Teaching models for different attitudes

Posted on January 16, 2008

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I’ve been thinking about reactions to the Story of Stuff. Lots of people loved it. People around here are busily organising video evenings for their kindergartens and others are suggesting that it be made compulsory viewing for all staff and students. Another group of people hate it. Despite what the former may think, many of these haters are committed environmentalists.
Dave commented in response to an earlier post:

yes it lost me at the first step is “extraction = x = trashing the planet”. It’s got all of the P’s – pretentious, preaching, propaganda. It is simplistic in the extreme and carries all of the typical green “anti-successful business” attitude which just makes me hit the red X

It embodies FUD

I can see this appealing to the sustainability evangelists giving a self-righteous boost but the unconvinced in this century require more than this kind of poster style argument.

and on a work list:

You’d need to be careful that both your credibility and the message don’t suffer. There are many things in the video that are just plain false.
It would be good to present to a communications class as a way of showing how you can take myths and half-truths, apply them to a populist argument, and get away with it very well. But if you are trying to present sustainability then the falsehoods and obvious spin will probably result in some students adjusting their view of your credibility, and then taking the message with a grain of salt – perhaps even dismissing it as the fad de jure.

It is useful for critiquing communication and raising awareness that there’s a lot of very slick snake-oil salesmen out there – but it may backfire in a sustainability class when you actually want to get the message across and have students accept it.

This is an important debate. Here’s the question: how can we present the message when we have such different starting points and the very thing that motivates some antagonises others.
There are several sub questions here

1. Do we have any idea of the distribution of different attitudes?

2. How might we expect those segments of the population/class to respond to different approaches?

3. What is a sensible teaching model that address these different attitudes?
Clearly, not lying is a start. Is there a role for shocking people to get their attention (there is much in the museum literature about carefully managing comfort zones).

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