What Can Homeschooling Learn from Our Present Political Stories?

10 06 2008

UPDATE – with a frisky cook of the snook to Don at the gookins, see Rolling Stone’s excerpt from Taibbi’s new book, “Jesus Made Me Do It”:

By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to “be rational” or “set aside your religion” about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters.
Once you’ve made a journey like this — once you’ve gone this far — you are beyond suggestible.

It’s not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that’s the issue. It’s that once you’ve gotten to this place, you’ve left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things.

***********************

After this post in the comment section, Spunky said about Ron Paul:

“We both laughed and wondered how in the world two people with polar opposite beliefs could agree on a Presidential candidate.”

This opposites-attract Ron Paul phenomenon is remarked upon in a new book I was reading last night, by Matt Taibbi: “The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics & Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire.”

I doubt Paul enthusiasts liberal or conservative will like this analysis of Ron Paul’s um, peculiar appeal, but its power of story rings true and should be quite “educational” to homeschool families across the ideological spectrum, struggling through what I too believe is a turning-point election:

The Ron Paul candidacy was an extreme example of outsider politics on the left and right merging. . .retreats from the mainstream that traveled in opposite directions but were parallel in substance. . .
Both groups were and are defined primarily by an unshakable belief in the inhumanity of their enemies on the other side. . .

He says both belief poles are off the rational reservation deep into magical thinking and conspiracy theories, can’t even agree on a common set of facts to debate, distrust the news media even more than their own elected government, and basically elections have become simply “a forum for organizing the hatreds of the population.”

“We don’t respond to problems as communities but as demographics.”

On the back of the book jacket, fellow political author Michelle Goldberg says Taibbi shines a light on “the corruption, absurdities and idiot pieties” of modern American politics, with “surprising compassion for the adrift, credulous souls who are taken in by it all.”

Idiot pieties. Credulous souls taken in by it all. Well said — that’s what I see in all directions, too, what makes me read books like Great Derangement, Howard Gardner’s “Changing Minds” in all its education brilliance, and Lakoff’s ““The Political Mind: “Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain.” Why I don’t often use political and religious labels for myself. Why I won’t play party politics and haven’t for decades. And why my support for Barack Obama is basically in spite of his party’s support, not because of it.

In case you don’t read Gardner as passionately as I do, you may need this quick review of the Seven Levers with which we change our own minds and each other’s, and eventually our society’s thinking:

Gardner’s Seven Levers of Mind Change:

1. Reason
2. Research
3. Resonance
4. Representational Redescriptions
5. Resources and Rewards
6. Real World Events
7. Resistances

But we (homeschoolers especially?) might not think mind change on OUR part is needed. Maybe that’s why we need to read and discuss other books first, to understand that if any demographic were completely right, we collectively probably wouldn’t have gone so completely wrong. That could be where The Great Derangement can educate us — here’s another look at the lessons it offers, from a publisher’s take:

Matt discovered in his travels across the country that the resilient blue state/red state narrative of American politics had become irrelevant. A large and growing chunk of the American population was so turned off—or radicalized—by electoral chicanery, a spineless news media, and the increasingly blatant lies from our leaders. . . that they abandoned the political mainstream altogether. They joined what he calls The Great Derangement.
Taibbi tells the story of this new American madness by inserting himself into four defining American subcultures:
The Military, where he finds himself mired in the grotesque black comedy of the American occupation of Iraq;
The System, where he follows the money-slicked path of legislation in Congress;
The Resistance, where he doubles as chief public antagonist and undercover member of the passionately bonkers 9/11 Truth Movement; and
The Church, where he infiltrates a politically influential apocalyptic mega-ministry in Texas and enters the lives of its desperate congregants.

Together these four interwoven adventures paint a portrait of a nation dangerously out of touch with reality and desperately searching for answers in all the wrong places.

Yep. For example I read this from Spunky as out-of-touch: “Has there ever been a more dismal choice for president?”

And this, as searching for answers in all the wrong places:
“I often learn the most from those that think the least like me; so, if there are any Barak Obama or McCain supporters out there who believe their choice is the best one for homeschoolers, I’d love to hear why.”

I guess I fit the bill as someone who thinks the least like Spunky, but can I give her an answer that will make any sense to either one of us? Not to that question, I expect.

I am both an education policy professional and a long-time unschooler who cherishes my family’s independence and academic freedom, someone who is all about education’s power of story, all the time — but I don’t think I can learn anything important to me and my family and community from poring over candidates’ public “education policy” statements. Not this year.

Now is the time, I think, for independently studying each candidate’s true-life story and coming to understand it within the context of our own, not for collecting and comparing poll-driven, staff-written, dueling-demographic soundbites.

If this election does as I believe, present a last-chance opportunity to pull out of our democratic death-spiral, then we’ll need better educated and more thoroughly understood answers to who WE are, and who we aspire to be as America.

And who we choose as our next president might well make a difference to that kind of education politics. (Either way, unfortunately.)

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31 responses

10 06 2008
JJ

WaPo has an online interview with Taibbi answering reader questions, that’s illuminating imo.

For example:

Can the difference between the religious right and the Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists be this: The fundamentalists believe god is involved in our day-to-day events, and the 9/11 Truth crowd sees the inside operators of our government and economy as playing god?

Matt Taibbi:
That’s one analogy. Another similarity is that if you ask Christians for the evidence for their beliefs, they tell you it comes after death. Truthers say they don’t have the evidence because it’s locked away and only a “full investigation” (which they know full well they will never get) will reveal it.

In both cases the belief system is arranged in such a way that it is inherently impossible to disprove.

10 06 2008
JJ

From another homeschool politics post:

“Big Church and Big School are really the same story, did you ever think about that as the thoughtful, independent individual you struggle to be through home education, and perhaps fancy you’ve already become?

Governance of all by any One Story, be it sacred or secular, theocracy or educracy, subsumes the individual spirit and power to create its own stories. There is no other meaning or power to this story, however it’s told. . .”

11 06 2008
Dana

Well, I didn’t really like anyone running from the beginning. But this has been in the forefront of my political thought for some time:

an unshakable belief in the inhumanity of their enemies on the other side. . .

There is no respect for opposing viewpoints or genuine debate. Maybe I’ll post on it later. But I listened to the Steve Brown show the other day and noted something despairingly absent from any other political discussion. Probably because it doesn’t drive ratings.

Anyway, Mr. Brown is a local conservative who had the NE Democrat chosen to read Obama’s letter to the Douglas County Democrats on the show for a whole hour. It was an incredibly pleasant conversation. Neither side was pushed into the typical “argue through sound byte” mentality. They explained their positions, talked back and forth and found where they both agreed there to be problems, although they disagreed on the solutions. Now, the situation was probably helped along by the fact that they used to be on the air together as a sort of conservative v. liberal show and the fact that a NE Democrat probably runs to the right of a NY Republican. But still, the mutual respect showed and at the end of it, you had a far better understanding of what each side was advocating.

But in the current political climate, conservatives are backwards, illiterate and just plain stupid. And liberals are raving lunatics bent on advancing the atheist homosexual agenda.

No one stops to realize that the labels drive people into corners. And no one gives the other side enough respect to listen long enough to realize that most of us really do have the same concerns and the same goals, even if our solutions are a little different.

Believe it or not, I deleted half this comment. 🙂

11 06 2008
Dana

Oops. Forgot to include God-hating in my description of liberals.

11 06 2008
Principled Discovery » What can homeschooling learn from the political divide?

[…] a Snook asks an interesting question that I started to answer in her comment box:  What can Homeschooling Learn from Our Present Political Stories?  It started with some musing about how Ron Paul seemed to unite extremists on both the left and […]

11 06 2008
JJ

Hi Dana, heck, that wasn’t too long at all, not around here!

Speaking of respectful, powerful debate, we rented the Denzel Washington-Forest Whitaker movie “The Great Debaters” and watched it Monday night. Wow.

11 06 2008
Nance Confer

LOL, Dana — no, not too long. Some of us (JJ! 🙂 ) do ramble on. But there’s usually a good point to it all.

I wonder if the very format that the Brown show had — a whole hour! — lends itself to better understanding. In a rush-rush soundbite conversation, it’s hard to fit in any reasonableness.

How many times have DH and I yelled at the TV screen — “But that wasn’t the full context!”

Nance

11 06 2008
Nance Confer

Paul supporters and other fringe types, can be frustratingly obtuse. I think this part — “the belief system is arranged in such a way that it is inherently impossible to disprove” — is what makes it so hard to even understand their point, let alone debate something.

I was just talking with a couple of women online, one in particular, who are “concerned” about Obama as President. Their concerns wander from wondering if too big a deal is being made that he will be the first black President, to whether he has enough experience to whether anyone — especially Obama — can fix all that is wrong with the US and whether that might be a big setback for blacks if he falters.

The meandering, out-of-focus, speculative nature of the discussion finally led me to wonder if they weren’t just going to vote for McCain. Oh no, one poster wrote, she’s going to “vote her conscience” and vote for some 3rd party candidate or other, hasn’t quite decided which one.

Oh, well, I didn’t know that’s who I was talking to. I thought the sane choice was McCain or Obama but we were not talking about sane choices. 🙂

Nance

11 06 2008
JJ

I’m thinking votes are like money. Never the main point by itself, just a way of keeping score that we substitute publicly for what really IS the point.

Reminds me of the gas price conversation we were having, about how it might affect our homeschooling. There’s a thousand stories in the naked city including many in which money and politics figure prominently, but not a one can be told properly with only ballot printouts and gas receipts. 🙂

11 06 2008
Crimson Wife

Obama and Paul both frighten me for basically being the flip sides of the same coin. Obama is the classic “nanny state” Big Government uberliberal and Paul is the classic xenophobic anti-government uberlibertarian. Either one would be an absolute disaster for our country IMHO. I don’t think government is 100% the solution (like Obama does) nor 100% the problem (like Paul does).

I’m not a huge fan of McCain, but from the beginning of this whole election cycle he’s the one I’ve disliked the least. I just worry that the conservatives in this country will shoot themselves in the foot by either staying home or throwing away their votes on some 3rd party candidate like Bob Barr and we’ll wind up stuck with Obama…

11 06 2008
Dana

There were things I liked about Paul, but I’m just not a libertarian. I tried to imagine what a Paul presidency would be like given his record in the House. And all I could picture was four years of absolutely nothing happening. Like when the government got shut down awhile back.

11 06 2008
JJ

Don’t worry too much, CW. I’m old with a long memory and my first vote for president was for Richard Nixon (who won that second term in a landslide btw.)

If we survived that and then a completely unelected president (Ford) and then the last recession and oil crisis — AND the Iranian hostage crisis — with Jimmy Carter so ineffectual on all fronts, and . . .gosh, have we had anyone who WASN’T an absolute disaster in the last half-century? . . . well, anyway, we survived the last 15 years which in my book means there can’t possibly be worse ahead than the Bush-Clinton Era! No absolute disasters anyway, and who knows, we might get lucky and discover some new, better ways of doing our business. 🙂

12 06 2008
Nance Confer

I don’t think government is 100% the solution (like Obama does) . . .

***

Is there ANY evidence to support this?

Nance

12 06 2008
JJ

Silly old Nance. 😀

It’s about power of story. This story about the Big Bad Wolf of Government is very powerful with homeschoolers, including me (well, my lizard brain anyway.)

But you can’t beat it in your own mind or anyone else’s by arguing with it or asking for proof. You need to tell a different, better story that comes at the issues a whole other way — over and over and over until it too starts to take hold in the cultural unconscious.

For example, maybe this one that I just mentioned at Spunky’s:

On the car radio this morning I heard that today, June 12, is “Loving Day.”

Sounded like a good story to me, but I was late to get my hair cut and had to go inside. So when I got home just now I Googled it — talk about changing cultural expectations!

Here’s the WaPo version of Loving Day and also the Philly Inquirer editorial about the culturally mainstream words we once quite legally used, to deny any life or happiness to the kinds of family we believed ungodly.

Obama’s family and Obama’s own life itself obviously then, would have been an actual CRIME in Virginia — home of Thomas Jefferson who literally created some similar, um, cross-racial children also unable to be raised in an optimum family environment. Never mind optimum educational opportunites, which as I recall the Supreme Court has changed the story on many times as well. Brown v Board of Education was decided the year I was BORN btw — did it affect my birthright then? Or anyone else’s? I’d answer that yes and yes but my main storyline would be changing the entire culture we would grow up in and inherit, not merely how we would be schooled and what we would pay in taxes to help pay for those changes.

The storyline of the above might (even as they protest) cross-connect for conservatives with their beliefs about parent sovereignty and privacy and family freedoms; those who believe the public should butt out of our families and let us define our own values and goals, craft our own characters and live with our own choices without interference from the public.

UPDATE – here’s something homeschooling surely can learn from! We are about twice as small a minority in the current culture, as interracial marriages are, after 40-plus years of protected and explicit legality throughout the nation. No wonder we’re still misunderstood, suspected as misfits, stereotyped, etc.
Does anyone really believe that homeschoolers will be changing that with moral superiority, much less by brandishing our educational facts and evidence, any time soon? If you do, you just aren’t looking at the irrefutable evidence that these are cultural stories our brains are collectively reluctant to let us rewrite. . .

Since that ruling 40 years ago, interracial marriage has become more common, but remains relatively rare. Sociologists estimate that 7 percent of the nation’s 59 million marriages are mixed-race couplings.

And even now, interracial marriage remains a source of quiet debate over questions of identity, assimilation and acceptance.

12 06 2008
Crimson Wife

Nance- that was the impression my DH had after he finished Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” last week. I haven’t read it for myself yet (I’ve got a bunch of library books I need to finish first), but from what I’ve seen & heard from the senator it strikes me as a fair assessment. He seems like a decent guy personally but I don’t share his enthusiasm for dramatically expanding the government.

12 06 2008
JJ

I wonder if it’s more a shift than an expansion? — more a matter of changing which things we think should be government priorities.

13 06 2008
Nance Confer

Oh, well, if that was your husband’s impression, good enough!

Not!

JJ, I fear you may be right. That no amount of actual facts and smear-busting actions (http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/fightthesmearshome/) will bridge the chasm between the reality-based community and the rest.

Witness the “Obama is a baby killer” outrage at Spunky’s blog — http://spunkyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2008/06/please-define-birthright.html. I asked for links and got them. Hurray! Someone on the right using actual facts. A new day!

Not!

Follow the first link, find that Obama was not actually suggesting babies be murdered, was concerned about a rare problem and yet standing firm for women’s rights against the IL Senate.

Then I read further to make sure I have understood things clearly. Spunky and friends seem to know their stuff. Surely they can’t be this far off base, this far away from what really happened.

Turns out the story is one being hyped by the Washington Times, as well as the WSJ that Spunky cited, and has already been debunked — http://mediamatters.org/items/200802050010.

So, no meeting of the minds. No mutual concern about a rare but important wrong that may or may not be happening that maybe we could do something about. Just a misrepresentation of Obama and the whole issue. Time wasted to get to what was actually said.

And disgust on my side. Along with no interest in pursuing the topic with dishonest debaters.

Nance

13 06 2008
JJ

Maybe we can do better, here for instance? As I read it the blogging connection to this as a “homeschooling” issue wasn’t really abortion or murder anyway, it was Obama referring to college as a “birthright.”

So how about honestly debating this–
Resolved: An affordable college education is a birthright in 21st century America.

13 06 2008
Nance Confer

How about debating how the economy should be structured and whether or not college or other training is or should be part and parcel of that? How learning and education can or should keep up with changes in the economy? What constitutes a college education? Why we’d have to frame anything with a loaded word like “birthright?” Etc.

There are a lot of big picture issues we can talk about. But we can’t accept just pulling “facts” out of the air. We can’t accept calling things “transcendental” (McCain) as if that explains why we can’t think logically about them. We can’t cherrypick our facts to fit a preconceived notion.

And we can’t settle for old labels as if they still mean anything.

And we can’t waste time with people who won’t grow, who won’t learn how to think, who don’t even know that their line of patter can be easily checked. Or don’t care. Or who just want to waste others’ time. Stall for some miracle or other. We’re allowed to call BS and move on.

Old feminists don’t get to rule the day. Old right-wingers don’t get to frame the conversation. It’s time to move on from all of that.

Want to talk about college? Talk about why it is or isn’t important, how it fits with the bigger picture and how that should or shouldn’t change lives. Figure out what we really want to know and try to talk about that.

Nance

13 06 2008
JJ

Good points all. 🙂
And connecting to all THAT, I am listening to Mr. Obama right now addressing seniors, and he just said something about how people who worked hard all their lives “earned the right” to a secure retirement in which they could remain healthy and strong enough to continue to contribute to their families and society. (So not a birthright but an earned right as part of the social compact over a lifetime, is how it sounded.)

That it was another “part of the American Dream” that we’re losing sight of because we’re not changing and adapting as need be, to honor that commitment.

It struck me that maybe he’s connecting it all up too, that it’s not just us, that maybe someone in the position to do something about it actually GETS it. 🙂

And introducing him, his wife was saying that her mother should have that security not only because she deserved it but also because it’s a loss to the rest of us when seniors aren’t able to retire that way.

13 06 2008
Crimson Wife

Anyone who’s motivated enough in this country can get a college education. Here in CA, the tuition for community college is a mere $26 per unit of credit and then one can complete a Bachelor’s Degree at a cost of $1386 per semester in the CSU system. Those amounts are more than covered by a Pell Grant. Other options include getting a job with an employer offering tuition reimbursement, joining Americorps or the military, taking Advanced Placement or CLEP exams to shorten one’s time in college, scholarships from the college and/or community groups, and so on. My in-laws refused to pay a dime towards my DH’s higher education (long story) but he was determined to go to college anyways so he figured out a way to make it happen using a combination of the above.

I recently read in “The Economist” that the U.S. actually has a higher percentage of college graduates among those aged 25-39 than Europe does, even though college is mostly free there.

The problem with college access here in America isn’t financial but that so few young people are academically prepared for college-level work. 1/3 of the population fails to even graduate high school, and only a minority of the rest are able to handle college coursework.

There was a very interesting article in a recent issue of the “Atlantic Monthly” on this topic.

13 06 2008
JJ

Thanks CW, for adding this here (which I had shared with our parent-directed education elist, but had
not blogged):
“In the Basement of the Ivory Tower”

14 06 2008
Nance Confer

The problem with college access here in America isn’t financial but that so few young people are academically prepared for college-level work. 1/3 of the population fails to even graduate high school, and only a minority of the rest are able to handle college coursework.

***

Why my sister, who is returning to community college in her 40s and has held several demanding office jobs, has been told she still has to take the intro English and math classes. Yes, they know she will be bored but everyone has to take them to weed out or help the many who didn’t get the basics in high school.

So is college so necessary because it’s really what you should have been taught in high school?

Nance

14 06 2008
JJ

Assuming there’s any such thing as what everyone “should have been taught”

😉

14 06 2008
Crimson Wife

Perhaps we should amend that to “the skills that an aspiring college student ought to have mastered”? I think we could agree that basic literacy and numeracy are important for someone hoping to attend college, regardless of whether the student was formally taught them in a traditional classroom, whether he/she picked them up on his/her own as an “unschooler”, or something in between.

14 06 2008
JJ

Makes perfect sense except that Favorite Daughter negates it. She’s as much an all-round collegiate academic as I know in her whole generation, more successful than most, just LOVES the life of the mind and aspires to live that life for its own sake, isn’t even thinking about trying to get any sort of job or career from it at this point. Basically she wants to live in the library. 🙂

Yet I think we (and she’d be the first) would agree she hasn’t mastered “basic numeracy” no matter how we define it.

I’m not quarreling, not with anyone else’s attempts to lay out broad universal definitions of “college coursework” and its predicates, because I do think literacy and numeracy pretty much define whatever it is we mean when we talk about school and education, and FavD is far outside school standards and norms in numeracy AND literacy. (But combine the two and on average, she’d test exactly average!)

And then I remember there are three different definitions even of the so-casually invoked concept of “average” — mean, median and mode — and that it’s perfectly possible to have a group average (mean) that no single person within that group actually fits, although we’ll still use that average to legislate for all, and I wonder whether even we college whiz kids with doctorates in this stuff, have mastered as much real knowledge about our own education, much less everybody else’s, as we think. 🙂

15 06 2008
JJ

Pat Farenga says much the same thing in Transforming Mush, that our own ideas and definitions set up the failure of universal college education:

After more than a decade of national and state standardized education reforms, the only things that have improved appear to be the profit margins of educational testing companies.

One study, conducted by the American Institutes for Research and reported by Ben Feller for the Associated Press, says that

” …50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks. That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees, or summarize the results of a survey about parental involvement in school.
…The students did the worst on matter involving math, according to the study.”

The other study, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, reported by Lois Romano of The Washington Post notes:

“…The reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade… While more Americans are graduating from college, and more than ever are applying for admission, far fewer are leaving higher education with the skills needed to comprehend routine data…”

. . .After years of standardizing education in the name of high expectations, making college the ultimate goal for children, and viewing our children as resources to be developed for our economy, like oil and gold, we are still left with the fact that most children and teenagers do not respond well to this treatment.

Test scores have risen, diplomas are granted, more people than ever are applying for college admission, yet the evidence is still there: We aren’t much smarter for all these expensive efforts.

Why do we blame ourselves instead of our ideas about schooling for these failures?

15 06 2008
JJ

Dunno why that comment generated a funny-face icon for me instead of my BOBB (Big Old Blue Brain) but I have to say, the monocle is a nice touch! 😉

15 06 2008
NanceConfer

Well, in my sister’s case, she has been explicitly told that, as her department in being cut, she may not be transferred to another and would have a better chance of placement if she had an AA. This has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with her abilities on the job. She arrived at her current job as a purchasing agent and, since she could do that job with one hand tied behind her, had time to set up a library at the clinic where she works. This is all being dismantled and she is preparing to move on and has found that she likes the sort of place she’s in and wants to go somewhere like it. And has been told that this piece of paper is important — for no real reason other than having it.

So there’s a work connection in her story but not one that translates to specific content. OTOH, she wouldn’t be able to do her job without at least basic literacy and numeracy.

Saying we “need” a college degree of some kind doesn’t mean that we actually “need” what is taught in the high school or college courses that occur while earning the degree to do the job we are after.

You might “need” to go to college for personal — I love learning — reasons. You might “need” to get the paper to get the job. You might “need” to learn the basic skills that might be acquired along with the high school or college degree in order to get and keep the job.

These things can all happen at the same time or not at all. You might “need” to get out of the house because Mom and Dad want you to “do something with your life” and get absolutely nothing worthwhile personally or careerwise out of it.

But everyone doesn’t really “need” to go to college. Including my sister. She’ll go and probably enjoy it and do well and get her new job. But she could handle the new job today!

Nance

19 06 2008
JJ

Heard Arianna Huffington today on NPR, addressing the California Commonwealth or some such, about her new book, the subtitle of which is” How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe.”

In one part of her talk she actually said lizard brain! (One of my favorite phrases)

And she was using it to say what I keep saying, that it’s power of story and it has to muscle its way into our minds and brains with a lot of tellings — that we have to counter lies and lunatics with REPEATED, well-laid-out truths, over and over and over until it begins to replace what’s so wrong in some lizard brains, maybe even dark, unrecognized parts of our own sometimes . . .

20 08 2010
We Need to Sing Our Epics or Lose Them « Cocking A Snook!

[…] animated Snook with epic discussions of the Great Derangement of Matt Taibbi, the language stories and Political Mind of George Lakoff, the political right-speak realism of […]

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