Sunday, May 14, 2006

Building bridges

TfK reader Cheryl Shepherd-Adams recently helped introduce her advanced physics class to the wide world. Via and internet link, her class and a classroom of French students discussed high school life and global climate change.
“What do I want my students to gain from this?” Shepherd-Adams said. “I'd like them to gain an understanding that science is done all over the world, and that scientists worldwide use essentially the same operating rules when conducting their research.

“Perhaps they'll realize that adolescent experiences can transcend national boundaries.”
Here's hoping. I'm told that a French student asked "Do you care about the environment?" One of the Hays High School students replied, "yes, many of us do, but we're not the ones in power in this country."

Stories like that give me hope in so many ways. Not just the reminder that we all might live in a world one day where the ones in power in this country will care about the environment, but that future leaders of this country and of our allies abroad are aware that things can change for the better. I'm sure it also helps for the French to be reminded that all Americans are not Dick Cheney, and for Americans to be reminded that the French do more than burn cars.

The technology that made this possible was is surprisingly delicate. It was possible and simple to videoconference two classrooms across the Atlantic in part because of the foresight of a few technologists in DARPA eons ago, a culture of network openness and neutrality, and a small telecommunications tax which funded the expansion of the Internet into schools. Any one of those things could have been spiked or destroyed at any point, denying students these sorts of opportunities, and taking numerous benefits away from us all.

Building bridges requires foresight and a big heart. Ms. Shepherd-Adams deserves credit for building this bridge, but we shouldn't forget the people who laid the foundation. The problems we face are too big to handle on our own, and require more bridges and more bridge-builders.