Do We Teach Change As Catastrophe?

27 12 2006

” Catastrophism is back as a respectable concept, so much so that
it is now the preordained conclusion we leap to, and therefore,
of which we must be wary. . .”

No, the scholarly phrase “early contact” doesn’t mean preschool in this 20-year-old treatise, but I see a message in it about education politics and cultures and power of story.

A Nation at Risk and much of the change it spawned in the last quarter-century was public school catastrophism, wasn’t it? Unschooling and homeschooling are thought by professors like Reich and Apple, to be a catastrophic threat to school’s social order. And I’ve learned the hard way over the past ten years or so, that home education advocacy is no exception to catastrophic education thought — its uneasy libertarian culture often seems rooted in catastrophic –cataclysmic!– assumptions and conclusions, almost as if change by definition constitutes a powerful force conspiring against liberty:

In place of the 19th-century apotheosis of the concept of evolutionary, gradual change, catastrophism (i.e. large-scale change within narrow time limits) . . .has returned, thanks to Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer. . .

“The Big Bang” has usurped “steady state” among cosmologists. Astronomers commonly talk about galaxies in collision. Astronomers, geologists, and paleontologists gather together to confer about asteroids and comets raining down on earth every twenty-six million years or so, wiping out most species, and thus providing
room for a surge of speciation.

And everybody, seemingly, is
stricken with fear of the threat of the thinning ozone layer,
paired with the greenhouse effect of too much carbon dioxide.
Catastrophism is back as a respectable concept, so much so that
it is now the preordained conclusion we leap to, and therefore,
of which we must be wary. . .

Unschooling Is All the Holiday Rage

26 12 2006

I don’t get why columnists pick Christmas as the Season to Rant Against Unschooling? Maybe the prospect of being home with one’s own children frightens or angers them, and they need to rationalize those feelings somehow, make them socially acceptable. . . or they are disciples of School, profit prophets who make their own living by believing in, and vigorously perpetrating, all its forms and functions.

Hey fellas, the holiday mantra is ho, ho, ho — not No No NO.

And what lazy, wrongheaded assumptions to wrap up as educated thinking for any season, sigh. Modern homeschooling as an institution is admittedly conservative, but so is modern schooling! Hidebound even, a mindlessly anti-individual hell of not working to the point that either one can eat its own young. Literalism, paternalism, judgment, duty, sin, shame, guilt and congregational discipline from the right OR the left all stifle unschooling. I don’t know a single unschooling family –snarling or not– who combines unschooling joy with political rage, do you?

All screeds against other parents and how their children learn sound uncannily alike to me, and this one tells me LEFT-wing rage drives out joy the same way any other kind of rage does.
Let’s call it all “self-righteous rage” then — and educate our own against it whenever possible!

“No more teachers’ dirty looks”

There is a brand of contemptuous, snarling, right-wing American rage, a damnation of all things liberal, that has been rather quiet — sulking perhaps — since the recent election. In this job, I hear it expressed a lot, or used to, but never felt it much myself. Though there was one moment, I recall vividly, when it cracked through my soul like an arc of electricity. I was listening to a lullaby, “Child of Mine,” by 1960s singer/songwriter Carole King.

“You don’t need direction,” she sings, one assumes to her raggy, unkempt babe, “you know which way to go. . . .”

No, no, no, NO!! If I’ve learned one thing raising boys for the last 11 years, it is that kids need direction and lots of it, plus guidance, oversight, discipline, monitoring and constant upkeep. Left to their own devices, they will set the sofa on fire to see what happens. They will juggle knives, or try to. They will spend their days eating frozen sticks of butter and slapping their video game controllers until their fingers bleed.

Thus I was a little unsettled by Rosalind Rossi’s provocative front page story Sunday about “unschooling,” the practice of letting kids drop out of school and, basically, teach themselves whatever they like on their own schedule.

No doubt it works for certain rare — very rare — kids.

Read the rest of this entry »

Girl Talk

24 12 2006

Why are you so mad, Mama?” she asked.

“What’s wrong with princesses?”

A long and soul-searching Sunday magazine piece, with power of story for Thinking Parents well beyond what it means to be female. I see it as connecting to all issues of identity in our culture (confusion about who’s really married, who’s a real homeschooler, does a diploma equal an education, heck — what do we mean by real motherhood anymore, never mind girlhood?)

. . .Part of the genius of “Princess” is that its meaning is so broadly constructed that it actually has no meaning. . .
“The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

So it’s cynical corporate culture power of story, against which real-live parents and little girls are powerless?

That’s too much drama for me and no happy ending —

I try to tell the story with more cultural nuance than that and my only daughter, nearly grown into her own crown and now herself helping teach little princesses to dance, does too.

Who Made Education’s Nice List?

23 12 2006

“Welcome to today’s chat on the power of influence, and the most
influential people, organizations, research studies, and information
sources in education policy over the past 10 years.”

Education Week

Friday, December 22, 2006

Guests: Kati Haycock, executive director of The Education Trust, Chester
E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, and
Christopher B. Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education
Research Center.

Released last week, the study, Influence: A Study of the Factors Shaping
Education Policy, asked leading education-policy experts first to
identify and then to rate highly influential agents, or influentials,
across those different categories
. . .

Two Supposedly Smart Teacher Gifts

23 12 2006

But, but . . . is she teaching new teachers to give these gifts to their
And if these new teachers had ever once received these two priceless gifts back when they themselves were students,
would there be any need for these habits of mind to remain at the top of the wish list? Would they feel dependent on some omnipotent authority figure to bestow them?
I personally think a much more joyful and less institutionally self-serving pair of gifts would be a spirit of open inquiry
and unbounded self-examination . . . JJ

Mess Is Robust, with Resonance!

23 12 2006

A new book promises to free me and our clever, creative, curious children from our overbearing anti-clutter culture, just in time to elude the clutches of January as national Get Organized Month.

(One shudders to think how much more Big School can stand to systemize! Is even more corporate power to tidy up both school and home really healthy for children and families? Rowdy recess games are long gone, purses and cupcakes are being banned as unacceptably untidy, long lists of clothing, toys and ingestible substances including candy  have been purged, along with  books judged too stimulating and therefore disorderly for school shelves. )

So I tend to welcome counterpoint now and then, toward uncontrolled, untidy thought, word and deed. Here’s the liberating Message of Mess the authors offer: my mess tells a story. MY story!

“Mess is robust and adaptable. . . as opposed to brittle, like a parent’s rigid schedule that doesn’t allow for a small child’s wool-gathering or balkiness. Mess is complete, in that it embraces all sorts of random elements. Mess tells a story: you can learn a lot about people from their detritus, whereas neat — well, neat is a closed book. Neat has no narrative and no personality (as any cover of Real Simple magazine will demonstrate). Mess is also natural, as Mr. Freedman and Mr. Abrahamson point out, and a real time-saver.

Indeed, the most valuable dividend of living with mess may be time.”

My thinking like our home may be riotously messy, but that means potent power of story everywhere. For example, here’s a stray thought I piled in my tyranny of time stack:

Daylight Saving Time gives us the opportunity to enjoy sunny summer evenings . . .

Gift that may be, but its giver is NOT the same order-crazed linear management systems that crowded out everybody’s lazy time in the sun in the first place!

Something else in the same pile is this unself-consciously stupid story:
“A new law to extend DST to the first Sunday in November will take effect in 2007 . . . For decades, candy manufacturers lobbied for a Daylight Saving Time extension to Halloween, as many of the young trick-or-treaters gathering candy are not allowed out after dark, and thus an added hour of light means a big holiday treat — FOR THE CANDY INDUSTRY (emphasis added).”

A Christmas Sch-rooge

21 12 2006

This starts out like Christmas power of story, before we come fearfully to the bah humbug at the end . . .

Except unlike Dickens’ classic cautionary tale, this story cheats the reader. It ends right in the graveyard (of Ideas) , no choices to be made between misery and happiness, no learning or change is possible, no redemption of grinches and sch-rooges to celebrate, no more seasons of hearth and home forTiny Tim — the Crachits must be separated and sent to public schoolwork houses. And then they die.

So perhaps the power of this story is more Milton-esque than Dickensian. Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.

Bah humbug to this blind beggar. Who btw is a middle school teacher. Of ENGLISH!

This fellow needs Christmas Eve visits from Power of Story Past, Present and Future imo. I’ll take literature and culture the way Favorite Daughter learned it instead. I’ll ring a bell every time an angel like Tiny Tim gets wings to escape the power of idea-impoverished schrooges and their relentlessly joyless workhouses.

Long live unschooling . . .