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Imagination, STEM and Reading Lolita in Tehran

Imagination, STEM and Reading Lolita in Tehran

Azar Nafisi, author of the international bestseller, Reading Lolita in Tehran, explains that the title of her book came from her diary in which she kept track of activities that were no longer allowed in post-revolutionary Iran, but which people engaged in as a form of resistance. One of those activities was reading Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita, about a middle-aged professor of literature who finds himself sexually pursuing a 12-year-old girl—a tale that is not exactly consistent with Islamic revolutionary clerical sensibilities.

Nafisi spoke recently to a small gathering I attended at the home of a friend about her life, her writings and her fears for American democracy. She shared her concerns that warning signs are all around signaling the decline of democratic life in her adopted country. She did so in part by invoking a recurrent theme in the academic world to which she belongs. That world contains two cultures which seem forever split, the sciences and the humanities.

The craze over so-called STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—in education policy and practice has devalued the development of individual imagination which Nafisi regards as the cornerstone of an educated mind. Instead, cultivation of the imagination is replaced with the notion of a “race” against the Chinese and other commercial rivals to dominate world markets with new, domestically developed technologies.

No thought is given to whether those technologies will enhance our individual lives. More likely, those technologies—the cellphone was much on her mind—are designed to do our imagining for us. You might say that the STEM crowd is substituting their imagination for ours. (Here and below I mix in my own reactions to Nafisi’s presentation.)

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You Are Fighting In The Most Important Battle Of All Time

You Are Fighting In The Most Important Battle Of All Time

If you are reading this, it’s most likely the result of a series of events in your life which have drawn your interest and attention to the fact that our world is quite a bit different from what we’ve been told by our school teachers, by the news media, by Hollywood, and by politicians.

At some point, for whatever reason, you’ve come to realize that the consensus narratives in our society about what’s going on are false. The tools that people are taught to use to inform themselves about their government, their nation and their world are not just full of inaccuracies, but deliberate distortions, ranging from the reasons we’re given for why wars are started, to the way our political systems work, to where real power and authority actually lies, to the way nations and governments actually behave in the world.

This awareness has come with a degree of alienation. Not buying into the same consensus narratives about the world as your friends, loved ones and peers comes with an inability to relate to them on some levels, which can cause you to feel a lack of intimacy in those areas. You may have also found yourself the odd one out in conversations about politics or other controversial issues, maybe even lost old friends over it.

But you kept going anyway. For some of us, it’s more important to be true to the truth than it is to fit in. You’re one of those people.

So, I just want to say thank you. Sincerely. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m on-my-knees grateful to anyone who sets about untangling themselves and their species from the deceitful narratives which pervade our society. It is the most important battle that can possibly be fought. The most important battle that has ever been fought.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Renewables Are Dead

Renewables Are Dead

Gustave Courbet The man made mad by fear 1844

If I’ve said once that those among us who tout renewable energy should pay more attention to the 2nd law of Thermodynamics, I must have said it a hundred times. But I hardly ever get the impression that people understand why. And it seems so obvious. A quote I often use from Herman Daly and Ken Townsend, when I talk about energy, really says it all:

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”

Using energy produces waste. Using more energy produces more waste. It doesn’t matter -much- what kind of energy is used, or what kind of waste is produced. The energy WE use produces waste, in a medium of which WE cannot survive. The only way to escape this is to use less energy. And because we have used such an enormous amount of energy the past 100 years, we must use a whole lot less in the next 100.

We use about 100 times more energy per person, and a whole lot more in the west, than our own labor can produce. We use the equivalent of what 500 billion people can produce without the aid of fossil fuel-powered machines. We won’t solve this problem with wind turbines or solar panels. There really is one way only: cut down on energy use.

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The One True Thing


The One True Thing

Until you understand it, it will rule your life.

Until you see clearly how the rules of society work, you will be trapped within a system of control.

What you mistake for reality is instead a fabricated simulation, designed to keep you trapped right where the system wants you.

Your social conditioning, education, and family structures program you with a set of beliefs, values and norms — often unexamined — that “properly” align you in such a way that you focus your life and labor on keeping the existing social hierarchy in place and that you never deeply question this arrangement.

Put visually, your culture is in the shape of a pyramid. And what keeps you pinned to your particular layer is your belief system. 

Every civilization has its own defining narratives that, while beautifully diverse, all generate exactly the same structure: a pyramid consisting of many more people at the bottom than at the top.

Every civilization throughout history had One True Thing that determined each person’s position on that pyramid.

In some past eras, it was royal bloodline. In ancient Egyptian culture, it stemmed from being a direct descendent of the Sun god Ra. And today, it’s a function of how much money you have.

No matter the marker, the pecking order is held in place because everyone accepts the rules.  They’re fully understood by the citizenry, and are only rarely questioned (usually at great personal risk). 

But even though accepted as “100% true” by the participants of one culture, social markers often don’t translate when applied to another.

For instance, if you traveled back in time to the height of the Aztec empire with $1 billion in cash, your paper bills wouldn’t have any accepted value.  You’d probably have trouble acquiring even a single tortilla with them.

Your modern currency just wouldn’t be money to that ancient culture.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Make Your Garden Have Less Weeds?


In crop gardens, we sometimes get into a spatial race with weeds, and the solution is to replace the weeds with “designed weeds” to take up the space. This can be done with green manure mulches to fertilize the gardens and supply quality mulch. This is an example of how understanding the inner workings of weeds allows us to harmonize with natural systems to both repair the earth and create production for ourselves.

It’s important to understand that the term “weed” is applied to any plant that isn’t wanted in a particular area. While we now call dandelions weeds, they once were sought-after greens. Banana trees are so prone to take root in the tropics that someone might consider them a weed, removing them from the yard, though they are the best-selling fruit in the world. The point is that just because we call a plant a weed doesn’t mean it lacks value. “Weeds” can be useful, or they can be prevented. Often, it’s us, as cultivators, who make and foster these choices or pick our small battles.

Mulch – The best way to have a weed-free garden is to prevent them in the first place, and organic mulch is probably the best way to go about that. Thickly (about 5-10 cm) mulch gardens with straw or leaves to effectively suppress weeds, and those weeds that do make it through are much more easily pulled. Not only will mulching help with weeds, but it’ll reduce the need to water, support soil life, and prevent erosion. Ultimately, the mulch will break down and continually replenish and improve the soil.

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The State weaponizes education to create ignorance

The State weaponizes education to create ignorance

Independent Education: the crisis and the crossroad

A hundred fifty years ago, at least some Americans recognized that all serious discourse depended on the use of the faculty called Reason.

Formal debate, science, and law all flowed from that source.

A common bond existed in some schools of the day. The student was expected to learn how Reason operates, and for that he was taught the only subject which could lay out, as on a long table, the visible principles: Logic.

This was accepted.

But now, this bond is gone.

The independence engendered by the disciplined study of logic is no longer a desired quality in students.

The classroom, at best, has taken on the appearance of a fact-memorization factory; and we should express grave doubts about the relevance and truth of many of those facts.

A society filled with people who float in the drift of non-logic is a society that declines.

Ideologies that deny individual freedom and independence are welcomed with open arms.

When education becomes so degraded that young students are no longer taught to reason clearly, private citizens have the obligation rebuild that system so the great contribution to Western civilization—logic—is reinstated in its rightful place.

Logic, the key by which true political discourse, science, and law were, in fact, originally developed, must be unearthed.

Logic and reasoning, the capacity to think, the ability to analyze ideas—an ability which has been forgotten, which has been a surpassing virtue in every free civilization—must be restored.

Once a vital thing has been misplaced, buried, and covered over by mindless substitutions, people cannot immediately recognize the original thing has any importance, meaning, or existence.

To declare its importance makes no sense to “the crowd.” They look bewildered and shake their heads. They search their memories and find nothing.

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Schools and Universities are Liberals’ Trojan Horse for New World Order Indoctrination

Schools and Universities are Liberals’ Trojan Horse for New World Order Indoctrination

Schools and Universities are Liberals’ Trojan Horse for New World Order Indoctrination

From NFL players ‘taking a knee’ during the national anthem, to preschoolers being brainwashed with the ideology of transgenderism, these left-leaning movements have one goal in mind, and that is to undermine and destroy the foundation of the Western nation state.

This month, the Liberal propaganda machine shifted into overdrive, publicizing yet another divisive scandal to forward their agenda of creating a New World Order.

Atlanta school Principal Lara Zelski clearly did not have her local community in mind when she informed parents and faculty that the morning recital of the pledge of allegiance would be eliminated, substituted with a pledge to “school family, community, country and our global society.”

“Over the past couple of years it has become increasingly obvious that more and more of our community were choosing to not stand and/or recite the pledge,” Zelski said. “There are many emotions around this and we want everyone in our school family to start their day in a positive manner.”

Zelski never reveals any numbers to support what she means by “more and more of our community” who are purportedly snubbing the flag. This is how the proponents of a “global society” move forward with their destructive agenda. Using the Hegelian dialectic, they press some hot-button ‘issue’ – same-sex marriage, unisexual bathrooms, transsexual rights, Civil War statues in the public square, marijuana use, you name it – that is guaranteed to pit America’s two primary political ideologies fiercely against each other. Then they sit back and watch the fireworks display of their creation.

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10-Minute Neighborhoods: The Low-Tech Solution to Almost* Everything

10-Minute Neighborhoods: The Low-Tech Solution to Almost* Everything

What if it were possible to make headway on all these issues with simple changes to our neighborhoods?

What if we could cut our medical costs in half? What if we could give the average American an added five years of healthy life? What if we could cut our energy use, our water use, and our greenhouse gas emissions by more than half while improving our happiness and prosperity? What if we could provide affordable housing for millennials staggering under student loan debt? What if we could help elders age gracefully in a connected community, with their mobility and cognition intact? What if we could create communities where children can experience both safety and independence? What if we could cut in half the cost of essential services provided by cities and towns? What if we could prevent prime farmland from becoming suburbs and McMansions? What if we could create biodiverse greenbelts and wildlife corridors around our towns and cities? What if inside our cities we could create calming tree canopies, community vegetable gardens and open spaces for all to benefit from?

All this can be achieved with 10-minute walkable neighborhoods, neighborhoods where everyone can step out their front door and reach a wide array of goods and services within ten minutes by foot. All it takes is enough density within a half-mile radius of a commercial shopping street to allow the businesses and services there to prosper. We’re not talking Hong Kong or Manhattan density, just 16 or so housing units per acre, which can be easily achieved by allowing again the “Missing Middle” of housing that was so common before World War II. What is the Missing Middle?

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The Twilight of Authority

The Twilight of Authority

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the need for a rhetorical education—that is, an education that doesn’t presume to lay down the law about what’s true and what’s false, but instead teaches each individual how to understand and assess claims about truth and falsehood. That’s a concept many people find challenging these days. We live in the last phases in an era of abstraction, and the notion of truth in most people’s minds these days follows suit:  when people talk about truth, they generally mean some set of generalizations dunned into their heads that are supposedly always true in the abstract, even though they may not work all the time (or at all) in the irreducibly grubby and complex world we actually inhabit.

Think about the things that the people around you consider to be truths. (I’d ask you to think about the things that you consider to be truths, but as that guy from Nazareth noted, it’s usually a lot easier to spot the mote in your brother’s eye than the beam in your own.)  Unless you run with an unusually philosophically literate crowd, most of these supposed truths can be expressed neatly in sentences of the form “all X are Y”: “all white people are racists,” “all people on welfare are lazy,” and so on. That’s the kind of abstract generalization I’m talking about.

People get very defensive about their favorite abstract generalizations. If you question the logic behind them, you can expect to be told that you’re ignorant, and quite probably that you’re evil as well.  For that matter, if you encounter realities that don’t fit the generalization and have the bad taste to mention that in public, you can expect to be told that the plural of anecdote isn’t data. Now this may be so in an abstract sense, but the plural of anecdote is also one of the very few ways you can find out that the abstract generalizations you’ve constructed out of your data are hopelessly out of touch with the real world.

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Scientific Education as a Cause of Political Stupidity

Scientific Education as a Cause of Political Stupidity

While we’re discussing education, the theme of the current series of posts here on The Archdruid Report, it’s necessary to point out that there are downsides as well as upsides to take into account. The savant so saturated in abstractions that he’s hopelessly inept at the business of everyday life has been a figure of fun in literature for many centuries now, not least because examples of the type are so easy to find in every age.

That said, certain kinds of education have more tightly focused downsides. It so happens, for example, that engineers have contributed rather more to crackpot literature than most other professions. Hollow-earth theories, ancient-astronaut speculations, treatises arguing that the lost continent of Atlantis is located nearly anywhere on Earth except where Plato said it was—well, I could go on; engineers have written a really impressive share of the gaudier works in such fields. In my misspent youth, I used to collect such books as a source of imaginative entertainment, and when the jacket claimed the author was some kind of engineer, I knew I was in for a treat.

I treated that as an interesting coincidence until I spent a couple of years working for a microfilming company in Seattle that was owned by a retired Boeing engineer. He was also a devout fundamentalist Christian and a young-Earth creationist; he’d written quite a bit of creationist literature, though I never heard that any of it was published except as densely typed photocopied handouts—and all of it displayed a very specific logic: given that the Earth was created by God on October 23, 4004 BCE, at 9:00 in the morning, how can we explain the things we find on Earth today?

That is to say, he approached it as an engineering problem.

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In Praise of the Reprehensible

In Praise of the Reprehensible

Last month’s post here on cultural senility and its antidotes discussed the way that modern education erases the past in order to defend today’s ideologies against the lessons of history. While that post focused on the leftward end of the political spectrum—the end that currently dominates what we still jokingly call “higher education” in today’s America—the erasure of the past is just as common on the other end of things. Between the political correctness of the left and the patriotic correctness of the right, it’s hardly surprising that so many Americans stumble blindly toward the future in a fog of manufactured ignorance, sedulously shielded from the historical insights that could give them a clue about the troubled landscape about them or the looming disasters ahead.

This week I’d like to discuss another aspect of that erasure of the past. I’ll be concentrating again on the way it’s done on the leftward end of things, because that’s the side that’s doing the most to deform American education just at the moment, but I’d encourage my readers to keep in mind that the issue I have in mind is a blade that has two edges and cuts both ways. That issue? The censoring of literature from the past in order to make it conform to the moral notions of the present.

It so happens, for example, that quite a few works of American literature talk about people of color in terms that many people today find extremely offensive. Now of course just as many works of American literature discuss women, sexual minorities, and just about any other group of people you care to name, other than well-to-do, college-educated, white male heterosexual Anglo-Saxon Protestants, in highly insulting terms, but let’s focus on racism for the moment.

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Anti-Intellectualism, Terrorism, and Elections in Contemporary Education: a Discussion with Noam Chomsky

Anti-Intellectualism, Terrorism, and Elections in Contemporary Education: a Discussion with Noam Chomsky

Washington DC based History Teacher Dan Falcone and New York City English Teacher Saul Isaacson sat down with Professor Noam Chomsky to discuss current issues in education and American domestic and foreign policy issues. They also discussed the place of the humanities in education and how it relates to activism, definitions of terrorism, and how education impacts the perceptions of the political process in the US.

Dan Falcone: We are here again at MIT to discuss education, history, and politics with Noam Chomsky. Thank you for having us. I was just wondering if you could discuss some of the challenges you hear about from the friends you have in the educational field?

Noam Chomsky: A friend of mine was doing some interesting work in Falmouth. He works in a Falmouth school system. He was a Harvard cognitive scientist, but he’s now working with the schools. He started working with the kids that they have in a special track. I forget what they call it, but the ones who aren’t academically functioning. And when he began to look into it, he found that these kids come to school on a bus with maybe an hour bus ride. They haven’t had breakfast. But when they come into school they go crazy and he started doing some really simple things like giving them candy because he discovered that they have a low glucose level. And that’s having an effect, and when they come into school instead of starting in a math class he just puts them somewhere where they can just go crazy and run around. He’s gotten to the point that these kids are out-performing the main kids in the main schools.

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What if Permaculture Was Taught in Schools Everywhere?


What if there was a curriculum series for all children and young adults to learn permaculture?

What if it was the holistic context for all the other courses they took in school?

Imagine living in an urban area where you pay for your trash to be taken away – this is actually common; imagine returning home from 3rd grade with a bag of oyster mushroom inoculated substrate in a little baggy to mix with your household paper and cardboard waste, to turn it into mushrooms and spent substrate, and then, using worms mixed with kitchen scraps, into compost for the balcony or community garden. Imagine what it would be like to end that cost for your family & to turn it into rich soil for growing food in the garden.

What if Permaculture was Taught in Schools Everywhere 01

It would be like magic. You’d probably want to grow up to be a mycologist. If you also recognized it as sequestering carbon and fighting climate change, you’d likely, as any 3rd grader would, want to help setup the rest of your extended family with the same advantageous system which would in turn be even more empowering. Imagine if we gave this opportunity to all children right now in the world, what kind of generation of people would that create?

When I took Geoff Lawton’s online permaculture design course (’14), I instantly wanted to share all the information I was receiving with my family but had nothing tailored to them. Since I was a full time teacher with a masters degree in education writing curriculum daily at a charter school, I felt obligated, so with Geoff’s encouragement and promise to look it over before I went public, I started writing The Permaculture Student 1 textbook and workbook. I wrote it to be readable by everyone from middle school on up.

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Schools for Disaster: Rethinking Endless Growth in Education

Schools for Disaster: Rethinking Endless Growth in Education

We have good reason to be proud of our North American education system. Especially in the 70 years since the end of the Second World War, it’s helped to create and sustain more prosperity for more people than ever before in history. Higher education, once the privilege of a very few, is now considered essential for most careers.

Among our best-educated are the climate scientists who since the 1980s have tested and re-tested the theory that human activities are changing the climate. Despite the criticism many of them have endured, we trust them precisely because we trust their education.

Right from the start, North American public education was designed to assimilate immigrant and working-class children and prepare them for the workplace. To my generation of teachers who started in the 1960s and ’70s, it was the great equalizer — the way underprivileged kids would gain their share of the postwar golden age. Thanks to us they would get good jobs, vote and make this a better country.

We were just beginning to realize that “the environment” was a real issue. Problems like oil spills and smog and rivers catching fire were not the cost of progress — they were obstacles to progress. We teachers figured that our educated students would soon get around to cleaning up the planet.

Just as we didn’t foresee climate change, we didn’t foresee that our students would settle for a good job, two cars and a house in the suburbs, just as we had. A society built around endless growth and development was the subtext in everything we taught. Only with growth could we ensure more high-paying jobs and the promise of upward social mobility.

Consumption and more consumption

The purpose of such jobs and mobility, of course, is consumption and more consumption: a bigger SUV, a bigger house with more appliances, more air travel, more everything. More consumption demands more energy, especially fossil energy. Consuming energy costs money. And that is why business schools are crammed with students while liberal arts schools fight for their lives.



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Learning beyond Growth

Deschooling as a Path to Social-Ecological Transformation


“Deschooling is at the root of any movement for human liberation”, wrote Ivan Illich, today almost forgotten but once a world-renowned critical thinker, in 1971. With books like “Deschooling Society” and “Energy and Equity” he inspired in the 1970s both the emerging environmental movement and the renewed interest in progressive education. But where are the connections between growth critique and critique of school education? And how could a world beyond alienated learning and growth pressure actually look like?

Growth, we keep hearing from politicians and business leaders, is indispensable in order to guarantee prosperity, peace and liberty. However, fewer and fewer people believe these incantations, as it has become too obvious that growth does not benefit all, but only a small class of the rich and super-rich. In many countries the damages caused by growth already outweigh its benefits: environmental destruction, stress, noise, loneliness and social divide. In the global competition for increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), much of what makes life worthwhile is destroyed. On top of this, economic growth is ruining the ability of global ecosystems to regenerate – thereby threatening the long-term survival of humanity. In the face of these destructive consequences of growth, an intensive quest for alternatives to growth started in the 1970s, a debate which has been revived over the last years with the term “degrowth”.

Degrowth in this sense is not a static concept for an alternative system but rather an umbrella for a bunch of uncountable initiatives run by people who want to bring change to our day-to-day life: politically active people who oppose the continuous destruction of our environment and our societies as well as scientists who ponder how particular sectors of the economy or the infrastructure, e.g. transport or public health, could be designed in an ecologically and socially compatible way. These ideas have in common that they rely on the potential of alternative forms of social organization rather than on merely technical solutions. Nonetheless, the issue of learning and schooling is hardly ever discussed in this context, although it is deeply connected to the topic of growth.


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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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