Monday, April 14, 2008

thoughts on reading "we earth neurons"

Thoughts after reading We Earth Neurons (1999) by Daniel Dennett:
Some years ago a friend of mine in the Peace Corps told me about his efforts on behalf of a tribe of gentle Indians deep in the Brazilian forest. I asked him if he had been required to tell them about the conflict between the USA and the USSR. Not at all, he replied. There would be no point in it. They had not only never heard of either America or the Soviet Union, they had never even heard of Brazil! Who would have guessed that it is still possible to be a human being living in, and subject to the laws of, a nation without the slightest knowledge of that fact? If we find this astonishing, it is because we human beings, unlike all other species on the planet, are knowers. We are the ones–the only ones–who have figured out what we are, and where we are, in this great universe. And we are even beginning to figure out how we got here.
There are plenty of students in schools who have about as much idea as why they are there as those Indians know about the state of Brazil. Also there are lots of adults around who think the knowledge state of those Brazilians who don't know they are Brazilians is just as valid and valuable as our western knowledge.

Have we lost the will to educate because we haven't understood what makes us special as a species?

Humans are knowers.

If we see the purpose of education as more to do with entertainment, socialisation or vocation then our students won't see the main point.

If we capitulate to the post modern view that "all viewpoints are relative and equally valid" then our students won't get it, either.

If teachers think they have to compete with celebrities and sporting stars then will our students "get it"? No.

If we spend more time celebrating diversity and personal identity then understanding how the world actually works, then our students won't get it.

If schools are controlled by people who think child safety is more important then child learning then will our students get it? (al upton blog closure)

If society continues to treat educators like second rate citizens - if knowledge is not valued as that special, important human thing - then will our students get it?

There are plenty of students who think and some who say, "school is shit". Do we know what to say back to them?

Are we afraid of facing the future?
... if you want to find anxiety, despair, anomie today, look among the undereducated young people scavenging their dimly understood heritages (or popular culture) for a comfortable identity. Among intellectuals, look to the fashionable tribe of postmodernists, who would like to suppose that modern science is just another in a long line of myths, its institutions and expensive apparatus just the rituals and accouterments of yet another religion. That intelligent people can take this seriously is a testimony to the power that fearful thinking still has, in spite of our advances in self-consciousness. The postmodernists are right, of course, that science is just one of the things we might want to spend our extra calories on. The fact that science has been the major source of the efficiencies that created those extra calories does not entitle it to any particular share of the wealth it has created. But it still ought to be obvious that the methods and rules of science–not just its microscopes and telescopes and computers–are the new sense organs of our species, enabling us to answer questions, solve mysteries, and anticipate the future in ways no earlier human institutions can approach. The more we learn about what we are, the more options we will discern about what to try to become. We ... have long honored the “self-made man” but now that we are actually learning enough to be able to re-make ourselves into something new, many flinch. Many people would apparently rather bumble around with their eyes closed, trusting in tradition, than look around to see what’s about to happen. Yes, it is unnerving; yes, it can be scary. After all, there are many entirely new mistakes we are now empowered to make. But it’s the beginning of a great new adventure for our knowing species–and much more exciting, as well as safer, if we open our eyes. (We Earth Neurons)

1 comment:

Jecel said...

One small detail - the indians in the first story are not actually subject to brazilian laws. If they killed the Peace Corps guy, for example, they could not be tried for murder. It would be FUNAI (National Foundation for Supporting Indians), their legal guardian, that would be in trouble. They are treated like children or mentally incapacitated people in that regard.

Sadly, some people consider these indians' current knowledge not only as equally valid but actually superior to basic western civilitation facts and concepts. So they spend most of their time planning "Truman Show" style tricks to keep things as they are.