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Another article I wrote that came out last Friday in my school newspaper, Inklings. (Again, you can check out the entire paper online here.) This article is a news story — not an opinion — about a nice edition to the school grounds and curriculum.

 

“Community Garden Aims to Make School a Greener Place to Live”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

HELPING HAND: A student shows a child around the school edible garden, paid for by Green Village Initiative (GVI).

HELPING HAND: A student shows a child around the school edible garden, paid for by Green Village Initiative (GVI). | Photo by Madeline Hardy, Inklings

In mid-spring of 2009, Westport Green Village Initiative (GVI), the grass roots organization that hopes to turn Westport into a model green town, proposed the idea of an edible, organic garden for the Staples community.

That garden stands behind the school building today.

“We feel that the most important thing for the future is to be able to have control of our own food,” said Monique Bosch, a Staples parent and GVI founder. “Moving away from what we might call industrial food and going back to real food. The best way to do that is to gro­w our own. And what better way to learn than to teach the next generation?”

Bosch, Dan Levinson, another Staples parent and GVI founder, Michael Aitkenhead, A.P. environmental teacher, and A.J. Kieffer ’10, Club Green President, were all grateful for the strong support from the Board of Education (BOE), Superintendent Elliot Landon, and Principal John Dodig.

“The school couldn’t afford anything like that [the garden],” said Cecilia Duffy, horticulture teacher. “So it was nice that they [GVI] stepped in.”

Starting early July, workers from Teich Garden Systems, a company that builds school gardens, and local volunteers – 20 men and women in total – dodged rainy weather on a trek set up the garden.

As the summer continued, Club Green members and other volunteers helped stain the garden’s wood framework.

A farm in Shelton which gives food to Westport for community-supported agriculture, in addition the horticulture department, provided seedlings for the workers and volunteers to plant.

A.P. environmental, horticulture, and culinary classes, along with the children from child development, have begun to harvest the results.

“There are some kids that have never seen a garden before, and that’s opening their eyes,” said Alison Grace, culinary teacher.

In fact, this garden represents more to the students, teachers, and community members involved than a simple plot of cultivated land.

“The garden serves two purposes,” said Michael Aitkenhead. “It’s to spread awareness of growing food organically. At the same time, it’s also being used as a tool to understand basic lessons about the science behind growing food.”

Levinson, Bosch, and Heather Morley, biology and A.P. environmental teacher, each mentioned that food travels an average distance of 1,500 miles to reach people’s mouths.

Community gardens, they said, will save time and energy.

“It’s so easy to grow food, and we’ve forgotten that,” said Levinson. “All the food is grown everywhere but where you eat it.”

According to Grace, there is a strong desire today for locally-grown foods, and hopes her students will learn more about it.

“It’s a trend that’s not going away,” Grace said. “This is the new thing.”

Kieffer emphasized the “pressing issue” of living green.

“The goal is to be self-sufficient,” Kieffer said. “Buying local produce is the best green thing to do. Having your own garden is the best way to be environmentally conscious.”

Now that GVI has established the garden, the organization will leave the rest in the hands of the school community.

 “The idea is that at this point, Staples teachers and students will come up with a plan on what to do with it,” Bosch said. “Come spring, they will have their own garden beds to work with. We definitely want to see that it’s totally run and utilized by the teachers and students.”

Already, classes have begun plans to integrate the garden into their curriculums.

Morley said the garden will provide her biology students with a wider view of the subject – reminding them that the class is not only about mitosis, chromosomes, and cell structure, but about the multi-cellular organisms they are a part of.

Morley also said A.P. environmental classes will focus on growing the plants in an environmentally friendly manner by experimenting with different types of fertilizer, figuring out how fertilizer run-off and other harmful or beneficial garden outputs impact the surrounding ecosystem, and so on.

Linda McClary, who teaches child development, has incorporated the garden into the children’s “growing things” unit. Despite planting in the daycare courtyard during previous years, she said the garden will be a good improvement.

“It’s a community garden, which makes the kids more involved in the school,” McClary said.

In addition to the expected classes, Levinson, Bosch, and many teachers hope that other courses will integrate the garden into their curriculums. Chinese teacher Chris Fray has already planted a Chinese vegetable, Bok Choy.

This spring classes will be able to experiment with which plants they want for the garden.

“We’re going to have many failures,” Aitkenhead said, “but in the end that’s a good thing because we’ll be learning from our failures. And that’s what education is all about.”

For the future, some expressed ideas about school-wide composting. Aitkenhead hopes students will start a “Garden Club” devoted solely to running and promoting the garden. Many believe that nearby schools will be inspired to start their own community gardens.

“We are expecting to see gardens sprouting up all over the place,” Bosch said.

Teachers and the GVI Founders noted how easily gardening can solve many of our environmental and economic problems. Morley mentioned that it is often less expensive to buy a seed and plant it than to buy the plant itself.

“In a time when people are challenged about economics, this can save money,” Morley said.

Levinson emphasized the benefits community gardens can deliver in a simple fashion.

 “Our food production and distribution system is the single biggest contributor to global warming,” Levinson said. “It’s not the planes or cars. It’s the food. Farming is the solution. It’s kind of simple if you think about it. It’s just gardening.”

… or read a shortened version of the article here.

Another column I wrote last Friday (October 2, 2009) when the most recent issue of the student newspaper which I edit and write for, Inklings, came out. (You can check out that issue here.) I didn’t find time to post this until now, but this is actually the central column that appeared in the print student newspaper. It referred to the online Internet freedom column I had posted earlier on this blog as more of a tangent to this one, which concludes with a bit of opinion about Internet freedom but focuses mainly on the idea of censorship in general.

 

“The Pros and Cons of Censorship, Banned Books”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

Sep. 26 to Oct. 3 is Banned Books Week, so let’s talk censorship.

I looked it up. The “Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary” defined it as “the institution, system, or practice of censoring.”

Then I looked up “censoring” – “to suppress or delete as objectionable.”

The funny thing is, we love to brag about free speech and complain about censorship, but we don’t realize that censorship is everywhere.

We censor ourselves when we refuse to tell our friends what we got on last week’s math test. We censor ourselves when we want to avoid insulting others.

Our teachers censor what we read when they choose one novel to teach over a dozen others – when they pick one history or math or science textbook over another.

According to English Department Chair Lis Comm, our English curriculum has not censored any book and has a thorough process if anyone does ask to ban anything. Obviously, this is important (and good) to know.

Nevertheless, with or without those banned books, censorship takes unintentional forms, occupying every nook and cranny of our lives – social, political, educational, or otherwise.

I know some of my examples might seem pedantic, but we’ve got to keep in mind that it’s not only governments, corporations, and schools that censor. All the time, we censor each other – and ourselves – due to societal pressures.

Race is a touchy issue, so I’ll avoid it…. No one talks about politics, so I won’t either.

At other times, we need censorship. It makes us more civil, more humane.

You can’t tell the kid next to you how stupid or annoying you think he is without making him cry or punch you. Sometimes it’s better to let a conversation die off than to keep yelling at the other guy until you both develop and ingrained hate toward each other.

If you’re looking for “real” censorship – in the books and newspapers – then think about this: Why are there fewer cartoons depicting African Americans in a derogatory manner? Censorship.

To promiscuously allow Jim Crow-like cartoons all over the place would be free speech. It would also be racist. And it wouldn’t be very nice, either.

Minority groups – such as blacks in the Jim Crow era (and, arguably, still today) – are often the brunt of this type of “free speech.”

Censorship is sometimes about tolerance and compromise – living with one another peacefully and moderately.

Censorship itself is a balancing act, however. What one person thinks is an insult another thinks is a truth.

I don’t want anyone to tell me not to read those sci-fi books I obsess over. I don’t want someone telling me to read this over that. Yet – sometimes more than governments or corporations – we as a society act as the censor for good or bad.

Majority society chooses what to censor and what to keep. Banning is a part of our everyday life whether we like it or not.

But to complain that there is no free speech here or there – that this cartoon or that book or that article was banned by whomever – might be considered silly.

All of that is all online. You can look up whatever racist or sexist or politically controversial material you want to on the Internet. No one’s stopping you. The web is a much safer place for free speech than print.

Writing never actually dies. It lies dormant for a while – copied or memorized or in the writer’s head – or it lives on.

The only way you can really kill a piece of writing is if you burn every single copy and eliminate the writer and any friends, family, and fans that copied or memorized his or her work.

You can burn paper, and you can burn data too – but the Internet allows such a rapid flow of information to such a large audience that anything censored can be copied or protected before the censor gets his or her hands on it.

The future focus of Banned Books Week, censorship, and First Amendment enthusiasts ought to be on keeping the Internet free from corporate, government, and social infringements.

I can cite much better examples – I can say so, so much more – but I’m afraid that if I do so I’ll be misinterpreted, rejected, or taken advantage of. Which means you – my readers – have unintentionally censored this column.

Happy Banned Books Week to you too.

A web column I wrote for my school newspaper, “Inklings“:

 

 “Banned Books Week Is Getting Old”

Haris Durrani

October 2, 2009 — Inklings

I am one of the few kids around without a Facebook account. I get plenty of laughs and weird looks for that. Nevertheless, while I personally don’t use Facebook, other people do – and sometimes for good reason.

 So the fact that our school blocks Facebook is a problem.

 And in the wake of Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct. 2), Internet freedom is a vital issue that needs discussion.

 There should be an Internet Freedom Week as well. The Internet makes censorship more difficult, so it’s a specific medium of speech and communication that ought to be protected.

Banning books is getting a little bit irrelevant. The question should be how we use the Internet, not only books.

On the web, you can download all the offensive cartoons everyone gets so upset about and all the bits of controversial writing you want to. You can also create all that typically censored material as well.

 Just because a book is not published or an article is cut from the newspaper does not mean either piece of writing won’t end up on the Internet.

 And even though censorship is also possible online, the solution to Internet censorship is Internet freedom, which would make it more difficult for organizations to get a firm grip on the rapid flow of online data.

 Take Cory Doctorow. He has received piles of awards and nominations for his science fiction novels and short stories (“Makers,” his upcoming novel, will come out around the end of October), writes a regular column for the “Guardian,” is a co-editor of the popular blog BoingBoing.net, and has landed multiple times on “Forbes’ ” Top 25 Web Celebrities list. Even “Writer’s Digest” did their September issue cover feature on Doctorow.

 While successful, he never even thinks about – let alone allows – his books to be signed off without Creative Commons licenses. Each of his novels is available free at his website, craphhound.com.

 A strong supporter of Internet freedom, Doctorow believes that even when publishers or movie companies try to prevent people from stealing copyrighted information, the data can always be leaked, so you might as well keep things available in the first place.

 He makes his money when people read his books for free online and buy the hardcopy out of respect for his mission of Internet freedom or out of a traditional desire to have the actual novel in hand. In fact, many of his fans discover his work via the Internet – not the bookstores.

 If a government, corporation, librarian, or publisher removes a book from the shelves, it can always end up online – but it won’t get read as much if it’s not free. If it is, then who knows? The novel can circulate more easily on the web, generating more support for a potential print publication.

 But online information reaches lots of people, and quickly. Even if it’s deleted, the ideas behind the author’s work would remain preserved in minds of anyone who got a chance to read the piece.

 Obviously, it’s not always that simple. Governments – China, Saudi Arabia, Iran – can censor the Internet too. But, as Jim Giles mentioned in his Aug. 21, 2009 “Newscientist” article (“Worldwide Battle Rages for Control of the Internet”), there are existing methods of bypassing government censorship online.

 One of them, Tor, was created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In fact, the protagonist of Doctorow’s recent young adult novel, “Little Brother,” used Tor to evade his school’s Internet censorship programs, and Doctorow himself is former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

 If governments improve their blocking methods, programmers – like anything else in nature – will adapt.

 When things get really bad, we can always take it to the next step. It went from verbal story-telling to books to the Internet. The next thing you know, we’ll have computer chips in our brains. Censorship might become a literally painful process.

 Doctorow wrote an interesting June 2, 2009 “Guardian” article, “Search is too important to leave to one company – even Google,” about the potential for bias in the seemingly harmless process of categorization and search functions. As a solution, he suggested a system in which users can control the methods their search engines use.

 The point here is control.

 Different societal, economic, and political groups can burn all the books they want to, but it’s harder for them to do the same online. Especially if they’re not the ones in control.

 If we want to protect our free speech, books shouldn’t be the number one priority. The Internet should be – and it ought to be free.

 A Jan. 21, 2009 article from “Time” by Lev Grossman – “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature” – did a great job talking about the shifts publishing is going through today from print to the Internet.

 So if we’re going to go crazy about free speech, we may as well start thinking, and thinking early. The “next thing” everyone seems to be raving about is Internet publishing. Let’s make it uncensored. Let’s make it free.

 Let’s celebrate Internet Freedom Week instead.

… or read the article here.

Radio and Rap?

This is a very interesting article that was posted in the New York Times three days ago, and as an avid listener of both political radio shows and rap music I’d have to agree with some of the parallels being made.

Check out the rest here!

“Indian Women Find New Peace in Rail Commute”

Jim Yardley

September 15 , 2009 — The New York Times

Men peered into the Ladies Special train as it sat idle on the platform in Palwal. | Chiara Goia for The New York Times

Men peered into the Ladies Special train as it sat idle on the platform in Palwal. | Chiara Goia for The New York Times

PALWAL, India — As the morning commuter train rattled down the track, Chinu Sharma, an office worker, enjoyed the absence of men. Some of them pinch and grope women on trains, or shout insults and catcalls, she said. Her friend Vandana Rohile agreed and widened her eyes in mock imitation.

“Sometimes they just stare at you,” said Ms. Rohile, 27.

Up and down the jostling train, women repeated the same theme: As millions of women have poured into the Indian work force over the last decade, they have met with different obstacles in a tradition-bound, patriarchal culture, but few are more annoying than the basic task of getting to work.

The problems of taunting and harassment, known as eve teasing, are so persistent that in recent months the government has decided to simply remove men altogether. In a pilot program, eight new commuter trains exclusively for female passengers have been introduced in India’s four largest cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta.

The trains are known as Ladies Specials, and on one recent round trip in which a male reporter got permission to board, the women commuting between the industrial town of Palwal and New Delhi were very pleased.

“It’s so …

article continued here.

I know it’s a little late to post this article, but it’s a good one:

 

“A Life of Algebra and Adventure: Geoffrey Langlands has dedicated 20 years to education in Pakistan”

Declan Walsh

August 10, 2009 — The Guardian

Major Geoffrey Langlands outside the school he founded in the Hindu Kush mountains. Photograph: Declan Walsh

Major Geoffrey Langlands outside the school he founded in the Hindu Kush mountains. Photograph: Declan Walsh

Much has occurred, and much has changed, since Geoffrey Langlands, a young maths teacher-turned-army commando, landed on the shores of British India on a troop carrier in 1944. Since then the intrepid Englishman has lived a life of algebra and adventure. He has scraped through several wars, been kidnapped in Waziristan, educated world-famous cricketers, and taken tea with princesses, several prime ministers and a ruthless dictator.

Some things, however, never change. Every morning the retired major, who turns 92 in a few months, rises at dawn in his cottage in Chitral, in the upper reaches of the Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan‘s North West Frontier province. He puts on a blazer, tie and polished shoes. Then he sits down to breakfast served by his loyal servant, Sufi. It is always the same: porridge (“Quaker Oats, of course”), a poached egg (the poacher bought from Selfridges) and two cups of Lipton tea. He leafs through a newspaper, which has arrived via the valley’s irregular plane service and is a few days old. Then it is out of the door, through the gate and up a winding hill to the school he founded and to which he has dedicated the last 20 …

article continued here.

Talk about lateness. Did you hear that Frederik Pohl, the classic science fiction author, just got his high school diploma? Oh yeah, and he’s 89. Apparently, he never graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, so now he’s been given “this bit of closure.” Pohl, who stands in the same league as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, wrote his most recent novel — The Last Theorem — with Clarke himself.

I’ve been meaning to read the Grand Master Fred Pohl for quite some time, especially his most famous novel, Gateway, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. However, I have tasted bits and pieces of his short story collection Platinum Pohl when I find the time — and when I’m in the mood — to get into some quality short stories. I think the collection is just fantastic, ranging from the harsh and brutally realistic landscape of Venus for which he is most famous for in his “Heechee” stories to a society ruined by extreme class division to a socially responsible environment project in a near-future New York City.

It’s kind of funny to see a literary genius like Pohl get his high school diploma now, so late in his life, but I have to say — good for him.

 

The New York Times — August 22, 2009

“A Trip Through Time to Collect a Cherished Technite Document”

by Susan Dominus

Generally native to New York City, the Technites sound, from their name, as if they could be distant cousins of the Heechees, the star-traveling creatures that populate Frederik Pohl’s science fiction classic “Gateway,” as well as many of his other works.

Mr. Pohl, who is now 89, has never had personal contact with the Heechees outside the realm of his imagination, but for three years, some 75 years ago, he was briefly a full-blooded Technite: a student at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Mr. Pohl tested easily into Brooklyn Tech back when it was new. Then, sometime around his junior year, he hit a wall. “I largely stopped paying attention,” Mr. Pohl recalled by phone from his home outside Chicago. He failed two drawing classes, one of them twice, and a math class. His father and mother were divorcing at the time, which he thinks probably explains his troubles at school. “I can scarcely believe I was so dumb as that,” Mr. Pohl said.

He loved Brooklyn Tech — even now, he remembers fondly the name of the author of his industrial processes textbook, and the day that Alex Raymond, the creator of Flash Gordon, spoke to students. But he was discouraged …

article continued here.