December 15, 2010
December 15, 2010
December 15, 2010
December 15, 2010
I am the teacher who spoke at the Conservative Party Conference and then found herself out of a job. Some might argue that had I criticised the education system at a National Union of Teachers conference, I would have been cheered on by the delegates. Had I blamed our broken education system on lack of funds, institutional racism or the challenge of private education, I would have been the darling of the Left and all would have been well. It was the fact that I sided with the Right that has turned me into a mortal enemy.
But we are all in pursuit of the same utopia, aren’t we? We want every child to have the best possible education, to feel safe and happy to reach for the top and for schools to provide environments where this is possible. Or do we? It is interesting that teachers come up to me in the street, voicing their support, agreeing with everything I’ve said yet refuse to tell me their names because they are scared to speak out “given the current climate”. By “the current climate”, they are pointing to leftist ideology that insists that private-style education for a comprehensive intake of students is simply a contradiction in terms. The Left has a stranglehold over teachers and gives them little freedom to think outside their ideological box. For a long time, I have been a victim of that ideology.
The other day, I had tea with a friend to bring her up to date with the details of my personal drama. She is originally from Calcutta, married to a very liberal Scot, and has two children. I begin, as I always do these days, defending my actions. I try to explain my reasons for voting Conservative, why it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person, why I believe right-wing thinking is what we need in schools.
My friend leans forward. “Well, you know, Katharine, I never told you, but I voted Conservative, too.”
Such is the state of political freedom in this country. We may believe we all have freedom of speech, but when we diverge from the pack we don’t tell even our closest friends. Peer pressure is not only the main force that keeps children in gangs, walking as if they’re constipated, speaking as if they’ve never read a book and permanently playing on their portable video-game machines: it is also the principal reason most adults vote the same way from the day we were born until the day we die. Political persuasion is tribal and no one is ever meant to change their minds.
I grew up in a very left-leaning family and went to a state school. Fresh out of Oxford, where I read Marxism Today, I began teaching, firm in the belief that racist, white teachers were responsible for black underachievement. I thought that state schools had no money and that the poor (both black and white) were left to languish…
For years, I soldiered on in the classroom, working hard to change the minds of children who were paralysed by a sense of victimhood. They found it impossible to believe that I had chosen to be their teacher, that I wanted to be there, that I loved being around them. Eventually, like any good teacher, I won them over by using all the tricks of the trade, from gold stars to phone calls at home with positive comments, to holding breakfast clubs in the early morning when I would spend my own money on croissants. My students felt grateful. Like me, other teachers give their life to the job, and we “succeed” despite of the shackles of the system…
December 15, 2010
Joydeep Gupta wants to know where the money is, and he’s going to keep asking everyone he can that very same question.
Reporting for the Indo-Asian News Service, Gupta is in Cancún for the sixteenth annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 16. At last year’s conference in Copenhagen, developed countries promised to spend $30 billion over the course of three years in developing countries where the impacts of climate change—caused by the historic and current emissions of the industrialized world—are already occurring.
Developing countries will only trust in the process, Gupta says, if they actually see money on the ground. Currently, there is a “trust deficit,” he says: “Developed and developing countries just don’t trust one another.”
And so he keeps asking the question: Where is the money? And because neither delegates nor NGOs seem to know—or are willing to answer—he asks it again and again during the entire two weeks of meetings in Mexico.
Walking between two press conferences at the Moon Palace, the luxury seaside resort where the UN talks are being held this year, Gupta darts through the crowds of journalists, most of them lugging laptops, recording equipment, smart phones, and flip cameras. With only a small notebook and the daily program folded in one hand and a cigarette in the other—“Are you going to kill me if we talk while I smoke this cigarette?”—he seems always to be surrounded by other reporters. They’re asking him questions (What has he heard about progress on Kyoto?) and he dispels rumors (What does he know about this secret text The Guardian is reporting?) or else offers counsel (You need to ask so-and-so that question, and then you need to ask it again of someone else).
He’s also gauging progress of the negotiations, which are done behind closed doors: “It’s hanging in the balance over the Kyoto Protocol,” he says a few days before the end of meetings. “That’s what I’ve been told repeatedly by the Americans, Indians, South Africans, Chinese, Europeans, Japanese, whoever I’m talking to,” he says. Gupta is a whirlwind, always moving, listening, looking for the pieces of the story.
Finally, separated from the crowd, he explains that coverage of the conference itself is pretty boring.
“I think we need to do a lot more on-the-ground coverage, not conference coverage,” he says, pointing out that COPs offer the chance to meet the scientists and economists who are presenting their findings. Those face-to-face meetings offer story ideas as well as story tips upon which he can later follow up.
Whether talking about India or the United States, local coverage of climate change is what’s lacking, says Gupta, who also runs the Third Pole Project, which is dedicated to covering the impacts of climate change in the Himalayas and downstream countries whose water supplies and systems are already being affected by glacial melting.
Reporters need to bring the issue home, he says. Otherwise, their audiences are not going to care about climate change. “If I’m sitting in Denver and someone says to me, ‘Bangladesh is going to lose half its land,’ I will say, ‘Oh, that’s very sad’ and turn the page,” he says. “But if I’m sitting at my home in Denver, and I’m told that the glacier above my home in the Rockies is losing water, and I’m going to lose my ski slope, then I’ll be worried and I’ll try to do something about it.” His question to U.S. journalists is: Why isn’t that type of coverage being brought home?
Whether reporting in India, the U.S., or elsewhere, reporters should also confront the hidden biases in their work. This is particularly true when covering the energy sector.
Addressing climate change—whether through emissions reductions or adaptation—will obviously be expensive to industry, Gupta says. But it’s only fair for journalists to show readers to what extent the fossil fuel industry is contributing to the problem of climate change and to track the subsidies it currently receives from governments.
“You do a story on solar, and the next thing you know, you’ve got twenty e-mails saying it costs three bucks a unit to produce electricity from coal and seventeen bucks a unit to produce from coal—and that is the impression that is ultimately left in the reader’s mind,” he says. “But this does not take into account the subsidies that go into the fossil fuel industry.” Reporters need always to follow the money, he says. “If you calculate the subsidies for both of them, solar will go from seventeen bucks to twenty bucks, but coal will go from three bucks to nine bucks—and that is a huge difference.”
The fossil fuel industry affects reporting and government action in both India and the U.S., Gupta says, arguing that Ryan Lizza’s recent story in The New Yorker about the fossil fuel industry’s role in killing U.S. climate change legislation should be required reading for reporters in the U.S. and the developing world alike.
One big difference between the U.S. and the developing world is how much attention journalists here pay to climate change skeptics. Speaking at a media clinic during the second week of the climate summit, Gupta pointed out that the press in the developing world spends very little time on skeptics. “Part of the reason, I think, is climate skeptics don’t bother to reach over to us,” he told the crowd of about fifty journalists from the U.S. and developing countries. “I would go looking for this, if there were any reason for me to believe that their work was peer-reviewed or was worth looking for…”
December 15, 2010
In 1861, William Gladstone, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, stood up in the House of Commons and paid tribute to a man he called a “splendid genius”, and the world’s greatest living naturalist. Yet today, Professor Richard Owen may be remembered as the first superintendent of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, but for little else.
In fact, when listing his achievements, it is hard to know where to start. Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1834, at the age of 30, he was a comparative anatomist with an extraordinary range and depth of knowledge in zoology, biology and palaeontology. He described and named an astonishing number of creatures new to science, and published more than 600 books and papers on subjects as diverse as the duck-billed platypus and the gorilla. It was Prof Owen who gave the name “dinosaur” to the order of great extinct reptiles that were then being discovered.
Owen’s greatest legacy is the Natural History Museum, but he was also an adviser to governments, reported on environmental health issues and was awarded more than 100 honours – including a knighthood. He was a famous lecturer, tutored the royal children in science and was awarded a grace-and-favour home by Queen Victoria. His friends included Charles Dickens, Sir Robert Peel and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
So why have so few people heard of him? One of the problems was that Owen was a contradictory character. His actions alienated many; others were jealous of the scale of his success. He fell out with Darwin, not over evolution itself but the forces that brought it about. Darwin won the argument, and his supporters wrote history in a way that marginalised Owen. They emphasised his defects: the occasions when he did not credit the work of others, the harshness of some of his reviews and the public disputes. They insinuated he was an anti-evolutionist, when Darwin must have known that he was not. Owen was accused of being too snobbish to involve himself in the dirty business of digging for fossils – when, in fact, his world was the laboratory and museum…