Wednesday, December 11, 2013

An Inspiration For Our Collective Sense

The local newspaper in my hometown of Durham, North Carolina has seemed obsessed for several months with trying to act as the school board by trying to fire the superintendent, whose apparent slip ups have made that an easy news story to sustain.

In a just world where all news would be in full perspective, this obsessive coverage would have instead, been about one of Durham’s newest magnet and year-round lottery schools, The School for Creative Studies, serving students grades 6-12.

I mean, the school deserved to be front page day after day, with editorials and blaring headlines rather than just the couple of stories that ran before the school opened.  That would be far more emblematic of our community.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just in tabloids where the news seems to cater to our obsession as human beings with the sensational, and not just yesterday’s mainstream national media coverage of a man locked overnight in an airliner or a jogger hit by a flying deer.

Fortunately, this is rare under the paper’s current management.  The “cheap shot-comeuppance” and sensationalized coverage seemed de rigor in our local paper when I first moved here in mid-1989. The paper down in Raleigh preferred back then to pile on rather than cover disturbing issues there.

That is the dilemma of news coverage.  Negative news always gets more attention no matter how hard editors try to give balance.

As futurist Steven Johnson notes in Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age, “---the subtle bias of being more interested in bad news, [i.e.] ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ might be a good strategy for selling papers, but it necessarily skews our collective sense of how well we are doing as a society.”

He makes the case in general that “the media are heavily biased toward extreme events, and are slightly biased toward negative stories and trend stories.”  I agree with Johnson that the former may be the more damaging.

I often ride past The School for Creative Studies which opened a few months ago along one of my favorite Harley routes through northern Durham.

The ride always includes a stop at Red Mill Nursery, another phenomenal local institution less than a half mile from the new school.

The school is unique because students there learn all of the basics but through the lens of coursework that includes:

- Creative Entrepreneurship & Marketing,

- Digital Media & Design,

- Video Technology & Communications,

- Design for Living: Architectural Design,

- Music & Audio Production,

- Visual Arts, and

- Healthful Living/Outdoor Education, as well as Spanish.

I am particularly impressed with the coursework about nature.  The studies are virtually legion over the past few years about the link between nature and the health and learning of children.  Hopefully, a core element is finding its way into all schools here.

It hasn’t taken long for students at The School for Creative Studies to connect the dots.  Soon you’ll read that Keep Durham Beautiful has been selected by 7th grade students for the “Halls of Giving” campaign.

I can also imagine a relationship between the school and the nursery, both for walking “field trips” and as a real-life nature lab.  It is a 50-year-old family-owned business where many people have made lifelong careers.

The Red Mill Nursery also lies roughly midway between the school and a disturbing site the students should see at the point where Ellerbee Creek begins to flow into Falls Lake.

Witnessing or reading news about troubling sights such as these is useful, as long as they are in perspective.

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