That’s the essence of the man, I’m weak and afraid

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Caged Gorilla, originally uploaded by bprimrose.

So late last night I’m walking the dog, listening to Radiolab’s show on Zoos… I’ll paraphrase below, but I recommend you listen to the segment I’m describing for yourself:

The clip describes the traditional and frankly shocking state of zoos 30 or 40 years ago. To focus on one example, gorillas were invariably kept in featureless concrete enclosures, devoid of anything to interact with. The effects on the animals were predictable enough, with nothing to do except eat and spread their feces around that’s all they did. Radiolab interviews zookeeper David Hancocks, architect Grant Jones, and gorilla keeper Violet Sunde, who were convinced they could do better. They brought in Dian Fossey as a consultant, who convinced them to try the then-radical approach of attempting to make the gorilla’s space simulate the wild. What I found most striking about this account was the observation that they were only able to try this approach because they were not being supervised. Had an authoritative zookeeper been around, they never would have been allowed to create such a “dangerous” environment, it would be seen as compromising the safety of the animals. My favorite line notes how having all-concrete enclosures was considered the only responsible technique, as it was easy to clean and could be kept sterile.

If you want to draw an analogy to how we as educators create an unnatural, borderline inhumane online environment in the name of safety, I won’t stop you…

Which brings me to my putative point, a most groovy ELI Session entitled “Who’s Afraid of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and the Big Bad CMS? A Digi-Drama About Fear 2.0” delivered by Laura Blankenship, Barbara Ganley, Barbara Sawhill, Leslie Madsen-Brooks, and Martha Burtis. I’ve been struggling with how to frame this session in a blog post, as I doubt I can express my full appreciation without descending into full-blown sycophantic hyperbole.

Thankfully, the presenters have collected their materials in a nifty package, and you can experience their diverse set of short films for yourself. Can I even begin to express how much more compelling these sharable web-friendly materials are than a set of PowerPoint slides? Allow me to add how impressed I was with their creative and conversational approach to the session, generating some very provocative discussion. A subject like “fear” lurks beneath so many of our interactions in this field, and it was clear that people were grateful for the chance to address it directly. I was also privileged to interact with this dynamic and witty crew over meals and relentless Twitter-banter, enriching my stay in San Antonio immeasurably.

Related reading: Gardner Campbell is rendered speechless(!) by a student’s flash of recognition that “our schools are set up all wrong.”

The title of this post is drawn from Ross Johnson’s version of “Theme from a Summer Place”:

I’m special ordering Johnson’s Make It Stop!. You might be interested in reading Johnson (who is a librarian at the University of Memphis!) relate his mostly disastrous experiences working with Alex Chilton and other indie-rock luminaries.

One thought on “That’s the essence of the man, I’m weak and afraid

  1. Zoos, huh? I sometimes think of straightjackets and padded rooms.

    Anyway, thanks so much for the flattering comments. I’m so glad you were there and had a great time talking to you about all kinds of things. Looking forward to more conversations.

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