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Teach-in Details

I think its worth responding to David’s thoughtful speculations about the nature of the upcoming Focus the Nation teach-in on Tuesday.

Will the teach-in on global warming on Tuesday be any different? I doubt it, but I respect Morgan Goodwin a great deal. If any of the presenters argue that a) global warming isnít that serious a concern or that, b) however serious, there isnít much that we can do about carbon emissions via government fiat or c) that the most important human value is freedom and that you have no more right to control my carbon emissions than my speech or d) that Williams, as an institution, should have no more involvement with the political issues surrounding global warming than it does with those involved with fighting malaria, then I will be proved wrong. Perhaps TNG will surprise me with their open-mindedness and commitment to free-wheeling debate.

First, the numbers: Currently 92 professors are ‘participating’ in Focus the Nation. That means 15 professors will spend the entire class period on Monday or Tuesday discussing climate change. Another 9 will spend part of class time doing so. The majority will spend at least 5 minutes discussing why climate change is relevant, interesting or concerning to their discipline, and a final 12-15 have agree to make an announcement to their class about the day’s events and encourage students to attend panel discussions or the talk by Christopher Flavin. These numbers aren’t final, and we expect to cross the 100 mark tomorrow.

We typically approached professors we knew, occasionally making an appointment with someone we didn’t know, and would drop by an office to chat for 5 minutes or an hour about what the event was and why it was important. Much more often than not, we didn’t have to suggest how climate change was relevant to the professors field of study, but rather listened when they told us of something they had read recently, or some inspiration of their own.

In that regard, all of your questions may be addressed over the course of the day, David. I really have no idea what professors intend to talk about in class. But I suspect those won’t be the contentious issues at stake, from what I’ve heard around campus so far. Likely the really contentious issues will be things like a) cap and auction vs. carbon tax, b) whether some groups are responsible for causing harm to other groups via climate change, c) what we can do to mediate the effects of climate change on human populations (or non-human for that matter), d) do we as ephs, Americans, the global north, etc. have a responsibility to act, e) does our dependence on oil further political instability in the middle east, or f) what areas of physics promise advances in solar technology.

A number of professors turned us down. I don’t have as exact numbers on that, but a quick glance shows about a dozen that said no. Some said they don’t like to bring politics into the classroom, and others said it wasn’t relevant and not worth class time. Of course a lot never returned our emails, or we just never got to, because after all, we’re a bunch of busy students working on top of classes and finals, and then so many professors are hard to find during winter study when we actually have time. Oh well.

Regardless of how the day goes, the students who have worked on this have impressed me with their enthusiasm, energy, creativity and commitment.? ? To Meredith, Elizabeth, Caroline, George, Sasha, Kendell, Martin, Nathan, Mike, Melina and all the others who have pitched in as we’ve approached the big day, thank you. I am confident that this will be the biggest student-organized event in the recent history of the school.

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#1 Comment By dkane On February 3, 2008 @ 11:34 pm

Thanks to Morgan for the info.

1) Could you post the names of the 15 professors who will spend the entire class period? I assume that none of them would be ashamed to have their names publicized . . . And, Yes, I will be making fun of the English professor who devotes a class to global warming. Allow an old alum his fun!

2) When I asked about alternate views, I was not asking about what was going on in a hundred classrooms. I wanted to know about the official all-campus events. Will alternate views, of any kind, be presented in those forums? As best I can tell, No. (Correct me if I am wrong.) Were proponents of alternate views even invited? I suspect not. Again, as a student leader, Morgan (and TNG) have every right to invite whomever they like. But I suspect that my explanation of the meaning of a “teach-in” will apply to FTN as well.

3) What is the total budget for the event? I assume that some of the speakers were paid, had their travel expenses covered and so on. Where did the money come from?

#2 Comment By mogan On February 3, 2008 @ 11:57 pm

3) I don’t feel any particular need to reveal the budget, although I assure you its on the modest side. The cost is split between the Center for Environmental Studies, the Zilkha Center, TNG, and a dinner at the presidents house is payed for by the presidents office.

1) Its not a secret, but I also can imagine those 15 professors getting nice, inquiring emails from Dkane. If this is true, then I don’t really feel obligated to post the names here.

2) Is David right about what a teach-in is? He’s very concerned about being able to say ‘I told you so’. I consider the ‘teach-in’ part that which is happening in the classrooms, so I think that would make me right. The panels are associated with the teach in, part of an event called Focus the Nation (which is explicitly about global warming solutions, i might add). Or maybe FTN is one big teach-in, in which case David is right. Either way…

#3 Comment By dkane On February 4, 2008 @ 8:25 am

1) I won’t e-mail the professors. Can we now know their names?

2) You can feel free to define “teach-in” to be only the part that happens in the classroom. In fact, you can define the word anyway you want. But professors like Singham (like almost everyone else) include out-of-classroom activities within the definition.

3) I am not really concerned with being able to day “I told you so.” If anything, I hope to be proved very wrong. I hope that someone, somewhere (perhaps in the main campus-wide panels, perhaps during the classroom discussions) will raise the issues that I mentioned before.

But, knowing the Williams faculty, and knowing the self-selection process by which a faculty member volunteers to use an entire class section on something other than what she used that same time for last year, I will bet that not a single one of the FTN 15 provides a meaningful look at alternate views. But it’s an empirical question! Feel free to tell me that I was wrong on Wednesday.

Coming to you straight from the Global North.

By the way, my kudos as well to all the students involved in organizing this event. The more that students are involved in campus programming, the more engaged that they are in campus debate, in bringing outsiders to speak, the better.

Now, if only we had more ideological diversity among the students . . . Is there a Garfield Republican Club anymore?

#4 Comment By mogan On February 4, 2008 @ 9:43 am

The faculty who have said they will spend all of class are (yes, only 14 – i’m not in charge of faculty outreach, and so our spreadsheet isn’t perfectly up to date):

Michael F Brown
Manuel A Morales
Henry W Art
Marsha I Altschuler
Douglas Gollin
Pierre Ly
Tanseli Savaser
Gerard Caprio
David Dethier
Alex W. Willingham
Michael MacDonald
Stefan Dolgert
Darel E. Paul
Susan L. Engel

#5 Comment By David On February 4, 2008 @ 10:07 am

Great stuff! I don’t know all these professors, but I would be shocked if folks like Brown, Morales, MacDonald or Paul led anything other than solid discussions, with all sides presented and discussed.

I’ll keep my promise to Morgan and not e-mail these folks, but perhaps someone from TNG could ask them for copies of their lecture notes/plans and then post them on-line. There is huge demand from parents and alumni for more information about what goes on in a Williams classroom.

Again, although I am critical about aspects of Williams wrt to carbon emissions, mainly the hypocrisy of the Administration, I applaud the efforts of all the students involved with TNG.

I still wish that, in one of the all-campus forums (since there are several hours of such events), an alternate view were presented. But this failing is not TNG’s fault. It is the fault, albeit a minor one, of the Williams faculty/administration, especially the folks handing out the money from CES and Zilkha.

#6 Comment By Michael F. Brown On February 4, 2008 @ 10:42 am

Since my name has come up, I’d like to clarify and correct Morgan’s comment by saying that I agreed to spend five minutes in Anthropology 101 (not the entire class) talking about the historical pattern of energy use and consumption of fossil carbon by human populations world-wide. This is in the context of a one-class sprint through about 4 million years of (pre-)human history, with special emphasis on what in evolutionary terms is the recent shift of humanity from a hunting-and-gathering way of life to food production, social stratification, sedentism, etc. The focus of the course is cultural anthropology, but I believe that one can’t understand cultural diversity without basic knowledge of the big (evolutionary) picture of humankind. It’s an amazing story that can’t be told often enough.

The Focus the Nation people sent me a “script” for today’s class, but I deleted it instantly on the principle that my class is my own responsibility. That said, the overwhelming scientific evidence that we are facing major climatic change that is at least partly induced by human activity is worthy of mention in a class focused on the human trajectory. If that’s one-sided, so be it. I feel no ethical obligation to make a case for creationism either, although I do try to make it clear that students in the class who may, for religious reasons, find evolutionary thinking offensive are welcome to defend their skepticism, even if they are still responsible for understanding a scientific doctrine that has become the cornerstone of work in anthropology and the life sciences.

#7 Comment By dkane On February 4, 2008 @ 10:56 am

Thanks to Professor Brown for these details.

1) Could you (or perhaps someone from TNG?) post the “script” that was sent to all professors who agreed to participate? I bet that most Williams professors will, like Professor Brown, ignore it, but the rest of us would love to read it. Anyone want to take odds on how balanced it is?

2) I second Professor Brown’s opinion on the “amazing” story of human/cultural evolution. Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade is a nice place to start. Current students: Don’t make the same mistake I did! Take some anthropology before you leave Williams.

3) Who else thinks that our friends at TNG might have overestimated the number of professors who will be devoting their whole class to the teach-in? I doubt that anyone is guilty of bad faith, but enthusiasm can be blinding as well. In fact, I will bet that 2 out of 3 of Morales, MacDonald and Paul are, like Professor Brown, not spending the whole class on global warming.

4) This is a side issue, but many readers on EphBlog would love more info on what is going on in ANTH 101. Is there a syllabus for us to look at?

#8 Comment By Larry George On February 4, 2008 @ 11:11 am

Michael Brown:

Extraordinarily appropriate IMHO. Fortuitous timing, as well.

Thank you for reminding us of the issues of academic freedom within your classroom and for giving us a glimpse of how you handle them. It’s good that the students sent a sample Focus the Nation script for any professors who might not have known where to begin (very few Williams professors would fall in that group, I suspect, and certainly not you with all your work on the College’s facilities planning, which must have stimulated a lot of thought on your part about climate change issues).

It is important for all of us who are interested in the College (alumni, students, parents, staff, townspeople, and so on) to hear the clear articulation of a faculty member’s approach to these issues: his or her right to control what he or she teaches in his or her classroom, the respect afforded students’ views, and the right to define what material must be mastered.

Others have said this before: please continue to join us as you are an important contributor to the dialogue.

#9 Comment By FROSH mom On February 4, 2008 @ 11:35 am

Professor Brown:
The whole event sounds wonderful. I wish I could sit in on your class.

I think it’s great that you have made the effort to present the event here on EphBlog (thanks as well to Morgan), but also unfortunate that you couldn’t do it without making digs about “hypocrisy” within the administration and “some” faculty.

And going on and on about “one-sidedness” and the lack of “alternate views”…a surefire way to put those involved on the defensive.

It is an event focused on problem-solving, not a debate on whether the problem exists. Couldn’t you just give them the kudos for making a wonderful thing happen, and then step back and watch it unfold?

Don’t you see that you have “reviewed” the movie before sitting down to watch it?

#10 Comment By Michael F. Brown On February 4, 2008 @ 11:52 am

About once a year some group contacts me asking for permission to make a case for its activities and views in one of my classes. Most of the groups strike me as admirable enough, but I feel that it’s wrong to allow an outside group to present its views to an audience of students held captive by their matriculation in a for-credit course. The obvious exception would be groups whose activities are relevant to the course’s subject matter. Frankly, I’d be shocked if most Williams professors didn’t respond similarly to these requests. Williams offers countless venues for the free exchange of views about politics, policies, and everything else, and there’s no good argument for bringing this into the classroom unless it arises naturally out of the shared interests of faculty and students engaged in the study of a specific topic.

I interpreted the Focus the Nation program as drawing attention to the science of global climate change and also on the need to do something about carbon emissions to the extent that this is practical. Since the subject matter is compatible with the scheduled topic of my class presentation on February 5, I see no ethical problem. If the event had been called for a day when I planned to lead a class discussion on, say, variations in family structure, I probably would have declined to participate despite my own personal commitment to sustainability.

#11 Comment By David Broadband On February 4, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

To add to my previous thread on teach in:

The human mindset is dominated by fears that work by assessments, sort of like an analysis, whereby someone demonstrates how we can deal with the situation at different and creative angles.

Whether we can constructively use the experiences presented depends upon to a great extent the concept of how we carry the image within our mind.

Most of us are not given proper communication or information that explains with insight. Often the communication takes the form of “renaming” the situation, such that you are no longer in charge of understanding the situation since it ritually has been removed from the relationship of the parties where it transforms the presenter into the “knower and doer” and the listener into the more passive “receiver.”

If you accept this complementary role, a sort of hypnotism ensues, “by virtue of this ritual, I am no longer in control, I am helpless and a passive recipient of your powerful interventions.”

Many of us are drawn into the seductive comfort of the well established world of conventional wisdom. When we are told that there is something wrong, when we are told that we are sick, have sinned, or at fault, we are most vulnerable, and that conventional wisdom is appealing with its promises of power, reliability of information, and protection.

To move forward we must evolve from the passive/recipient stage and move into the stage of attunement, where we actively engage the process by clarifying information and examining the situation from the standpoint of self-control strategies through analysis and integration of the data through a multi-dimensional approach encompassing many levels of interaction and functioning.

We need to eliminate the separation between subject and object. We need to eliminate the notion that we are helpless and the illusion of fear, prejudice and our rigid attitudes towards materialism and the primacy of material causality. Current attitudes presuppose the ultimate cause of our situation is the physical side, yet when one examines the situation from a mulit-dimensional perspective, an entirely new set of data enters the picture that enhances our understanding and empowers more favorable approaches to a proper comparison of the data.

We need a new connective type of understanding that goes beyond the conventional wisdom of naming causes thus demanding your surrender and sustaining your position of helplessness and finding the connective and integrative data between our physical, energetic and mental relationships of any proper evaluation.