Why We Believe the Things We Believe
I recently gave a lecture for the City of Scottsdale Green Building Lecture Series. The lecture theme was, “Exploring innovative and trendsetting projects that excel in energy efficiency, material resources, water reuse, and unique building design solutions.” It just so happens that natural building addresses each of those issues so I applied and was accepted to speak. After giving the lecture and learning more about Green Building, I realized it’s another area in which the decisions made don’t logically address the problems they set out to solve. And so here I am once again trying to make sense of something. The purpose of this blog series is to bring into focus distorted societal views, how they relate to education, and to examine how perception creates reality.
I will use building (Green vs. Natural) as my example of how we are missing the boat on important societal issues. However, before I can delve into the Green vs. Brown building scenario, I find it important to outline some of our societal beliefs and why we have come to accept certain ideas as reality. This is the first of a series of blogs under this title.
As a teacher, I am constantly looking to the educational system to solve our problems but in many cases I find that it actually perpetuates the dysfunctional aspects of society. One of the issues is that we don’t teach students how to discern information. The classroom can no longer be a place where students are just fed information. It must become a place where students use creative problem solving to come up with logical solutions to real-world problems. Too many classrooms simply give students information, expect them to memorize it, regurgitate it for an exam, and then move on to another topic. The result is twofold; students don’t discern information and their creativity, to either invent or problem solve, is not developed. Check out Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on how education kills creativity. (http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html)
The first step to making changes is to acknowledge that there is a problem. Our society is a measure of our educational system’s effectiveness. Let’s just look at three areas: environment, health, and relationships. It’s quite clear we are destroying the natural environment and polluting the things that sustain life (water, air, ecosystem) We eat foods that don’t promote health and are in fact unnatural, and the result is obvious; we have the highest rates of preventable dis-ease. Finally, divorce rates, violence, and military invasions signal our inability to have healthy relationships at every level.
To blame teachers for poor student achievement holds the same logic as blaming a dentist for the cavities of each patient or a doctor for obesity rates. Teachers do play a vital role in academic achievement but there are many more variables to consider. The educational system, as a whole, is very confusing to a student. About the extent of environmental education in school is a blue recycling bin in the classroom. We tell students to be healthy but look at what we feed them and what we allow them to purchase in snack machines. We talk to them about getting along with each other, yet as a society we support war. We have endless opportunities to educate students about these issues but we simply don’t. I do want to say that I’m speaking in general terms as there are plenty of schools doing amazing things, but as a whole, our schools are failing.
What I see is a total disconnect between societal issues and what we actually teach our students to prepare for. Few actually step up to address these issues and those that do step up are labeled radical. I’ll give just one example. At a school improvement meeting a few years ago we were talking about taking a holistic approach to education. In other words, we wanted to improve how we supported the whole child as he/she went through our school. There were plenty of brilliant ideas related to learning but it ended there. I recommended we eliminate snack machines on campus. The only sound was that of teachers munching on sugary snacks and slurping their sodas laced with high fructose corn syrup. With the facts about how sugar affects attention, I wanted to know why we would keep snack machines available to students, not to mention how we could justify allowing students to slowly kill themselves on our watch. The only response was that snack machines brought in ‘X’ amount of dollars used to buy uniforms for school sports. Nobody else, out of a room of 15 educators, would take a stand. After that, I was labeled ‘radical’ and the ‘vocal minority’ on campus, along with a few other logically thinking revolutionaries.
Radical is what we’ll have to do when we run out of clean drinking water.
Radical will be the changes we’ll have to make when we run out of fossil fuels. Imagine riding a bike, horse, or walking? That’s insanely radical!
Radical is bombing a residential area in another country under the name of national security.
The truth is that we mislead students in school and make them believe things like concrete, Wal-Mart, and fast food are actually OK and they are NOT! We prepare students to simply perpetuate the ignorance of our consumer society and the result is that when they get into the real world, they don’t question anything. That’s the way things are and how things have always been, according to students. Children think we’ve always been drinking out of plastic water bottles and that if we put them in a blue bin, no harm has been done. Nobody ever talks about the other ‘R’s in Recycling (Reduce and Reuse) and these are quite a bit more important and will make more of a difference in our natural environment than recycling. Reduce means that instead of using plastic water bottles, you reduce your dependence on them. You buy a reusable water bottle and use a glass to drink water at home. We used to carry water bottles with us when we left the house but now we actually drink bottled water at home. That’s radical! Find out the facts about bottled water (http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/bottled/) and watch an excellent documentary about water. (Flow: http://www.flowthefilm.com/)
We have done an amazing job at creating an unsustainable reality. None of this happened by chance of course. We like to say that we are ‘moving forward’ and ‘making advancements’ as a society but that’s only because we are evaluating using different benchmarks: cheap, fast, and convenient. That’s how we measure things today. Concrete is good because it allows things to be built faster and can last a long time. Wal-Mart is great because it’s cheap and it houses everything under one roof so you don’t have to drive anywhere else. Fast food and processed food is awesome because nobody has time to cook since our favorite reality TV show is on. I’m not going to go into the reasons why concrete, Wal-Mart, and fast food is bad but if you really don’t know, email me. I’ll be happy to share that information with you.
The reason I know education isn’t teaching children how to discern information is because the general public simply accepts what its told. Once mainstream media has published something, a viewpoint different from theirs is labeled a conspiracy. People lose the ability to see the possibility of another truth. It wasn’t long ago that the tobacco industry paid doctors to market cigarettes. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCMzjJjuxQI) In other words, ask a child in the 60’s if smoking was bad for you and they’d say that it wasn’t because that’s what everyone was told. The research had been done on smoking but the tobacco industry threw an exorbitant amount of money spinning the information, marketing, perjuring themselves in court and settling out of court. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOIspYHik2g&feature=player_embedded#!)
By then it was too late and the addictive hook was set and there was no turning back. Smoking caught on and just to give you an idea at what kind of money we are talking about, in 2008, the CDC reported that the tobacco industry spent an average of $29 million each day on marketing smoking and smokeless products! That’s radical! Ask any child today if smoking is good or bad for your health and they’ll tell you it causes lung cancer. This is a result of years of anti-smoking campaigns. If that much is spent on advertising, imagine the profits. Imagine the amount of money spent on anti-smoking campaigns and the amount of money it costs us in health care. My point here is that the truths have changed. You would have been labeled a conspiracy theorist back in the 1960’s if you said smoking was bad for you because doctors were endorsing tobacco. Today, you would be labeled an idiot if you say that smoking is good for you. Did the truth change? Of course not. Smoking has always been bad for your health; only our perception of it has changed.
It wasn’t long ago that 99% of births took place in the home and today 99% take place in the hospital. (The Business of Being Born – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0995061/) I won’t comment on my personal beliefs about birthing but the point is that children think it’s normal for a birth to take place in the hospital and think it’s absurd and unsafe to have a child at home. This is simply not true. GM built an electric car, the EV1, that could go 60mpg (in gasoline equivalency) but because of political reasons, they ended up recalling and crushing all of the models. This was a truth large corporations were not ready present to the public so we think we don’t have the ability to build a car that gets good gas mileage. As long as we dumbed down, we have no control. (Watch Who Killed the Electric Car http://www.whokilledtheelectriccar.com/)
There are literally hundreds of examples of things that are no longer what they used to be because we’ve either learned the truth or we have successfully masked it.
The sooner we can actually see the truth in front of us, the sooner we can start to educate our children to make better decisions than we have made. It will be, at that point, that we can begin to heal ourselves and the natural environment. More importantly, we will be raising a generation of children that can discern information and who won’t be persuaded by the distorted realities that are so readily promoted.