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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Floods

More on Change and Pause

Last week my 90 year old mother had to go to the hospital for some tests. She is fine now, but driving over to drop her off and pick her up, I had plenty of time to listen to the radio. As it happened I was on my local news station during the very moments when the stock market went through its wild collapse, dropping some five hundred points in less than half an hour. The market stablized later in the day, and since then analysts have tried to figure out what happened. As of today, the best theory is that computer trading now operates at speeds, and in ways, that market rules do not properly govern: tinyurl.com/36rjelm In other words, as I wrote on Friday, there is a sense in which technology no longer enhances our abilities (the way, say, a hammer drives a nail better than a rock does, or a typewriter can produce cleaner text than handwriting) but rather creates new fields of operation that we don’t entirely understand. 
       Another story — a relative of Marina’s from Uruguay told us that a small colony of wealthy Americans has moved to his country — in an effort at de-globalization. They are rich enough to own nice homes, to support local farming, to enjoy a robust cultural life, without having to depend on the wild rides of the global economy. That reminds me of the Slow Food movement — people who celebrate the local, the crafted, the carefully made. Clearly these options — moving to Uruguay, eating at speciality restaurants, are not available to everyone. But it is telling that a segment of the wealthy and priviliged are using their resources not to ride to tide, but to create a dam against it. 
       And that brings me back to us — I’ve described two trends — very rapid change especially in information as processed by technology, and small pockets of resistance. Then we come to our schools — where testing rules — and our libraries — fighting cutbacks. Yes our kids needs tools, need to be able to swim in the floods. But it is just weird that our schools seem to grow more static, more frozen, more attached to the testable, just as the world we are preparing our students to enter moves in entirely different directions. I suspect our students are learning more, and more quickly, then I did. But are they learning to be supple in their thinking? Where does cramming interfere with thinking — or is it that our educational system is itself flooded — with students, with differing levels of ability, with demands on the system, with technology — and it too is freezing up? What then can we all do to experiment, to try out new models, to give our kids new ways to swim?