Monday, January 4, 2021

Back to the Classroom: The Best Teachers are the Students Themselves


During my whole professional life, I always enjoyed teaching. It was part of my life, part of what I am, part of the way I relate with the world. I made mistakes, at times made a fool of myself, sometimes I was ashamed of how poor a teacher I was. But I always did my best. And I think my students, some of them at least, appreciated my effort. And most of them enjoyed being students, just as I did when I was their age. Still today, some of my best friends are people I met when I was in my first year of college.
 
I don't know how it was possible, but a few months of folly have been enough to turn universities into jails, the students as prisoners, and teachers as prison guards. And teaching was transformed into an odious chore. A senseless ritual performed in front of a computer screen, the students reduced to small 2-D squares, as real as the characters of a videogame. 
 
On the media, everywhere the students were insulted, humiliated, insulted, told over and over that they are little more than walking bags full of viruses, plague-spreaders, irresponsible, vicious, self-centered individuals unable to restrain their instincts and harming their elders because of that.
 
This is truly a disaster. Going to school is one of the few remaining chances that the young have to socialize and become functional adults. Chuck Pezeshki said it very well in his latest post on his blog
 
"If we’re to start understanding why the enforced collapse of socialization matters to all students, we’re going to have to come to terms with what we actually do in schools. The answer is not “we smart adults tell students a bunch of stuff, they soak it all in, and they’re far better off for it.” I’ve been teaching (and winning awards) my whole career for teaching, which is really only a modest part of a relatively modest career. The reality is that students learn mostly from each other. And the lessons they learn, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, are mostly about how to relate and listen to each other. We sprinkle the lessons of the venue on top of all of this, of course. But the biggest hunk of everything they learn involves themselves, and their interactions."
 
Here is an excerpt of Chuck's post, but do read all of it. It is an optimistic and inspiring post. Despite the disaster, we must go on and keep teaching and learning.

 

From "The Empathy Guru"

A New Year's Prayer for our Children

Jan 1, 2021

.....

Over and over, we’ve attempted to pin this pandemic on those we disagree with politically. I’ve written about this here. It’s just nuts, and these things have to stop. Or we’re going to end up in a civil war. And that will kill far more young people than COVID ever could.

Where we are missing the boat regarding COVID is the damage that the pandemic has done through destruction of relational growth that really fuels how young minds are formed. Primary- and secondary school-age kids get this from going to school, and there is no real risk, despite the histrionic anecdotes pushed by the media, for school children. Yes, there is a smattering of extremely tragic cases that are part of the pandemic. One of the curiously sociopathic angles discussing COVID is the risk to football players for some version of myocarditis as an after-effect of the pandemic — as if the well-established dangers of smacking each other’s skulls together weren’t enough. There can be no better juxtaposition of how we perceive risk, however. One is a reason to lock down/up our children indefinitely. The latter is merely a continuation of “how we do things around here.” The various lockdowns have been done ostensibly to save the old, though, once again, it’s not clear that any of this anti-socialization has helped them either. In fact — probably not.

When it comes to college-age kids, living in a university community, I hear the constant berating from the elders about irresponsible college kids are, because they continue to socialize. And it’s wild to me that voices of control have been recruited from the student population themselves. I’m not going to name names, because I still have hopes that these young people, though adults, will grow out of the need to please their elders and represent their natural constituencies. There is really functionally no risk to college kids as well. And schools that have opened (I live next to the University of Idaho) have managed to even control spread, as much as it can be contained, than schools that have gone online. Which would, not surprisingly, jibe with the overall statistics — that not much we’ve done, plus or minus, really matters.

If we’re to start understanding why the enforced collapse of socialization matters to all students, we’re going to have to come to terms with what we actually do in schools. The answer is not “we smart adults tell students a bunch of stuff, they soak it all in, and they’re far better off for it.” I’ve been teaching (and winning awards) my whole career for teaching, which is really only a modest part of a relatively modest career. The reality is that students learn mostly from each other. And the lessons they learn, sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter, are mostly about how to relate and listen to each other. We sprinkle the lessons of the venue on top of all of this, of course. But the biggest hunk of everything they learn involves themselves, and their interactions.

My tagline, since I started my empathy project, has been “as we relate, so we think.” The meaning of this is not simply “if you relate nice, then you think nice.” The stakes are far higher. The DeepOS lesson of all this is that relating to different people, across varying ages, social statuses, and racial/ethnic variations, creates the conditions in the brain for other complex, more discipline-specific information to get slotted. Without that interaction, though, the brains of young people, while not exactly being frozen, do not thrive. And being that all people, in all walks of life, are spread out on a probability distribution for pretty much any issue/concept you can think of, we will decrease a certain percentage of the population’s intellectual and developmental abilities in ways we cannot predict yet. If you say you care about disadvantaged populations in the U.S. this should deeply concern you. Those will be the students whose starting line is moved back once again. My advantaged students, and their parents, can and will find ways around this, and I absolutely do not begrudge them.

But in a time of already-extreme separation between opportunities for rich and poor, those without resources, juggling even furnished iPods in mediocre online classrooms, will be even more screwed. Don’t fool yourself. And they also will not have the more evolved social environments that well-off parents are already creating for their children. Mores the pity.

Just so folks know, I’ll be back in the classroom myself in 18 days, running students through my curricular vehicle, the Industrial Design Clinic. I’m one of the few that’s made that choice. It was not forced on me by my administration. And, no, I haven’t had the vaccine. And yes — when I’m told my number’s up, I’ll get in line, but not before. I already know there are people that need it worse than me. There’s a reason I have 2400 hours of sick leave accumulated through my career– it’s not because I’m unhealthy.

I’m doing it because, even though it will be a difficult classroom environment, it will give my students to get to know their best teachers — each other. We’ll be in masks, we’ll be wiping down tabletops, all things of indeterminate efficacy, but part of whatever set of rules we are told to follow. But we’ll do it together. And I’m looking forward to a great year.

 

12 comments:

  1. Here in Cambridge (UK) its been horrible to see the sad eyes of the students above their masks, even in the streets for God's sake!

    This year, when they come back, if they are allowed to, I shall approach them and say:

    'I'm 'vulnerable', and I can assure you that there is no way I could catch Covid from you in the open air, so please take off your mask and live!'

    Let's see how it goes......

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  2. Inspiring. It is hard to live with limits. Knowing what the right thing to do helps.

    We’ll be in masks, we’ll be wiping down tabletops, all things of indeterminate efficacy, but part of whatever set of rules we are told to follow.

    That is the right thing.

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  3. Air travel for the masses has stopped, and one wonders if The Higher Education for the masses will follow...

    The biggest problem for Higher Education now is that what to teach?

    What to teach when science in the last 300 years is now almost done, where just 4 or 5 theories have discovered it all for humanity - happily fixed since publicised, coinciding with mass extraction of fossil fuels worldwide - past, present and future...

    From Darwinism to the Big Bang to Boltzmann equation to Order-Out-of-Chaos...

    What remains to tweak is Nuclear Fusion and humanity is really really done - why Higher Education at all?

    However, "Time taken in stocking Energy to build an Energy system will always be longer than the entire useful lifetime of the system".

    Humans-built Energy systems are short lived - by Physics.

    That is - all the hardware running the Internet must be replaced every <6 years in average, including your mobile phone and laptop, owing to wear and tear internal to matter, for instance.

    So, if you have unboxed your brand new mobile phone the day the 2020 pandemic started a year ago, count from 2 to 6 year and the phone will most likely need to be replaced.

    For that you need China to keep extracting coal like no tomorrow, natural gas goes from Moscow to Beijing like rivers, and oil is extracted from Iraq going to India like no day-after - and this is not sustainable.

    Your 'mobile phone' doesn't last long enough - is why air travel for the masses has stopped, likely, and Higher Education for the masses may follow soon, too - god forbid.

    It is not the availability of fuel flying 25 million passengers a day, to pre-2020 levels, the problem but rather repairing the vast industrial base for aviation, including all externalities - where the real mayhem is.

    Having our civilisation was and still determined to dismiss acknowledging the fact that all the technology humans have built so far is melting down by the second - has made the crises for Higher Education even worse:

    What for Higher Education to teach when we spent the last 100 year burning the last drops of fossil fuels propagandising that science has got it all right - despite everything is melting down?

    Wailing.

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  4. What to teach? Exactly!

    The way that is determined is by "where are the jobs" and that target is as easy to point to as an excited Quark.

    How to teach? That is determined by gathering all the information possible from kids in school. From an article by Carol Black;

    "Collecting data on human learning based on children’s behavior in school is like collecting data on killer whales based on their behavior at Sea World."

    http://carolblack.org/a-thousand-rivers

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  5. I agree totally with your sentiments Ugo. I work in IT at a Scottish university, and my university like all the others take their orders from a clueless government, the university senior management 'just following orders'. Students here (in the UK), at some universities, who live on university campuses, are not allowed to visit one another's rooms - 'room arrest' you might say. I am not sure that they are allowed in the communal area / kitchen at the same time. The whole thing is disgraceful, maybe part of the Great Reset.

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  6. Dr. Bardi, I am interested in your ideas. I would like to read your Seneca Effect book, but it is expensive! How come? It makes it less accessible to the popular reader!

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    Replies
    1. You are right: it is absurdly expensive. The pricing policies of Springer are beyond my (or anyone's) understanding. Anyway, the more recent book, "Before Collapse" is more reasonably priced and it contains much material related to the Seneca Effect. https://www.springer.com/us/book/9783030290375

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    2. May i ask what do you think of the opportunities for self publishing of both non fiction and novels in the short to medium term. It is a certainty to have an advantage of cutting out middlemen(In this case book publishers).However i lean towards thinking that in the latter half of the 21st Century that illiteracy in most places will get more common and this in of itself will reduce demand for books. I also believe that further into this century there be even a demand for small scale craft produced Chinese style paper(After all Chinese Civilization invented paper) as industrially produced paper at least gets more expensive to produce and fuel shortages will encourage re localisation. Any Thoughts Ugo?

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    3. Good point: is there any more space for books?

      Personally, I still read books (and I also write books!). But, clearly, we have big problems. Not only books are overpriced, but the editorial services have been plummeting down in a classical Seneca Cliff.

      I can tell you that right now I am giving the final retouches to the proof-reading of my upcoming book, "The Empty Sea" -- and the editors keep making a mess of it. To save money, the publisher has subcontracted the editing to an Indian firm. They are good people by all means, but I think their knowledge of English is limited. When they intervene on the text, they create more problems than they solve. It is because they don't really understand what they are editing.

      So, at this stage, self publishing and printing on demand would probably be a good idea for better quality books, and also less expensive books. The problem is that self-publishing carries an image of "failure" -- an author so bad that can't even find a decent publisher. We should probably organize some kind of "book clubs" by the author themselves to bypass the tyranny of publishers. Any ideas?

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    4. Didn't Dmitri Orlov (Club Orlov) set something like that up at one point?

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    5. I think there was some discussion on that, but I don't remember anything concrete. Or maybe something has happened in the meantime?

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  7. Two possible ideas for encouraging self publishing of books would be.
    1. A section around the back of a book can include letters to the writer/publisher where readers can give there own ideas for topics to be included in the next book and for non fiction suggest new country's/regions maybe city's to have the novel set in. When the next book is published include in the "Acknowledgements" section a thank you to readers whose ideas were included in the book.
    2. If a regular reader and purchaser of your books buys four directly from you give this person a large discount on there fifth book purchase.
    I hope these ideas can help self publishers of Books.

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)