Stifling our cuisine

The full-page ad in last Tuesday’s News in which Chef Stu Comen laments the centralization of food preparation is indeed alarming, not just for the future of dining hall excellence but for what this kind of corporate thinking might point to in educational policy. It is true that centralization and standardization help assure a certain level of quality. If we are talking about soup preparation, then centralization might help assure that one particular chef in a certain college does not oversalt or overpepper the soup to his particular taste, thus rendering it inedible by many. But the same centralization stymies invention, individuality, creativity and personality — whether in food preparation or education.

We have seen that “common core” can help schools that were failing students rise to a certain level of minimal competence. But the same common core can stifle the spirit of teachers and students alike, keeping teachers from adding works of literature, for example, that do not conform to the same, dull round that has been centrally determined. Bill Gates’ Big History Project similarly has the ability, if it is not strictly imposed, of offering a more thoughtful approach to some fundamental questions; but if mandated, the Big Project can easily become a Big Mistake, of monstrous proportions and consequences.

There is a line, not perhaps a direct budget line, but a line of reasoning, that connects centralized food preparation to Internet instruction and cost-saving devices such as large lecture courses. And there is an irony that our students, who prize their right to “shop” their courses, are finding that there is no longer any reason to shop their dining halls now that the salad bar is the same wherever they go.

As a member of the English Department, I am particularly grateful to my extraordinary colleague Janice Carlisle for insuring that all sections of English 114 adhere to certain minimum standards in the teaching of composition; but I am ever so much more grateful for her protecting the right of each instructor to shape the syllabus and assignments to his or her own taste and vision. Once we eliminate the analogous combination of virtues from the dining halls, the intellectual fare may be next in line.

Leslie Brisman

Sep. 16

The writer is a professor of English.

On climate, now or never

As the U.N. Climate Summit 2014 begins, xpectations are running high on whether we will be able to achieve a new global climate agreement. But even with the impressive range of countries represented at the summit, skepticism remains.

I do not entirely blame those who have lost hope in the U.N. climate negotiations. So far, the U.N. climate talks have missed just about every deadline. The developed nations promised two decades ago to halt their rise in GHG emissions but carbon levels continue to rise. Next we were promised a sequel to Kyoto in 2009 and the Copenhagen talks failed. Now we have a 2015 deadline to get a binding agreement that will enter into force after the extension of the Kyoto expires in 2020. But who’s to say that the buck won’t be passed on again!

In this globally relevant time period, I will try my hardest to look for hope. Here are signs of hope:

First, an interesting act on part of the UN Secretary General has been to extend invitations to several business leaders and CEOs. These companies will be keeping a close eye on environmental policy outcomes, making this important Summit not only a political gathering but also a conglomeration industries and corporations.

Second, another interesting development in the talks is the birth of a new negotiating alliance from Latin America and the Caribbean. Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Panama and Guatemala and several island nations like Maldives have turned on the heat on the larger nations. These countries have emerged as an important bloc that stimulates the otherwise selective discussions.

Third, the participation of young people in the negotiations has been extremely encouraging. As observers, trackers, advisers, activists or media reporters, young people have kept the pressure on! The creation of the Arab Youth Climate Movement along with several other regional movements makes me believe that all is not yet lost. There is much to do and the road to Paris has just begun but I have no doubt that our spirit and energy shall fuel these talks.

The rhetoric is high, but then so are the stakes. The lives and livelihoods of millions will be on the table in New York and Paris.

Riddhima Yadav

Sep. 18

The writer is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College.