Today is a Slow Day

Excuse mistakes – I’m taking quite a chunk of my time to do this, and I don’t wish to waste anymore on editing.=^_^=

I’m in college now, and I like it. People are friendly for the most part. It is very diverse for a school in such a secluded location.

The bad part comes out here: there is a heavy drinking culture and smoking. The administration has made steps to address that with smoking zones, and there is a club on campus that I joined (SEAL, Students Engaged and Awake to Life) that has a focus of drug free activities. Also, much of the partying and drinking happens at the river way far in the back of campus, and while it is refreshing during the day – I stay clear of that area at night. Anyway…

I lost my baggage (the airline actually) so the first night I slept with just a jacket. However I was “compensated” by meeting two other Californians that very night, who live close to my hometown. 🙂 During orientation we were made to hit the ground running with interesting activities – tours, teaching us to make hummus quesadillas, a goofy meet-and-greet ice breaker. I have met a lot of interesting people, and during this past week have heard interesting conversations. William Shakespeare is either a clever contractor, or a secret guild of writers, or a clever man from the future. John F. Kennedy was killed because his policies aggravated the mafia and the military industrial complex; there were two Lee Oswalds; there’s was a lot of conning, none of which was done by the government as conspiracy theory would have you believe. Interesting stuff, but I take it with a grain of salt anyway. I’ve also seen alot of radical people: a green peace volunteer, a fellow anarchist, and some atheists and Buddhists. Even the school’s “chapel” looks like a hindu/buddhist/pagan sanctuary, although it is traditionally affiliated with the Methodist church.

It is very multicultural here (given that it is Vermont) with 21 international students and quite a number of African American students. I guess by very I mean that I was expecting to be one of perhaps only three “black people.” Because of the multiculturalism here, I have been challenging my beliefs of about race, or rather, my mother’s views about it that I have absorbed. So, I have already seen the Human Genographic Project, which presents genetic and geographic evidence as to how humans have come to look differently and develop certain traits over time after moving out from Africa. That really opened my eyes up about the blurriness of “race.” But here at Green Mountain, I have heard and seen a few things that have expanded upon this. On move in day, my roommate’s family was helping her move in. It was a woman and a little boy. The woman was blond and “white,” the little boy was “black,” and had a British accent. Then a man came in who looked Hispanic, but he had a British accent. Then my roommate came in. The man and the boy are whole and half brothers respectively. The woman is her aunt, and my roommate looks “white” also by the way. She lived in London, then Maine, and then Spain, and she speaks Spanish. I was confused and intrigued.

Similar things happened when I was at dinner. A blond, “white” girl was asked about her ethnic background. She said Puertorican and Irish. Then I was asked, and I said, “Jamaican, Panamanian, Irish, and Scottish.” My friend then told me after dinner that he is Italian and Mexican. Going back in time, I saw a random guy who looked African American – he is from Zimbabwe though. Then at some point my mom gave me a phone call, and she ended up asking if my roommate is “white.” I told her that I don’t know how to define that anymore, basically I couldn’t give her an answer.

Wow, what a tangent. Since this is an environmental school, my introductory writing course, “Images of Nature,” involves reading and trips that are meant to engage me in natural thinking. Right now in the early stages of “A Sense of Nature,” the reading is about seeing nature. There are “cold” and factual scientific ways of viewing nature, fully alert ways, spiritual ways – but not the spiritual “spirit” way. Ugh, I don’t really know how to articulate it right now – I read it this morning. Nature and humans who are included in nature are not separate, and the give and take push and pull interactions between us a nature is the “spiritual realm,” much unlike the monotheist or Christian view of spirit being separate and nature being brought about to serve humans only. All of this literature about seeing nature makes me realize how disconnected I am having grown up in a county of Los Angeles. I’ve come from a place that has completely imposed itself upon pre-historic nature, with our own more complex nature. The urban world never gives much thought to what the other nature can provide, and what we can give. I notice that as more leaves fall and I am nearing my first real autumn, I kick them away as if they don’t belong. I wonder why they are falling and then I realize that Vermont is not seasonless like Los Angeles. I am starting to pay attention to sounds and motions – and bugs are not freaking me out like before – even spiders.

So yeah, what else. There is a farm here on campus that is fossil free. There are chores that students can help out with – either early in the morning or in the evenings. I am tempted to go, but I feel like I “don’t belong” because of my industrial upbringing, although they say that beginners are encouraged and welcomed as it is a learning farm. It was very humid for the past few days and today it was rainy and windy – I was unnerved by all of these changes.

A lot of people go barefoot or wear sandals, something I used to feel very comfortable doing as a child until my parents complained that that was nasty and will make people talk about the family. Now my feet feel very sore and tender against the smallest rock or stick as I venture into my old ways.

My other classes are beginning music, drawing, and systems thinking: create positive change. The last one is my favorite, as I feel I am being challenged toward a whole new way of thinking. Contrary to the strict boundaries of industrial modern thinking, the approaches to systems thinking I am learning are methods that realize the complexity, uncertainty, and dynamic being of everything. I wish I could explain everything about this class right now, but I still have a lot of reading to do, and it is only the beginning week of the semester. However, there are some tenants I learned in one reading, “Dancing With Systems,” by Donella Meadows, that I would like to share with you:

1. Get the beat.
Before you disturb the system in any way, watch how it behaves. Starting with the behavior of the system forces you to focus on facts, not theories. It keeps you from falling too quickly into your own beliefs or misconceptions, or those of others. It’s amazing how many misconceptions there can be.

2. Listen to the wisdom of the system.
Aid and encourage the forces and structures that help the system run itself. Don’t be an unthinking intervener and destroy the system’s own self-maintenance capacities. Before you charge in to make things better, pay attention to the value of what’s already there.

3. Expose your mental models to the open air.
Remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model. Get your model out there where it can be shot at. Invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own.

4. Stay humble. Stay a learner.
Working with systems—on the computer, in nature, among people, in organizations—constantly reminds me of how incomplete my mental models are, how complex the world is, and how much I don’t know. The thing to do when you don’t know is not to bluff and not to freeze, but to learn.

5. Honor and protect information.
A decision-maker can’t respond to information he or she doesn’t have, can’t respond accurately to information that is inaccurate, can’t respond in a timely way to information that is late.  If I could, I would add an Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not distort, delay, or sequester information.

6. Locate responsibility in the system.
Look for the ways the system creates its own behavior. …sometimes blaming or trying to control the outside influence blinds one to the easier task of increasing responsibility within the system.

7. Make feedback policies for feedback systems.
You can imagine why a dynamic, self-adjusting system cannot be gov- erned by a static, unbending policy. It’s easier, more effective, and usually much cheaper to design policies that change depending on the state of the system.

8. Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.
Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure. …Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can precisely define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love.

9. Go for the good of the whole.
Don’t maximize parts of systems or subsystems while ignoring the whole.

10. Expand time horizons.
In the strict systems sense, there is no long-term/short-term distinction. Phenomena at different time scales are nested within each other. Actions taken now have some immediate
effects and some that radiate out for decades to come.

11. Expand thought horizons.
Defy the disciplines. In spite of what you majored in, or what the textbooks say, or what you think you’re an expert at, follow a sys- tem wherever it leads. It will be sure to lead across traditional disciplinary lines.

12. Expand the boundary of caring.

13. Celebrate complexity.
Let’s face it, the universe is messy. It is nonlinear, turbulent, and chaotic. It is dynamic.

14. Hold fast to the goal of goodness.
We know what to do about eroding goals. Don’t weigh the bad news more heavily than the good. And keep standards absolute.

You can read the whole article here.

I know that was a lot, but the main reason why I joined the class was that I saw so many parallels between this discipline and the goals and approaches of democratic and alternative education. I also joined this class as another critical step to challenging myself to do something and understand myself and my goals. I like things here so far…

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Posted on September 4, 2010, in Democratic Education, Education, School and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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