Veterinarian and philosopher Charles Foster describes his attempts to be and understand badgers, foxes, swifts and more. From living in an underground den he dug with his own claws and eating earthworms to starving like a red deer in winter, sometimes accompanied by one or more of his six kids, this telling is both poetic and manic. Definitely entertaining, but I’m not sure what I learned from reading this book.
It’s a cliche to say that this is hauntingly written alternate-history but, truly, this story is haunting me. In spare moments when nothing else has my attention, I am thinking of the main character, (whose true name he chooses not to share), and of the world in which he lives.
In Underground Airlines, the Civil War did not happen. President Lincoln was assassinated before the North and South could rally against each other and, instead of the end of slavery, the U.S. has made a devil’s bargain: allowing slavery in some states, ostensibly monitored, but truly unchecked and just as awful as ever. America eventually withdraws from the United Nations in defiance over the world’s condemnation of U.S. practices, and many countries boycott U.S. goods because they are produced with slave labor. Of course, there are parent corporations that hide their connection to the remaining slave states (the Hard Four) and nothing and no one has hands clean of slavery.
This book covers a lot of ground. It’s about a lot of things. It’s a thriller, full of action and intrigue, and will appeal to readers who like mysteries and spy stories, even if they are not interested in the big questions. It’s also about all the ways in which we look away, do what’s comfortable for ourselves today, in this moment, willfully ignoring the harm we are doing to people who are at a distance (however small) from us. The world Winters creates is very real, believable. The U.S. may not have official ‘slavery’ today, but we do have persistent and pervasive economic and social conditions that are abhorrent and unacceptable. We don’t need an alternate history sci fi thriller to show us what that looks like.
Not a review – just notes.
Smoothly and compellingly written, though I do not agree with everything asserted by Wagner and Dintersmith. I absolutely love the dedication to America’s teachers.
“We will see, however, that most lecture-based courses contribute nothing to real learning. Consequential and retained learning comes, to a very large extent, from applying knowledge to new situations or problems, research on questions and issues that students consider important, peer interaction, activities, and projects. Experiences, rather than short-term memorization, help students develop the skills and motivation that transforms lives.” [p. 7-8]
What is the purpose of education?
“. . . adults need to be able to ask great questions, critically analyze information, form independent opinions, collaborate, and communicate effectively.” [p.20]
We were talking about this stuff more than 10 years ago when I still worked in public education. Testing all the time punishes teachers and tortures kids, cuts back on the amount of time that could be spent actually learning something.
I was a champion standardized test taker. I was a genius at filling in those little bubbles, topping out at 12.9 in early elementary school. Doesn’t mean I understood anything going on around me.
“not what you know but what you can do with what you know.” [p.27]
I agree that communities should have flexibility in developing local goals and culture and teachers should absolutely be able to use their creativity and judgement in deciding how to teach and how much time to spend on each skill and topic. They need be able to be responsive to the needs, talents, and interests of the students in their classes. But there should be some general agreement across communities as to what we’re teaching and why. There needs to be overlap so we can be a cohesive nation with a common base and vocabulary from which to proceed into the future. As we can see from current politics and news viewing, when we start from from different ‘realities’ with different ‘facts’ it is almost impossible to have a sane conversation and work together.
“We believe that the starting point for taking on the fundamental question of “What is the purpose of education?” is that education needs to help our youth discover their passions and purpose in life, develop the critical skills needed to be successful in pursuing their goals, be inspired on a daily basis to do their very best, and be active and informed citizens. Without this foundation, schools will continue to fall short.” [p.44]
“It’s a rare five-year old that doesn’t demonstrate real joy for things in his or her life. Our preschool kids . . . are full of passion, curiosity, and exploration. But it’s a rare high school senior who demonstrates any joy for something related to his or he education.” [p.46]
“News sources today are driven not by civic responsibility to report the news accurately, but the need to build an audience . . . Every citizen selects and controls the news he or she receives, and we all gravitate toward comfortable predictable sources that reflect our own beliefs.”[p.67]
Things to look for:
How slide rules won a war” by Alex Green
The Finland Phenomenon
George Land’s NASA Creativity Test
Wolfram’s TED talk: “Teaching Kids Real Math with Computers”
We’re losing our minds: Rethinking American Higher Education – Hersh
College Work Readiness Assessment
NH competency based approach to high school diploma
NY Performance Standards Consortium merit badge approach
“While advanced math may be needed for admission to college, it is not the math required for students to succeed in college.” [p.93]
Math resources for complex operations that you can download to your phone:
“Learning how to compute integrals by hand is of no use without learning how or when to apply them.” [p.96]
“If college admissions officers are going to encourage kids to take the same AP math class, why not statistics? Almost every career (whether in business, nonprofits, academics, law, or medicine benefits from proficiency in statistics. Being an informed, responsible citizen requires a sound knowledge of statistics, as politicians, reporters, and bloggers all rely on “data” to justify positions.” [p.98]
“Today, when kids have ready access to an enormous range of written material, we should encourage them to be great readers by devouring everything they can that’s aligned with their passion – whether it’s nature, sports, or Harry Potter.” [p.117]
” . . . our issue with education isn’t the quantity of time students devote to their development; it’s how they are impelled to spend boatloads of time on school-related activities that lead to no real learning.” [p.154]
Many graduate college with no basic skills such as being able to write well enough to satisfy their employers. [p.157]
“What does it mean to be an educated adult in the y=twenty-first century? What are the core competencies that matter most for work, learning, and citizenship today? And how are these skills different from what students needed a century ago?” [p.223]
What matter si what you can do with what you know. Grit, perseverance, self discipline, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, problem solving.