Friday, August 03, 2007

Educationistas: Psst!... Wanna Buy Whatever I Sell You?

If you are trying to promote something, promote its value, its worthiness of your time and attention, wouldn't it make sense to focus on those features and benefits which are illustrative of it? If you were a salesmen, at the very least you'd hit those areas which are essential to, not odd incidentals which do nothing to promote IT, right?

For instance would you attempt to promote a sexy new actress by having people demonstrate how to put on lipstick?

Would you attempt to promote dining at a fabulous restaurant by leading groups to discover how to fold napkins in the stylish way they do in the restaurant?

Does it sound advisable to promote religious belief through workshops on how to build pews?

Would you attempt to promote the NFL by demonstrating how to lace up cleats?

Would you or would you not immediately fire any high priced ad agency that attempted to sell you on such strategies?

Time (again) to take a look at those wonders of the modern world, the educational establishment.

I had no intention of again mentioning Harry Potter, but it is currently the most visible manifestation of this latest idiocy from the purveyors of 'literacy' and 'education'.

First we get some humbling statistics (this seems to serve as the educationistic equivalent kneeling before entering a church prior to launching into a laundry list of prayers):

"According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in 1998 (the year the first Potter novel was released in the United States) 43 percent of fourth-graders and just 19 percent of eighth-graders reported reading for pleasure nearly every day. In 2005, when the sixth book was published, the numbers were identical."

What I find to be truly interesting in that quote, is not that they wonder why kids don't read, but that they do not wonder what it is that they are doing to these kids between the 4th & 8th grades to make them stop reading.

This is decried as the sliding towards doom of literacy in the western world. Assuming you buy that, and that these people are literacies defenders, not its enemy, I'm sure you'd be keen on investigating some of their solutions, which the educationists are fairly brimming with. Let’s have a look, shall we?

"To keep kids reading during the long waits between books, many libraries have compiled "What to Read After Harry Potter" lists of other children's fantasy novels."

Hmm... Ok, not too outlandish there, recommendations for other books, sure, ok.

""We're seeing a whole new batch of kids' fantasy series. Youth literature is more vibrant than ever because of Harry Potter."

"Some of the many children's series librarians recommend are Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Trilogy, Jenny Nimmo's Charlie Bone books and Cornelia Funke's Inkheart trilogy."

Ehh... not so sure of promoting intentionally copy cat material being likely sources of actual Literature, as opposed to ordinary amusements... unoriginal usually means un valuable, but whatever.

"Several programs in the Philadelphia area use Harry as a teaching tool. Villanova University's Science and Theatre Magic Program uses Harry Potter as a vehicle to teach inner-city children the magic of science. The program begins with a train ride similar to the Hogwarts Express and a visit to a "magic mall" modeled after Diagon Alley where the participants, like Harry and his friends, can obtain school supplies."

WTF? Is this marketing or education?

"Bonding Over Books, a new North Carolina-based nonprofit organization, hosted a four-day Harry Potter family camp at the University of Pennsylvania from July 12-15. The event featured programs for kids, 'tweens and teens, including activities like a fan fiction writing workshop, potion-making and "Pennitch." There were also classes for adults on topics such as the role of parenting in the Harry Potter books - "Harry Potter and the Denial of Due Process," "Not So Safe, After All: Learning the Hard Things at Hogwarts" and "Fear, Depression, and Other Psychological Challenges in Harry Potter.""


The western world is under a dark spell of forgetfulness
If the educationistas insist on selling their product in this way, and they do, then perhaps we should question whether or not we are both interested in the same product? Are they selling what we think we are buying, or are they more like some unethical stock broker who is actually selling the action of selling orders, with absolutely no concern for either the stocks and bonds being sold, or our net worth.

One thing we can guess from their approach is that they are not approaching Literature as having anything to do with well written works, whether fiction or non-fiction, which bring the great ideas into our awareness and consideration. In fact, their approach conveys a complete absence of such an approach, or even an awareness of their possible existence. There are times that they seem to be making a deliberate attempt to avoid or erase such an approach having anything to do with Ideas, Great or otherwise. They seem intent on focusing not on the Vertical (conceptual, normative) but instead seek to seize upon particular instances of the works they do access, stomp them flat, and apply them to particular tasks that can be performed.

While avoiding or denying any sort of hierarchy of Ideas, they are always selling some flatland 'value', promoting some particular vocational skill. Always their concern comes back to that. If they ever learned the proper meaning of Happiness, I doubt very much whether or not any of them retained the concepts of leisure, of education, happiness or anything else relating to the Good life, of The Good, The Beautiful and The True; higher values sought for their own sake, instead of for what they will earn in the market place. And they call capitalists ‘money grubbers’!

Now, don't get me wrong here, I do not intend to denigrate the market place in any way, shape or form. I believe that we are creatures living within an actual, physically existing world, with Free Will as our inescapable primary, and Reason (proper contextual capital 'R' reason, not myopic leftie logic chopping) as our tool for living - if we choose to use it, and that the finest system flowing from that reality is capitalism, I am a capitalist pig through and through. Business people, entrepreneurs and the rule of the free market are requisite ideals in the area of the business of life and earning one. In that system can be seen the expression of all of our Rights and Virtues in action, here on earth.


But I don't intend to be confused as to the source of those Rights and Virtues, or their place in our lives; productive work is our central activity, but should be only a secondary focus in our lives, not the primary. Work abides only so far up the scale of living your life, and there is a vast difference between vocational training, and Education. One trains you how to earn the means to go on living; the other teaches you why to live, and what to live for and how to live, how to find Life within your life. One is necessary and urgent, one is important. In fact, the former can not exist, not in the American way, without the later.

Literature (and I’m including spiritual and Religious material as well) belongs to the later, and all the efforts of the educationistas to drag it down from its pedestal to the flattened level of vocational training & thrill seeking, are in the end anti-life - in the sense of life being something worth living rather than just breathing through to the end. Their approach and focus is little different to what is accomplished by training a chimp to hand-sign the word 'banana', in order to get a treat. Merely clever primate tricks, in no way revealing of the depths of soul available to living a life worthy of a Human being.

Another problem, from the shear expedient viewpoint, is that vocational training, especially in today's world, is of fleeting value at best. Spending time teaching kids to do anything with technology, is going to be outdated long before they leave school. Note, I’m not talking about using technology as a tool in education, properly done, that’s a plus, but a proper use is when it doesn’t intrude into the process such as using a PocketPC to put two or three hundred books inexpensively into a students hands, an improper use would be teaching PowerPoint as a means of making slide show book reports – that’s just time wasting ‘fun and useful’ silliness.

Training will necessarily change from one circumstance to the next. A proper Education will be valuable, life enhancing, in any time, under any circumstances. Little of what you learned to use with WordPerfect 1.0 will apply to Word 2007. Learning to read will apply to the ancient Greeks, Elizabethan Shakespeare, Enlightenment Founding Fathers, or contemporary Thomas Sowell. One is useful, one is valuable.

A proper Education that is worthy of the name, would be recognizable as such to Plato in his time as well as Ben Franklin in his or little Johnny or Janey in ours or their great grandchildren in theirs. Whatever is called an education, if it is dated and irrelevant in five years or fifty, it wasn't an education to begin with.

What about when vocation goes on vacation?
Something else to consider, there will likely come a time when productive work, as we understand it today, will not be required for living your life. I don't mean in any sort of utopian, communistic/socialistic way, I mean that at some point in the future, technology will progress to the point that any 'work' that is required for people to perform in order to gain the means of providing food, clothing and shelter, will bear little or no resemblance to what the majority of us now recognize as Work.

Two hundred years ago, even satisfying the need to have water with a meal, a warm shower or bath, meant retrieving multiple bucket loads of water from a well or stream some distance from your front door - no matter the weather, as well as chopping wood and laying a fire to heat the water for which ever purpose it was needed. And if you wanted cold water... you needed to be satisfied with the temperature of your well or stream, because that was as cold as it was going to get.

Today all of that intense work is accomplished with the flick of a finger on the appropriate faucet, and pressing your glass to the refrigerator tap for ice cold water, or actual ice - cubed or crushed. The time once necessary to have spent on supplying water on demand was chopped from hours of hard work, to a momentary flick of a finger, and those freed hours we’ve mostly filled with other such time compressed flicks... as well as more 'free time' to do as we please. Just as our ancestors of even 200 years ago would be flummoxed at the actions we go through and are pleased to call work, our descendants - possibly within another 200 year span, will still need to go through some motions to provide for them and their family, but we would be stunned at equating those future ‘flicks’ with 9 to 5 Work, as we know it.

When that time comes, such flicks will amount to only so much of the day, little of the blocks of time they will have freed up with them will be packed with other such tasks - and keeping in mind that there is NO free lunch, 'free time' will be the norm for their time.

What then?

This is not so outlandish a thought as it may seem, there are some people living today, the children of the very wealthy, who face similar issues right here and now. Work as most of us know it, is not something they need to perform. For them in particular, this question is of extreme urgency and relevance. And just as a hundred years ago only the very wealthy had electricity in their homes, while today even the poorest do, at some point in the future even the 'poorest' will have the leisure time which only the wealthy face today.

What then? When you don't have the ‘urgency shield’ of things and tasks to be done conveniently keeping the important considerations of life at bay, then you have the very real dilemma, horrific actually, of needing to choose between a path that will lead to being either a Paris Hilton, or a ... what?

We the normal people, have been steadily progressing towards a state of leisure unheard of at anytime in the past, and eventually we will all hit some level of equivalence in not needing to perform the motions of focused effort to go on living in the manner accustomed to. The fact that there are so many Paris Hilton's and wannabees, shows how poorly schools - public and private, have dealt with these issues, but they are here, arriving with our increasing amounts of 'Free Time'.

What then? What is the other option? What options do the educationistas provide for us to choose between, Ralph Kramden (or whatever the blue collar equivalent is these days) or Paris Hilton? Is that a choice? When the collar is gone, blue or otherwise, is Paris Hilton it?

Is that the Life worth living?
The Greeks had the motto’s of ‘Know Thyself’ and ‘All things in Moderation’. They didn’t mean gaze into a mirror, or stop before you puke. Complete Freedom, unshaped or restrained by reality, by how you relate it to your understanding of yourself and to higher, deeper Truths, that kind of Freedom will lead only to a descending spiral of trivial knowledge of things and thrills. Unconstrained Freedom will bring only hand fulls of empty time and despair, with no ability or clue how to fill it, except with more new things and thrills.

It is only when Freedom is bound up with reality and an understanding of it and your place in it, that the frantic need for urgent distractions will fall away and that you will be in a position to ascend to a liberating familiarity with The Good, The Beautiful and The True.

The Tantalizing 'life' of Paris Hilton
That descending spiral of trivial knowledge of things and thrills IS the dead end that the educationistas, and the progressives who spawned them, have been focused upon and steering us towards; whether it be substituting vocational studies in place of an education, or touting celebrity or lottery winnings as success, both are focused on the anemic, proletarian, free ride as being the goal of life - not the Good Life, but the Paid Life. Go to parties, be glamorous and 'exciting', or spend your hours dreaming of being them.

But when it comes to actually being them... what then? These 'prizes' which are supposed to make you "HAPPY" just by having them... it ain't so. Just ask Marilyn, Elvis or any number of Lindsay Lohan star kids if you doubt it; this is the road their training is putting us on, this is what they seek to tantalize you with, but you'd do well to look closer at the origins of the word Tantalize.

Tantalus was of divine blood and the only mortal invited to share ambrosia with the Gods, but not satisfied with such honor, he attempted to trick the Gods by serving them false food (his own dismembered son) at a banquet in their honor. His ruse discovered, he was cast into Hell with the punishment with gave name to 'Tantalizing': though submerged to his neck in cool water and with rich fruits within reach, whenever he bent his neck to drink, the waters receded, whenever he tried to close his hands upon the fruits a breeze blew them out of reach, and so he was doomed to be forever thirsty, forever hungry, forever unsatisfied.

Tantalus didn't have the wisdom to enjoy what he had, he was so focused on his own self importance that he sought to belittle what he should have revered by passing off a fraud for a value, corruption for Truth. That is the road the educationistas are putting us on with their job-fair schooling, their focus on the thrill of immediate things over the value higher Ideals, and there is going to be a massive pile up when we or our descendants all drive full throttle into the same dead end alleyway.

So… how do you interest kids in Literature, Mr. Wizard?
You keep kids interested in Literature, by... big suspense moment here... by properly reading and discussing Literature! The good stuff is Good! All on it’s own, it doesn’t need to be applied to the 'real world' through experiments with potato powered flashlights, it stands on its own; IF you focus on the Literature itself, the stirring ideas present within it and don’t attempt to draw their attention away from its delights and depths for the sake of 'easy' lessons and silly irrelevancies.

Learning to read literature for its own sake, for what you can discover in you through it, is one of its chief attractions. Learn to read literature not as a source for impressive cocktail hour trivia, but for the value it brings to your life, to understanding what you are, in your life. What Education in general, and Literature in particular brings, is ability to be able to use your time to live deeper in your time.

That time, that leisure sense, that bit of the Good Life, is what we all need now, in whatever amounts of time we can come into it with, that is what the educationistas, if they really were interested in Education in general and Literature in particular, should be trying to convey to us, to our children.

Instead we get 'Magic Mall's and 'Bonding over Books' - please.


Rick said...

Hey Van,
You should have seen the summer reading list my son had to choose from. (He starts high school in the fall.) Sheesh. A large selection, sure, but nothing to choose. Where’s Moby dick? Robinson Crusoe? Lord of the Flies? War of the Worlds? The Hobit? 1984? Old Man and the Sea?…Those are great young boy summer reads, off the top of my head.

Atlas Shrugged was on the list but I couldn’t recommend it having not read it – didn’t know if it was above his level and I believe it is some 1200 pages.

I hope they cover those during the coming years. They did read Animal Farm last year. I wonder how long that one will be allowed. Anyway, he chose a Vonnegut book, Time Quake – but had a hard time with it I think. I haven’t read any of his work.

Next summer I’ll provide my own list. What will they say? “No. He can’t read Twenty Thousand Leagues…”?

Van Harvey said...

Not to mention Three Musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo, Ivanhoe and The Scarlet Pimpernel!

Let's see... what else was I eating up waaayyyy back then..., oh, yeah, Tolkien, Jules Verne, 'Sherlock Holmes' books, Mark Twain's 'Prince and the Pauper' and 'Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court', and newer stuff like Frank Herbert's 'Dune' trilogy (it goes more than three, but...) and 'Destination: Void','The Jesus Incident', 'The Lazarus Effect', and 'The Ascension Factor'... and also Isacc Asimov's Foundation Trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation - it goes on beyond those three, and they're all worth reading (and of course heaps of pulp westerns, King Arthur tales, Stephen King, etc, but those were pretty much thrills and time eaters only).

Atlas Shrugged was a fantastic book... at 29... early teens? Not so sure... depends, I guess. I remember reading The Fountainhead (also Ayn Rand) at 13, and about all I got out of it then, was 'if you've got reason to keep believing in yourself, pay no attention to those trying to bring you down', the idea of pain that 'only goes down so deep, and no further', and groups who say they're looking out for the little guy might just be looking to make everybody else into little guys. When I picked it back up at 30 I was flabbergasted at what I'd completely missed. Some kids get it early and some don't. I know ARI (Ayn Rand Institute) sponsors some decent awards and scholarships for essays from teens on her books. You'll want to be sure he keeps a wider perspective than 'just the facts ma'am', but other than that, good stuff.

Either way, yep, as long as you don't rely on what the school puts out, he'll do fine.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I concur, Van.
Rick makes some good points too.
Tried and true classics, such as the books you and Rick mentioned,
are essential.
I would only add some Mark Twain;
Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn,
Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, The Iliad, and there are scores more great books out there that get kids and adults to think, ponder, contemplate...transcend.

Excellent post, Van!