April 2021

Ecotones, Disintermediation, & and Educational Crossroads

An ecotone is an area of transition area between two biomes. It is where two or more communities meet and integrate.It may be narrow or wide, and it may be local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest, grassland and water(ecosystems). An ecotone may appear on the ground as a gradual blending of the two communities across a broad area, or it may manifest itself as a sharp boundary line.  The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension – in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension… a place that is heterogeneous in nature and offers opportunities for a blended sustainability- or not.

One of my favorite ongoing observations while a Teacher in Residence at the University of New Hampshire was supervising a student teacher in a high school environmental science class for a year while studying bug life diversities and habitats on the many ecotones of an expansive school grounds  consisting of streams of water, old growth forests, and natural overgrown fields. Encroaching  the natural were athletic playing fields treated with an assortment of chemicals for maintenance; parking areas treated with winter salt; and a cut-through with high tension wires running along the edge of the property.  While they took samples of bug life in the different areas over time, the real interesting findings were which species survived and ultimately lived in the ecotone’s blended environments; where field met stream, forest met athletic fields, etc.

The experience resonates for me today and is a metaphor for the current state of education. Teaching and learning is caught to an extent in the old growth of  20th Century practices of education which still predominates school cultures. New 21st Century educational ecosystems where technology provides possibilities for flexibility of time, of pace and of place is changing the landscape of possibilities for of what schools, teaching and learning will look like going forward.  In this context, the interesting questions for me are: Who and what will survive as we continue moving forward?  What will the blending of the past and future look like as virtual options and personalization become more the norm?…and what will educators need to do or how will they need to change in order to survive in an ecotone of a fading 20th century model that will be increasingly dominated by 21st century possibilities?  The inevitable change is where the notion of the disintermediation of public schools enters the discussion; and the impact the 2020-21 pandemic has accentuated the tensions of the  virtual and blended teaching and learning possibilities emerging today with 20th Century dogmas.

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Paradise aka Humanity Lost

My daughter moved to San Francisco 17 years ago as part of a job opportunity; ultimately got married and started a family; was fortunate to be able to purchase affordable housing in the Pacific Heights area of the city; and seems to have settled in for the long haul. It’s not difficult to see why, given the weather and general laid back, relaxed atmosphere of the west coast. For me, having a good reason to regularly visit San Francisco(pre pandemic) is a bonus, especially with opportunities to escape the New England winters for some respites of warmth and sun…the fog always seems to burn off in some part of the city as the sun takes charge of the day.

Over the past eight to ten years though, I have noticed quite a change in the city during my visits. It’s still beautiful, walkable, and has great public venues and transportation; but people who use to be on a street corner willingly offering assistance and accommodation to a confused tourist have been replaced by fast moving, abrupt folks who rarely look up from their iPhones or sundries of other personal devices. Gentrification is overrunning the city, but ironically in addition to displacing lower income families and small businesses; middle-income residents and ethnic neighborhoods have also been largely impacted.

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