Peace (and Music),
Now here’s a perfect book for the annual Write Out celebration of National Parks and public spaces that takes place each October. The National Parks (Preserving America’s Wild Places) by Failynn Koch is part of a series of “History Comics” by the First Second Publishing company, and this deep look at the formation of the National Park system is fantastic, fun, informative and provocative.
In this fast-paced historical tour of how the National Park System came to be, Koch does not turn her attention away from controversial elements of the park system’s history that includes the taking of land from Native American tribes through force and manipulation, the racism that encountered the “Buffalo Soldiers” who acted as the first protection force of public lands following the Civil War, and the much-too-slow rise of women leaders in the organization, mostly due to gender disparities build into the institutions of government. In many books in the past about the National Parks, these issues are either left out of the official narrative or brushed over. Here, Koch gives these topics ample room.
The book also explores the impact of many important historical characters, like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Marjorie Stoneham Douglas, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and many others who saw that only through activism and outreach could the general public really see the value of a system like the National Parks. And even those who are often celebrated (rightly) for their advocacy are giving nuances (such as Teddy Roosevelt’s inclination to still want to hunt animals on public lands and ignoring the interconnected lives of the forests themselves).
Koch spends ample time, too, on the debate that has long taken place between those who advocate Preservation (protecting lands from any significant human activity) and Conservation (allowing some operations to take place, such as logging, while protecting the space). We still see this taking place today, particularly when it comes to introducing animals like the wolf back into park lands or in fire reduction strategies.
In the end, this graphic history provides a rich insight into one of our country’s treasures: the complicated system of public spaces that are the National Park Service system. In the Write Out project (a free program which takes place each year in the Fall), we explore some of these issues through activities and collaborations, but this book would be a nice text to any classroom library (ideally, given the text complexity here, upper elementary to high school readers). Boy, I know I sure would love to have a class set of this book for our classroom work in Write Out.
Peace (and Parks),
The latest stop for the National Writing Project’s Write Across America – where different Writing Project sites are hosting writing activities – was Connecticut and the focus was on state parks. Interestingly, I grew up in the town next to one of the parks — Sleeping Giant State Park – and spent a lot of time there.
But I didn’t know much of the myth of the Giant, so I enjoyed learning more of the Native American stories and then using some of that in the digital poem. The Sleeping Giant actually looks like a giant, on its back, napping.
Learn more about the Sleeping Giant.
Peace (and Poems),
I visited our Western Massachusetts Writing Project Summer Institute yesterday to give a workshop presentation about Artificial Intelligence, Ethics and Education and we began with an interactive Word Cloud activity. The prompt was: what words or phrases come to mind when you think of Artificial Intelligence. The Word Cloud above is their collective responses.
You can see that most had more of a negative reaction than positive, and the conversations about reservations about AI in society at large, and in schools, more specifically, were enlightening.
Many had never even tried ChatGPT or knew about Google Bard, never mind the raft of other tools that have come out. Only one participant in a K-12 school had had any discussions at the school level about the emergence of Generative AI, and no one knew of any school policies that have been put into place.
Our ethical discussions revolved around issues of privacy, of copyright, of bias and more, and then we moved into the ideas of whether Generative AI belongs in classrooms, and if so, how and why. This led to conversations about leveling reading texts, engaging in AI “thinking partners” for inquiry, creating outlines on topics and more. We did talk about copy/paste plagiarism (one of the Summer Institute facilitators — and our new WMWP site director — is a university professor, and she noted this is a big discussion point in content-area departments more than the English department).
The big takeaway for me was a rich discussion about the authenticity of student writing, and how teachers must be attuned to the writers in front of them, and the possibilities of using technology to guide that process (or not) but not to replace that work. Tapping into the writing activities gives students a unique voice and authority that AI tools just don’t have. (Yet?)
I used Curipod as my presentation platform — it is another AI site for making presentations — and if you want to see the presentation (and make a copy of it for your own use), you can by using this link.
Peace (and Wonder),
I was walking around the block yesterday and noticed all of the mushroom and fungi popping up on people’s lawns. We’ve had a ton of rain, so this is not all that surprising, but it is pretty cool how many different looking fungi there are, depending on soil and plant life.
Peace (and Observation),
My father, before he retired, was an accountant by day, drummer by night. When I was growing up, he was always busy with music. His Fridays, Saturdays and sometimes Sundays were spent keeping the beat in a variety of different wedding and dance bands, and he traveled all over, playing with different combinations of musicians every gig. (He also gave private drum lessons during the week, but that’s not really part of this story.)
And then, quite suddenly, the gigs began to dry up. It was the start of the DJ Revolution, where one person or two with a mixing board could replace an entire band of live musicians. For wedding and party planners, the cost differential of hiring a single DJ versus an entire band was huge, and for many, the finances was the decision factor. Understandable, but regrettable.
What was lost was not just my father’s regular gigs, which petered out over a stretch of time, but also the element of live music at these events, which I contend is a huge loss for making a wedding or party something special. Oh, I know DJs can do a fine job of finding the right songs and making the right mix to get our hands in the air and all that (one of my sons is now a part-time party DJ, ironically), but I’ll always argue that being in the presence of a good live band is a transformative experience. You feel the music being created, and the connection between audience and musician in the same room is an energy you can’t quite replicate with machine. Watching a human performance is a visceral experience, tying an event to memories in ways that digital tracks cannot.
Anyway, my father’s gigs dried up as DJs became more prominent, and I was thinking of this shift recently as the ethics of the data sets of Artificial Intelligence, and the ease of use to create art with Generative AI, comes more into focus. If AI can write a script, or make a piece of art, or compose a piece of music, or produce a video, or whatever, and the cost differential is the bottom line for companies that would have otherwise hired real people to make real art, then the world will shift.
Like it did for my father and his generation of musicians.
We see this same issue now playing out in the strikes in Hollywood with writers and now actors, who, among other things, worry about if their creative talents will be replaced by AI in the future as cost-cutting measures. It’s a legitimate concern, I think.
What will be lost when my father’s generation of live musicians faded into the shadows of the machine is similar, too: the authenticity of interactive experience, of being in the immediate presence of a piece of art that was conceived by the human mind and brought into being through the creative process for an audience of one (you, when you experience the art, in whatever form that art has become).
I’m not sure how I feel about this cultural transformation, or if it can be slowed or altered at this point in time. Probably not. But I already mourn the loss as a member of the audience and as a maker of art, you know?
Even as I play around with Generative AI platforms and use AI to figure out its potential (and maybe new art forms, which is potentially exciting), I know I’ll hang on to the pen scratches on paper, to the power of a musician’s solo that is different in every performance, to the synergy and energy of actors in a scene, and to much more, but will the generations after us even care whether the art is live or if it synthetic?
I hope so.
Peace (Pondering It),