Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Shift Happens New Vocabulary Word of the Day

I was watching this presentation by Thomas Friedman about his recent book Hot, Flat and Crowded (which I haven’t read yet) when he told of a new unit of measurement apparently coined by Tom Burke, co-founder of E3G.
Americum [uh-mer-i-kum] n: any group of 350 million people with a per capita income above $15,000 and a growing penchant for consumerism. (p. 56 when I Searched Inside This Book at Amazon)

In the presentation Friedman says there were about 2.5 Americums in the 1950’s (America, Western Europe and Japan) and now we are approaching 9 (America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Europe, Russia, Japan, India, China and South America) – with 2 more just around the corner (India and China each giving birth to a second Americum). He refers to them as America’s “carbon copies.” Ouch. He goes on to say that the energy and natural resource implications of that are staggering, and therefore we need to redefine what it means to “live like an American.”

As a red-blooded, Prius-driving American, I can’t help but agree, but I also thought of this in terms of a presentation of my own. America used to be 40% of the Americums on the planet, now it’s 11%. Unlike some folks, I see that as a good thing overall (notwithstanding the environmental impact which I agree must be addressed immediately), and I’m optimistic about what that could mean for the human race, with people living free everywhere, and enjoying a much better standard of living than they have previously.

But it also means we need to change the way we teach our students, with not just global awareness as a goal, but global collaboration. We need our students to be working with students (and adults) around the world, to learn with and about each other, and to foster relationships that will help us solve problems that know no borders. With how many of the nine Americums (or other countries) have your students collaborated?


  1. Nice. I just finished "Hot, Flat & Crowded" from the speakers of my xB. While listening to an audiobook int he car on a long drive is nice, I always thought listening in little bits and pieces day to day as I drove around town to be annoying.

    However, with this book, he really reviews concepts (bashes you over the head more like) again and again. The effect of listening to 20 minutes of rehash over the main point with the new idea or two thrown in... was interesting.

    I found myself churning through the ideas presented all day long- nearly anytime I had a spare moment to myself.

    I do agree as well that the book is humbling in many ways. The biggest difference in this book (compared to TWIF) is that he makes such a sold case for "going green". In fact, I think he makes it seem so compelling and simple that is almost makes the phrase "going green" not sound so silly.

    China & India certainly deserve all of the comforts we scored throughout our industrial rise to prominence. However, the frightening thing is that after all of the damage we have done to the planet... another "Americum" or two might just push us over the edge just that much faster.

    Exponential anything is scary.

  2. I really liked your post but still have a huge hurdle in convincing teachers to take the next steps. For example, I could send your post to all my teachers (100)and maybe 1/4 would read it. Of those 25, 1/2 would understand the implications of it in their teaching. Of that, I might get 2 who might want to play along. For example, with Anne's TIB, I emailed 12 teachers and got one bite.

    Now, I'll work with that one teacher, but nonetheless, it's sad to see so many teachers, "just not get it," yet think they're doing a great job on behalf of their students because their getting passing grades on the state mandated tests.

    I think I'm answering my own question as I write this, but nonetheless, it bothers me to see so many educators so complacent about what they are teaching their students.

  3. @Mike - Are you familiar with the story about throwing a starfish back into the ocean? It made a difference for that one starfish . . .

    Keep the faith.