Friday, 21 October 2011

Can We Teach Social Conscience?

Educator Brenda Dyck examines whether social conscience is caught or taught. She shares how a recent project about homelessness helped reshape her students' mental models.

"Children develop not because they are shaped through external reinforcements but because their curiosity is aroused. They become interested in information that does not quite fit into their existing cognitive structures and are thereby motivated to revise their thinking."
W.C. Crain, from Theories of Development

I've often found myself wondering whether social conscience is caught or taught. Is it our job as teachers to stir up students' social consciences and, if it is, how do we do that?

To answer those questions, I pulled out some learning theory from my university days. At that time, Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development were the irrelevant musings of a psychologist far away. This time around, however, Lawrence Kohlberg's theory was pungent with practical application for me. Using Kohlberg's philosophy of moral development as a lens, I took a critical look at The Eleanor Rigby Project, a tele-collaborative project about homelessness that I created for my language arts students. I considered how effectively the project's activities challenged student thinking about the issue of stereotyping the homeless and I evaluated whether the lessons students learned during the project supported ethical challenge and long-term moral action. As I watched my students get involved in the project, I was able to see many of Kohlberg's principles come to life. I even saw my students' thinking shift!

According to psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg,

-  most adults never get past level three of the moral development stages; and an individual can only progress through those stages one stage at a time -- they cannot "jump" stages.
-  people will come to a comprehension of a moral rationale only one stage above their own.
-  those who deal with children should present them with moral dilemmas for discussion, dilemmas that will help them to see the reasonableness of a "higher stage" of morality.
-  most moral development occurs through social interaction.
-  in order for children to reorganize their thinking they must be active in the process, not just passive listeners. Just listening to adults promote moral judgments will not promote moral development.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Matrix

The Matrix (1999)

A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.


Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski


Writers: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski


Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Anne Moss




Thomas A. Anderson is a man living two lives. By day he is an average computer programmer and by night a hacker known as Neo. Neo has always questioned his reality, but the truth is far beyond his imagination. Neo finds himself targeted by the police when he is contacted by Morpheus, a legendary computer hacker branded a terrorist by the government. Morpheus awakens Neo to the real world, a ravaged wasteland where most of humanity have been captured by a race of machines that live off of the humans' body heat and electrochemical energy and who imprison their minds within an artificial reality known as the Matrix. As a rebel against the machines, Neo must return to the Matrix and confront the agents: super-powerful computer programs devoted to snuffing out Neo and the entire human rebellion.

The movie The Matrix is certainly a science-fiction/action thriller. However, it is also deeply profound, carrying meaningful threads of thought and truth on the most intense philosophical and spiritual levels. The film is full of allusions, messages, symbolism in the use of names, numbers, characters… and parallelism with our present world we live in.

See Movie Trailer

Monday, 17 October 2011

Gobal Day of Rage

15 October

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets around the world in a global day against corporate greed, banking excesses and other grievances that have crippled the world's economies.

In Madrid, tens of thousands of people converged on the central square. There were riots in Rome, protests in Paris, and at the Reichstag in Berlin police moved in to clear the area after protesters stayed beyond their allotted time. There were also demonstrations in America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

More than 950 demonstrations against the global financial system and corporate greed were held in more than 80 countries around the world yesterday.

In Madrid, the city's central square was overflowing with people supporting the "indignado" ("the indignant") movement, which has been building throughout this year as Spain's financial woes have mounted.

Tens of thousands filled the plaza and adjoining streets. Police in Barcelona estimate that 60,000 people took to the streets there and organisers in Seville, southern Spain, believe they had 20,000 people out. With another 60 cities organising protesters, and local news agencies giving numbers in their thousands or tens thousands from several of them, the overall indignado turnout rose above 200,000.  The protests were entirely peaceful, with children walking alongside parents and Spain's indignados feeling a sense of pride that their May camp-outs in the Puerta del Sol and dozens of other city squares helped inspire demonstrators around the globe.

In New York Occupy Wall Street protesters renewed their protests following yesterday's celebrations after a planned "clean-up" of their camp in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan had been called off.

In London about 1,000 protesters massed outside St Paul's Cathedral in a bid to occupy the London Stock Exchange in the nearby Paternoster Square. But the square was closed off by police and private security and the demonstration remained focused on the steps around the cathedral after attempts to enter failed.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

John Paul II

Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both
near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.

                                by John Paul II, Solicituo Rei Socialis, #38

Uranium Mining in Niger - Tuareg Activist Takes On French Nuclear Company

by Cordula Meyer

Consider that "Niger, rated the poorest country in the world, is the third-largest producer of uranium with a 9 pct global market share".

Despite producing all the uranium - with all of the health costs, Niger is rated poorest in the world?
Who profits?

For the past 40 years, the French state-owned company Areva has been mining uranium for Europe's nuclear power needs in Niger, one of the poorest countries on Earth. One local activist is taking on the company, claiming that water and dust have been contaminated and workers are dying as a result of its activities.

The man from Niger had come to speak with the CEO of Germany's biggest bank. Last May, Almoustapha Alhacen was sitting in Frankfurt's Festhalle convention center as he listened to Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann tell his audience that despite the financial crisis, his bank was doing better again. Ackermann spoke of responsibility, and he said that "the market and morality" were not contradictions, but would "harmonize with each other for the benefit of everyone."

But in the desert region where Alhacen comes from, there is no harmony between markets and morality. He wanted to tell Ackermann about it, after a group of critical shareholders had invited him to attend the Deutsche Bank shareholders' meeting. Alhacen, wearing a traditional Tuareg robe, a face veil and a turban, stood out among the other people attending the meeting. He was calm as he walked up to the lectern, his face projected onto a large screen on the wall.

"Bonjour, Monsieur Ackermann," Alhacen began, speaking French with an African accent. He had five minutes to describe to Ackermann the catastrophe he has been fighting for the past nine years. He said he was the founder of an environmental organization in the city of Arlit in northern Niger. He said that Areva, a French company, is mining uranium there. He also described the alleged dark side of Areva's operations: millions of tons of radioactive waste, contaminated water and serious illnesses. And Deutsche Bank was partially connected to this, Alhacen said, because it lends a lot of money to Areva.

Alhacen also spoke of responsibility, just as Ackermann had done in his remarks. Anyone who makes a profit by lending money to the uranium industry, he said, should help "fight the serious problems that have arisen in connection with uranium mining." Ackermann responded by saying that Deutsche Bank cares a great deal about protecting the environment. Alhacen has never heard another word from Deutsche Bank since the Frankfurt event.

Mysterious Illnesses

Alhacen founded his organization, Aghirin Man, nine years ago, when he noticed that many of his fellow workers were dying of mysterious illnesses.

Alhacen never went to school, and to this day one of his greatest pleasures in life is to ride a camel. When he is displeased about something, he pulls his veil over his face so that only his eyes remain visible. Aghirin Man's offices in Arlit consist of two rooms next to a tailor's shop. An Austrian couple, who are friends of Alhacen's, donated old computers to the organization. His desk chair is missing an armrest, and red dust coats the furniture.

These two dingy rooms are Alhacen's headquarters in his fight against Areva, a global conglomerate.

Areva, which operates uranium mines and build nuclear power plants, has its headquarters in Paris. Its total sales in 2009 were €14 billion ($19 billion). The company is owned almost entirely by the French state, which was the colonial power in Niger until 1960. The French established their first mining company eight years after Niger's independence. Uranium was deposited in sediments in the region millions of years ago, when it was a river delta. Since 1968, excavating machines have dug more than 100,000 tons of the nuclear fuel out of the ground beneath the Sahara.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Wise Owl

A Woodland Indian Myth

There is an old saying, "wise as an owl".  People are always saying that, but the truth is, owls were not always wise. 
Once upon a time, a long time ago, the Everything-Maker was very busy, making all the animals and all the plants and all the rocks and caverns and everything else that covered the earth. 
Owl had not yet been made. He had been given a voice. And two eyes. And a head and a body and strong wings. Owl was waiting his turn to be formed. "I want a long neck like Swan," Owl told the Everything-Maker. "I want red feathers like Cardinal and a beak like Hawk."   
"Yes, yes," mumbled the Everything-Maker. "Whatever you want. But you must wait your turn." The Everything-Maker looked sharply at Owl. "Your eyes are open again. You know that no one is allowed to watch me work. Turn around and close your eyes. I have no time for you now. I am busy creating Rabbit."  
The Everything-Maker turned his attention back to Rabbit who was shaking with nervousness. "And what do you want, little rabbit?" the Everything-Maker asked encouragingly.
"Long legs and ears," Rabbit spoke softly. "And fangs. Could I possibly have a fang or two? And claws. I would dearly love to have claws!" 
The Everything-Maker smiled. "I think we could manage some claws and fangs." He smoothed Rabbit's long legs and ears. 
"Silly Rabbit!" Owl hooted loudly. "Why don't you ask for something useful, like wisdom?"  
"This is your last warning, Owl. Be quiet and wait your turn."

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Promoting Social Imagination Through Interior Monologues

By Bill Bigelow and Linda Christensen

One of the most important aims of teaching is to prompt students to empathize with other human beings. This is no easy accomplishment in a society that pits people against each other, offers vastly greater or lesser amounts of privileges based on accidents of birth, and rewards exploitation with wealth and power.

Empathy, or “social imagination,” as Peter Johnson calls it in The Reading Teacher, allows students to connect to “the other” with whom, on the surface, they may appear to have little in common.

A social imagination encourages students to construct a more profound “we” than daily life ordinarily permits. A social imagination prompts students to wonder about the social contexts that provoke hurtful behaviours, rather than simply to dismiss individuals as inherently “evil” or “greedy.”

One teaching method we use to promote empathy, and return to unit after unit, is the interior monologue. An interior monologue is simply the imagined thoughts of a character in history, literature, or life at a specific point in time. After watching a film, reading a novel, short story, or essay, or performing improvisation skits, the class brainstorms particular key moments, turning points, or critical passages characters confronted.

During a unit on the Vietnam War, we watch the documentary Hearts and Minds. The film weaves interviews with U.S. soldiers and Vietnamese with newsreel footage of the war and unexpected scenes of daily life in the United States. Student suggestions included writing from the points of view of an American pilot who has become critical of his role in the war, a North Vietnamese man whose entire family has been killed in a bombing raid, and a Native American Marine who was called “blanket ass” and “squaw” by commanding officers.

The monologue technique gives structure to the assignment, but the freedom to write from anyone’s point of view allows students to mold the piece to the contours of their lives and interests. Jetta chose the point of view of a Vietnamese prostitute, and wrote in part:

“I sell my body because it’s the only way to stay alive. They say my people are disgraceful, but they have disgraced us. … We are forced to sell our bodies. … but who forces them to pay, to strip the dignity from someone’s daughter? Do they not have daughters at home? Do they not have mothers? Where did they learn this? What kind of place teaches this?”

Time to Flee

Aim of the activity:

-   to know the facts: reasons why people have to ask for refuge in another country; the hazardous situations and harsh conditions they endure
-   to empathise with refugees leaving their homes and countries.

The group should form families of about 8 people – Mum, Dad, Granny, Uncle Ali, the baby and three other children of school age. Each group should be given a felt tip pen and a sheet of paper.

Setting the Scene

Dad works as a journalist on the local newspaper. Mum is at home at the moment with the baby. Granny is in a wheelchair and housebound since her stroke. Uncle Ali, who is very religious, was a political prisoner for a number of years. Now he cannot get work. He walks with difficulty and a limp since prison. Dad drives an old car. Dad has been a leading figure in the local journalists’ trade union. The situation in the country has been changing quite dramatically recently.

Two months ago a military coup took place. There was a lot of gunfire on the streets. Tanks and armoured cars were everywhere. A lot of people were killed and others arrested. A curfew has been imposed and everyone must now stay indoors after dark. The military rulers have taken over the TV and radio. It is very hard to know what is really going on. What should the family do?

A month ago Dad was told that a number of people had been arrested by the new military rulers. Lots of others have simply “gone missing” – nobody knows where they are. They include religious figures, politicians, writers and trade unionists.

A fortnight ago a local newspaper (which supported the military coup) published a long list of people in the town that it says are enemies of the state. Both Dad’s name and Uncle Ali’s appeared on this list.

Last week Mum heard from a friend in the next town that some women have been arrested and are held by the military who are looking for their husbands. Even children have been taken hostage by the soldiers.

Four days ago it was announced that a number of trade unions including the journalists union had been banned.

Three days ago an unsigned letter was pushed through the door of the family home. It was made of letters cut out of newspapers and pasted on to a sheet of paper. The letter said Dad was “a spy and an enemy agent” and that “his days are numbered.” There was a drawing of a coffin and a skull, a noose and a gun. It was signed “Friends of the Motherland.”

Two days ago a religious friend rang up Uncle Ali and told him said he’d better get out – as he heard there were some people who were planning to get him and set the house on fire.

Yesterday some children at school said that snatch squads of soldiers had been searching the streets in a nearby neighbourhood and arresting people including some members in Dad’s trade union.

Today there has been the sound of gunfire in the main square and trucks full of military have been arriving in front of the Town Hall. There are roadblocks stopping all cars. Trains are being searched.

The family meet together to have a hurried discussion. What are they going to do? Mum says she thinks Dad and Ali are in particular danger and that the family should flee and seek political asylum abroad as refugees in another country. It takes under an hour to the border by car, but that would be very risky. By foot would mean a whole week’s journey through the desert and then the high forest across dangerous country to the frontier.

Now they hear that their neighbourhood is starting to be searched by the military.

They have 10 minutes to make their minds up, to get organised and get out.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Understanding The Global Financial Crisis

Aim of the Activity

·         Understanding the concept of globalization
·         Understanding financial crisis
·         Interpreting political cartoons and place them in context
·         Identifying the techniques used by cartoonists to express opinions
·         Considering the connections: globalization and the current economic crisis
·         Drawing connections between facts
·         Giving personal opinion on this issue


Video: "What is globalization?"  [P. Terrence Hopmann - 1:48]
Video: The Crisis of Credit
Audio: Global Pool of Money Got Too Hungry
PDF: Graphic Organizer
PDF: Handout: Political Cartoons in the Press
Video: USA Crisis Explained
Video: World Crisis Explained in Three Minutes
Reading: Goldman Sachs Rules the World: trader sparks outrage
Video: Goldman Sachs Rules the World


1. Discussing the Global Economy: Write on the board the question:

"What is globalization?"

Have students brainstorm what they know about globalization.

-    What are different aspects of globalization, for example cultural, economic, or political?
-    What have been some of the effects of globalization on people around the world?
-    What have been the effects of globalization on students' families and communities?
-    What are some examples of benefits of living in a more connected world?
-    What are some examples of negative effects of globalization?

In the course of this discussion, you may wish to show your students a short Scholars Online video [1:48 minutes] by Professor P. Terrence Hopmann entitled:

"What is globalization?"

After viewing the clip, ask students to consider how Professor Hopmann explains globalization.

-    What are the different aspects of globalization that he discusses?
-    What are some positive and negative effects of the types of changes that he mentions?

2. Understanding the Financial Crisis:

Although background about the crisis is not necessary for students to do this activity, you may wish to give your students more context to the global economic crisis.
The Crisis of Credit explains the financial crisis in a simple way. 

The Crisis of Credit