October 21st, 2009


The Pedagogy of Punishment

Here's a good sharp article about stupid school policies and the increasingly broken society that makes them:

Henry A. Giroux | Schools and the Pedagogy of Punishment
Henry A. Giroux, Truthout: "The shift to a society now governed through crime, market-driven values and the politics of disposability has radically transformed the public school as a site for a civic and critical education. One major effect can be seen in the increasingly popular practice of organizing schools through disciplinary practices that closely resemble the culture of prisons."

Just in case it isn't obvious: 1) Punishment should improve behavior, not worsen it. 2) Things and people have worth beyond what money can be gotten out of them. 3) Using up things and people, then throwing them away, often causes problems and is a poor choice for a default way of dealing with the world. 4) If children in your care are behaving badly and you wonder why, look in the mirror. 9 times out of 10, you're looking at the reason.

Hard Things

Life is full of things which are hard or tedious or otherwise unpleasant that need doing anyhow. They help make the world go 'round, they improve skills, and they boost your sense of self-respect. But doing them still kinda sucks. It's all the more difficult to do those things when nobody appreciates it. Happily, blogging allows us to share our accomplishments and pat each other on the back.

What are some of the hard things you've done recently?

Communities Against Climate Change

I was intrigued by this call to action:

When the mangroves started to die, Magongo Lawrence Manje knew something
was wrong.

For generations, his 12,000-person community in the coastal Kilifi
district in Kenya depended upon Mtwapa Creek's marine ecosystem for its
livelihood, but climate change has increased droughts in their region and
altered life as they know it.

With less rain, mangroves died, leaving coastlines bare, and without the
mangroves to prevent erosion and maintain salinity, fish and other marine
life couldn't breed. And as the plants, trees, and fish disappeared,
farmers and fishermen had nothing to sell at market.

Magongo, who is the outreach coordinator for the Kwetu Training Center,
describes how this chain reaction has affected people's everyday lives:

"People employed in livestock and crop-growing ... lose their jobs and
bread basket. Fishermen are no longer getting enough catch to sustain
their families, which results [in] poor nutrition. At the same time,
students cannot go to school due to lack of fees and hunger."

All this, because the mangroves disappeared. Because of climate change.

Amid these sobering facts, however, Magongo's community has hope. Funded
in part by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Kwetu
Training Center is teaching the community environmental conservation
techniques and helping them reclaim their livelihoods through sustainable
methods. Their solutions include:

* Establishing replacement mangrove nurseries and protecting the few
remaining mangrove forests.

* Introducing fish and prawn farming to generate income. Community youth
play a major role by constructing fish and prawn ponds to increase

* Implementing beekeeping, organic farming, solar drying and other
eco-friendly activities that bring in revenue and improve the community's
standard of living.

Magongo and his team at Kwetu are a terrific example of people taking
individual action to adapt to climate change.

But as Magongo said to us, everyone must educate their communities on
climate change and its direct effects. Otherwise, the forests and marine
life they depend on will become a thing of the past.

Do you have a story like Magongo's? What are YOU losing because of climate
change? Share your story and help spread the word -- just like Magongo is
doing in his community.

Thanks for joining our cause,

The UN Foundation Climate and Energy Team
(Reid, Ryan, Jana, Kurt, and John)

Stand Up to the Banksters

I was pleased by this call to action. Nobody elected the people who are running the banks (into the ground). They have too much power. They're abusing it. They're doing a bad job; the economy is in ruins. Now these aren't the only people to blame for this grade-A chrome-plated multi-user reproductive activity, but they are certainly some of the people who helped install the chrome plating. I don't think they should be exempt from American citizens' right to "petition for a redress of grievances." Hopefully they'll listen while people are still waving signs instead of torches and pitchforks.

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Discussing Epics

The Poetry Fishbowl project continues to develop, sprouting new options as participants make requests or say things that give me ideas.

One of the new features to emerge over the last several months is the increased access to epic poems, those over 60 lines. I used to mark them "custom pricing" and leave them for the small handful of sponsors who can afford to make a big donation all at once. Then folks asked if they could team up to sponsor poems together, and the cosponsor option was born, notably presenting you with "Where Have All the Heroes Gone?/Different Gifts." So I began calculating the price and posting that. And then people started getting interested in the really long ones that might not get sponsored all in one day.

This was partly initiated by "The Sky-Eyes and the Earth-Hearts," a science fiction poem that emerged outside of the fishbowl context and got several folks all excited and clamoring to read it. So I put it up for sale, and it was microfunded over a period of about two months, with me posting each verse as it was funded. One long-term fishbowl epic has since been fully sponsored, "The Cuckoo's Song," and another has just been started, "The Transformations of Terror."

I'd like to discuss with you, my audience, the various practical and creative aspects of this stuff because in the world of cyberfunded creativity, you're the gatekeepers. I want to find ways of delivering experiences that you will really enjoy. Some of the things crossing my mind include ...

Long poems rarely hit print. The Science Fiction Poetry Association has a Rhysling Award "long poem" category for poems of 50+ lines. However, few markets accept poems that long. Length limits of 20-30 lines are common. (That cap spans my two medium-length categories, by the way.) I can still find a few places to submit them, but not a lot. So when you folks choose to sponsor one of my epic poems, chances are you're having a big impact, publishing something that otherwise probably wouldn't see the light of print for a long time, if ever.

Microfunding, where I'm posting verses one at a time as they are funded, means that small donations have a big impact. If all you can spare is $1-2 and that's how much it costs for the next verse, then you've just made a difference by revealing that verse. It's like a scratch-off ticket where you always win a prize. This process of posting verses one at a time was kind of a casual, whimsical idea when I first started with it. I thought it could be like a poetic version of a movie serial, and by happy coincidence, sometimes the donation breaks have landed on lovely cliffhangers. I was also surprised to discover that it's fun for me to watch the poem slowly being revealed to the audience, even though I know the whole thing already. I enjoy the reactions; I enjoy hearing that people are eager for the next installment. So, what do you think about the verse-by-verse microfunding technique? Have you donated to one of these poems? Would you donate if you had money, or if I hit a topic you love? Does it not grab you for some reason?

When the epics first started catching on, I had it in my head to present them one at a time. When you finished funding one epic, another could be chosen. My intent with that was to avoid spreading out the donations over too large an area. However, my partner Doug pointed out that people who liked one epic might or might not like another. Frex, the first overlap was a short one, but involved "The Cuckoo's Gift" (fantasy humor, ballad) and "The Transformations of Terror" (science fiction horror, free verse); pretty much opposite ends of the spectrum. I suspect there would be some overlap, because most of my fans have rather broad tastes and like a lot of my poems -- but I don't know exactly how much overlap, large or small. Another aspect is that the poetry fishbowl puts most of my monthly income in one day (and the following several); an ongoing epic helps spread that out a little more, which can be beneficial. Several epics on a rotating cycle would even it out better, if there was enough interest to keep them going. I don't know whether it would be better to limit the number of epics currently open for sponsorship, thus limiting competition; or to leave it unconstrained, thus giving people wider choice. What do you think? Which would you prefer? Are there any other pros or cons you'd like to raise?

Another recent change is that I started offering the current epic as a choice in generally sponsored poetry polls. Both times, the epic won. So we finished off "The Cuckoo's Song" and got a good start on "The Transformations of Terror." Among other things, this gives people a chance to support a poem by voting for it, even if they can't make a donation personally. Plus it lets you keep pursuing a poem you already like, if none of the new ones really grab you. On the other hoof, it does somewhat reduce the number of poems you get to see. Do you like having the option of voting general donations toward verses of an epic? What did you think of the way I handled it? This is necessarily going to be more complicated than a flat-price poem because you might want to devote just a little to the epic -- or a lot. Discuss.

Closely related to the voting issue is overflow. Sometimes I have these little bits of general donation left over, like when somebody gives less than $5 or they put in foreign money and it comes out in dollars and cents. Other times, people send donations just for me doing what I'm doing, not really aimed at sponsoring poems. What I did for a while was essentially pocket those as contributions towards my wordsmithing that people enjoy; I post all kinds of stuff for free. What I've done more recently is route at least the general donation overflow, and sometimes the outside donations, into funding the epics. It varies. If somebody specifies what a donation is for, that's where it goes; but if they don't, I've got leeway. Thoughts?

I've been tracking donors, so that everyone who contributes toward a poem gets listed as a cosponsor. What about votes in a poll? Should I just say "audience," "acclaim," "voters" or something else generic like that? Should I list the people who actually voted in a poll to put money towards a poem? Something else?

Just in case you were wondering whether your prompts and donations and votes make a difference: they do. I write a lot of poems -- and sometimes even stories -- that I probably would never have discovered all by myself. When you sponsor poems, individually or collectively, you are directly affecting which literature the world gets to see and enjoy. I write poetry fast; you folks are doing a better job of keeping up with me than the mass of poetry editors at magazines and other conventional venues. That's not just funding me and amusing you; it's also entertaining other folks in the audience who appreciate the selections made available by sponsors. We had a couple comments to that effect this month, so I wanted to highlight it as a benefit. Some of you are discovering what I consider one of the greatest joys of editing: being able to turn to your friends and say, "Look at this cool piece of writing I just bought!" When I was working the magazine industry, I turned a few friends on to editing; I hadn't expected that to happen here, but I am enjoying it just as much.

So anyhow, those are some of the ideas and issues I've been mulling over. I want to be able to share my poetry, including the epics, with my audience in a way that's convenient for you and productive for me. I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic.