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.”