Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Gates Foundation - spending billions to make my creative writing students' dystopia a reality

This evening during my creative writing workshop we talked about setting and world building. I had the kids do one of my favorite brainstorming exercises for this topic: EXTRAPOLATING INTO THE FUTURE.

I ask the students to make two columns. In column one, they write a current law, issues or technology. In the second column, I ask them to extrapolate what they have written in column one, imagining it in a future society. Is it being taken to an extreme? Is it being used for good or not so good purposes?

The example I gave them is scientists currently using brain imaging for various forms of research (ie/Alzheimers, Autism, MS, etc.) What if in the future they used that technology see how a subject reacted to images of murder or other forms of crime and isolated those who reacted positively to those images because they were likely criminals?

My younger kids (rising 6-7 graders) were more lighthearted, yet I'm amazed by the cynicism and distrust of government I see in all of my students. (Heckuva job, Washington!)

One student had some wonderfully innovative ideas - I told her I want to be her business manager and pitch them to Shark Tank.

One of my guys wrote an interesting, humorous piece about how the government, in an attempt to ensure everyone's safety, created bubbles around everyone's houses for protection. But eventually the citizens started getting upset because they couldn't get out to go do things like go on vacation. The Commander in Chief was President Imafraud. Like I said, cynical!

The same kid, in his brainstorming list, wrote about the iPhone 3D. "They're coming out with the 4D with a few months but it's hard to see the difference." (LOL!)

His piece led to an interesting discussion about the impact the government's protective bubbles would have on community and citizenship. This is an example of why the setting and world building workshop is always one of the most lively and fun.

My older kids (rising 8-9 graders) are all working on dystopian novels, so this exercise was particularly useful.

What was really interesting to me as a political writer was one student's projection that schools would be abolished and kids would be educated via computer - because it sounds very much like vision promoted by the Gates Foundation.

I asked the student how he would feel if that really happened.

"I wouldn't like it," he said. "We're required to have iPads next year. I'm not happy. I like to write things down."

We had another lively discussion about a certain class all my kids had shared last year in school, in which computer instruction was used.

Verbatim comments from my students:

"Our teacher sits us in front of the computer for the entire class. He doesn't actually teach us anything."

"Half the time the keyboard doesn't work and then you can't finish the assignment."

"If you don't get it right you just have to keep on practicing until you do. It's really frustrating."

And then the student who wrote that school would be reduced to a computer said to me, "I like this kind of class, like we're having here."

Here's the thing, Mr. Gates: I am not anti-technology. I love technology. I use it every day. I couldn't even consider writing the two books I have with an October 1st deadline if it weren't for my Macbook Pro (Yeah, gave up PCs years ago) and my Scrivener.

But the difference between you and me is that I see technology as a tool - one among many that can be used to reach students.

You are spending billions of dollars to influence policy to make it THE SOLUTION, thus forcing it on my kids - because I view all of the students I work with as my kids. And that, Mr. Gates, is wrong. Maybe you should get out of your Billionaire Bubble, stop listening to the yes men and the Wall Street folks and hear from some actual young people - the ones who are being affected by your misguided policies.

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