Week 1 (Sep.5-8)

[In some ways I considered this to be “Week Zero” since we had so little time together due to the grad river rafting trip.  But the few things we did accomplish are described below.]

The unifying theme of English 12 is “pattern recognition, narrative, and the search for meaning.”  We started off the course with a discussion of the psychological phenomenon of apophenia–our tendency to find non-existent patterns in random information.  We considered passages from Oliver Sacks, who spoke of our tendency to see our lives in terms of an unfolding narrative, and Viktor Frankl, who discussed the question of how we attempt to give meaning to that narrative.  Frankl’s suggestion that we should not seek for the meaning of life but rather consider that we are being questioned by life is especially compelling.  The provincial exam was also an early focus and I briefly took you through the four sections of the exam.
Pattern Recognition
The focus in Social Studies 11 is human geography.  We began with two clips from the 1985 science-fiction film The Quiet Earth which gave us a powerful narrative illustration of the deterioration of a human mind in isolation.  This led us to Aristotle’s famous description that “Man is a social animal.”  We talked about what that means.
Quiet Earth
To properly unpack this question, we had a discussion about culture and society, and differentiated these concepts.  Briefly we had an overview of traditional social models such as hunter-gatherer societies and agrarian societies, but most of our emphasis was on the distinction between contemporary industrial vs. post-industrial patterns of organization.  We talked about culture as embodying both social behavior and social norms–attitudes, values, beliefs.  The transmission of culture and the nature of culture as continually progressing (or at least changing) rounded out the discussion. 

We then watched a short documentary film: India’s Child Geniuses, and as an introductory exercise I asked you to make observations as to what the film revealed about culture in India.  Perhaps inevitably, in our discussion we made comparisons to Canada and talked about changing gender roles in India as it slowly develops into a modern industrial state.  We also considered attitudes towards, intelligence, education and the family.

You can’t understand the world around you until you understand the world inside you.  At least, this was my premise at the start of English 10 this week.  We talked about the billion dollar choice: (1) One billion dollars and a lifetime without romantic or sexual lvoe, or (2) True love for a lifetime with the person of your dreams, with the two of you living in continual poverty.  Not surprisingly, the concept of dilemma came up early on.

We then read Plato’s iconic “Parable of the Cave” from his great work The Republic.  We talked about the lessons Plato’s story seems to be teaching about knowledge and belief.  We then looked at an extended segment from the 1999 science-fiction film The Matrix, in which protagonist Neo is confronted with the painful cost of learning the truth about the world.
I also laid the foundation for our study of language with the fundamental dichotomy of literal and figurative language.  We examined types of figurative language, many of which you were already familiar with: metaphor, simile, personification, as well as some new concepts in hyperbole and euphemism.  Our week concluded with a consideration of the famous thought experiment of the trolley problem, and we talked about the nature of ethical dilemmas and the challenge we face in attempting to find moral truth in ambiguous circumstances.
Trolley problem cartoon


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