Teaching Deliberatively – Exercise Two: Natural Disasters: What is Society’s Responsibility? 23 July 2014 – Morning One-pager
Dissection is a formidable task, especially to a 7th grade girl who always said prayers for dead critters along the road… except possums, which clearly deserved to die. When faced with my frog, the first cut was preceded by an overwhelming stench and my hesitation. While pressing the knife wouldn’t end life, it still felt awkward and wrong somehow.
When faced with an inert creature, splayed on its back – this naked, unexplored topic dealing with natural disasters – one wonders why – why must I cut it open? Why must I remove and examine the contents? Why must I come to conclusions that surely already exist?
The answer is complex, but essentially comes down to a new way of building. The framework for forums cannot exist without first completely annihilating its subject. Some pieces serve an obvious function while others appear to serve no useful purpose – lungs versus “gunk.” But it’s all necessary for the whole to exist.
At first, we discussed different people, their actions, and their motivations in the face of a natural disaster. Some responses were personal, some were monetary, and others were altruistic. This is society (perhaps in a vacuum) but still real. Early answers were diverse, but it didn’t take long for patterns to emerge: the need for government action, the need for community involvement, the need for individual responsibility. These ideas were much clearer once we joined our initial framing groups and tried to create three sentences that would essentially define options 1-3.
As a large group, we settled into these ideas: governmental agencies must establish and implement immediate and long-term response policies and procedures, nongovernmental organizations and industries must establish and implement immediate and long-term response policies and procedures, and individuals and communities must establish and implement immediate and long-term response policies and procedures (I’ll leave the lively post-lunch debate about the wording of option 3 and its effect on the framework to this afternoon’s reflection).
Later, three new groups were faced with the assignment of expanding the frame. This is much like trying to put back the pieces of the frog – impossible at first, but not as difficult once we set aside the notion that our end products had to resemble anything froglike, or even amphibious. Essentially, we were encouraged to turn our frogs into princes through logic and civil discourse (though if you have been lucky enough to be in a group with Erin, it feels more like magic).
I suspect that all three groups shared a similar experience, but as I was in group 2, I will specifically address our experience. We first came up with working definitions for what we believed to be nongovernmental organizations and industries – should we include anything that had taxpayer funding, etc.? Unfortunately, our definitions did not end up being the same as other groups, but that is further fodder for the afternoon one-pager.
Once the parameters were defined, we went about the task of rebuilding our frog. We wanted it to be clean and succinct; however, we muddied the waters by skipping around (only slightly frustrating our recorder – sorry, Shelly) and by splitting hairs over the difference between drawbacks and tradeoffs/costs/consequences. Ultimately, our greatest concern was in the writing of the final sentence. What could we truly live with in order to support this approach? Could we accept the KKK handing out free water, the Westboro Baptist Church?
In the end, the frame we created no longer resembles a frog or even what might surround the picture of an amphibian; it is a previously unknown creature. The scent of formaldehyde on our fingers reminds us where we began, but, as is often the case, the road traveled was the actual destination.