What can prepare us for this?


I sat with my wife and 20 year old daughter last night watching a television documentary about Darfur and the crisis that exists there. The images were compelling, as was the commentary and interviews with those involved. It made me think of a recent entry I made on my blog about the interactive game, Darfur is Dying, and wonder just how effective playing this game is in really helping children understand the situation that the people in this country are facing.

My 20 year old daughter has just returned from a six month stint in central America as part of a Global Volunteer Network scheme – spending three months in Honduras helping build a house for a family, and a further three months in El Salvador working in an orphanage. Her experiences were nowhere near as extreme as what we watched together on TV last night, but they have left her just as troubled about how she as a single individual might work to alleviate the suffering of others. She has spoken to me at length about the plight of the young girls she worked with in the orphanage, plucked from a life of poverty, but destined to a life of prostitution or roadside begging once they are too old to remain in the orphanage – how terrible the cycle is.

She has returned to NZ with thoughts of training as a teacher (focusing on her interest in science, particularly chemistry) – but is currently wondering just where she might best put her energies. Understandably, she wants to act now – but is also discerning enough to understand that there may be a lot more she can achieve with some sort of training or qualification behind her.

It’s a dilemma – How might our education system better prepare our young people for facing this sort of world? When in our education process is it appropriate to expose students to this sort of situation? Can it be done without appearing tokenistic? How do we best prepare our students to develop the right attitudes of mind and dispositions to cope when they are exposed? What sort of qualification does it take to prepare one for work in this area?

I can’t help but find myself contemplating the message in the letter that Will Richardson wrote recently to his kids, titled Dear Kids, You Don???t Have to Go to College. What advice should I give my daughter?

5 thoughts on “What can prepare us for this?

  1. What a very compelling storey Derek. Will Richardson as well. Someone needs to take the bull by the horns and make some brave decisions about the future and the way things are now and the way they should be. So go for it, follow your heart. I agree with Will that you can expose your depth of knowledge and understanding by what you have done and your social networks rather than a piece of paper on the wall. By the time you finish that bit of paper you may want to do something else as you should be able to. All the best I know one thing you can never make the wrong decision as long as you follow your heart and you are at peace with yourself

  2. Interesting stuff Derek.

    Sounds like you have already given some good advice along the way and your daughter has made some good decisions and has grown to care deeply about other places and people.

    There’s tonnes of stuff written about the place of educaiton around the kind of crisis that’s unsettling you both. It seems to me that fundamentally as a civilization we are very unsocialised to understanding how we connect to people and places through our own actions. People have explanations for this – capitalism separating us from needing to understand how things grow and are made, a loss of cultural tradition associated with seasons/ weather/ nature generally, globalisation hiding connections between first world consumption and third world production, politics, media etc… Schools often cop blame for being isolated from society but I see some schools (including those using modern technologies of connection)attempting to nurture student identities that are disposed to care and understand their place in complex interdependent systems. Schools can start on this really early by putting kids in (steadly more complex and ambitious)situations where their actions make real differences in the world, and by walking the talk in being an institution that is part of a bigger ecology of human and ‘place’ relationships. Some environmental ed approaches and health promotion frameworks are examples of schools collapsing distinctions between self-understanding, learning and real action for positive change.

    Given that your daughter is already down the track of wanting to make a real difference on this earth, my experience of people at this crossroads of ‘career planning’ is that real social change needs people with technical skills – in some cases the skills of ‘the enemy’. The people who are making a real difference are those with a high sense of personal agency and a skill set and thinking skills to apply to complex problems. This includes areas like business, law,medicine engineering, economics or science – something that gives them an insider knowledge of systems that can and should be applied to global social justice. For instance, would the guy who started “surf aid” have really gotten anything going if he wasn’t also a doctor?

    A fellow blogger, Dave Pollard suggests that to find your sweet spot career wise, you need to be in a zone where your skills, your passion, and ‘what’s needed’ all line up. It sounds like your daughter is pulling together these three things really well.

  3. Thanks for these comments David – appreciate your wisdom. The idea of equipping ourselves with an appropriate level of education and skills is something I also believe is important.

    I guess another dimension of my musing is the whole issue of how effectively we can bring experiences of this sort to the awareness of learners through vicarious game playing or simulation.

    I appreciated the reference to Dave Pollard’s work re the sweet spot in our careers. Hope that’s the experience you’re having with your move.

  4. I discovered recently that David Gibson is running a program in the States that is actively trying to involve high school students in learning and making a difference in the world. International teams of students work together on real world problems. This year’s focus is on global climate change. See http://www.globalchallengeaward.org/
    I think experiences like this would make world challenges more real to students and would help them feel they could make a difference.

  5. In terms of games, in the interests of advancing educational thinking in this area (yeah right) I have been playing Civilisation 4 (not strictly a serious game but containing a goal around managing a complex system of economic, warfare, ecology, diplomacy, and cultural variables. I have been totally hooked on it for about 50 hours. An interesting thing happened after about 40 of these hours – I got a bit bored with expansion, economic growth and diplomacy. I totally lost interest in the happiness of my citizens or the cultural greatness of my empire. I wanted something a bit more primal. So I went about declaring war, one by one, on every other civilisation. I have been opening many cans of WA ever since.

    Perhaps my aggressive turn was the inevitable ultimate reaction to reaching the limits of my economic expansion and colonialism? Or perhaps it was a reversion to my early 80s past of simple 2d destroy the universe with a spaceship orientated video parlour games?

    Becuse the game is not as subtle as real life I am also the reigning secretary general of the UN, even though I am very much pursuing the military path against the rest of the world.

    One very interesting learning from my military aggression has emerged: my war technology (tanks, jets, crack infantry units, submarines) is far superior to my bow-weilding, elephant riding, armour wearing opposition. This is like a chapter in the book guns germs and steel – the proximate causes of my victories are superior technologies – so what are the ultimate causes? Why has my opposition evolved so slowly? What I put it down to, apart from playing an easy level of the game, is that my opponents invested too heavily in early military technology insead of investing in culture, resource development, economic growth, crops, resource extraction, etc… Oh the irony!

    So what do I think about games after this episode with Civ 4? It seems to me that games like this and Dafur can open up deeper conversations between players about why things worked out (for better or worse) the way they did in the game. This can lead to all sorts of debates about which ducks need to be in a row at which moments to create some desirable outcome. (Hopefully the outcome itself is not too neat and clear cut like mine of wiping off every foreigner). I would hope that teachers and students would dip in and out of the game to reality check with the real situation – so that these skills of thinking and decision-making in complex systems were developed in a context of knowledge that real and bad things are happening to real people.

    Lets hope someone does some research on the kind of thinking development that might evolve in doing these kinds of games and whether kids develop empathy and a competance for action through this experience.

    Another link of interest around schools raising critical social awareness – google “child slave labor” to see what a high school is doing to research and expose this issue.

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