Dr. David Orr, in the question and answer period following his presentation “The End of Education” shared with an audience at the University of British Columbia on January 13, 2006 (hour/minute/second mark 1:00:05 of the podcast), quoted a corporate CEO who stated the problem with his company was that they “suffered from a deficit of joy.”

I think this observation is right on the money in many 21st century contexts. Too many people in life today suffer from a “deficit of joy.” We are often too hurried, too stressed, too busy to enjoy the sunset, too task-oriented to experience the simple pleasure of sharing a cup of coffee with a friend. I have posted these thoughts in my “Luddite” blog category, because they go right along with other ideas I have shared before relating to our need to critically question technology and its impact on our lives (as well as specifically on our classrooms.)

Dr. Orr questions whether or not this deficit is endemic to large organizations, but suggests it is not– and I agree with him. It is based more on the choices individuals make rather than a culture which is unavoidably imposed.

He also speaks to the “clockspeed issue” of contemporary civilization relative to the innate clockspeed of human beings. He tells the story of taking his students from Oberlin to Klein’s farm, which is Amish. The Amish judge technologies based on their potential or actual impact on their community. I love this quotation from the end of Dr. Orr’s presentation (1:16:01 of the podcast):

The clockspeed of contemporary civilization is now incredibly fast, but the clockspeed internal to everyone in this room is the clockspeed that was set fifty or a hundred thousand years go. We were programmed, basically, to tell each other stories around campfires. That’s our internal programming. And we’re about the same as Neanderthal folks were… Our clockspeed is still that of fifty or a hundred or two hundred thousand years ago, but our technology now is this staccato technology, and it is the disharmony between these two [that we need to address].

He goes on to offer some practical suggestions for people to slow down the pace of their life, make their eating habits more environmentally sensitive, etc.

I think the environmental doomsday theme of Dr. Orr’s presentation, particularly early in the podcast, is probably over the top– but who really does know? He talks about the delta graph of global consumption tied to the availability and use of fossil fuels, and contends we either are already or soon will be on the downward side of that delta graph. I tend to think that renewable energy sources are available and will become commercially viable when there is sufficient market incentive for that paradigm shift. The pace of change certainly has a dark side, but I think ultimately we will benefit from advances in technology which will help us live (as a human race) in more ecologically sensitive and sustainable ways. I agree with Dr. Orr’s core message that this is a CHOICE, not an inevitability, and we need to reorient conversations we have in educational and other contexts to consider environmental aspects.

I agreed with Dr. Orr’s observation early on that formal education is not necessarily equivalent to real learning. His observation that the root of the word “education” is “to educe,” which means “to draw out” rather than “to stuff in” was enlightening.

His discussion midway through the lecture about the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, who applied Freudian psychology to mass marketing, was also thought provoking. The BBC aired a documentary in 2002 entitled “The Rise of the All-Consuming Self and the Influence of the Freud Dynasty – from Sigmund to Matthew.” In the description of that program, the BBC editor wrote:

Bernays invented the profession of public relations in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses.

Dr. Orr quoted Bernays in his presentation as saying:

The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process.

Lots of good material to think about here and study with students on the subjects of media literacy and critical thinking. I think Orr’s postulates that U.S. kids are being dumbed down since they get almost all their information about current events from television sources is a bit outdated: Access to the Internet has certainly changed this for many, and will continue to do so as Internet access and 1:1 computing becomes more ubiquitous.

Overall this was a thought provoking presentation. Again, thanks to the technological power of podcasts, I am thrilled to have been able to listen to this message here in Lubbock, Texas that was shared with a Canadian audience fifteen days ago. It inspires me to read the book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv, which my wife read last summer but I have not taken time to read yet. Dr. Orr referenced and recommended the book in his presentation. Thanks for the podcasts UBC! 🙂

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