America on the Edge — Politics, Culture, Education

28 02 2007

America on the Edge: Henry Giroux on Politics, Culture, and Education
reviewed by H. Svi Shapiro — January 29, 2007

“Giroux . . .has, I believe, correctly argued that we face today two
kinds of fundamentalism, each of which threaten democratic life.. .Such intolerance quickly becomes a license to suppress violently anything that appears to deviate or challenge the one right doctrine.

While education is considered in this book as just one part of his
larger analysis, he leaves us in no doubt as to its crucial
responsibility in breaking through the distortions, deceit, and
mystifications that pervade the dominant culture. . .”

(JJ’s note – and don’t miss how he ties in university sell-outs to child
beauty pageants!!)

Teachers College Record, Date Published: January
29, 2007 ID Number: 12938

Breaking News: Kids Bored in Class!

28 02 2007

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A majority of U.S. high school students say they get bored in class every day, and more than one out of five has considered dropping out, according to a survey released on Wednesday.

The survey of 81,000 students in 26 states found two-thirds of high school students complain of boredom, usually because the subject matter was irrelevant or their teachers didn’t seem to care about them.

“They’re not having those interactions, which we know are critical for student engagement with learning,” said Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, who led the annual survey by Indiana University researchers.

Half of the students surveyed said they had skipped school without a valid excuse at least once, and 22 percent said they had considered dropping out. More than half said they spent an hour or less per week reading and studying.

Yet, three of four students surveyed said they expected to earn a high school diploma and go on to college. . .

UPDATE – I just ferreted out the full study, see comments for link (and more comments!)

Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?

27 02 2007

New show with Jeff Foxworthy, on now because Idol ran short I guess.

So I am watching. We are watching, the whole singing, dancing, theatrical family of Idol watchers we are.

What a bizarrely schoolish show concept! The contestant kids even ran into the main set through a sort of hallway with lockers, or cubbies, on the walls of each side.

My unschooled kids age 11 and 16 are watching with great interest, and the first question was “in what month is Columbus Day celebrated?” Both kids just gave me the strangest look like, “huh?” — the dummy adult who looks at least 15 years younger than I (maybe they had dropped Columbus Day out of the curriculum in the 80s?) missed it and guessed September. The kid on his “team” got it right though so he got to go on to the next question.

Now they are doing the first American president to be impeached. The studio kids ALL got it right . . .

The dummy adult went to USC. He has no clue, thinks it might be John Quincy Adams. Even my kids know this is absurd and wrong. He is embarassed for himself and his alma mater, and is “dropping out” of school. Leaving the show in disgrace.

Good call.

I got it right, right off the bat.

My kids think I am a freak. And they are right about THAT! Smart kids.

(Smarter than fifth graders. . .)

How the Oscars Offended Me Today

25 02 2007

MORNING UPDATE – in thinking more on this, I think I’ll go with Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Language is the archives of history…Language is fossil poetry.”


I am offended!

FavD has been watching the Turner Classic Movies channel all this rainy day. It’s an Oscar marathon of winners, and before Gone With the Wind started, they interviewed black historians about black actress Hattie McDaniel (Mammy) winning the 1939 best supporting actress. How Olivia de Havilland felt robbed but was told to suck it up, that it was McDaniel’s one chance and America should have this race history moment.

Then the overture started, and we fondly threw the syrupy, dated lines of dialogue back and forth until I wandered off to play chess with the boy. I could still hear the movie even though I wasn’t really listening, the movie I know so well that if ever in solitary confinement, I’d likely choose GWTW to replay scene by scene in vivid and excruciating detail in my mind, to keep from going insane.But suddenly a disturbing note, something was wrong.

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School Socialization Should Shame Us All

25 02 2007

“The injustice of the lies,” she said, “is contemptible.”

The 23 members [evicted] included every woman who was overweight. They also included the only black, Korean and Vietnamese members. The dozen students allowed to stay were slender and popular with fraternity men — conventionally pretty women the sorority hoped could attract new recruits. Six of the 12 were so infuriated they quit.

“Virtually everyone who didn’t fit a certain sorority member archetype was told to leave,” said Kate Holloway, a senior who withdrew from the [Delta Zeta] chapter during its reorganization. “I sensed the disrespect with which this was to be carried out . . .I didn’t have room in my life for these women to come in and tell my sisters of three years that they weren’t needed.”

Ms. Holloway is not the only angry one. The reorganization has left a messy aftermath of recrimination and tears on this rural campus of 2,400 students, 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

The mass eviction battered the self-esteem of many of the former sorority members, and some withdrew from classes in depression. There have been student protests, outraged letters from alumni and parents, and a faculty petition calling the sorority’s action unethical.

DePauw’s president, Robert G. Bottoms, issued a two-page letter of reprimand to the sorority. In an interview in his office, Dr. Bottoms said he had been stunned by the sorority’s insensitivity.

“I had no hint they were going to disrupt the chapter with a membership reduction of this proportion in the middle of the year,” he said. “It’s been very upsetting.”

The school’s president is stunned and upset? One could argue this was a very effective object lesson, exactly the kind of learning experience school social systems were originally constituted to deliver and reinforce and have done ruthlessly ever since. If he doesn’t like it, he’s in a position to start changing it. Otherwise he needs to own it.

Everything about college campus life — from getting in to getting along, to getting through, to getting a job through those social contacts — imposes this same lesson *by institutional design and with institutional support* and college presidents must’ve learned it as well as any silly sorority girl or rejected chubbette.

Maybe better! – some university presidents are in practice shamelessly playing for institutional reputation, recruiting by rankings, weeding and culling and shuffling students like playing cards for the next bet, grasping for the top and misrepresenting the truth, all for institutional glorification bigger to them than the import of any individual students underserved, unserved or downright devastated by the “lesson”:

Howard Gardner makes the point less offensively, but he’s saying the same thing. Presidents have lost their way no less than status-focused sorority recruiters from the head office.

. . .the more I have thought about it, the more I have become
convinced that the goal of topping the international comparisons is a foolish one, and the rush to raise one’s rank a fool’s errand. In the process of pursuing a higher rank, educational leaders are ignoring deeper and more important purposes of education.

Not so different imo, from what Delta Zeta’s head office managers and PR administrator foolishly hoped to accomplish by this:

“They had these unassuming freshman girls downstairs with these plastic women from Indiana University, and 25 of my sisters hiding upstairs,” she said. “It was so fake, so completely dehumanized. . .”

School sports, clubs, prizes and privilege, including those passively earned via family wealth and status, from the Duke lacrosse team’s social behavior or FAMU’s marching band hazing mutilations to fresh-faced exclusive fraternities and sororities, carve this lesson deeply into the psyche (if not the very flesh) of America’s collective student body.

It’s never in the mission statement, but School teaches and perputuates such hard socialization lessons more thoroughly than anything else it attempts. . . and while that IS upsetting, it’s hardly a shock, at least not to anyone as well-schooled as I was, surely not to any university president or professor with the slightest ability to see, think, and speak about social truth.

“The injustice of the lies,” she said, “is contemptible.”

School Socialization: Not Good No Matter How It’s Served

23 02 2007

Living proof that real socialization is served up not by School, but our crass, crazy consumer culture everywhere else . . .

I’ll try to review this new book myself, after Favorite Daughter and I finish gobbling it up and savoring its flavors, but here’s a tasty NPR interview with its author for you to snack on at home right now, just in case you weren’t sufficiently socialized by School to sit quietly and wait your turn to be led to the cafeteria!
And here’s another snack of a socialization idea that belongs on the same tv tray, from my refrigerator raid to yours — Barack Obama, who apparently was *extremely* well socialized by Formal School, right up through Harvard Law to the point that, “His internal rhythm was set to ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’ ” suggests in a profile of Obama that decades of pricey schooling are worthless to acculturate even the most excellent Citizen of School to the real world. He was thoroughly, exhaustively socialized TO school, BY school, FOR school — but not to, by, and for the American people and their culture.

Is it our genuinely uncultured, probably unhealthy but oh-so-tasty, culture that serves up the secret sauce formally schooled immigrants find so tempting?

When as a stiff, pompous and esoteric professor of constitutional law in Chicago, Obama offered himself for public service off-campus, he failed miserably and learned how much he hadn’t learned in school. Heck, even the real-world SCHOOLTEACHERS found him poorly socialized for community leadership:

. . .no one appreciates how hard the man tried to earn his ghetto pass.
At a rally for South Side teachers, held in a dim, tiny nightclub called Honeysuckle’s, Obama lashed out at the critics who were calling him too bright and too white. . .”When Congressman Rush and his allies attack me for going to Harvard and teaching at the University of Chicago, they’re sending a signal to black kids that if you’re well-educated, somehow you’re not ‘keeping it real.'”

The air quotes hung over the silent gathering.

So he reportedly worked very hard educating and socializing himself from scratch to shed all that Schooling, to cultivate universal human connection and policy skills with authentic meaning off campus — so much so that he finally achieved un-school un-success and began to be seen as a “natural.”

Ironic, eh? 🙂

Today he drips with charisma and inspires fawning admiration from all quarters. But Obama began his journey as a [ed. note: PERFECTLY SCHOOL-SOCIALIZED YET] smug young man with little political future.

Picked Up On Campus

22 02 2007

. . . in the history building, says Favorite Daughter. Picked up BY her, that is!


Can Parents Trust These Nice Conservative Brothers?

22 02 2007

This is about a young couple who. . .make up a story to tell Susie’s parents.

For their (shuddering as I notice this for the first time) millennium collection!

It’s not just the internet tubes that make my life of the mind so rich. Without my radio, I wouldn’t have nearly as much off-the-wall selective-perception stuff to think about . . .did you know that the dynastic Governing Brothers both have the exact same favorite song?? (WHAT ARE THE ODDS??)

Yes, it’s a highly rated crowd pleaser of a song that has stood the test of time, its power of story about lying to parents and pleasing the country-western crowd, but they are so gosh-darn earnest and church-going and clean-cut about it . . .

So JEB has doffed his official state title and reclaimed his personal three letter nickname. Subliminally this is very presidential, like FDR, JFK, LBJ — hmmm, are there any Republican prez initial triads, can’t think of any except “IKE” which were not initials — and like another music-message-muddled, big-and-tall candidate-man (Dem and four-lettered when three would do, Gore) he reportedly has slimmed down since leaving office. Getting into shape for the next run? Maybe he needs a musical makeover too . . .

JEB said this morning on my radio that he won’t endorse any candidate for 08.
Favorite Daughter just mused that when he was first elected, he made a lasting impression on her by telling our capital city newspaper that his favorite song was “Wake Up Little Susie” — by the Everly Brothers, get it, get it?– which she’d heard me sing with the car radio oldies station many times, to great amusement and cultural commentary. At the time, then, she as a (very) young but bright girl thinking for herself, felt it would be hard to take his governorship seriously after this, as in: he could have said anything at all but he chose THIS, how ridiculous, how simpleminded, whatever possessed him?? But as she got older and watched his draconian school testing policies and infantalizing (if not attempted kidnap?) of Terri Schiavo, tighten their paternalistic grip on her generation, she’s reinterpreted that key impression as revealing not his simplemindedness, but his cynical belief that WE are simpleminded.

Wonder if he’ll take a position on this new political pony being trotted out, to abolish Florida’s property tax?? I can’t wait to hear what they make up to tell the parents. . .

“Wake Up Little Susie” by historian-political art curator Rickie Solinger

This study offers a biting look at unwed pregnancy in the 50s and 60s and the pressure on white women to surrender their children for adoption. A backdrop to modern adoption practices. . .

Still Dunno Much About History, but I’m Learning!

21 02 2007

As I’ve gushed many times, many places, and just reminded myself deep in my controversy files, studying history does put things in perspective.

Cultural historian Jacques Barzun if he were still alive, might observe that the fires of the American Revolution helped define the era of the individual, but that was a good century after the old era’s decay had been left behind. (Maybe more!)

Now here in 2007, the decadence is upon us full force and The Era of Exalting the Individual has gone as far as it can go — the party’s over, and it’s time to stop holding on. Baby boomers aren’t gonna buy this, most likely, but that won’t matter. It’ll happen anyway. And it won’t be pretty, not for the rest of OUR lives anyway; maybe our kids–or their grandkids–will get some amazing historical progress out of it though.

Barzun’s turn-of-the-millennium masterwork “From Dawn to Decadence” covers the last 500 years. It was a surprise bestseller and National Book Award Finalist. All we can know about the next 500-year era, is that we can’t know what’s on the other side of all this culture clash and turmoil preceding its birth.

“The peoples of the West offered the world a set of ideas and
institutions not found earlier or elsewhere. . . it has been a unity combined
with enormous diversity. Borrowing widely from other lands, thriving on dissent and originality, the West has been the mongrel civilization par excellence. But . . .now these purposes, carried out to their utmost possibility, are bringing about its demise.

This ending is shown by the deadlocks of out times: for and against nationalism, for and against individualism, for and against the high
arts, for and against strict morals and religious beliefs.

The now-full-blown individual wields a panoply of rights, including
the right to do ‘his own thing’ without hindrance from authority. . . and of
course it requires more and more limitations in order to prevent my right from
infringing yours.”

– Jacques Barzun, prologue of “From Dawn to Decadence”

Net-working for Thinking Parents

21 02 2007

Recent events have brought back one of my favorite thinking themes: how independent humans work and network with each other, how we create our own cultures of communication and why they work or don’t work the ways we want and expect.

Systems theory may not hold the answers but its questions are fascinating, like what do home educators and jazz musicians have in common as self-governing communications networks?

“Thinking now that maybe jazz is a fine analogy to home education. Nobody owns it –except the individuals who love it. It is a subject for educators but it can’t be taught or controlled or contained. (And “paying one’s dues” has a whole different meaning from HSLDA or NHELD!) Not all jazz musicians know or like each other, nor are they like each other, yet independently they transcend labels and categories and network as they please to create transporting music, and build upon their diversity and free communication, something that DOES change the world. . .

. . .we needn’t always default to some one absolute that’s the *only* way to work together.

Consider “The Playful World: How Technology is Transforming Our Imagination” by Mark Pesce.

“In a world where our intelligence is embedded and distributed, where we have made the deep structures of the material world responsive, and we have nearly instantaneous access to anything known or thought or felt, we consequently have powers that would be described — just a few generations ago — as magical. . .

It will create new forms of culture and require us to learn a new language; our own languages can’t quite cope with the confusion of tongues, mixed meanings and ambiguities . . .”

So when I hear people for the umpteeumpth time clash over mixed meanings or declare the superordinance of some obsolescing cultural concept like labor unions, school, factories, punishment, protectionism, war, or whatever, I — well, I — long for this conversation instead!

Banging on College Doors With a Number 2 Pencil

21 02 2007

So not only are college leaders perpetually confused about why their institutions exist and what their service to the community is meant to achieve (other than their own self-aggrandizement), but now they can’t even figure out criteria to successfully match students and programs, without continuing to use a standardized commercial system they already know is indefensible? And these are the HIGHER education minds? Heaven help us all.

Nance found this news today:

Questions and topics covered by “College Admission Testing” are some of the most consistent and difficult issues to address in an admission environment in which institutions maintain a commitment to fairness, but which is also fundamentally exclusive at the highest levels.
Dr. Zwick offers provocative assessments of the admission testing landscape:

– “On the one hand, we think [selective admission] ‘has unpleasant connotations of elitism, unfairness, snobbishness and uniformity.’ On the other hand, we ‘laud excellence, recognize its scarcity and utility, and endorse admissions on the basis of merit…'”

– “Testing experts have not been particularly helpful in clarifying the niche that admission tests are intended to fill, and disputes on this point have been prominent in recent debates about the fairness of the SAT.”

– “Despite the fact that these debates are unresolved, SAT and ACT scores continue to be a key factor in admission decisions at most institutions.”

– “The college admission tests of the future … are likely to be more focused on material that is taught in the classroom and on skills that clearly resemble those needed for college study.”

The Freeing Discipline of Wonder

20 02 2007

Individualism and institutionalism:

I pretty much hate “versus” applied to any two things. I choose the -ism suffix to mean anything (not just religion) that becomes dominant dogma, elevating some system of belief or aspect of being to an all-purpose imperative, too much of one good thing to the exclusion of others. The one tool that makes every problem look like it needs a good hammering.

In this sense, individual-ism and institutional-ism are indeed opposing mindsets pitted against each other. Ugh!
. . . So today I’m remembering Mortimer Adler’s oxymoronic definition of education as the freeing discipline of wonder, and wondering myself where learning without schooling can catch the most light without throwing off too much heat, across the full spectrum of individual and institution?

Two books came to mind in this context —
“The Hedgehog, The Fox, and the Magister’s Pox” by Stephen Jay Gould is about reconciling science with the humanities, or how to understand them as an integrated whole, and “The Ant and the Peacock” is about reconciling this seeming paradox in nature: are individuals or collectives favored?

Is home education the single-minded and prickly hedgehog or the lithe, inventive fox? (“The fox devises many clever strategies; the hedgehog knows one great and effective strategy.” )

The Hedgehog/Fox suggests our human tendency to make every question a simple dichotomy between two opposite choices is probably just baggage from caveman decisions like fight-flight, sleep-wake, mate-wait.

I suggest that tendency itself should be evidence against institutionalized education! – look what “school” does to knowledge and wisdom by breaking it up into little disconnected learning “standards” with forced choice right-wrong answers and discrete disciplines. Okay, that’s a whole nother thread, clearly connected though. . .!

The “ant” could be home education in this discussion — insignificantly small, renouncing tooth and claw — but as easily could be schooling, because it lives in the “public-spirited ways of the commune.”

Or is learning beyond school the flamboyant peacock? Cocky, hardy souls renouncing the collective to strut their own path into Harvard, never mind the nattering peahens all about?

The question isn’t simple. It goes deeper than choosing between individual and institution. The only right answer seems to be that unschoolers, indeed all humans, are both and neither, which makes the real trick being able to appreciate the full spectrum of individual and collective characteristics, in all its complexity.

Or one can go for the strange sort of faithful nihilism certain that reality is neither instead of both. I appreciate Christopher Hitchens when he’s biting AND illuminating but not when he forces me to choose between thinking him creative and thinking him destructive.

The fox, as has been pointed out by more than one philosopher, knows many small things, whereas the hedgehog knows one big thing. Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn’t like him all that much. . .Year in and year out in Washington, I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon.

Put this way, it’s not really Ronald Reagan he finds so irredeemably stupid and useless. It is us.

If every concept is the enemy of its opposite, then we cannot be both smart and stupid. Or both antiwar and prodefense, like Donny and Marie a little bit country AND rock ‘n’ roll.

. . .both sides of the war issue are protesting in town square. The mayor reminds them that they must share the stage. Randy Marsh gets into a rock (anti-war) and country (pro-war) duet . . .

The 2005 Tony winner for Best Musical, “Avenue Q,” introduced a funny AND wicked song demonstrating through jokes on its diverse characters, that “everyone’s a little bit racist” even when we love each other because of AND despite it.

So I prefer these conciliatory books! 🙂
Neither book sets up or takes sides, both books raise whole new lines of inquiry rather than prescribing answers, and both are greater than the sum of their factoids, at their core about beauty, goodness (AND, not OR) intelligence — three things which a reviewer said “especially puzzled Charles Darwin.” Transcendent themes that, as MisEducation is so fond of reminding her readers, echo

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