Wednesday, October 28, 2009

International Education Week--Calling all Global Teachers

Are you a global educator? Do you use technology to connect with classrooms around the world? If so we want to hear from you. The State Department and the Department of Education are co-sponsoring International Education Week --from November 16-20
and we (ISTE included) want to compile a list of educators doing truly amazing things that we can feature it and student work on relevant websites and for the benefit of media outlets. Email me at or contact me on Facebook on Global Education: Using Technology to Bring the World to Your Students.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Can We Predict a World Future? How do We Make It Come out OK?

If you have not heard of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita you need to--he is a futurologist--with a 90% track record of predicting international events. He consults with the CIA and world governments. We need to pay attention to his scientific analysis of issues.
He predicts for example that the climate change conference occuring soon in Copenhagen will come to naught. We will not do anything to cut back on our emissions because the politicians are afraid of taking the painful decisions to profoundly change our comfortable lifestyles. He is on the other hand optimistic about Iran at least as far as their decision to go fully nuclear and prepare weapons grade uranium. The science he relies on is game theory--a branch of math that first assumes that all players are rational and that they make self interested choices.

His analysis of the power structure in Iran makes him believe that there is consensus only on one item--the need to demonstrate their nationalism in some large symbolic way but not go to the lengths of isolating themselves from the International community and risking further domestic political instability.

Can any of this type of analysis be used in schools? One interesting exercise that comes to mind is asking students to really role play the countries that will need to be party to the new Climate treaty. In the last Kyoto treaty--many countries were able to look good before world public opinion ---and signed the treaty--knowing full well that there were no ways to hold them accountable if they did not deliver on their desire to cut carbon emissions--and so the treaty ended up being a large symbolic failure. Scientists have made the failure clear that Kyoto has done nothing so far to stem carbon emissions. The question is can the world media pay attention long enough to make sure that the countries that sign various goal statements are forced to make good on their pledges? Do we have the attention span to read the details and participate as "global citizens"? Can teachers explain to their students what the stakes are in Copenhagen this year and why it matters? In other words can we, first as a US community and second as a world community put enough pressure on our leaders to forego naked self interest issues and deliver something for the people who will be alive in the future? The great weakness of democracies is their inability to plan for long term results--can we be rational enough to know that now we have to place a higher value on our long term futures?

Check out his TED talk below:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

President Obama's Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize

There seems a general consensus that the Nobel Prize the President received was a bit premature. It was offered more in a spirit of hope that the new direction for American foreign policy are worthy of recognition--and that the courage that the President displayed to oppose the Iraq war, close Guantánamo, and give his historic Cairo speech
are worthy enough. In this respect --it was given equally as a reward to the US people for having the nerve to elect him as much as it was given to the President as a personal reward. Tom Brokaw's op ed in the Washington Post today reflects this general point.

As Brokaw argues, "what better way for him to respond than to share this distinguished prize with those who have been doing just that without sufficient recognition?" Brokaw would have a number of luminaries join him on the plane to Oslo--among the dignitaries he selects are

"Greg Mortenson, the author of "Three Cups of Tea," who has spent years working for education and literacy (especially for girls) in mountainous parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Field representatives from organizations such as Refugees International, the International Rescue Committee (where I am a volunteer overseer), CARE, Save the Children and other groups doing the hard work of caring for the victims of war. Bill and Melinda Gates should be in his delegation, as well as Republican Sam Brownback, the senator from Kansas, who's been a tireless advocate of greater U.S. involvement to stop the genocide in Sudan."

We could all add to the list--but that is a good start--the limelight and the prize should be shared and widely celebrated. Perhaps Tom Brokaw should also be on the trip and do interviews with the entire cast so that the message of a new more globally aware America can really sink in back home as well.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Going Green More Complex than it Appears: The Key is Awareness

Daniel Goleman, the author of the bestseller Emotional Intelligence, has authored a new book entitled Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything.. The premise of the book is essentially that we need a lot more information about the right green choices than would first appear. It is not enough in other words, Goleman convincingly argues, to stick a "green label" on something and think you are doing good by the planet. Did you know for example:
* It takes more energy and pollutes more water to make paper bags than plastic ones?
* Even recycled glass jars create serious pollution and takes 659 different ingredients to produce?
* Organic T-Shirts made of cotton also cause their share of harm--it takes 2,700 gallons of water to produce one cotton T-Shirt, (the Aral Sea evaporated into desert largely because of the prodigious thirst of surrounding cotton farmers). If the organic T-Shirt is dyed it then causes a number of other toxic chemicals to be consumed because cotton resists absorbing dye and those chemicals end up in rivers.
*Buy a bag of crisps--its carbon footprint is 75 grams--(by jumbo jet flying from Frankfurt to New York City emits 713,000 grams per person.

Only 28% of food products surveyed out of 25,500 by a reputable group of nutritionists received a commendation of "healthy choice." Most foods were too salt and sugar loadded to receive any stars.

Basically, as Goleman says "green products" are overhyped and the idea that there can be some 100% green products is a complete PR hallucination--often a carefully constructed mirage in fact. Goleman makes a passionate case as to why we need far greater transparency in the green marketplace. He gives an example of what could happen. In 2007 HSBC in the UK ran a promotion to recruit business from college students by offering free checking and no fees for overdrafts.
Then someone at HSBC cancelled the policy deciding it was too expensive. Wes Streeting a VP at the Cambridge University Student Union stated a facebook campaign against the "rip off" and thousands of students joined the protest--needless to say HSBC changed their policy back within weeks.

It seems from Goleman's research that while 25% of consumers don't care about what global havoc was caused in a product's production--10% do care and will go out of their way to shop for a more ethical item. Roughly 2/3rds of shoppers are in the middle--they care but want the decision to be easy--these are the true swing voters.
Goleman wants the decision making of these consumers in the middle to be easier.

Goleman wants to see companies become more responsible but they will only move in this direction with public pressure. We are about to enter that period--with the "dawning of ecological transparency in the marketplace."

The companies that will survive in this new era will be those capable of doing continous R&D. But we have to be ever careful about the tendency for companies to engage in "green washing" and for empty PR gestures. Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary is skeptical that companies will sacrifice profit for looking good in the public eye and favors stronger regulation. Goleman is not so sure that regulations will achieve the victories that we need now and argues that "radical transparency" is the way out of the dilemma--"making goodness pay."

Goleman suggests that "an informational fix" is needed to make consumers from Bejing to Berlin aware of the hidden choices they are making--and so "changing the rules of the game for business." It is an optimistic thesis and one I wish I could believe in. What is missing for me from Goleman's argument are the corporate forces around that have a vested interest in keeping us content with the status quo.

For me what would make this book even more valuable is a focus of the choices others can make--particularly journaliss in reporting stories that provide a fuller context related to business news as they touch ecological and globalization issues and the role that educators can play. Surely students could be charged with doing some of this investigation into the products they consume as teachers help them to become more globally aware. This is not preaching to them--they just have a right to use their critical intelligence and the tools they have --and the disciplines they are discovering (math, geography, science) to bring their lessons alive and find a personal connection to what they are studying-rather than believe that the world exists as a remote object for study removed from their own lives and the consequences of the decisions they and their families make. The state of the planet is a critical one--surely we must martial all available resources to assist in the solution. The marketplace --transparent or not will not take solve this problem as we found out to our cost last year with the global economic meltdown--there is a place for regulation, education and the media to be far more responsible about doing right by the world they share with all of us than they have done in the past.