of school.

This is a great assignment. It gets the students thinking outside of their complacent zones. It makes them realize that the world is bigger than week-ends at the malls. It allows them to see people in other countries as people, and not as statistics. You would really and truly think that this assignment - asking people to think about others - would be incredibly beneficial to the student and to the world.

Here's the thing: the students are kids. They complete all of the parameters of the assignment for the grade and somehow do not take ownership of the issue. In fact, several of them this year have begun their presentations with disclaimers that sound something like:

"That thing in Darfur is like a really big deal and all, and like all Americans should like help and stuff, but like I think we should also like focus on our stuff here in America 'cause we can't like just help everyone."

Or they speak in skewed generalities. For example, one person said, "All women in Afghanistan are raped, beaten, and burned and they all want to leave their husbands because all of the men there are in the Taliban. One way they escape this torture is by going to jail where at least they are safe."

Another said, "China is totally ridiculous. They threw homeless people in jail to clean up the city for the Olympics which is like so egotistical and wrong. Communism is horrible."

And another: "Russia attacked poor Georgia because in Russia, under Communism, you don't get to choose what you want to do with your life, so they throw boys into the army. The Russian army has no regard for human life whatsoever, and all they want to do is brutally kill people. But America won't stop them because we are afraid of starting another Cold War."

You should have seen me trying not to interject. I mean my job is to teach, right? But at the same time, I am not supposed to interrupt a presentation - IB rules. I am supposed to respectfully write comments on my grade sheet. And I certainly would not want to embarrass them, especially since I am going to ask them to continue to give presentations confidently, these oral presentations/commentaries counting for 30% of their international diploma assessment - as in their opinions will be considered internationally, graded by folks in places like Cardiff, Rome, Dubai, Hong Kong, Burma, etc. I do write comments such as "biased opinion - check your facts" or "conjecture - be careful about guessing" or "where is your evidence?" Unfortunately, my comments don't unravel the knot in my stomach. Are most of us (Americans) so incredibly blind to the truths of our world?

Interestingly enough, this year's presentations are FAR better than the ones I listened to two years ago when the students all researched "the problem with Iraq" or "Israel v. Palestine." For both of these topics, students two years ago were pretty much in favor of Shock and Awe, and I could see in their eyes American fighter jets doing fly-bys - red, white and blue smoke ribbons dancing across the sky. Ick. At least these days, the students don't automatically assume that American politics are right, though I did have a student this year talk about the right way to "build a border wall to keep those people out." (sigh)

A lot of what I hear is parent opinion. And yes, I am aware that these 16-year-olds are doing well to at least listen to the conversations going on in their homes. But it turns out that I disagree with most of what I'm hearing. Maybe it's because I live in a place where the older generation especially is uncomfortable with change. Many are more comfortable with a militaristic America- an us v. them, a "patriotism before globalism" situation. I get that, I guess. And I can see it in our politics.

In the past we were pretty far removed from the rest of the world. We were more family oriented and we knew our neighbors. We knew what we believed as far as religion was concerned, and any deviation from that comfortable space was simply termed "sin". We didn't know about other countries or religions, other than what was in the local paper or in the National Geographic magzines under our coffee tables. Being patriotic was easier. We knew what "American" looked like.

Things are different today. We interact with people on various continents through technology. We are free to practice just about any kind of religion we want. Different is the new norm. Some of this is great - I adore my friends across the ocean. I love being able to Google information about other people or read their blogs. I feel connected to the world in this respect. I have a better idea about my own spirituality. I am self-sufficient and educated. Some of this is sad - Family time is practically nonexistent or seems very forced as a result of our incredibly fast paced American lifestyle. We no longer speak to our neighbors over the backyard fence. I only know one of my neighbors by his first name. My family is pretty far removed, or rather I am from them. I don't go to church because my religious ideology can't be defined so definitely. Our communities are somewhat more neglected.

But it is what it is. And because of globalisation, there is a greater responsibility for all of us to seek credible information about others and work harder on our relationships, whether they be local or global. We have to be more intentional about creating community - which we can do in our physical neighborhoods, as well as in our virtual ones. Our kids need to be aware of this new burden, and as thier teacher, I feel a heavy responsibility to teach it to them.

What I'm seeing in my classroom and, I suppose, in my country is some floundering in an in-between space. We are just learning how to decipher the good information (on the web especially) from the shit and how to form an eduacted opinion about what we've learned. We are trying to redefine our relationships with local communities while working at really seeing the rest of the world. We know what phrases or taglines to use in our language, but we are just starting to investigate whether or not they are valid. This is a process. We are dealing with an identity change, and because of globalisation we are having to adapt more quickly than is comfortable, hence the polar opposite messages of our presidential candidates. I personally feel like I'm sprinting - trying to keep up. This makes me uncomfortable. But at the same time, I feel exhilarated.

6 comments:

Jen said...

You are truly amazing! Your students are so lucky to have you as their teacher!! I am sure it was tough sitting there biting your tongue. I don't think I could teach that kind of a class but you are perfect for it!

Aren't backdoor neighbors the best? To think if society was the way it was today when we were little, we may not have been as good of friends!! That is such a sad thought!!

Love and miss you!!

Mark said...

Thanks for posting this Ginger

Mark said...

Hey, why not do a case study - or get your students to take part in some innocent way, in this. IB in action!

Freedom Picnic Campaign

C'mon lady, what could possibly go wrong with a picnic?

Xx
PS I am on a massive ginger kick at the moment (when not fasting) - ginger beer, gingerbread, ginger cake: i just can't get enough of the stuff. dunno why - think i'm pregnant?

annie said...

This post by Ethan Zuckerman would be interesting to mix into your topic:

http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2008/09/05/parochialism-and-cultural-export-or-why-titanic-is-frances-best-grossing-film/

Christine said...

First off, so much interesting thought here. And I like your positive spin on it all at the end. Have I mentioned how much I value your brain?

Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that I was an idiot 16-year-old once, too; still, it hurts me to hear those generalizations and the close-mindedness they reveal. I expect better, and I can't say that's a bad thing. But we have to be patient... (I'm not good at that.)

This post dovetails with the salon discussion of "the stranger" -- how our "strangers" now can be the people next door whereas perhaps they used to be those from other cultures. As you say, this is both bad and good. I agree that we're at this middle-stage of sorts, where we're trying to figure out, in such a large world, what's most important to us. I just want to get to a point where we can recognize that all people are pretty much the same -- good and bad in varying degrees, with similar overarching motivations, all more complicated that we could ever understand -- and we can decide on some basic rights that we all owe to each other.

Sounds good. Of course, I just got a rather biased and nasty forward about the presidential race from some people I love and admire, so we have a long way to go. Especially when it comes to that "separating the good information from the shit" that you mentioned.

Small moves... Small moves...

Ginger said...

Jen, you are too kind! Thanks for the encouragement! And yes. Back-fence neighbors ARE the best, and I felt a catch in my throat at the thought of not knowing you. I love and miss you, too!

Hey Mark - Fine. You got me. Civil Liberties picnic this Friday at lunch in the journalism room (It's too hot for real outside picnics here). And also, I've never been called "Lady" before. I can't decide whether or not I am offended!(:O) And pregnant? Nope. At least, in my experience, ginger and pregnant are not a good combo. Maybe you simply have missed the spice in your life and are overcompensating. ;)

Thanks for the link, Annie! The US as mainly an exporter is certainly relevant to this discussion. More food for thought..

And Christine - as always our brains finish eachother's thoughts. Thanks for always inspiring and enlightening me. In the words..um sign language.. of Jerry McGuire, "You complete me." ( thbpthpth. gack!)
:D

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Redefining Our Complacent Zones

The first assignment we give our International Baccalaureate students before we even meet them is to research a current international issue: find at least 2 editorial/opinion articles about the issue and 2 factual ones from reputable sources; write/create some sort of reflection on the issue (can be creative); write a letter (with the recipient's address) taking a stance on the issue; and present the findings in front of the class on the first day of school.

This is a great assignment. It gets the students thinking outside of their complacent zones. It makes them realize that the world is bigger than week-ends at the malls. It allows them to see people in other countries as people, and not as statistics. You would really and truly think that this assignment - asking people to think about others - would be incredibly beneficial to the student and to the world.

Here's the thing: the students are kids. They complete all of the parameters of the assignment for the grade and somehow do not take ownership of the issue. In fact, several of them this year have begun their presentations with disclaimers that sound something like:

"That thing in Darfur is like a really big deal and all, and like all Americans should like help and stuff, but like I think we should also like focus on our stuff here in America 'cause we can't like just help everyone."

Or they speak in skewed generalities. For example, one person said, "All women in Afghanistan are raped, beaten, and burned and they all want to leave their husbands because all of the men there are in the Taliban. One way they escape this torture is by going to jail where at least they are safe."

Another said, "China is totally ridiculous. They threw homeless people in jail to clean up the city for the Olympics which is like so egotistical and wrong. Communism is horrible."

And another: "Russia attacked poor Georgia because in Russia, under Communism, you don't get to choose what you want to do with your life, so they throw boys into the army. The Russian army has no regard for human life whatsoever, and all they want to do is brutally kill people. But America won't stop them because we are afraid of starting another Cold War."

You should have seen me trying not to interject. I mean my job is to teach, right? But at the same time, I am not supposed to interrupt a presentation - IB rules. I am supposed to respectfully write comments on my grade sheet. And I certainly would not want to embarrass them, especially since I am going to ask them to continue to give presentations confidently, these oral presentations/commentaries counting for 30% of their international diploma assessment - as in their opinions will be considered internationally, graded by folks in places like Cardiff, Rome, Dubai, Hong Kong, Burma, etc. I do write comments such as "biased opinion - check your facts" or "conjecture - be careful about guessing" or "where is your evidence?" Unfortunately, my comments don't unravel the knot in my stomach. Are most of us (Americans) so incredibly blind to the truths of our world?

Interestingly enough, this year's presentations are FAR better than the ones I listened to two years ago when the students all researched "the problem with Iraq" or "Israel v. Palestine." For both of these topics, students two years ago were pretty much in favor of Shock and Awe, and I could see in their eyes American fighter jets doing fly-bys - red, white and blue smoke ribbons dancing across the sky. Ick. At least these days, the students don't automatically assume that American politics are right, though I did have a student this year talk about the right way to "build a border wall to keep those people out." (sigh)

A lot of what I hear is parent opinion. And yes, I am aware that these 16-year-olds are doing well to at least listen to the conversations going on in their homes. But it turns out that I disagree with most of what I'm hearing. Maybe it's because I live in a place where the older generation especially is uncomfortable with change. Many are more comfortable with a militaristic America- an us v. them, a "patriotism before globalism" situation. I get that, I guess. And I can see it in our politics.

In the past we were pretty far removed from the rest of the world. We were more family oriented and we knew our neighbors. We knew what we believed as far as religion was concerned, and any deviation from that comfortable space was simply termed "sin". We didn't know about other countries or religions, other than what was in the local paper or in the National Geographic magzines under our coffee tables. Being patriotic was easier. We knew what "American" looked like.

Things are different today. We interact with people on various continents through technology. We are free to practice just about any kind of religion we want. Different is the new norm. Some of this is great - I adore my friends across the ocean. I love being able to Google information about other people or read their blogs. I feel connected to the world in this respect. I have a better idea about my own spirituality. I am self-sufficient and educated. Some of this is sad - Family time is practically nonexistent or seems very forced as a result of our incredibly fast paced American lifestyle. We no longer speak to our neighbors over the backyard fence. I only know one of my neighbors by his first name. My family is pretty far removed, or rather I am from them. I don't go to church because my religious ideology can't be defined so definitely. Our communities are somewhat more neglected.

But it is what it is. And because of globalisation, there is a greater responsibility for all of us to seek credible information about others and work harder on our relationships, whether they be local or global. We have to be more intentional about creating community - which we can do in our physical neighborhoods, as well as in our virtual ones. Our kids need to be aware of this new burden, and as thier teacher, I feel a heavy responsibility to teach it to them.

What I'm seeing in my classroom and, I suppose, in my country is some floundering in an in-between space. We are just learning how to decipher the good information (on the web especially) from the shit and how to form an eduacted opinion about what we've learned. We are trying to redefine our relationships with local communities while working at really seeing the rest of the world. We know what phrases or taglines to use in our language, but we are just starting to investigate whether or not they are valid. This is a process. We are dealing with an identity change, and because of globalisation we are having to adapt more quickly than is comfortable, hence the polar opposite messages of our presidential candidates. I personally feel like I'm sprinting - trying to keep up. This makes me uncomfortable. But at the same time, I feel exhilarated.

6 comments:

Jen said...

You are truly amazing! Your students are so lucky to have you as their teacher!! I am sure it was tough sitting there biting your tongue. I don't think I could teach that kind of a class but you are perfect for it!

Aren't backdoor neighbors the best? To think if society was the way it was today when we were little, we may not have been as good of friends!! That is such a sad thought!!

Love and miss you!!

Mark said...

Thanks for posting this Ginger

Mark said...

Hey, why not do a case study - or get your students to take part in some innocent way, in this. IB in action!

Freedom Picnic Campaign

C'mon lady, what could possibly go wrong with a picnic?

Xx
PS I am on a massive ginger kick at the moment (when not fasting) - ginger beer, gingerbread, ginger cake: i just can't get enough of the stuff. dunno why - think i'm pregnant?

annie said...

This post by Ethan Zuckerman would be interesting to mix into your topic:

http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2008/09/05/parochialism-and-cultural-export-or-why-titanic-is-frances-best-grossing-film/

Christine said...

First off, so much interesting thought here. And I like your positive spin on it all at the end. Have I mentioned how much I value your brain?

Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that I was an idiot 16-year-old once, too; still, it hurts me to hear those generalizations and the close-mindedness they reveal. I expect better, and I can't say that's a bad thing. But we have to be patient... (I'm not good at that.)

This post dovetails with the salon discussion of "the stranger" -- how our "strangers" now can be the people next door whereas perhaps they used to be those from other cultures. As you say, this is both bad and good. I agree that we're at this middle-stage of sorts, where we're trying to figure out, in such a large world, what's most important to us. I just want to get to a point where we can recognize that all people are pretty much the same -- good and bad in varying degrees, with similar overarching motivations, all more complicated that we could ever understand -- and we can decide on some basic rights that we all owe to each other.

Sounds good. Of course, I just got a rather biased and nasty forward about the presidential race from some people I love and admire, so we have a long way to go. Especially when it comes to that "separating the good information from the shit" that you mentioned.

Small moves... Small moves...

Ginger said...

Jen, you are too kind! Thanks for the encouragement! And yes. Back-fence neighbors ARE the best, and I felt a catch in my throat at the thought of not knowing you. I love and miss you, too!

Hey Mark - Fine. You got me. Civil Liberties picnic this Friday at lunch in the journalism room (It's too hot for real outside picnics here). And also, I've never been called "Lady" before. I can't decide whether or not I am offended!(:O) And pregnant? Nope. At least, in my experience, ginger and pregnant are not a good combo. Maybe you simply have missed the spice in your life and are overcompensating. ;)

Thanks for the link, Annie! The US as mainly an exporter is certainly relevant to this discussion. More food for thought..

And Christine - as always our brains finish eachother's thoughts. Thanks for always inspiring and enlightening me. In the words..um sign language.. of Jerry McGuire, "You complete me." ( thbpthpth. gack!)
:D