THE RIVER SPEAKS

Collaborators: Elena Habre, Corey Chao

Tools of Acculturation

In response to the Anthropocentric institutionalized educations that reinforce the separation between human and nonhuman actors we designed The River Speaks, a speculative lesson plan.

 The River Speaks is a set of lesson plans that challenge traditional notions of the nonhuman. In this project, we redesigned pedagogical tools that can dissolve this boundary and created new worlds around our objective, rich with different prompts a teacher and her class might use to explore it.Through design research probes, we identified five productive topic areas within ecocentric futures that could apply to several disciplines.

 

The lessons order follows important topics that we identified within ecocentric futures, through design research probes and becomes increasingly more speculative.

Each lesson has a central question practitioners of different schools of thought might approach in various ways

A Closer Look At Lesson 3
1.

The lesson places students in the future, when the River Restitution Act has just been approved by congress, laying the groundwork for the river to receive reparations for the harm inflicted upon it by humans. This mandate raises an array of pressing questions—primarily, how might we communicate with nonhumans, and how do we define them and the limits of our (inter) relationships?

The primary material for this lesson plan includes a written article and speculative videos.The former was published in the fictional tech review Postscreen, in which the author discusses the merits of three groups’ divergent nonhuman communication tactics.

The pre-class read: Postscreen magazine, published a review on different communication tools invented by three groups in 2042. The article, “The Communication Race: Who Understands River Best?” foreshadows a stark difference of opinion between different groups of humans about how best to communicate with the river.

2.

For creating a simulation and helping students to embody their roles in this speculative world, there are identifiers designed for each group, based on the article and their objectives. 

After dividing students into three groups, teachers will distribute probes for each group. Intrepid, Earth System Embassy and Intercons each have their own identifiers. 

3.

The latter is a set of three recruitment videos produced by groups of humans with diverging worldviews, all of whom are attempting to communicate with the river. Using role-play and embodiment, the training videos appeal to their new recruits, make clear the specific worldview of the organization’s leadership, and clarify some of the stakes they see attached to the project of nonhuman communication.

These narratives serve as content that teachers can then arrange in a variety of ways depending on different learning objectives. The main goal is to illuminate some central issues in post-human politics, and ask students to leverage that knowledge creatively through debate. A suggested assignment in the package is ask each group to decide who should pay for and receive river reparations, propose a way the river might express where that money should go, and record a video of their proposal. 

4.
In Class Discussion:
A Session at The Dalton School

We tested Lesson 3: Speech in an 11th-grade history class with sixteen students.Immersing students in three worldviews—often in tension with one another—generated lively conversation about the plausibility of expansive river rights. Even though the videos were situated in the future, the ideologies they were conveying were quickly compared to analogous situations in contemporary socio-political debates. Students, asked to make decisions on behalf of an imagined constituency, began to lean on more familiar politics. That fusion led to useful debate.

“But don’t you think that that’s in some way sort of problematic as an extension of whatever is happening, regarding people choosing to identify with different genders? ... now people are identifying with rivers. It seems to me like you can’t say this is gonna happen. I don’t think it’s fair.” —Student 1

“They’re not giving a value judgement on this, they’re just anticipating. They’re not making moral judgements on whether this is good or bad.”—Student 2

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© 2016 by Melika Alipour-leili.

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