Exploring Our World Meets Mark Thomas

For the last year and a half I’ve been working with Jenny to host “Exploring Our World” out of St. Clements Church with the older Youth Group kids.  This is billed (defensively, by me) as a “Secular Enrichment Class on Sundry Exciting Topics,” but essentially means I get to talk with intelligent and interested highschoolers about neuroscience, astronomy, ethics, and music.  Programming, for the most part, has been semi-prepared (read: spontaneously inspired) (alternatively, read: slapdash—deleted as applicable based on the results after the fact, typically), but we’ve just started a couple of long-term projects that I’ll be following here and wanted to tell you about.

First, because these meetings slide too easily into a transmission-teaching model (i.e., Jenny and I come in to share a cool resource or idea, the students drink it up or don’t, and then everyone goes home), we’re going to try a show-and-tell-style format.  Each week, folks will bring in one cool resource (video, podcast, website, book, etc.) to share, and will tag that resource with a few topic-based labels.  Then, on subsequent evenings, the resources brought in will need to match at least one of those tags, but should move beyond it, into another topic as well.  Any resource brought in can be linked to any previous resource (whether that resource was brought in last week or several months ago), allowing tendrils of interest to grow and branch out into a magnificent creeper of neat resources.  I’m still trying to figure out how to keep track of this visually in a way that’s fun and accessible for everyone; for the time being, we might wind up with cue cards and Bristol board, but I’d really love an online space that could serve as a mutable visualizer.  I keep thinking back to the Visual Thesaurus, but there’s got to be a free solution somewhere.  Help?

Our second on-going project will be the design and implementation of a petition for some sort of policy change either on the provincial or federal level.  Brendan, Jenny’s Youth Leadership Apprentice, is leading us here, thanks to his passion for political science and civic education, and because he works in the government and could get such a petition looked at and raised with the help of his contacts.  This just leaves us with the question of what change we want to strive for; we’ve been instructed to read the newspaper a bit this week to see if there’s any particular systematic injustice that rankles us, and I’ll be bringing in some episodes of The Manifesto to inspire us to acts of comedic righteousness.  If you haven’t heard of it, The Manifesto is a radio series hosted by activist-comedian Mark Thomas, who discusses and manages votes on UK policy changes provided by listeners and the studio audience in order to build a political platform on which to eventually run.  If this is your first Mark Thomas experience, though, I strongly urge you to start with “My Experience in Organized Crime,” YouTubed below.

Updates to these projects to follow.


Danny from 2016: This was an amazing, enriching year for me, and I’m still in touch with some of the folks who did this with us.  It transpired, though, that the best sessions were the spontaneous ones, and our more elaborate projects typically fizzled.  Case in point: I wanted to create an interactive blogosphere among the participants to escape that transmission-based teaching I lament in the opening paragraph of this post.  The results were stillborn, but a fun artifact of the time.

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