Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance
This is probably my favorite piece we've read so far. I enjoyed every bit of the short, but comprehensive piece written by Michael Wesch. Reading Wesch's article this weekend really resonated with me because of some things that came up this past week at school. Here's the story:
Part of the content I'm required to teach includes the physical geography of the regions we study. Within the physical geography is the topic of natural resources, something I have found to be one of the most boring and difficult topics to connect to students' lives. This was the case up until last week...
As we are covering the region of Latin America we got into a discussion of fossil fuels and the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources. So we talked about how things like petroleum and coal are not renewable, and then moved into a conversation of resources that are renewable, like sunlight and wind energy. This triggered some really meaningful and significant conversation about what students can do to conserve resources in their daily lives, where they may have seen solar panels or wind turbines. Many of the students hadn't made those connections until this very conversation. I also shared a story that came out a few months ago about a young man who invented floor tiles that used kinetic energy to produce electricity for a school. The kids were really into this, and wanted to try to come up with their own ideas about how to harness different types of energy to power homes, etc. On Friday I brought in an article about a professor who is going to live in a dumpster. He's retrofitting a dumpster to make it into a sustainable home and he's requiring his students to do the same. The kids really connected to this article and it generated some wonderful dialogue about why on earth he would choose to live in a dumpster.
Almost all of the students participated in the class discussions of these topics. I was able to encourage students to continue to think about ways we can use different types of energy, and let them know that this is something they could even pursue as a career when they are older (or they could get started now!). The look in many of their eyes was one of excitement and motivation. One boy said he now wanted to join STEM club to try to come up with some of his own inventions.
All of this stemmed from the boring topic of natural resources. This has been a dreaded topic for me in the past, but is now something I can use as a hook for engagement in the future. The power of significance has brought this topic to life. At the end of the day on Friday we ironically lost all electrical power. The school went dark and we had to evacuate. The school next door went dark. Half of the town lost power. As we were standing outside in the soccer field, a few of my students turned to me and said "I bet this wouldn't have happened if we were using a different source of power..."
The Flight From Conversation
In her article for the New York Times, author Sherry Turkle writes about the declining sense of community we experience in our day to day lives. Turkle argues that we can attribute this cultural shift to the increasing popularity of technology in the digital age. She says that we have moved into an age where people have checked out of real relationships both physically and emotionally. We "hide from one another, even as we are constantly connected to one another." Turkle argues that this "technological universe" is destroying life as we know it. We "dumb down conversations" and "present the self we want to be."
Despite going through the doomsday laundry list of ways our society is falling apart at the seems, Turkle offers no real suggestions about how to stop this technological disaster from happening. The reader is left with visions of robots and humans walking down the street hand in hand, lovingly gazing into one another's eyes. I think this painted picture has some validity, but Turkle's piece is a bit sensationalist and incomplete, she fails to take this topic the few necessary steps farther, steps which will be addressed in this post.
I will say that this is an extremely interesting topic to me. I've expressed similar complaints regarding technology and social media. I think that people spend way too much time on phones and in front of computers, kids especially. I have friends who post to Facebook multiple times per day. I probably scan through Facebook 2-3 times per day. To be completely honesty, I've scaled back my Facebook time tremendously because I found myself becoming one of the statistics that Turkle mentions. More time social networking does lead to a greater feeling of loneliness and depression.
Now on the flip side, what I think Turkle fails to address is the fact that the good outweighs the bad when it comes to the internet and social media and technology in general. I think that social media and the internet can be incredibly useful in terms of helping people find others to share community with. I know it sounds crazy, how do you have community on the internet?....Well, I read a couple of blogs that have helped me through some dark times of depression, uncertainty, and negativity. I've found bloggers who write about real gritty and dark topics. These are not people concerned with putting on a pretty face and sharing only a portion of themselves with people from all over the world. These are people who put everything out there, honestly. In many ways, I think it's sometimes possible to find more "real" people online than in person. I've had "relationships" with "real people" that still made me feel incredibly lonely. I don't enjoy polite conversation. I don't enjoy discussing hair, nails and makeup. It's difficult to meet people, especially women, who aren't just interested in surface level conversation. I have a few close friends who I would consider to be "real" friends and I'm not sure that I need a large community of people to share my "real" self with. I feel like I could keep writing and trying to address the pros and cons of the internet and technology, as there are plenty of both, but I don't think that would be meaningful or useful. I guess in summary I would just ask Turkle to consider the fact that not all technology is harming our society. There is hope for the future, there will always be surface level relationships both on and offline. It's up to the individual to maintain an awareness and balance of healthy relationships in their own lives, to concern themselves about the world around them and to seek out real living breathing community.