28 February 2009

In the Toaster

The Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency recently issued a report stating that Colombia, Ecuador and Peru receive the highest Ultra Violet (UV) dose on the planet. This may not cause too much surprise among those who know that UV levels are highest in the tropics where the Ozone layer continues to be depleted at approximately 4% per decade. Just for the curious, the ozone hole formed over the poles and for a while the destruction rate was higher than in the tropics, but it seems to be decreasing now.

The World Health Organization came up with the following Global Solar UV Index (UVI) to alert population centers when UV levels become dangerous:

UV Index Description Media Graphic Color Recommended Protection
0–2 No danger to the average person Green Wear sunglasses; use sunscreen if there is snow on the ground, which reflects UV radiation, or if you have particularly fair skin.
3–5 Little risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Yellow Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen, cover the body with clothing and a hat, and seek shade around midday when the sun is most intense.
6–7 High risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Orange Wear sunglasses and use sunscreen having SPF 15 or higher, cover the body with sun protective clothing and a wide-brim hat, and reduce time in the sun from two hours before to three hours after solar noon (roughly 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM during summer in zones that observe daylight saving time).
8–10 Very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Red Wear sunscreen, a shirt, sunglasses, and a hat. Do not stay out in the sun for too long.
11+ Extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure Violet Take all precautions, including: wear sunglasses and use sunscreen, cover the body with a long-sleeve shirt and trousers, wear a very broad hat, and avoid the sun from two hours before to three hours after solar noon.


As you can see, level 11 represents an extreme risk to skin cancer and eye damage from UV radiation exposure. For this reason, the current levels in Guayaquil and Quito are downright scary: Over the past month, the UV index (UVI) has been up to 14 in Guayaquil and up to 24 in Quito! If 11 represents extreme risk, then 24 means you are in the toaster.

A 2005 IPCC summary of ozone issues observed that observations and model calculations suggest that the global average amount of ozone depletion has now approximately stabilized. This is great for the polar regions, but the Montreal Protocol seems to be too little too late for Ecuador.

My family spent this last week at the beach, and despite liberally lathering ourselves with sun block, we are all burned in one place or another. This usually wouldn't bother me too much, but I just checked the UV levels for today , at it was 13.6, and as you can imagine we did not take all precautions as the graph recommends.

I don't buy Styrofoam, spray cans or ammonia and I use as little air conditioning and electricity as possible. There are more actions individuals can take to help reduce ozone layer depletion , so I encourage you all to think about your friends in the tropics and do your part to help save our skin!

24 February 2009

The Sesame Street Sermon

Did you know that the BBC did not buy the rights to broadcast Sesame Street in the 1970's because they thought that is was too moralist, telling kids how to think and act? My kids and I read Sesame Street books and watch their podcasts and programs all of the time and I have only felt grateful that healthy ideas are introduced to my kids in such an enjoyable way. The concepts promoted by the furry friends - appreciation for diversity, honesty, sharing, caring for others, kindness to animals, etc... - aren't exactly controversial, but there are those who believe that children will best become mature, healthy members of society by exposing them to a wide variety of content and ideas so they can build the cultural constructs that best suit themselves and those near to them. Showing children a message - even if it is about the concepts mentioned above - closes their minds, makes them judgmental, impedes their capacity to think freely and make sound decisions.

This same mentality reigns at my University where teachers are encouraged not to present content in courses like "Society and the Role of the Individual" in which students are supposed to contemplate relationships between the individual and the collective whole. Rather, teachers should lead students to become more reflective and informed of historical tendencies, theories and future possibilities.

It is difficult to disagree that cultural sermonizing requires ignoring that the learner has the capacity to make healthy decisions. If we really believe in capacity building and learner autonomy, then learners need to make their own decisions, especially ones that involve moral dilemmas. However, the opposite of sermonizing requires believing that there is no right or wrong beyond what benefits the learner at the particular moment in time that he or she is confronted with a moral dilemma. This moral relativism is one of the main philosophical foundations of our current global society of individuals and institutions that act uncannily like cancerous cells, boosting selfish aims at the expense of most others. The mantra of doing whatever you want as long as it doesn't harm others is precisely the cancer that is devouring the entire organism, cancer and all.

To begin resolving this issue, it must first be established that moral neutrality, the very concept upon which defenders of this laissez faire attitude towards education pride themselves, is illusory. Eliminating content in the name of a neutral process is in itself a moral decision with clear moral consequences. When graduates of this educational system don’t see enough wrong with opulence and misery living side by side to do anything about it, when they elevate both white and blue collar thieves to hero status, when they create “needs” within children even though they clearly cause irreparable physical or emotional damage, then the moral neutrality that justifies their actions becomes an exact opposite and an equally damaging approach as sermonizing.

This dichotomy is further resolved by defining the purpose of education beyond preparing individuals for successful insertion into the current job market. If most jobs aim exclusively towards increasing profit margin, defined in narrow economic terms, then directing education to provide students with the necessary tools to compete within this context only serves to legitimate it. Even if these tools are otherwise desirable traits and skills - creativity, administrative and investigative capacity, entrepreneurial leadership, etc… - the end towards which they are used strips them of any worth they might otherwise have. We can, rather, define our purpose for educating as building capacity for youth to become protagonists of their own community development, considering individuals and institutions as vital and interdependent actors within the community.

Of course, taking this path requires having the courage to face the daunting and inherently subjective task of defining development. Addressing faulty assumptions that the global development enterprise has had about such fundamental concepts as “the nature of man, the purpose of individual and collective life, the meaning of participation, the goal of development and the role of knowledge in social transformation” so that they serve an educational process that “empowers individuals and communities to engage in the generation and application of knowledge as protagonists in a materially and spiritually prosperous world civilization” requires taking a clear stand on such issues.

Further, although there are pedagogical advantages to providing the proper tools and context for learners to discover knowledge and thus take ownership of the decisions they make, there is no reason we should expect individual learners to rediscover all of the painful lessons humanity has slowly learned throughout its existence. Beyond those mentioned in the previous paragraph, one of these great lessons is that education should seek to channel the powers of the human soul into humble service to humanity, both on professional and personal levels. This is the primary context within which the individual may develop the necessary qualities and capabilities to become a protagonist in his or her spiritual and intellectual growth and thus contribute towards the transformation of society.

These and related lessons point us towards what we can call a pedagogy of moral empowerment. It is an approach that has emerged from an action-research process conducted by FUNDAEC in an effort to provide world-class tutorial secondary education that truly builds local capacity to generate prosperity. This process began in Colombia and later spread throughout most of the world.

In the end it is our individual and collective sense of justice that provides meaning for every action we undertake, whether that action is meant to be as objective as possible, or whether it is deliberately subjective. It is also this sense of justice that will enable us to establish the foundations upon which the oneness of humanity will ultimately be established. Although they don’t go too deep into the broader issues mentioned here, our furry friends at Sesame Street provide a good head start for all children in their search for justice, which will provide meaning and guidance in such a confusing world.


All quotes taken from "Preparation for Social Action: Education for Development"

04 February 2009

Word Cloud for Iguanajournal

A Wordle word cloud for this blog!

People is the most mentioned word in this blog, and money is in second place. Hmmm, well, money needs to be talked about! Prosperity is third so that makes up for it. Enjoy!