Saturday, June 11, 2005


Earth Abides - Thank Goodness!

Just returned from the NBTA Middle Level Language Arts Conference in Fredericton and I feel energized and ready to get down to business.

The keynote speaker at the conference was Jackie Seidel from the University of Alberta. Jackie was a literacy instructor for the Education Department at UNBSJ last year. She is very passionate about children's literature and has a love of language. Her other passion is studying the ecology and economics of education.

During Jackie's keynote address, she asked us to reflect on many things; the lose of languages, the focus of our current curriculum on preparing students for the workforce, the diversity of learners, various forms of literacy, and the loss of peoples, animals, flora and fauna that is prevelant in today's world. Her words made me think of something I had read in Earth Abides and when I got home I had to look it up.

Sure enough it was there. The same message that Jackie was passing along at the conference.

The people who live in any generation do much, [Ish] realized, either to create or to solve the problems for the people who come in the generations later. ( Earth Abides, Page 137)

We have all heard it before - if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. George R. Stewart was making the same observations in 1949 that Jackie is making in 2005; man has created a big mess that has to be dealt with for earth to abide.

Education can be the foundation for the solution. Sharing, discussing, learning and taking action. If we do not collectively work on a solution, what will be left behind for the future? Ish observed "the community was still dependent upon the leavings of the past" (138). What will our 'leavings' be? Toxic waste dumps? Polluted waterways? War torn lands? All of these are possibilities but we still have hope and that hope lies in the future vision of the children we are educating today, ". . .each year children are born in millions, now and then the infinitesimal chance will happen, and there will be greatness and vision" (142).

As educators, we must nurture the greatness found in all children. Allowing students to take ownership of their learning, through their personal literacy, and providing a safe learning environment leads to vision. When children are given the opportunity to learn and succeed greatness occurs naturally. When nature is allowed to run its own course, Earth Abides!


Books and Intelligence

As an educator I know the value of books. In fact, I am a bookaholic.

I cannot go pass a bookstore without hearing the luring call from within the freshly pressed tomes; hold me, peruse me, devour me, love me. My pulse quickens and a feeling of bless overcomes my very soul when I discover the latest book I have coveted. Once I have my beloved acquisition nestled in my hands, I slowly savour our first encounter. I explore the cover, the jacket blurbs, and author notes in preparation of the feast that awaits me. My appetite for knowledge, entertainment, or enlightenment will be sated once more - sated at least until my next encounter with the written word.

This is my guilty pleasure. I am a true bibliophile. Buying, borrowing, collecting, I do it all. My passion for books does not cloud my vision of intelligence, in fact, reading has taught me to value other forms of intelligence. Howard Gardner has written extensively on multiple intelligences and it is through my readings of Gardner's work that I have learned to value intelligence found outside of books.

Gardner argues one must work with their own strengths to learn effectively. For some people, books are not the answer. Knowledge can be acquired in many ways. Gardner celebrates and embraces this diversity:

Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do... Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which we can affect for good or for ill. (Howard Gardner 1999: 180-181)

In Earth Abides, Ish is not as enlightened as Howard Gardner. Ish looks at the other people in the community as "the bricks out of which a new civilization must be fashioned" and finds most of them to be a view bricks short of a load (138). He evaluates their worth through what he knows, book learning and scientific fact. He does not value the people who can build, create, entertain or question. In fact he considers George, a talented carpenter, to be stupid simply because he cannot read, " . . . Ish knew that George was essentially stupid; he had probably never read a book in his life" (138).

Does Ish not see the value of George's talent? It seems natural to me to want to celebrate the abilities of someone who is capable of creating when there is a need for rebuilding. Ish, like so many others, believes intelligence equals book learning. It is this misunderstanding that has led to the belief that literacy equals reading.

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