31 March 2008

Talking about the Hidden Curriculum

Here is a 13 minute talk given by Deborah Meier at an educational conference in Chicago. She talks very briefly about what John Gatto has referred to as the hidden curriculum of public schooling.
Deborah Meier


Instant Animation Fun

This is a fun little site where you can draw a sloping line and watch as a little sledder rides the hill you created. Be careful how you draw the line, he can wipe out:
Line Rider

24 March 2008

We Own The Air, Let's Protect It

Here's a quote from a new Rockridge Institute Report on climate change policy:

A key idea advanced by Cap and Dividend [one of two proposals considered in this report] is that keeping our air clean is good for the economy. The costs of environmental harm already exist. They have just been excluded from the accounting. Polluting companies have been free-riders and are not paying the full cost of doing business. Now those costs are being borne by people the world over. Global warming is a market failure – because a vital cost has been left out!
Comparing Climate Proposals: A Case Study in Cognitive Policy

In contrast to:

Lieberman-Warner [the other proposal] expresses the idea of private wealth, where wealth is (1) money accumulated by corporations and their investors; (2) "created" through resource extraction and labor; and (3) owned by whomever controls it. People are thought of as actors who seek to maximize their profit. It follows that the financial implications of a policy are considered primarily with respect to industry – where assets are controlled. It is industry that is seen as creating wealth through the process of production. Wealth created by industry will "trickle down" to the people. There is no need to protect the common wealth – shared resources of general benefit to society – because there is no concept for common wealth in the proposal. The central consideration is protecting the profits of corporations—especially those who make those profits via polluting.
Comparing Climate Proposals: A Case Study in Cognitive Policy

I recommend reading this report.

21 March 2008

Creating Value

Here's an interesting post about making sure you create value instead of waste from the perspective of a school IT guy:
Eliminating Loser Loops

20 March 2008

Free Universal Education Not Compulsory Schooling

Continuing my participation in the Bridging Differences Blog I posted the following comment to clarify my sense of what is at stake when we consider the idea of compulsory schooling:

Thanks for your provocative thoughts on this blog. Obviously you hit a hot button for me and I hope that my contribution to the discussion is more than a mere rant. I want to clarify my perspective since my previous post might not have been clear. Since then I realized that there is a distinction between education and schooling in my mind that may make my reactions different from those who haven’t thought about it the same way.

An educated citizenry is a compelling interest of a democratic society. The failure to empower citizens via education will lead to the demise of meaningful feedback to correct abuses of the power to govern and thus threatens to destroy the democratic functions of the state. So, the compelling state interest is in education, not in schooling, per se.

I recognize our society’s interest in enabling citizens to become educated, but I do not support the state’s current use of power to compel attendance in schools that have a history of failing to educate their students. The government loses it’s moral authority to compel attendance in public schools when those schools fail to educate students, despite the fact that they have retained their political authority to do so.

I believe that some opposition to compulsory schooling, like John Taylor Gatto’s, is based on the idea that if our society provides an adequate free universal educational system then our citizen’s are smart enough to take full advantage of it without the state’s insulting them with compulsory attendance laws. But even if they are not, the free and universal aspects of the educational system are the important parts, not the presence or absence of compulsion.

An education system worthy of the world’s most powerful democracy is more than just a bunch of classrooms for kids. A worthy education system includes public libraries, private schools, the internet, and any other places and ways that people learn. Therefore I imagine systemic reforms along the following lines would be more appropriate for restoring the moral authority of our government to inspire (or compel, if necessary) education:

Reorganize public schools from middle school/junior high on up into free community colleges for all ages. Reorganize elementary schools to allow children to learn how to be citizens in a democracy, not peons in a hierarchy. Ensure that elementary schools provide a combination of academically focused classroom experiences and socially focused community learning experiences where the children and their parents have a significant voice in determining what’s the best combination for each child. Give older students the option to attend local community college classes, too, at their own discretion. Make sure that every student has more than one option for free education for as long as they are under 18 years old.

If compulsion is to be a component of the system then compel all citizens, no matter their age, to remain in the education system until they have attained basic mastery of core literacies in written language, mathematics, music, drawing, science, religion and critical thinking. Have them create a portfolio of work in each core literacy, in addition to having passed one of several tests in each core literacy to document their eligibility to leave the education system.

The only age-segregation that I would preserve is the distinction between Elementary School (which is for anyone who is not of full legal driving age) and the community college system (which is for anyone of any age who chooses to attend and meets the pre-requisites for the particular classes they choose.)

The point is to ensure that all citizens become educated. That interest does not evaporate upon a citizen reaching 18 years of age. Our society needs to provide a diversity of educational options in order to achieve that goal and the state should be fully subsidizing children’s learning and the basic education of adults who cannot afford it.

I agree that there is a moral burden to invoking the state’s power to compel citizen’s to behave in certain ways. The current public school system has lost it’s moral authority even though it has retained it’s political authority. My reaction to the previous post was based on this idea. It is the height of incompetence and arrogance to assert political authority in the absence of moral authority.

The current presidential administration, regardless of your opinion of them, has demonstrated a consistent inability to distinguish between moral and political authority. I think John Thompson’s comment is saying something similar to this. NCLB, for instance, has been based primarily on the exertion of their political authority without regard for how it will affect their moral authority. As a result they have steadily eroded away their moral authority. The opposition holds little or no respect for them and they are finding that even their allies are a lot more cautious (the ones who haven’t jumped ship already) than when they had some moral authority left. The same could be said of their policies in Iraq, as well.

The policy debate in education needs to be about educating our citizenry, not just forcing children to attend school. How do we, as a society, enable our government to regain the moral authority to get the job done? I suspect that thinking strictly in terms of schools for children is not going to address the real challenges of education today.

18 March 2008

Who's Failing Whom, Indeed?

I have just recently been subscribed to the Bridging Differences Blog in which Diane Ravtich and Deborah Meier are exchanging a lively correspondence about everything that is going on in Education. Tonight I was intrigued because Deborah brought up John Taylor Gatto's view that school attendance should not be mandatory. They each dismissed the notion, but explored some of the moral questions that arise from it.

In response to Diane's post called Who's Failing Whom? I posted this lengthy comment:

"...it is irresponsible to disparage the necessity of compulsory schooling"

and yet you also state that the compulsion currently results in

"... pack[ing] kids into overcrowded classes, force-feed[ing] them deadly textbooks, inflict[ing] failed methods of teaching on them, test[ing] them with dumbed-down tests, and then fail[ing] them. Most of the time, it seems to me, it is we who have failed them."

On the one hand you say it is irresponsible to disparage the compulsion and on the other you are saying that what they are subjected to (by the compulsion you apparently hold sacred) is a reprehensible failure.

In my mind putting those two together makes it sound like a moral contradiction. It sounds as though a high and mighty authority of wealth and privilege has decreed that the poor under-privileged of our nation shall be compelled to become better than the even poorer wretches of those other nasty places for their own good.

I suspect that I am operating from a fundamentally different moral assumption since the above image is entirely negative in my mind.

You see, when I think of what an education system is supposed to accomplish for a society, and for the individuals who join together to make up that society, I think of how the system is supposed to empower the citizens to lead lives that are fulfilling because empowered citizens living fulfilling lives provide the maximum productive contributions to society. The society has three basic elements that interact; the power structures by which we govern our own and other people's behavior for the common good, the exchange processes by which we trade our financial, material, informational, and attentional resources to meet our needs, and the patterns of consciousness that result from being embedded in the power structures and exchange processes.

In effect, compulsory schooling as you have described it subjects children to the arbitrary dictates of faraway authorities who supposedly know better what is in their best interest than they, or their families, do. This occurs during the formative years of our children’s lives when they are developing their most basic concepts of what social situations are normal and which social skills are necessary. The mainstream classroom power structures are dictatorial and the exchange processes are relatively arbitrary and, in the long, run meaningless for most people. The resulting patterns of consciousness include many apathetic and disinterested citizens with some exceptions.

The government is obviously one of the most important parts of the power structure of our society. When government schools create such disempowering situations for large numbers of people and then assert their authority to compel attendance then the result gives the impression that the wielding of power has become disconnected from the true purpose for which that power was bestowed. To say that the schools fail to educate but that students must be forced to attend them, in spite of that fact, is to say that government must be obeyed even when it is corrupt and incapable of serving the needs of both society and individuals. When an element of the power structure becomes corrupt and destructive of the needs of society then it loses it's authority. It may still exist and naturally will resist it' demise, but either it has to be transformed or replaced.

Compulsory schooling laws that result in such inadequate situations is why both home schooling and charter schools have grown so much. Both of these developments are evidence of the loss of authority of mainstream government schools and the efforts of many to effect transformation and/or replacement.

Perhaps you have a different way of understanding how the power structures and exchange processes of compulsory classroom schooling interacts to create the patterns of consciousness that are lamented throughout the land?

I agree that "we ... have failed them" as you put it. But I believe that questioning "the necessity of compulsory schooling" is a very important part of getting ourselves back on solid moral ground. I do not reject the idea of compulsory education entirely, but I have come to seriously question the idea of compulsory schooling for children.

I would be very interested to know on what grounds you would defend the moral contradiction of teaching children through dictatorial schooling laws and methods to live in a democratic society.


Don Berg

17 March 2008

Charter School Pseudo-Debate

Here's an interesting pseudo-debate on whether or not Public Charter Schools are proving to be a good thing or not:

The reason it is not really a debate is that one person says that there is extremely limited information, but what it shows is good.

The other opinion is that it's just too early to tell for sure.

They don't really disagree. But that's not why I find the page blog-worthy.

What got me interested in posting is the CON side's conclusion:
Rather than pitting charter and public schools as sector vs. sector, we’ll do better to think of charters and traditional schools as components of a broad public education system, ultimately responsible for democratic processes and open to change and adaptation as we feel our way along toward better schooling and a better society for all.

I would only add that every kind of alternative education, school or program be included in the concept of what constitutes our education system.

In Loco Parentis Revisited

Here is a very moving story that illustrates the moral intent of a school's obligation to act In Loco Parentis:

On February 5, a tornado carved a deep gash across the aorta of our campus: the dormitory complex. Along with the university's president, David Dockery, and another dean, I was among the first administrators to arrive at the disaster, a mere two minutes following the direct hit.

We stopped first at the men's dorms. Nothing could have prepared us for the devastation that we saw in the dim glow of the lightning flashes. Several of our students were trapped under a collapsed commons area. To the side of our view, we could see the rubble of the women's complex.

Click here to read the rest of this story by Gene C. Fant Jr. in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Religious Education, War, And Sitting On Ski Slopes

In this month’s print issue of UU World (Spring 2008) there are two in-depth articles placed back-to-back, Prophetic Nonviolence by Paul Rasor and Home Grown Unitarian Universalism by William J. Doherty. This direct juxtaposition of how we are integrating our denominational responses to war and deepening our denominational vision for religious education struck me very powerfully.

In Rasor’s article about how we could integrate the “just war” and “pacifist” approaches to expressing our core value of peacemaking he observes that these two ideals have traditionally been seen as opposing positions that divide us and the debate has tended to effectively exclude some people from the process of coming to a denominational position. He proposes that we can overcome this traditional divisiveness by emphasizing the common ground we have in our core principles and in the power of including everyone in the dialogue.

In Doherty’s article about how our religious education systems can work better he makes light of the short-comings of the “traditional church-centered programs” that rely heavily on “service-providing or educational approaches” because they reinforce the mainstream me-first consumer culture that we, as a religious community, more generally reject. He is calling for new methods of engaging families in direct participation in the creation of religious rituals in the home that will enable children and youth to know more fully what it means to be a UU.

On the surface they appear to be about widely disparate topics, but I see a unifying theme. The power of the juxtaposition is a result of how I see our place in human history today. But, to fully appreciate the unifying theme and the power of the juxtaposition, I need to explain why as a 14-year-old I was prone to sitting down in my bright red insulated bib overalls halfway down the ski slopes at Kirkwood Resort in the last week of December in 1982. In case you are not familiar with the behavior of teenage boys on ski slopes sitting around halfway down a run is not normal.

Sitting On The Slopes

During the summer of 1982 I experienced occasional pain in my right knee. At a family reunion at the end of that summer a large group of us went hiking on Casper Mountain in Wyoming where the pain in my knee became a major problem. Back home in California I was finally taken to a doctor and during surgery on the Friday before school started the doctors found that I had torn cartilage. We still don’t really know what caused the damage to my knee, except that it must have happened at some unknown time long before our trip to Wyoming and the hike that finally prompted a visit to the doctor.

The surgery also eventually prompted my parents to let the cat out of the bag about a Christmastime surprise they had been planning. They wanted to send me to Kirkwood Ski Resort to learn downhill skiing, but the surgery looked like a serious wrench in the works. My orthopedic surgeon in consultation with my physical therapist, however, reassured us all. He reasoned that since I was young and had already made good healing progress, if I could continue healing and regaining my strength at a rigorous pace then I could probably be in adequate shape for learning to ski. Which I did. After having surgery in September I learned to ski in December. But there’s more to my odd behavior on the ski slopes than just the fact that I was recovering from surgery.

Fortunately, I have (like we all do) a magnificent body system that communicates it’s needs. The key message I learned to pay attention to as my knee was recovering from surgery was fatigue. Fatigue became an intimate companion. In physical therapy the goal was to push back against fatigue to continuously increase stamina, to be able to go just a little further each time. But out on the ski slopes I was challenged not just to push against my limits but to dance with fatigue. In order to get the most out of a whole day on the slopes I had to push and be pulled by fatigue to both spend and strategically recover my energy. I learned to pay close attention to the signals that my body was so elegantly designed to provide.

The result was odd behavior for a teenage boy on the ski slopes. There I was in my brand new bright red insulated bib overalls; on rented skis, boots and poles. Whenever I felt the pull of fatigue I would not only stop on the slope but would also sit down on the snow to rest my knee. Nearly every single time I sat on the slopes someone would stop and ask if I was injured. Attracting that much attention made it clear to me that my behavior was not normal.

Here are the three points you need to remember about my sitting on the slopes story:
1. I had surgery to correct damage that occurred at some unknown time in the past.
2. I was inspired by the thrills of downhill skiing.
3. In order to mitigate the risk of destroying my hard-won healing progress I had to pay extraordinary attention to the feedback I normally ignored in the course of youthful exuberance and enthusiasm for a challenging new adventure.

Menders Are Emerging From Our Breaker Society

I subscribe to a historical perspective of humanity developed by writers such as Daniel Quinn, Riane Eisler, Sharif Abdullah, David Korten, and Michael Dowd. This perspective puts us squarely in the midst of the magnificent adventure of life. Humanity is just one of a vast multitude of life forms that has succeeded in surviving and continuing the grand tradition of occupying the dynamic zone between an ocean of chaos and the stable shore of order. Straying too far into either order or chaos is a death sentence because we are built to balance in between.

The human story reaches back hundreds of thousand of years and throughout most of that time we lived as Keepers of the Sacred Hoop. We accepted the fact that there are cycles of power and influence in the universe that are beyond our comprehension and those powers and influences were accorded sacred status out of a combination of awe and humble respect. We left our fate in the hands of the gods.

Then at some unknown time in the past our ancestors were suffering greatly in a dire struggle to survive amidst scarcity and discovered a different way to live. We broke the sacred hoop and took our destiny into our own hands. We discovered that we could be powerful and influential in subtle ways that seemed miraculous. The gods were transformed into one God and that male God went far away (and even ceased to exist for some people) leaving us to take responsibility for our own fate. Eventually, some Breakers asserted that there is no power or influence in the universe that cannot be known, even though we might not know it yet. And other Breakers simply asserted that their God is the ultimate God, therefore their messiah and/or his duly authorized and anointed “servants” have special privileged access to the Mysteries of Life, The Universe and Everything. Either way the sacred hoop was irreparably broken when the Mysteries cease to exist with the arrival of some special elite person or class of people who have unique privileged access to knowing the universe through either scientific or religious “enlightenment.”

Regardless of your theological position it is safe to say that our Breaker society is based on taking responsibility for our own fate. And, the Breakers of the Sacred Hoop are clearly the dominant society on the planet since the aboriginal Keepers of the Sacred Hoop are nearly extinct.

But there is a new way of living that is emerging within our Breaker society. Many of us have realized that something has gone terribly wrong and we have resolved to become the Menders of the Sacred Hoop. I understand our need within Unitarian Universalism to address the issues of war and family life as mutually interrelated expressions of the necessity of mending the sacred hoop.

Our fate is not exclusively in the hands of the gods (or a God) nor is it exclusively in our own hands. Our fate will be the outcome of our intimate communion with the sacred. The outcome of that conversation will depend on how we honor our interdependence with all of life. Our destiny is determined by our participation in the larger processes of living.

The Breakers assumptions are wrong; there are significant and enduring powers and influences in the universe that are beyond our understanding and always will be. We will never resolve all Mysteries. And no one has privileged access to the Mysteries. The sacred hoop is mended by supporting everyone to participate in the conversation with life and death to negotiate the terms of our existence.

So let me restate my understanding of our situation more concisely:

Our society has an injury that occurred at some undetermined point in the past (the breaking of the sacred hoop), but the necessary surgery was done to survive (the inception of the Menders) and now we are well along the road to recovery. But we have also recently discovered some very thrilling ways of living (modern technological consumerism) and we are severely challenged to maintain a healthy balance between our thrilling new lifestyle options and continuing to support our healing process.

My confidence in our healing progress so far is based primarily on Steven Pinker’s TED conference presentation and essay entitled “A Short History of Violence” and Hans Rosling’s TED conference presentation entitled “Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen” and his web site Gapminder.org. Pinker’s presentation suggests that our surgical intervention probably occurred four or five hundred years ago when there was a shift in our ideas about governance and the first inklings of democratic forms of governance began to take shape. Rosling’s presentation shows that globally we have made great progress despite the fact that we are largely unaware of it.

So here we are, on the path of healing, yet we are also flirting with disaster by taking advantage of the thrilling lifestyles we have recently discovered. The question is whether we are going to be able to pay close enough attention to the feedback signals we are getting.

How do we get the feedback we need to navigate into the future safely? How do we dance with fatigue as a society? If we simply act like a normal technological consumerist society we will surely cause more harm and could do permanent damage despite our progress so far.

Religious Education and War

This brings me back to the articles about how our denomination should integrate our thoughts and feelings about war and how our denomination can best support families with the task of faith formation in our children. Despite the apparent disparity of these two issues, I see the fundamental problems and solutions as the same; exclusion is the problem and participation is the solution.

Recall that Doherty is calling for new methods of engaging families in direct participation in the creation of religious rituals in the home that will enable children and youth to know more fully what it means to be a UU. And, Rasor proposes that we can overcome the traditional divisiveness of the “just war” and “pacifist” approaches to peacemaking by emphasizing the common ground we have in our core principles and in the power of including everyone in the dialogue.

In both cases we have inadvertently perpetuated subtle forms of exclusion and the answer is to renew our commitment to supporting others to be included in the process of participating. The point, as I see it, is not the precise position to be taken against war nor the precise rituals that families enact, the point is that everyone has the opportunity to participate and a system of support is in place that welcomes everyone into the discussion such that they are encouraged to contribute. It’s the very process of soliciting, gathering, organizing, sifting, sorting, and then deciding on positions and rituals (that we only accept as the best we can do for now) that mends the sacred hoop.

Exclusion Is Violence

Violence has 6 orders of magnitude based on the degree of exclusion that results:
1. Literal death which is the ultimate exclusion.
2. Bodily incapacitation as in physical injury which results in a lower level of literal exclusion.
3. Mental incapacitation as in emotional and cognitive damage which is exclusion of a subtle, perhaps abstract, kind.
4. Organizational incapacitation as in the disruption of relationships and disabling a group from meeting it’s members needs. This is a collective form of subtle exclusion.
5. Social incapacitation as in disabling a group from meeting it’s collective needs. This is also a subtle collective form of exclusion.
6. Ecological incapacitation as in interrupting the ecological and infrastructural services that a group relies upon for it’s well-being and continued survival. This is exclusion that can be obvious in the forms of human attacks on infrastructure. But it can be subtler when it takes the form of disease, pollution or global warming.

War is the most comprehensive expression of violence since it tends to achieve violence at all six orders of magnitude, simultaneously.

But violence, when understood in this way, is still a common, everyday fact of life for many people everywhere in the world. Although it may only happen at one or two of the subtle intermediate levels at a time instead of the most obvious levels of literal death, physical injury, and infrastructure disruption.

Violence in my understanding is the kind of evil that is always possible because we forget to pay attention to how insidiously it slips into our habits of thinking and acting without our awareness. Violence is the evil that occurs when we forget to pay attention to the corporate collective feedback that results from the inclusive participation that is designed into our democratic bodies. We run the risk of doing violence whenever we forget to, or sometimes never learned how to, pay attention to the feedback we have available.

Doherty and Roser are both pointing out how we UU’s have in the past fallen short of our ideals; we have enacted subtle forms of violence and we have the opportunity to get back on our healing path if we can listen and respond effectively to the feedback before real damage is done.

The insight that really made the juxtaposition of these two articles powerful for me is the insight that participation is the opposite of violence.

Inclusive Participation Is Peacemaking

Participation, or the lack thereof, is evident in three ways:
1. In the power structures in which we control our own and other people’s behavior for the common good;
2. In the exchange processes in which we trade material, financial, informational, and temporal resources with each other to meet our needs; and
3. In the patterns of consciousness that result from being embedded in those structures and processes.

The various forms of violence achieve the exclusion of some people from power structures, from exchange processes, and/or from being able to connect their patterns of consciousness (for both good and ill) with the power structures and exchange processes that caused those patterns.

The challenge of promoting participation as an antidote to violence is in figuring out how we still engage in subtle forms of violence without realizing it and encouraging people to discover how they can participate in reshaping the power structures and exchange processes to prevent the negative patterns of consciousness that contribute to the tragedies in the world. Doherty and Roser both help us uncover subtle manifestations of violence in our denomination.

The ultimate antidote to war begins in the family, it needs to continue into the school, and should also be integrated into the workplace, but will only be fully realized when participation is expected and supported in every nook and cranny of our communities. This means enabling democratic forms of participation in every possible kind of organization that exists in society; religious, political, economic and social.

If we can achieve a comprehensive system for welcoming everyone into the discussion of decisions that affect their lives and support them to effectively participate in the implementation of those decisions, then we will be living up to our principles. The feedback we need as a society is only available when we encourage and enable everyone to participate to the fullest extent they can manage.

We have a choice to make. Focus on paying attention to the feedback that is available or ignoring it. I accept that we have, as a society, already arrived at the top of the ski slope. There is no way to avoid the risks anymore. I prefer to dance with the feedback rather than try to live up to the expectations of “normal” behavior as a technological consumer society in an exuberant show of youthful bravado.

The UUA is ideally suited to the task of mending the sacred hoop if we can get clear about the Breaker habits of thought and action that we have grown up with. Doherty and Rasor’s articles remind us that the subtlest manifestations of violence are insidious and we are never immune.

But on the other hand, we also know exactly what to do about it. Pay attention, participate in the process, seek the truth to the best of our ability, and encourage everyone else to do the same. It is by illuminating our principles and holding each other in the light of those principles that we shall mend the sacred hoop.


Links to the good news about the healing progress we’ve made:

Steven Pinker’s History of Violence:
Video: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/163
Article: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html

Hans Rosling’s Debunking Third World Myths With The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen:
Video: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/92
Site: http://gapminder.org/

The books regarding our place in human history:

Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael books; If you haven’t read them at all I recommend My Ishmael since it is the most recent and reflects his revisions and clarifications. The books are not a series and the basic ideas are presented each time in varying ways. He presents human cultures as either Leavers or Takers (the Keepers, Breakers and Menders is from Sharif Abdullah’s book Creating A World That Works For All, more information below).

Riane Eisler’s Chalice and the Blade and The Partnership Way: Eisler’s work is largely academic but presents the basic thesis that prehistoric cultures were predominantly matriarchal in contrast to the patriarchal power structures that have dominated the historical period of human history. She advocates a rebalancing of the gender roles.

Sharif Abdullah’s Creating A World The Works for All: Abdullah’s work is derived from lifelong activism and advocates for inclusivity, a philosophy that honors the sacred in all it’s forms. He has effectively applied his work in Sri Lanka through the Ghandian peace organization Sarvodaya.

David Korten’s The Great Turning: Korten’s work is derived from his background in international economic development. In the Great Turning he synthesizes a variety of work into an over arching vision of a mender movement that can weave together a broad variety of seemingly diverse issues.

Michael Dowd’s Thank God For Evolution: Dowd’s work is derived from his background as a minister and ecological activist. He also weaves together a variety of ideas to arrive at a spirituality that transcends the divisiveness of the recent debates about evolution. He refers to the history of our universe as the Great Story and makes the case for an integration of scientific and religious storytelling.

Statistics in Support of Our Recent Progress:

“By 1950, only 22 of the 80 sovereign political systems in the world (28 percent) were democratic. When the third wave of global democratization began in 1974, there were 39 democracies, but the percentage of democracies in the world was about the same (27 percent). Yet by January 2000, Freedom House counted 120 democracies, the highest number and the greatest percentage (63) in the history of [Breaker society]” http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/3491911.html
Note: The quote above originally ended with the phrase ‘history of the world’ but that implies that Keeper society was undemocratic and if the surviving Keeper cultures are indicative then that assumption is probably inaccurate. Keepers probably did not have formal electoral structures but their decision making processes seem to be intensely participatory which I interpret as essentially democratic.

“The Stockholm-based ‘International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance,’ for example, lists only 78 elections across the entire decade of the 1940s, barely more than the total for 2004 alone.”

A Report on the Power of Participation:

“How Freedom Is Won” A report From Freedom House on the effectiveness of nonviolent civil disobedience as a means to achieving more political and social freedoms from data collected from 1973-2005. http://www.freedomhouse.org/uploads/special_report/29.pdf

15 March 2008

Freakonomic Insight Into Elementary Education

The author of Freakonomics the book and blog has this to say about elementary education in a post about what a psychologist is learning about what makes people great at what they do:

"Students should be taught to follow their interests earlier in their schooling, the better to build up their skills and acquire meaningful feedback."

In this later post he explains more precisely what the psychologist, Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, calls "deliberate practice":

1. Focus on technique as opposed to outcome.
2. Set specific goals.
3. Get good, prompt feedback, and use it.

This is exactly what every citizen in a democracy needs to become good at being a democratic citizen. Early practice that is deliberately focused on planning, decision making and empathy for those who will be effected by the decisions that are made.

Bridging The Spiritual and the Material

Here is an incredible talk from this year's TED Conference:

14 March 2008

Stolen Computer

While Kirsten and I were visiting Vancouver, B.C., this last Sunday someone broke into Bob (Kirsten's 1986 Volvo station wagon) and stole all our luggage. They got my laptop, her digital camera and a lot of clothing and miscellaneous personal stuff. We forgot what it was like to be in a high crime zone. It was an unfortunate turn of events, but we are fortunate to be in a position to rebound reasonably well.

I am thankful that I subscribed to Carbonite the online backup service. The service quietly backs everything up while you are busy doing other things. I reccomend this service highly.

We ordered a replacement computer already. I will be getting a Lenovo ThinkPad R61 with the enterprise edition of linux preinstalled. I will need to set-up a dual boot for Windows to use some of the programs I depend on and to recover all the files that are in Carbonite. I am glad to be making a major step towards minimizing my dependency on Microsoft.

Other than that we had a good trip to Vancouver. All the people we actually met were very nice and helpful. The main purpose of the trip was Kirsten's interview with a UBC professor about possible graduate studies there. We stayed overnight at a nice B&B called King's Corner and had a dinner with my cousin Carol.