On Thanksgiving and book orders

First of all, let me wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. No matter what the origins of this holiday are, for me it has always been about two of my favorite things; food and family. I hope that whoever and where ever you are, you have plenty of both of these during this holiday.

Whatever else Thanksgiving may mean to you, it is about getting together with family and friends to share a good meal, reflect on what we’re grateful for and perhaps, even get into a discussion about a controversial topic or two. Most heated discussions usually center around politics. Whether or not you agreed with someone’s political views used to be a matter of how you interpreted the facts. That was of course a past when we were all getting our information from the same media outlets.

Nowadays, there are so many places available for us to get information, that we really live in a fractured landscape of disparate facts. According to some experts, social media is at the epicenter of how we get our news nowadays. No longer are television, radio, or newspapers our primary sources for information. And don’t even get me started about books, which seem to have disappeared from the hands of young people everywhere.

This year because our book orders were a little late, they arrived just as we were going for Thanksgiving break. Needless to say, I could not wait to unpack them and begin preparing them for addition into our collection. While checking in the books, I started to notice a trend in some of the nonfiction titles I had ordered. See if you can spot it:

I try to be balanced about controversial issues that may exist. But I don’t pretend to be neutral about anything. I am honest about what my politics are and how they shape my thinking and my worldview. While reviewing the books that I ordered for our collection, I noticed that there were quite a few books that discuss America’s ugly past. It is not because I have some sort of anti-American streak in me. In fact, I ordered these books because I love the United States, but I don’t pretend that we’re awesome and I don’t want people to forget how we got here … or how far we are from getting things right.

The U.S. is no utopia, it never has been, especially for certain segments of her population. In the age of Trump, where a slogan like “Make America Great Again” conjures up some idyllic past in the minds of some people, I feel it is important to shine a bright light on that past, to reveal the details that a nostalgic mind will often forget or intentionally overlook. Worse still than nostalgia is propaganda intended to create friction between factions, and monsters out of men. We are at the mercy of our minds, and media outlets have gotten a hold of the master key. But in order for real growth to happen we must be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and be honest with what we see, who we are. If that makes us uncomfortable, then so be it. Growth demands change, and change is always uncomfortable.

I am thankful that I live in a country where I can still purchase books that try to wrestle honestly with the brutal ugliness of our yesterdays. “What’s past is prologue”. Boy was Billy right.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something worthwhile.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved.

November Quick Hits

  Every once in a while I find a bunch of interesting things that aren’t necessarily related, and I don’t think I can write a whole post about any one of them, so I bunch them together and share them as my “Quick Hits” post.

Kids and “Screen time”

            CNN’s Kristen Rogers’ report, “US teens use screens more than seven hours a day on average”, was an eye-opening review of the 2019 Common Sense Census; a report of 1,600 eight to eighteen year olds and their use of computers in all forms and formats. Anyone can download the full 70-page report for themselves here, which includes the questionnaire used to gather the information. For me, the most salient line in Rogers’ article is,

            “Despite the creative opportunities technology offers, young people devote very little time to creating their own content. No more than 1 in 10 in either age group say they enjoy ‘a lot’ activities like making digital art or graphics, creating digital music, coding or designing or modifying their own video games.

            In my experience, I find this to be true. Even while the number of tools available to students continues to expand, I don’t see many students incorporating them into their school work. Nowadays, a slideshow presentation, for example, could easily include embedded videos, audio, three-D models, a livestream connection, and various other media instead of the static, poorly cropped images students still use.

            I also find that students never pick up a newspaper or magazine even though I have them prominently displayed in our library at the circulation desk. In fact, we get twenty free copies of the Haverhill Gazette daily and the only time any student looks at it, is if they happen to be on a team at the school, and there is a story about them or the team.

National Geographic, WOMEN: A century of change

            When I was a kid, the yellow bordered magazine was always a favorite of mine. Stories are told in long-form narratives, interspersed with pullout maps, and rich, beautiful illustrations that show cutaway and multi-level views of exotic places or ancient civilizations. National Geographic continues to be a visual treasure that often features pictures that become icons in the culture.

            The November 2019 issue is dedicated to chronicling the ongoing story of more than half the people on the planet. Full of both archival and contemporary pictures, the issue is also a patchwork of quotes and profiles of women, young and old, changing the planet.

A little from online, a little from print

            While we are on the subject of magazines specifically, and reading in print in general, one of the tables that caught my eye while I was reading the 2019 Common Sense Report is on page 15. This table breaks down how students read nowadays, whether electronically or otherwise. According to the self-reported data, students claim to spend about an hour and eleven minutes each day reading books in print. From my personal experience, I find this hard to believe, unless students are reporting time in class spent reading from textbooks or handout materials copied from textbooks.

            Having observed students’ reading habits for the last two decades, I can state confidently, that their sense of what constitutes legitimate information has shifted radically online and has all but abandoned what we once considered traditional or mainstream avenues. Unfortunately, one of the casualties of this shift has been print magazines, many of which still offer insightful, intelligent and reliable reports.

            Recently, for example, I overheard a health teacher talking to her class about viruses and the curious position they hold somewhere between complex organic chemistry and living organism. After class, I shared with her a link to Journey to the Microcosmos (even though they don’t have a video about viruses) and PBS EONS’, “Where did viruses come from?”. A few days later, I was flipping through the July/August 2019 DISCOVER magazine, “Everything worth knowing about …” Issue, where they cover a variety of scientific and technological ideas, including a three-page spread on viruses! Of course, I shared this too, with our health teacher, and reflected on how great the information available to students nowadays is.

Edward Snowden on Joe Rogan

            One of my guilty pleasures is the Joe Rogan podcast. For those not familiar with Rogan, he is a standup comedian and was the host of Fear Factor, as well as being an announcer for some MMA events. On the side, Joe Rogan has also become one of the most popular podcasters with guests ranging from his comic friends (Eddie Bravo, Joey Diaz, Bill Burr) to actors (Edward Norton, Dan Ackroyd) and a variety of others (Whiz Khalifa, Alex Jones, Rob Zombie, Mike Tyson, Reggie Watts) including serious scientists and thinkers like Brian Greene, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Dr. Cornel West and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

            Recently, Rogan invited Edward Snowden to his podcast, and he accepted. Whether you consider Snowden a traitor or a patriot, he is a thoughtful and insightful individual who knowingly risked his freedom to follow his conscience. The three-hour podcast is mostly Snowden talking about his backstory, relating how he got to be in the position he was in at the NSA and weaving together both personal anecdotes and historic court cases to reveal how the world got to where it’s at. (Not in a good way).

Earth Currents

            Finally, the last thing I will share this week was passed on to me by science teacher, S. Niraula, who in turn got it from science teacher, C. McQuaid. It is another example of what can happen when information gathered by our public science institutions such as NOAA and NASA are turned into tools available for free to the public. Using the tools available, one can monitor and track ocean and air currents, carbon dioxide hotspots, and dust storms. Users can decide what layer of the atmosphere they’d like to see by changing “height” and they can change the “projection” style for the map displayed (Conic equidistant, orthographic, equirectangular, etc.). Click on the map below to go to the link. Worth exploring.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you found something useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2019. All rights reserved.