Coral Bleaching: what it should mean to us

I read an online BBC report this morning about Coral Bleaching. I have to admit that until recently I had never really known anything about the subject. The video above though will quickly explain all you need to know.

The point about Coral Bleaching is that it is caused by a rise in the ocean temperature. Corals are invertebrate animals that form vast colonies and have a skeletal outer covering. They may look like plants but they are animals and there are huge numbers of different corals. They become a home for many of the algae that live in the ocean and this algae is what gives the corals and the subsequent huge reefs that they form their distinctive colours.

To get some idea of the beauty and immensity of the great Australian Coral Reef look at the video below which was made to explain about the subject to children. I defy any adult not to be awed by the sheer beauty of the great reef.

Coral Bleaching will mean that vast areas of the Reef will lose its colour and any future rise in the ocean’s temperature can lead to the corals dying.

My point in writing this post is that the rise in the sea’s temperature is yet more proof that we are in a period of global warming. As I read the report from the BBC I wondered how President Trump and his senior climate-change deniers would explain this one away!

The saddest thing about it all is that we may already have passed the point where future generations will only have our videos or pictures to know just how incredible the Reef was.

I titled this post, “Coral Bleaching: What It Should Mean To Us” and I will conclude by saying that the bleaching and possible death of one of the great natural wonders of our beautiful planet is just a part of a much wider concern that global warming represents to everyone on Earth.

Despite the climate warming deniers there is already massive damage to life in our oceans. There are huge implications in a rise of the sea level worldwide for so many of us who live (as humans love to do) near the seashore.

Denying what is already happening will not make it go away. The children who the video above was made for would understand that, it seems that President Trump and many of his followers cannot.

The World’s Most Powerful Animal

I love the way that hyperlinks work. I usually start my day by checking my e-mails and often these have links within them which take me on a journey of discovery.

Today I received an e-mail from The Social Psychology Network that informed me of the following:

NEW PARTNER SITE! http://www.ActionTeaching.org/

Social Psychology Network has just launched a new partner site, ActionTeaching.org, designed to promote “action teaching”—the teaching counterpart to Kurt Lewin’s action research. The new site is packed with free resources, including 40 award-winning classroom activities, field experiences, and student assignments that instructors are welcome to use or adapt. Please stop by for a visit!

So I stopped by for a visit using the link. Once in a new site, you have further links to explore.

I tried the following:

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The following looked interesting mainly because of the picture:

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I found out that the Humane Education Institute has a number of online resources for teaching important aspects of our humanity to schoolchildren from primary through to the secondary sectors.

One that caught my eye (it is all about selectivity!) was the following:

The World’s Most Powerful Animal

One example of an activity we offer for grade school children is The World’s Most Powerful Animal, in which the teacher enters the classroom with two boxes and a letter, and asks the children to help solve a make-believe mystery:

“As I was on my way here, I passed through a forest. I was deep in thought, not really looking where I was going. Then suddenly, I bumped into a large tree. When I looked at the tree, I saw this Letter From the Universe tucked into a branch. I took it down, and to my surprise, saw that it was addressed to all of us! Under the letter were these two little boxes. I found this all a little puzzling, so I thought I’d bring the letter and boxes here so that we can solve the mystery together.”

The letter explains that one of the boxes contains the most dangerous animal in the world, and the other contains the most powerful animal (each box is carefully labelled and crafted with breathing holes). After reading the letter out loud, the teacher peers into the box labelled “most dangerous animal” and expresses shock before passing the box around to the students. As the children, one by one, open the lid and peer into the box, a mirror on the bottom reflects their own face. After discussing in an age-appropriate way how certain human activities endanger the environment, other animals, and each other, the teacher looks into the second box and breaks into a smile when peering inside. Again the teacher passes the box, and again the children see their own reflection. This time, the teacher explores the concept of using our power to solve problems and make the world a better place, eliciting ideas, examples, and inspiration from the children. (my emphasis).

The last sentence, with words made bold by me. explained why I was so interested in this lesson plan. It got children thinking and allowed them to examine their own lives. It involved them with the rest of humanity and it did not have specific answers that could later be tested.

This, to me, is the best sort of education. I hope that any of my colleagues reading this post will feel the same as I do, and explore this valuable site as well as many of the other links to sites on the Humane Education Resource that I found through a simple early morning exploration of the web!

 

The need for a progressive alliance

This post may come out as something of a political autobiography. In some ways my life around and sometimes, briefly, in, politics represents the journey taken by so many people of my age (I am now 64) in post-war Britain.

I was born and lived in a working class part of London (Stoke Newington, Hackney). My family (on my father’s side) was very political and had made the journey from Communism to a solid support for the Labour Party.

I joined the Labour Party in my part of Hackney when I was just 16 years of age and remember sitting outside St. Paul’s Church in Stoke Newington High Street giving out Labour leaflets accompanied by a school friend who was giving out leaflets for the Conservatives!

In those days (as now) Stoke Newington and Hackney North constituency was a safe Labour seat.  I was 17 years of age when the Conservatives managed to oust Harold  Wilson’s Labour Party from office where it had been since 1964. It did not seem to be much of a turning point for British politics but the next few years saw huge industrial unrest, constant pressure on sterling and a major change for our country as we entered the European Economic Community.

The experience of those years for the battered Tories would lead to them turning their back on the post-war consensus which I had grown up in. There had been a comfortable agreement on public spending and on the need to have social housing,  the National Health System was fully supported by both the main governing parties.

After the two 1974 elections, the country faced a Labour Government with a majority of just 3 seats and a Conservative Party that wanted radical change and managed to get it by the election in 1975 of Margaret Thatcher as Leader of the party.

This marked the end of the cosy post-war consensus that I had grown up with. The election of Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives in 1979 would see a raft of anti-trade union laws and a brutal conflict with the miners in the 1984-5 strike, the selling off of huge numbers of council homes and an economic policy that was deliberately about redistribution of income from the poor to the rich.

This government went through initial turbulent times but was saved by the rattling of a sword and a military adventure in deepest South America. It managed to regain popularity and the legend of Mrs Thatcher as “The Iron Lady” was born. It led to a period of  Conservative election victories that lasted up until 1997.

The result of these events for the Labour Party was that it went through a long period of soul-searching in opposition and eventually decided that if it couldn’t beat the Tories it would have to emulate them and did so under the leadership of Tony Blair, the bright, media-loving new generation of politician that was unafraid to ditch many of the ideas of the “old” Labour Party (such as nationalisation of major industries and social housing commitment).

During all of these changes, (1974 to 1997) I continued to support the Labour Party. I despaired at the in-fighting and the frustrations of trying to get a message across that the new property owners did not want to listen to. Thatcher had introduced a social as well as an economic revolution and I saw constituencies that had once been rock-solid Labour (like Basildon) go over to the Conservatives.

I was now a teacher in Essex (having qualified in 1979) and I saw the beginnings of many changes in education with the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988 and the growing influence of testing under the increasingly powerful Ofsted. I had hopes that the new Blair Government would reverse many of the changes that I had hated so much

Despite my hopes, the new Blair Government reversed precious little.  “New Labour” was not about change, it was about management of the revolution,  not reversal. Blair wanted to be a more efficient Thatcher and the Murdoch press loved him.

It was during the Blair years that I became disenchanted with Labour and stopped voting for them. I went through a period of looking for an alternative that I briefly found in the Liberal-Democrats and even distributed Lib-Dem leaflets in Southend-on-Sea, where I lived at the time.

The 2010 Lib-Dem/Tory Coalition put an end to all that. I was never a member of the Liberal Democrats but was tempted to join briefly so as I could resign in protest! The Labour Party was divided between the Blairites who wanted a Blair Mark 2 to get them back to managing the economy and the people who called for a return to the old ways that successive electorates had spurned.

I went through a period of non-party support and, indeed, although I so much appreciate the right to vote and how people in the past had suffered so as I had the chance to have a vote, I abstained from voting for a number of years.

In the last three years,  I have supported the Green Party, as they seemed to represent the core values that I have always tried to keep, belief in internationalism as against a narrow nationalism, state support for the needy, money for a decent education and support to the hilt for our amazing National Health System.

Yesterday I read a really interesting article from the New Statesman entitled

Senior Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians call for a progressive alliance

I couldn’t agree with this more. Indeed I had already become a member of “More United”  an online organisation that has attempted to support whichever candidate of any of the “Progressive” parties could win in any particular constituency. For example, we voted to support the Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Olney in the 2016 Richmond Park by-election. We supported the Labour candidate Gareth Snell in the 2016 Stoke-On-Trent Central by-election.

It seems to me that there is no way, in the current political situation of a right-wing, neoliberal, Brexit chasing Conservative Party that a Labour Party that has been decimated in its old stronghold of Scotland, can ever gain power on its own. It can though agree to ally itself with other parties who collectively can defeat the Conservatives who manage to rule the country (and gerrymander the constituencies of a future parliament) on just over one-third of the popular vote.

The problem, of course, is that change is hard and people hold on to their cherished beliefs. Co-operation is not easy but, as the More United examples mentioned above show, it can be done.

As someone who was born into the Labour Party, drifted away under Blair, briefly flirted with the Lib-Dems and now has a home in the Greens, I feel I can speak in saying that there is a radical alternative and it is more important to unite and rule than bicker amongst ourselves in opposition to the Tories destroying all the things that we hold dear.

I fear that we will continue to bicker for a long time yet but hope that eventually, we will see the need for a truly progressive alliance.

The Divided Brain and the Search For Meaning

I read a blog post yesterday that referred to a book that I had started to read a few months ago but had stopped due to the heavy nature of its subject matter. The book was called “The Master and His Emissary”  by Iain McGilchrist.

I decided to try and reread the book following the recommendation of the blog’s author and found that McGilchrist had written a short e-book called “The Divided Brain and The Search For Meaning”. where he effectively summarises his book in simpler language as a sort of introduction to his magnum opus.

At the huge cost of 99p I electronically purchased this book and spent a useful few hours reading it. The book presents McGilchrist’s arguments about the importance to the development and decline of western civilisation of left cerebral hemisphere dominance.

Mahemm1Mahemm2McGilchrist

He examines the evidence that he had collected over a twenty year period in writing his original book  about the significant differences of the two cerebral hemispheres. These two hemispheres are asymmetrical and in evolutionary terms could only have developed to oversee different main jobs. (McGilchrist though goes into great detail to debunk the “Split Mind” theory made  popular in the 1970’s by Roger Sperry and others. The hemispheres do tasks collectively but have a broader specialisation).

In evolutionary terms McGilchrist explains how the development of different-tasked hemispheres of the brain came about by giving an example of a bird. The bird needs to focus on his small grains of food in the midst of dirt and grit but at the same time if his concentration is specific to that action alone he may become some other creature’s lunch! There is therefore a need for specific attention and a roaming “broad” attention that works at the same time.

Thus we have the right hemisphere that thinks in pictures, not language, that has an all-encompassing approach to examining the environment and there is the left hemisphere that is about specifics, language, logic and end result.

The ability of the left hemisphere to abstract is a great strength but also a huge weakness according to McGilchrist. He finishes his excellent short e-book with a concern that our western society has gone far too far down the road of left-hemisphere dominance by concentrating on end-result to the detriment of the bigger picture. A great example would be the massive mining of the world’s resources causing pollution. climate change and (in the past) massive health damage.

I am fascinated by the ideas that McGilchrist puts forward. He himself is a remarkable intellectual having studied literature originally and then become a doctor so that he could become a psychiatrist!

To get a really good visual and linguistic appreciation of some of his ideas I would ask you to watch the short RSA video below. Read the e-book and, if you’re brave, attempt the big book!

Brexit: Mission Impossible?

As Britain is about to “trigger” Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.

 

To start off with | What is Article 50?

  • Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon gives any EU member the right to quit unilaterally, and outlines the procedure for doing so
  • There was no way to legally leave the EU before the Treaty was signed in 2007
  • It gives the leaving country two years to negotiate an exit deal
  • Once set in motion, it cannot be stopped except by unanimous consent of all member states
  • Any deal must be approved by a “qualified majority” of EU member states and can be vetoed by the European Parliament

I have emphasised the key point of Article 50, which is that the process of withdrawal is supposed to happen in two years. Now  two years would seem a long time to negotiate a withdrawal from any organisation. But the European Union is no ordinary organisation.

We are not splitting up a company, having a domestic divorce or even seeing a change of political administration. Since Britain became a member of the E.E.C. in 1970 (later to become the European Union following the 1993 Maastricht Treaty), we have become one of  the largest and most important players in a significant political, economic and legal entity that affects many aspects of our everyday lives.

The splitting up from this Union is therefore an incredibly complicated process. As I have outlined above it has to take into consideration political agreement, new trade treaties with what has become our most important trading partner and the need to change a significant proportion of our laws relating to working conditions, education and habitation as well as right to social security and other benefits to EU nationals living and working in Britain and the rights of our fellow citizens working and living in EU countries.

The key point here is that all this has to be settled (according to the wording of Article 50, which was , as it happens, drafted by by Scottish cross-bench peer and former diplomat Lord Kerr of Kinlochard) in two years!

I read an article (online) from the Financial Times that I think does a brilliant job in trying to explain the minefield that Britain is about to enter after we “trigger” the clause this Wednesday (29th March). It is titled:

Brexit: everything you need to know about Article 50

I would strongly recommend anyone to read it if they are seeking some light in the smog that surrounds this crucial issue.

We are about to start what could be the most significant change in the history of my country in my lifetime and indeed since the ending of the Second World War. I saw an interesting debate from the London School of Economics on YouTube the other day about Brexit following the triggering of article 50. One of the speakers gave two possible scenarios for what might happen over the next two years.

(1) We get an agreement about trade, rights of EU and British nationals and are able to set up a smooth exit that is mutually agreeable to both Britain and the EU.

(2) The whole thing ends in no agreement and Britain is essentially cast adrift with huge problems about trade deals, the rights of our planes to land in the E.C. and facing the exit of valuable workers from the EU from our economy.

The F.T. article included a brilliant little video entitled “Brexit: Mission Impossible?”. It is to be hoped that we do not drift towards the realisation of the second scenario outlined by the L.S.E. professor for our sakes and most significantly for the sakes of our children and their descendants for many years to come!

 

Listening to each other

In the distant past people would sit around a fire and listen intently to the person telling a long story.

Writing hadn’t been invented yet but language had. People enjoyed listening to stories that could be fictitious or some recollection about a hunt or a journey to explore new worlds (probably just up the road by modern standards!).

People loved the mythologies that was a collective invention by the group or tribe and would embellish stories that could be passed on from one generation to the next. These stories fed the imaginations but also served as a kind of glue that allowed a group to create a common culture. They  defined morality and created the heroes that represented  the standards and ambitions of the group.

I remember my father once gave me a beautiful book about “cavemen” that had a superb illustration of a raging fire with men sitting around it with awed looks on their faces as the Shaman or Chief told his tale.

The thing that was also obvious from the picture was that everyone around the circle was listening intently. Every word would be heard and they would be able to later recall much of the story to their friends and family who were not present.

The ability to listen was a key skill in passing on stories and all the attendant social, political and moral attitudes that defined the group. Listening was not something that just developed. It would have been honed from childhood by parents and carers talking to children and “educating” them into the groups ways.

It seems to me that the key skill of listening carefully to others has declined appreciably in our modern society. This stems in so many ways from early childhood where parents seem less and less to read or tell stories to their offspring. Nowadays many children watch the television or play video games until they are told to switch off and go to bed.

As a teacher for many years I noticed how “listening skills” were often lacking. Children could not follow instructions, they missed key points of explanation and would even have problems in listening to each other in small groups or paired work.

In the wider society we seem to have the same problem. I often listen to “Question Time” on Radio 5 on a Thursday evening. The questions are asked and the panel seems to have their own opinions based on their political positions (right, left or centre) but very rarely do you have a panellist agreeing to something that someone has just said. It often turns into a collection of political statements reflecting personal prejudices.

I thought of this today when I read a Facebook entry by an American cousin who is a doctor. He was asked to attend a meeting in Washington D.C. of physicians from across the country to discuss the forthcoming Republican Bill to change/reform the Obama Healthcare Act.

My cousin is a registered Democrat who has no love of the current President. He stated though that he had read the bill carefully and that there were parts of it that actually corrected some of the parts of the Obama Act that made good sense to him.

He stated that it was important to read, to discuss and most importantly to listen to arguments from both the Republicans and the Democrats and to be prepared to compromise, change what needed to changed and leave what makes sense.

Unfortunately his words are likely to be drowned in the sound of biased political rhetoric that constitutes political discussion both sides of the Atlantic these days.

We desperately need to learn again the ancient skills of our forebears, to listen intently and discuss from what has been said rather than from our entrenched positions.

Haim Ginott, the Israeli Philosopher and Teacher once said that in a classroom discussion the person who speaks next should have to explain the last speaker’s points before they spoke. This is to prove one thing, that they were listening! I think maybe panellists on Question Time, Members of the U.S. Congress and indeed all of us, might have far better discussions and maybe meeting of minds if they did the same!

We desperately need to relearn how to really listen to each other.

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Hidden figures: The fight for race and gender equality

A couple of days ago, I gave my wife an idea for one of her entries for her Facebook Friendship Group. I suggested that she gave the members of the group the chance to suggest what film or films had really impressed them in the last year. I thought that recommendations would be useful to other members to look up or go and see these films.

I suggested “Lion”, the film about a young Indian boy who travelled over 1000 miles in a train and finished up in a Mumbai orphanage and was later adopted by a Tasmanian couple. Suggestions from the others were Viceroys House, Hacksaw Ridge, Fences and Hidden Figures.

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The last in the list sounded interesting to me so I looked it up. It was based on the true story of young black female human “computers” who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (N.A.C.A.). It was based upon the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.

In the book Shetterly documents the lives of a little known but significant contribution that these women made to the American space project. One woman in particular played a significant part in working out the key mathematical information needed to get the first successful manned rocket flight up and back safely and contributed to  Apollo 11’s  first landing by man on the Moon and the successful rescue of the Apollo 13 flight. Her name is Katherine Johnson and her story in itself is inspiring.

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Now the fact that Johnson was born in the American South in 1918 meant a number of things. Her early precocity in being able to read and showing signs of brilliance in mathematics was not going to get her the chance to get any form of education beyond 8th grade. College for a black woman was almost unknown.

Her father took the unusual step of backing his children (she had 3 siblings) and drove 120 miles to find a black college that his daughter could continue her education in. Even after she graduated there were few opportunities for gifted female mathematicians in the segregated and racist American South.

She was fortunate in getting a position at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton Virginia. She was one of a large number of female “computers”, who in the days before electronic computers, would spend all day and every day number crunching huge amounts of data. The black “computers” were housed in what was called the “West Building” which had inferior facilities (including toilets) and they were not allowed to go into the main (whites only) building where the main research was going on in support of missile and space technology.

Katherine proved herself to be more than just a number cruncher. She had a superb mathematical mind and was able to assist NACA and later N.A.S.A. (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) as it became, to do significant calculations about flightpaths and re-entry points that made potentially disastrous flights into the space triumphs that we witnessed in the 1960’s.

In the film, which, like all Hollywood versions of true stories, tends to put glamour and gloss over everyday struggles, the problems that Katherine and her colleagues faced in overcoming prejudice because they were black and female is well depicted. They were often excluded from attending meetings, they were not allowed to see so-called “confidential” information and they had to face the day-to-day problems of acceptance by their colleagues.

My interest in this story is based upon my amazement that in the face of prejudice on two fronts (gender and race) these women managed to continue their studies and prove to succeeding generations that women can be good mathematicians and that black people are no different from any other race in their ability to make a major contribution to this world.

The sadness of it all is that there are still so many young black and Latino children in deprived areas of America who face problems in getting a proper education and whose ability to make the contribution that their talents fit them for is cut off. What other contributions would we have seen in our world if the barriers and walls of prejudice were not erected? Katherine is not a one-off she is an example of what could be.