Posts Tagged ‘society’

Most of us evince a certain mistrust or even shock at the notion of a unified human culture; we hear much about the evils of globalization, we react with horror at the notion of a quaint little town in Somethingstan seeing the opening of a McDonald’s or Starbucks, we worry that if we completely accept another culture, we will be dominated by it to the exclusion of the conventions we hold dear.

I have come to wonder of late, though, whether a global culture would have to be this way. Is it necessary that we abjure our ethnocultural ‘soul’ in order to embrace the culture of another, or can we allow them to coexist?

History shows that the greatest motivator to unity is the presence of a common enemy – a ‘them’ to our ‘us’. I have little doubt that if we were to discover intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, we would rapidly cease to be French, or Jewish, or black, becoming merely different flavors of ‘Earthling’. Even if the extra-terrestrials showed no hint of a threat, a large number of us would choose to see them as an enemy solely based on our primitive fear of the unknown. In the face of this perceived threat, national boundaries would become obsolete and religious differences would largely die out as our fear of the poorly-known was set aside in place of this greater fear. Few would suggest, however, that we would lose our individuality. Just as African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and Caucasians manage to hold onto their own beliefs and values while forming part of an integrated American nation, we would under this hypothetical scenario consider ourselves Islamic-Earthlings or Australian-Humans or other such designations.

So… if we would be able to make this transition when faced with extra-terrestrial life, why are we so convinced that we can’t do it on our own? We can put aside the comparatively small fears and choose to instead understand each other, learning from the richness of each other’s cultures. A Christian can learn from a Hindu, a Kazakh from a Paraguayan. I believe that this would enrich us rather than lessening us.

We have had the phrase “the human race” in our lexicon for many decades now – perhaps it’s time there actually was one.

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Perhaps the biggest issue facing the United States and many other countries today is that of education. It has been argued that many of our society’s ills – ranging from declining literacy rates to teen pregnancies – could be ameliorated to some extent by better education.

Unfortunately, much of the extant educational policy has been going at this in a half-assed manner, due in some part to the lack of funding. The lamentable No Child Left Behind initiative was conceived with good intentions but the required infrastructure to make it truly work is not, and has never been, a reality. Not since Brown has there been a paradigm shift in education profound enough to change the way the system works. However, there are some schools out there whose students are interested and engaged, whose test pass rates are exceptional and whose staff are intelligent and dedicated. With the right methods, even in adverse financial circumstances, a school and its students can succeed.

A major problem in the educational field right now is that there are simply not enough qualified teachers out there to make every school work. Most of us harbor fond memories of at least one teacher who really ‘got it’ and would go the extra mile to see that a student grasped the material at hand and indeed cared enough about it to do the work and get the A. Those teachers are worth their weight in diamonds and should be immensely proud of their achievements – and should be the model to which education graduates aspire. What we sorely need is a few thousand more teachers just like these latter-day heroes, and school boards with the vision to allow them to perform their often thankless task.

This is where the funding problem comes into play. In an ideal world, every teacher would be paid a very healthy salary and be provided with the facilities and resources to be able to guide our kids through the rough waters of the school years, channeling their intelligence and talents into not only academic progress but a keen awareness and understanding of the world out there.

The costs involved in turning every school into a temple and every teacher into an admired mentor are immense in the short term, but the long-term payoff absolutely dwarfs them. How many potential Einsteins have never had the opportunity to pursue science enough to blossom? How many Mozarts has the world missed out on? How many Ronaldinhos, how many Gandhis?

We can, to some extent, take our children’s future into our own hands. We all need to be writing, calling, even Tweeting – everything we can do to let our legislators know that we want better schools, more teachers – and increased financial support for both. Tell them we want more incentives for people to become teachers and more recognition for the teachers who really ‘get it’.

You can also help by making donations. Almost every school is suffering from a dearth of resources, but if you can buy ONE more textbook, or a map or periodic table for a classroom wall, or even whiteboard markers, you’ll be helping to make an investment. It’s a very small investment, but if enough people make it, we can see a real difference. The $5-level donations which fueled the President’s ‘netroots’ campaign can be felt here too.

Finally, I’d like to give thanks to a few teachers who really made a difference, people who have made my own little world a little better by their efforts. This is by no means an exhaustive list, since I have had the privilege of learning from a great many wonderful and motivated people, but I specifically would like to call out Gerry Rafferty, Wendy Winnard and Dave Shaw. Even if none of the three of you ever read this, your efforts will forever be appreciated in my little corner of the world.

So, my faithful readers, please follow suit, either by commenting here or through your own blogs – who do you feel deserves a thank you? Let’s hear it for the world’s great teachers!

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