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Sometimes you get an investigation which inherently involves bias. One of these topics is the Amazonian rainforest.

Our rainforest research takes into account the fact that people are using the resources of the Amazon and the rainforest in all sorts of ways: logging, farming, mining, energy creation, medical research, holidays and of course as a home for indigenous Amerindians. We ask pupils to write a report in the character of someone living or working in the rainforest, explaining how the environment should be used to help them and what effects that will have.

Bias comes into practically every book and every website on this subject: keeping the rainforest is a Good Thing.. Any other use of the land is a Bad Thing. It’s a prejudice that the class – and the staff – tend to sympathise with, although we do try to balance the information through discussion points.

Not only does this make the research difficult, because so many materials focus solely on the conservation perspective, but it’s actually making some pupils uncomfortable: it might be the first time they’ve been asked to create a piece of work supporting something they don’t personally agree with. And even if they haven’t already got an opinion, it’s tough to argue against so much opposition.

The awkward research is one of the things that makes this a great investigation. I can’t stand any work that commands pupils to copy whatever they can find and regurgitate it in a variety of forms. There should always be a demand for additional thought from whatever is being read: don’t just accept it, consider it, query it, make something new from it. Many pupils will complain that ‘they’re not finding anything’ and it’s usually because they’re not thinking laterally. So we grab the chance to talk over how they might use what’s already been found, and what else they could look for.

The other thing I love is how pupils try to deal with the moral conflict. One asked if she could write a letter of resignation from the mining company she worked for. Others were happy to stick to the report format, but were keen to express their sadness at being involved in the environmental destruction. Naturally we also had someone determined to make an opposing and controversial stand: the pupil asking if his Amerindian character could write a speech in favour of deforestation, because the sooner he got access to a beach the better.

These classes have proven they’ve got the creativity and guts to make something different – seems only fair that those encouraging them try to do the same.

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