Sunday, July 26, 2009

The New Face of Global Participatory Democracy--Watch a You Tube Concept Morph into a Political Movement

Last year a moving video went viral on You Tube--it was called PLAYING FOR CHANGE and was conceived by Mark Johnson to use music to unite people all over the world. It was first brought to my attention by one of my students. In Mark's own words "Music has always been the universal language and we followed its path from city streets to Native Indian reservations, African villages and the Himalayan Mountains. I could never have imagined that we would discover a world with so much love, hope and inspiration. In a world with so much focus on our differences I am proud to have discovered that people everywhere believe in creating a better world together."
If you have not seen it --you can view it here:

Now as is the way with the web the idea of using the Song Stand by Me and combining the talents of musicians around the world is behind the Iran dissident movement. According to Ianyan

"Popular Iranian-Armenian singer Andy Madadian joined the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and record producers Don Was and John Shanks on June 24 to record a special version of the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me” with lyrics in English and Farsi as a a musical message of worldwide solidarity with the people of Iran."

The new lyrics in English and Farsi are well worth listening to:

According to one report -since June 27, the video has generated nearly 500,000 views, "and just as many emails of support. "Within hours, we were flooded and we couldn't handle it," Madadian says of the "zillions" of messages of support he received from his fellow Iranians on Facebook, MySpace and his personal website. Madadian claims that he has yet to hear any negative reaction to the video."

So this is the new 21st century global village--in action---it looks as though participatory global web enhanced democracy is here to stay and will be a force for good. Let's hope!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

40th anniversary of the Moon Landing: Setting our Eyes On Earth

The 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing was a good time for those of us of a certain age to reminisce. We looked at that silvery orb in the sky that night
a bit differently. But we also looked at ourselves with new eyes too.
Norman Cousins, who addressed a Congressional hearing about what going to the moon meant, where he said, 'The significance of Apollo was not so much that man set foot on the moon but that he set eye on the Earth.’

We certainly had the wonderful photos to prove that the earth was indeed a tiny blue fragile looking planet set against a sky of infinite blackness. But after 1969 not much else happened. We still found ourselves in too deep in the VietNam war. Nixon did not change his policies as a result. The so called technological "victory" over the Soviet Union did not much to change the determination to confront their eastern bloc neighbors if they showed any signs of breaking free of their communist yoke.
Schools just added Neil Armstrong to the list of great American explorers who made history. Probably the best outcome was the use made by politicians to make us believe in ourselves as capable of solving enormously intractable problems such as world hunger. How many of us heard that phrase--"if we can go to the moon..then.."
and stopped listening to it after it was repeated too many times and issues such as radically unequal education and housing persisted.

The moon project was then dropped. I heard from one commentator recently all the technology was sort of placed in deep freeze, the teams of engineers that were assembled the variety of resources supporting a manned landing all were dissolved as if the entire enterprise had been nothing but a show. Funding for NASA sank like a stone. As Tom Wolfe wrote in the New York Times the moon landing was "one giant leap to nowhere"

As Wolfe writes the funding for NASA went "from $5 billion in the mid-1960s to $3 billion in the mid-1970s. It was at this point that NASA’s lack of a philosopher corps became a real problem. The fact was, NASA had only one philosopher, Wernher von Braun. Toward the end of his life, von Braun knew he was dying of cancer and became very contemplative. I happened to hear him speak at a dinner in his honor in San Francisco. He raised the question of what the space program was really all about. Therefore we must build a bridge to the stars, because as far as we know, we are the only sentient creatures in the entire universe. When do we start building that bridge to the stars? We begin as soon as we are able, and this is that time. We must not fail in this obligation we have to keep alive the only meaningful life we know of.

Unfortunately, NASA couldn’t present as its spokesman and great philosopher a former high-ranking member of the Nazi Wehrmacht with a heavy German accent.

As a result, the space program has been killing time for 40 years with a series of orbital projects ... Skylab, the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission, the International Space Station and the space shuttle. These programs have required a courage and engineering brilliance comparable to the manned programs that preceded them. But their purpose has been mainly to keep the lights on at the Kennedy Space Center and Houston’s Johnson Space Center — by removing manned flight from the heavens and bringing it very much down to earth."

But even had Werner Von Braun had better credentials to be the kind of Captain Kirk like visionary for the new age of space exploration it is doubtful that any air would have pumped back into the space program. If a venture is conceived as a PR victory it stays a PR victory. Kennedy's words we "choose to go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is hard"--an appeal to man's never ending search for challenge--rings hollow today--the reason --we have ignored doing some easy things because it is too hard to do the hard work of organize a vision around our common humanity--our essential brother and sisterhood. Without that vision the people indeed do perish as do missions however brave and magnficent as the moon landing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Lesson in Empathy from the Supreme Court Nomination

Senator Sessions as part of his first day of questioning against the nomination to the Supreme Court made the following statement:

In Ricci, Judge Sotomayor’s empathy for one group of firefighters turned out to be prejudice against another.”

The implied predicate that if you are empathetic to one group you cannot be fair to another is not true. What empathy does is to help you see a person's side of a case from their viewpoint --it does not mean that if I see a problem from one person's view that I have pre-judged the case--in favor of one person or the other. The empathy is what we need from our judges and from our students when examining issues--empathy really describes a quality of attention that you can provide to a matter.
Bias and prejudice really are about negating any real attention to people or facts but simply in a knee jerk fashion to come to a pre-determined result.

Our ability to empathize with people who look don't look and talk like us is generally weaker --so a globally aware perspective dependsd critically on our ability to nurture our abilities in this area. My thesis developed in the book is that technology (particularly the Web 2.0 variety) allows us to use tools to overcome the natural barriers of distance to reach out and understand how despite superficial differences we share the same human qualities and aspirations. It requires teachers to be more open in pointing out the human issues involved in situations that otherwise seem remote to them. Sometimes these situations can only really be explored through following individual stories --so for example we can take on the tragedy of Darfur or a Rwanda (think Hotel Rwanda) through understanding and identifying with the individuals involved. It is a skill we can all develop and improve as we journey through life. We have seen the enormous social and moral catastrophes occur when an entire people's ability to empathize is lost--as politicians find ways to turn people into objects. Our duty as teachers, citizens and even judges is to recognize that empathy is a way to oppose prejudice and stereotyping.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A New Pedagogy for a New Age: Michael Wesch Challenges us to Think Anew

Michael Wesch is an web anthropologist -or to use his correct title
Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Kansas State
and as well as being a professor he is also a dab hand at creating some powerful YouTube videos that well illustrate his talents as a creative teacher and thinker for the new age we find ourselves in. In his four minute or so YouTube videos he can make us smile and think. In particular he has a good eye for what students have to go through these days to get an education-- and how they are stifled in this process by the 19th century concepts of knowledge and practices that the institutions they attend still practice. If you are not squirming with recognition after you see this then go back to your reading and sorry to have disturbed you. Take a look!

Now it is important to think through to the conclusions. Those students depicted in the video no longer want to be isolated from the world--they want to have an education that is relevant to it and to its concerns. How do they achieve it?
They need enlightened profs like Wesch to assist but they also need to say more clearly what they need out of the education and work collaboratively. Who is hosting such conversations that have to inevitably take into account the global nature of knowledge and the way the web has broken the paradigm of the way we create and share information. For this see his other dynamic video --The Machine is Us...

Young People All Need to Become "Citizen Ambassadors"

Hillary Clinton joins President Obama's vision of young people helping to create a more humane and peaceful world. In her recent Commencement speech at New York University (July 10, 2009) after offering one or two examples of how young people have become a force for change around the world (I did not know about Columbia where "two young college graduates, fed up with the violence in their country, used Facebook to organize 14 million people into the largest antiterrorism demonstrations in the history of the world." she offers this encouragement to the new graduates to,

"Be the special envoys of your ideals; use the communication tools at your disposal to advance the interests of our nation and humanity everywhere; be citizen ambassadors using your personal and professional lives to forge global partnerships, build on a common commitment to solving our planet's common problems. By creating your own networks, you can extend the power of governments to meet the needs of this and future generations. You can help lay the groundwork for the kind of global cooperation that is essential if we wish, in our time, to end hunger and defeat disease, to combat climate change, and to give every child the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential."

So we as teachers have a special obligation to help our students become the "force for change they want to see in the world." We need to teach the skills and aptitudes for the new century which as Secretary of State Clinton acknowledges will be solved "by the 60 percent of the world's population under the age of 30."