Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recent Press: Remove the Occupy Protesters

Last night, CBC Radio One ran a story highlighting the desire of some (or arguably, most) people to have the Occupy protesters removed from their encampments indefinitely. The story was part of the The Current hosted by Anna Maria Tremonti. Guests on the show included:
  • Ric McIver- an entrepreneur and former alderman in Calgary who believes the protesters have worn out their welcome,
  • Ralph Young- the President and CEO of Melcor Developments Ltd. - a real estate development company that owns the land where the Occupy Edmonton group has set up camp, and
  • Dean Douglas Stoute- the Dean of St. James Anglican Cathedral in Toronto. Occupy Toronto has set up in a park that's jointly owned by the church and the city.
In Edmonton, the protesters are camping out on private land, and the owner is asking them to leave the premises at night (from 11:00pm to 6:00am), just as they would be required to do if this were municipally owned land. There has been little or no compliance with this request.

What I found most interesting was a quote by a young Occupy protester in Edmonton- the young man claims that his grandfather fought in the Canadian military for his right to protest, and that he does not believe that he should have to leave the premises at night.

I saluted Ric McIver who suggested that this young man's grandfather also fought for the Rule of Law here in Canada, and that his grandfather would likely not be pleased by his grandson's blatant disobedience. In Canada, I believe we have a responsibility to respect both public and private property. The issue isn't protesting...I'll be the first person to stand up for this young man's right to protest...but my support will end where this protesting is affecting the livelihood of others.

Another quote by a young female organizer of the Edmonton Occupy movement suggested that it would be too much of an inconvenience to dismantle and re-assessmble all of their tents, equipment, etc. I was once again impressed by the response, this time by Ralph Young, that this young lady does not wish to be inconvienced in her protests, but has not given consideration to the feelings of others and her potential inconvience in their lives.

I think that these two quotes embody more than just the feelings of two individuals. I believe that this speaks to the underlying societal pathologies of entitlement (quote #1) and selfishness (quote #2) displayed by many young people, and perhaps the Occupy movement at large.

On a side note, the protesters are likely not going to leave on their own. But this is Canada, and next week marks the beginning of the glorious month of November, where temperatures can drop significantly below 0 overnight.

Give it time in Canada...the occupy movement will likely be 'frozen' in its' tracks...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The 99% movement vs the 53% movement

By now I'm sure that everyone with access to television/radio/Internet (or in today's world perhaps Twitter and facebook) has heard of the 99% movement, which is protesting corporate greed on Wall St, and in government, more or less. The idea is that the 99% of people are fed up with the 1% of people who control a significant amount if wealth.

Recent polls suggest that the majority if Americans support the movement (unfortunately, I am without solid Canadian data, please comment if you know of any).

Well there is a new movement coming from the conservative American right- they call themselves the 53%. The idea is that these are the 53% of people who pay income tax, work hard, and who don't expect things to be handed to them. A common theme of social or financial hardship, any ultimately overcoming said hardships, characterizes the lives of members of the 53%.

The 53% are quite critical of the 99% (sorry about the numbers...)- they understand that there are major critiques of both Wall st and government, but they suggest that "what the 99% are missing is the critical element of individual responsibility for their own lives and futures."

Clearly, more that 53% of people in the United States pay income tax...but that's not really the point of the movement.

I live in a cohort of young people (say 18-25), that are overwhelmingly self-entitled and lazy, and who expect handouts at every turn. Unfortunately, although there are young people who do not live up (or live down, rather) to this stereotype, I would consider them to be the minority. The 99% (most of whom are young people) aren't wrong, they're just misguided...

The issue lies in how young people in my cohort were raised- they were raised to believe that they were 'special'. Indeed, children should be special in the eyes of their parents and families, as this promotes a culture of love and care. Where this is a disfavor to children (and now, to young adults) is when children learn that they do not have to work hard for what they receive because of the very fact that they are special. This is fine when Johnny wants a pack of gum at the corner store- surely, it would ridiculous to suggest that Johnny ought to start working at the age of 5 to earn this pack of gum- but when this behavior (and I'm talking about the behavior of parents here, not children) continues on into adolescence and teenage hood, it can completely distort how young people view work, reward, success, and others around them.

Being 'special' at a young age is a good thing, until a child reaches an age where they are out on their own in the real world and suddenly have to cope with the fact that the rest of the world no longer sees them as being special. Young people who were raised like this may still believe that they do not have to work for that 'pack or gum', the only difference in that the treat at the candy store is now college tuition (yes, lower tuition people, I'm talking to you), employment, or housing.

I have much respect for young people who were raised in such a way and actually accept that they are no longer special, and realize that people in the world do not exist to serve them, and that they are going to have to work for what they receive. Many will not accept, or realize, this, and can likely be found at protests such as Occupy Wall St, still demanding something for nothing, and still believing that they are special.

Obviously, the lesson here isn't to teach your kids that they're just like everyone else...children's individual talents and skills should be nurtured and praised. But it is important that in our world today children learn the basic values that families are meant to teach: the value of a dollar, the importance of good work ethic, the fulfillment of working hard, and the reason why we should all work hard- because you're not special in the eyes of the world, and the world is not going to hand you everything in life.

I was raised to believe that I was special in the eyes of my family- that they would love me no matter what. But I was also raised to understand that I must work for what I receive, and to understand why it is important to work hard. I am proud to say that I was raised this way, and indeed, these are some of the values that I would like to pass on to my children one day.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Time-orientation, the effects of video gaming on education, and the role of the family

RSA Animate has created a wonderful visual aid to Professor Philip Zimbardo's lecture on The Secret Powers of Time (link below). 
I'll discuss the following idea from the video:

The notion of time-orientation, and video games' effect on education in North American youth (primarily males).

Zimbardo lectures on the concept of 'time-orientation', and explains that one's cultural and social interpretations of time have profound impacts on everyday life. He explains that there are 6 'time-zones', or time-orientations that people live in: 2 for the past, 2 for the present, and 2 for the future.

Past oriented people are either:
Past-Positive, where they focus on all of the good things that have happened in their lives- the awards, successes, etc- these are the types of people who maintain photo albums or diaries
Past-Negative, where people tend to focus on their regrets, or failures- these are the people who blame their present, and any relative lack of perceived success, on their past, or past decisions

Present oriented people are either:
Present-Hedonistic, where they continually seek pleasure and avoid pain, probably the most basic of the time-orientations
Present-Fated, where people believe that they had might as well live in the present, because the decisions do not affect their future because it is fated- either fated because of their religion, poverty, or culture. The most obvious example here, being someone whose religion restricts them from participating fully in society.

Future-oriented people are either:
Future-Planning (my own term for what Zimbardo describes) where people learn to work rather than play, and plan for the future appropriately.
Future-Other (? Zimbardo doesn't actually finish this concretely), where people believe that life begins after the death of the mortal body. My sense is that this is similar to the present-fated orientation of time.
Zimbardo suggests that video games instil a sense of control in young people (young boys, specifically). They are able to control their virtual environment and can build entire worlds to their liking, thus they become programmed to learn in dynamic, digital environments that they alone have sole control over. He then suggests that this is the reason that boys tend to have increasing difficulty in traditional schools- schools are 'analog', they are static with one individual speaking about one topic for prolonged periods of time. Boys perceive this type of learning to be boring as it is passive, rather than active, and they have relatively little control over this environment.

Zimbardo's suggestion to resolving the issue of boys' inattentiveness and lack of motivation, as if solely due to video gaming, is to make schooling more interactive and dynamic to better serve an evolving audience of multi-tasking and control-obsessed young boys.

This could not be farther from the appropriate solution to the issue.  Re-creating the traditional learning environment in such a way that makes it more dynamic and attractive to these individuals would result in drastically reducing these young people's ability to focus their attention on specific learning objectives. Turning classrooms into gigantic iPads will enable children and youth to learn in a more comfortable environment in the short-term. However, when they become adults they may not be able to properly interpret static information, and create new ideas for themselves and for their generation.

The solution is not to change the school, it is change the video gaming.

I think Zimbardo needs to understand video gaming a little better. Video games today are designed to act as alternative parental figures for children:
  • They provide children with an immediate sense of gratification through immediate-to-short-term goal completion, thus providing children with the positive reinforcement of goal completion that should ultimately be coming from their parents,
  • They attempt to foster emotional relationships with characters/figures in the game in place of real-world emotional relationships, such as with family or parents,
  • They are designed to be addictive by allowing children to exercise a much more efficient method of self-gratification- what I mean by this, is that as a character in a video game, one can experience a life-time's worth of accomplishments in mere hours.
The point is that video games teach children and youth to be lazy. This is because video games offer an avenue of goal accomplishment, self-gratification, reinforcement, and praise that is much, much more efficient and easy than in the real world. This makes real-world tasks seem, by comparison, arduous, inefficient, and boring.

This may be a little politically incorrect, but the reason why some young video game-obsessed boys may not be doing well in school is not that they have learned to learn in a different way, and therefore we should cater to this newfound, and supposedly equivalent, method of learning. Rather, it is that children and youth who continually play video games are being programmed towards an over-arching culture of laziness.

We can make classrooms as dynamic and interactive as we want...but it will not inspire these video game-obsessed children to excel because the underlying fundamental philosophy of education is the acceptance of delayed gratification. These children are learning that gratification does not have to be delayed, because through video games it can occur as quickly as 5 minutes ago.

We are all born present-hedonists. Zimbardo argues that the purpose of schools, and education for that matter, it to transform present-oriented children and youth into future-oriented adults (depending on the culture). If schools are supposed to transform children and youth into future-oriented adults, who favour work over play, and who accept delayed gratification as a part of life, then they are going to need help.

It is time to get back to a culture focused on family values, where children are taught how to be ethical, upstanding, successful citizens in the home. This cannot happen if children are spending more time playing video games, than simply talking to their parents.