The above answers on the chalkboard were written in response to the question, "What is it that you're seeing now, at this end point of all that we've discussed in this Transcendentalism unit? Please synthesize it in a ten minute freewrite now, and highlight the most valuable idea from this freewrite, then write this gem on the board."
I first seeded the idea for this unit three years ago when I attended an EARCOS Teachers' conference in Bangkok, Thailand, where Ian Jukes was the keynote speaker, working with concepts that he formed from reading Thomas L. Friedman's NY Times' Bestseller The World is Flat. To view a brief summary just in case you need it, as well as information on his latest book Hot, Flat and Crowded, which deals with the same issues my students and I have within this unit: http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/bookshelf/the-world-is-flat
Mr. Ian Jukes proposed this thought at his keynote address: "Our children are not the students our schools were designed for: understanding digital kids." In addition, I attended further sessions with Ian Jukes, entitled: "Beyond TTWWADI (That's the Way We've Always Done It)", as well as "From Gutenberg to Gates to Google and Beyond: .EDU meets .COM," "Windows on the Future Revisited: New Schools for the New World," and "Getting it Right: Aligning Technology Initiatives for Measurable Student Results." I also attended many other workshops during this three day conference, which lead me to a new view, seeding a new understanding within me of what is happening to our students, ourselves, and us as a collective global community at a certain level of consciousness.
What my students and have done specifically in this unit is to first view Annie Leonard's and Free Range Studio's online video, The Story of Stuff; the 20 minute online video takes the viewer on a provocative tour of our consumer-driven culture - from resource extraction to iPod incineration. It is a fast-paced look at the underside of production, consumption, and waste; you can view it either on http://www.youtube.com/, or at http://www.storyofstuff.com/. To view a students' summary of the story of stuff: http://transparenteyeballers.blogspot.com/2009/05/story-of-stuff.html.
The students, next had to do web based research, ultimately printing up the three most relevant resources and then producing a summary of what their resources had to say about the impacts from excessive consumption on environmental degradation, both globally and in Taiwan. The second night the students did the same process, but this time with the essential question: "What is excessive consumerism's impact on both individuals' personal levels of happiness, and societal levels of happiness?" as this was spoken to in Annie Leonard's video, alongside the environmental impact. Another consideration that made exploring this second question relevant is my awareness of depression being the third biggest disease planet wide, after cancer and heart problems. Additionally, in working with bicultural Taiwanese and American teens, this question seemed even more relevant in some ways. One of the students, Fiona, found this very telling piece of research, "The Consumer Paradox: Scientists Find that Low Self-Esteem and Materialism Goes Hand in Hand" at http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/11/the-consumer-pa.html.
Their research led them to varying degrees of disgust and anger, frustration and feelings of "what can I do? What can one little un-empowered person do to fight this level of conditioning that mass society endorses? And quite frankly, I voluntarily particpate in?" I actually had one student come to me privately, and confess, "Ms. Kay, I'd talk to my other classmates about this, the ones who haven't taken your class, but they'd think I'm crazy if I started questioning shopping downtown, and started to talk about waste reduction or recyling. I'd be ostracized."
This one, rather desperate confession is both very telling of the consumer culture we're embedded in over here in Taiwan as well, and is quite central to the establishment of this blog. The intention with this blog is to reach out to others who are concerned and doing their part in bettering our current state of living on this planet, and to allow the expansion my students felt during this unit to grow, not be contained. As you'll see community, being a central concept in Emerson's "Self-Reliance" essay, as well as one of the underlying, common solutions to our current global situation, functioning as a collective of healthy individuals each sharing their own unique being and potential contributing to the larger collective, was one of the most profound realizations my students had.
As a side note here, one of my students, after reading the chapters from Quantum Shift in the Global Brain: How the New Scientific Reality Can Change us and Our World, he admitted shock at the idea that simply helping others around them is in fact, a solution with much bigger implications than he had ever stopped to think about and realize.
So, back to their trail they blazed during this unit - After they conducted their research, we had round table discussions, during which they presented their findings, and I guided them to a pointed focus on the core problems.
The fourth night, after these round table discussions, and a documenting on poster board paper of the problems, they researched solutions to both the issue of environmental degredation and the fact that depression is the third biggest disease planet wide, following cancer and heart disease.
We went back into round table discussions, focusing on what others are doing out there. I then gave them the first three chapters to Ervin Laszlo's Quantum Shift in the Global Brain: How the New Scientific Reality Can Change Us and Our World. Laszlo is a Norway based, Peace Prize Nominee, and author of a plethora of books studying the marriage of science and the evolution of humans in our current global environment. To view a brief synopsis of his books, and to view other titles by him within the same subject: http://www.powells.com/biblio?isbn=9781594772337
The three chapters began with Laszlo's multidimensional, multisystem worldview of the current problems we are facing as a global community, including ten outdated myths prevalent in our global thinking, and then went into presenting a multidimensional, multisystem worldview in harmony with the world's greatest spritual traditions. So I started them on the path of clues towards the possible solutions, with this first packet. To view a students' summary of the book: http://transparenteyeballers.blogspot.com/2009/05/quantum-shift.html.
It would help here upon this path of discovery for you to know that approximately a month before, at the beginning of the Romanticism unit, as we shifted out of the classical era with the Age of Reason, I gave them a rather challenging reading by the often radical, outspoken Osho, from his book Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously. The chapter that I gave them is entitled, "When the New Knocks on Your Door, Open it." To view a synopsis of this powerful work - it feels like he's both screaming at you and lecturing you (I also use Osho and this chapter to also teach the students about the literary techniques of tone and diction and mood) - please go to: http://tribes.tribe.net/8644c865-e362-4b4d-917e-a8ca42c4fd9d/thread/dc9a866a-ff46-4d7e-bf5c-e8fa0f09fa3d
The second packet came from Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat. There is that link above to Powell's book store for the book's review and synopsis.
The next reading, which was over a weekend so that they would have some quiet to take in this new level of more metaphysical, and challenging, ideas - ideally to launch them into the type of framework that Emerson wrote from - was from Deepak Chopra's Book of Secrets. The students read about how at the most fundamental, biological basis our bodies' cellular activity is communal, and working for the overall well-being of the body. To view a further summary of what they took in for ideas in this packet, please go to: http://transparenteyeballers.blogspot.com/2009/05/book-of-secrets-html.
The next reading, interspersed with class discussion of his ideas, both in smaller cooperative learning groups while I circulated and reviewed their summaries written after reading the packet to check for understanding, and then later in whole class discussion, as well as freewriting to give the students time to integrate these new ideas, was also from Deepak Chopra. This time it was from The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire. The chapter they read is entitled, "Matter, Mind and Spirit." Within this chapter, Chopra takes quantum physics and explains it in laypersons' terms, where he goes into an explanation of the three domains: the physical, the quantum, and the virtual. Through the denseness of the physical that is slow enough for our five sensory organs to perceive, to the wave and particle activity of the quantum domain, to the pure potential of the virtual domain, Chopra makes these scientific discoveries understandable. To view an extended summary of the ideas the students took in within this chapter, please go to: http://transparenteyeballers.com/2009/05/key-concept-of-matter-mind-and-spirit.html.
We then had to stay with these ideas for a few classtimes, due to their complexity, continuing in freewriting sessions both in class and at home, cooperative learning groups, and whole class discussion, where I worked to guide their thinking to seeing with clarity these complex ideas. My students well let me let them speak for themselves. They are amazing. They took to these ideas like peanut butter soaks up strawberry jam. Naturals.
After this intense visit into the dense groundwork lain so that they can eventually successfully wrestle with Emerson, with modern day relevance and interest now raised, I gave them "How To Read Philosophy", a chapter from How To Read a Book. This was a bit more tangible for them in their literary interpretation work coming up with Emerson.
Finally, in working towards answering the question of what is the solution to our modern day globalized issues, I gave them an article from the What is Enlightenment magazine, renamed EnligthenNext magazine, http://www.englightennext.org/magazine/mag/transform.asp?ppc-google-mag, founded by Andrew Cohen, from the Fall/Winter issue 0f 2005, entitled Are You Ready to Change Now? Exploring the dynamics of human transformation. The article they read is entitled "The Never-Ending Upwared Quest: A WIE Editor Encounters the Practical and Spiritual Wisdom of Spiral Dynamics; an interview with Dr. Don Beck." To read a brief summary of this profound article's - this spiral dynamics system was used during the turnover from the apartheid system in South Africa - core concepts, please go to:
The pictures above with the writing on the chalkboard reflect their thoughts at this point of the unit, as we met in cooperative learning groups after individual freewriting, and then whole class discussions. One more supplemental article to read and this was Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. To view the text of this down to earth, powerful speech (I teared up at this point when I reviewed it, just before giving it to my students this year): http://nobelprize.org/cgi-bin?from=
This lead to the students then synthesizing all of these ideas together in one final essay, after freewriting for two more sessions post class discussion, as their final assessment at the end of this unit. These essays appear on our forum, which is linked to our site, on the list of links to the right; or you can click here to get to our forum: www.transparency.phpbb9.com/.
There are also responses to this initial blog post below that reflect what the students learned from this unit, personally; meaning what held value for them, above and beyond working with the concepts themselves and applying them to our world. For me, it served as a bit of a pat on the back, as well as a clear message that rather than shut down this learning and expansion process, let's see where it wants to go, by reaching out and putting it on the web and see what kind of community might evolve out of it.
Working with the unlimited potential and the natural tendancy for expansion...
One final article was given to the students from the same What is Enlightenment magazine edition to prepare them for the unlimited potential that they were going to begin the next day in class with Emerson's "Nature" essay: "I am not the body, I am the soul. Breaking Limits with Sri Chinmoy and Ashrita Furman." This article's review can be viewed: http://transparenteyeballers.blogspot.com/2009/05/I-am-not-the-body-i-am-the-soul.html.