Monday, April 08, 2013

The Common Core Curriculum: New answers to a very old question pt.1

There's an interesting core issue which the Common Core Curriculum, CCSSI, Race To The Top, CSCOPE and all the other latest variations upon the theme have in common; they all have a stake in providing new answers to a very old question. Surprisingly, the question is not concerned with the children - they are after all securely in the tender hands of the State. No, the common core question which our bureaucrats are struggling to spin their way around today, is the same one that two young reformers, Glaucon & Adeimantus, came face to face with in Plato's dialog "The Republic", when, as Socrates led them down the dazzling path of central planning 2,500 years ago, they too had to consider the question of:
'What to do about the parents?"
Why? Because the road to Utopia requires that reformers capture (one way or the other) the allegiance of the youth, yet once the best laid plans of bureaucrats and thinkers come together to create the ideal state, then as now, they soon find that while it might be a cinch to get children to trust and believe in the State's 'royal lie' (for the greater good!), how are they going to prevent the children's parents from exposing them to other answers, older ideas, different beliefs and worst of all, lead them to question the Royal Lie? IOW, they must all plan for,
"What if those darn parents go and muck it all up?"
So what's a reformer to do? Well the Common Core crowd has come up with some interesting new answers to this age old question, and they boil down to a three step process:
  1. Centralize power away from local parents to ever more distant authorities
  2. Create consortium's to ease the outsourcing of key decisions to those who just know best.
  3. Safeguard the curriculum from the interference of parents.
Given how old the question is, before going into the details of today's 'smart' answers to our 'Common Core' question - and how to oppose them - it's worth taking a moment to look at some of the other answers, past and present, that powerfully smart people have proposed, and very often put in place - and how they were allowed to.

In "The Republic", over the course of an afternoon walk, Socrates leads his two young social reformers through an extended examination of just what Justice might be, and just what it would take to reform the world into a more just place, a smarter, more efficient, more secure and - in their humble opinion - just a generally superior place to live. What soon becomes glaringly obvious to them, is that establishing such a utopia would require teaching its inhabitants a view of the world that will be friendly to those who have power over it.

Now, if you're not familiar with "The Republic", which is likely the case if you've been educated by people who dread the thoughts which such "old dead white guy"'s words might cause you to think - and especially the questions they'd likely lead you into asking of them - there are some things you should keep in mind, because they are key to keeping these smart people from evicting you from your own mind.

First and foremost, that they arrive at this question after Socrates, with Glaucon & Adeimantus in tow, has walked them through his 'dialectic' (a series of probing questions, imaginative reflections and logic checks) with the patron demon of "Might makes Right!", Thrasymachus, the sophist who had famously asserted:
If you don't realize just how dripping with grave dust old the ideas of our 'Progressives' are, try not to look too closely at Melissa Harris-Perry's latest 'smart idea':
"Narrating a new MSNBC "Lean Forward" spot, the Tulane professor laments that we in America "haven't had a very collective notion that these are our children." "[W]e have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to their communities,..."

Why do I call them ProRegressives? Because the only progress they ever make, is in taking us back to a time when someone else owned your life and lived it for you. It is Barbaric.
"...I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger..."

In replying to him, Socrates quickly exposes, question by question, check by check, with Thrasymachus fuming and spluttering against every word drawn out of him, the deep corruption and utter foolishness, inherent in the idea of allowing those in power (whether the few or the many) to determine that Justice is what those in power think is best for those under their power.

Walk through that brief exchange when you have a chance, and for fun, try telling yourself it has nothing to do with our world today - or the one Melissa Harris-Perry envisions for you.

And so having already covered that ground in principle, Socrates leads his two young smarty pants over what they all should have recognized, through the thin disguise of circumstance, to be the very same ground, which culminates in our common core question. However, in their defense, Socrates has done something to make the ground harder to recognize, and this you should take note of, and you should keep on the lookout for it in your own life and environment. What he did was simple enough, he puffed Glaucon & Adeimantus' heads up with copious amounts of self importance and flattery (see Josef Peiper's excellent "Abuse of language, abuse of power"), (and the video above), and in that state, they quickly came to see themselves in the light of being "the true philosopher kings".

That's some spin. Where just a short time earlier they had easily recognized power lust when it came from a thug like Thrasymachus; they failed, just a short time later, to recognize that same failing in the guise of their own reflections - surely those who looked so fine as they could only be seeking to use power 'for the greater good' - right...? And given that, surely they would be best able to determine the best common core standards for how the state's precious human capital (children) should be invested, and spent (can you spare a dime?), right? And since people such as themselves would be best - shouldn't they use their power to do what they know is best? They are, after all,
"...despising the honours of this present world which they deem mean and worthless, esteeming above all things right and the honour that springs from right, and regarding justice as the greatest and most necessary of all things, whose ministers they are, and whose principles will be exalted by them....."
Through that fun house mirror of the power to do good unto others, their own point of view and interests are transformed into the most distinguishing feature in sight - which is a perspective which central planners secretly, and not so secretly, crave seeing themselves from. So then, securely seated on that highest of high pedestals, Socrates directs their attention down to our question, and being so full of themselves at that point, neither one of them even blinks when the question is placed plainly before them:
" How will they proceed?
They will begin by sending out into the country all the inhabitants of the city who are more than ten years old, and will take possession of their children, who will be unaffected by the habits of their parents; these they will train in their own habits and laws, I mean in the laws which we have given them: and in this way the State and constitution of which we were speaking will soonest and most easily attain happiness, and the nation which has such a constitution will gain most.
Revolutionary do-gooders that they are, asked to consider the idea of 'Suppose we take all of the children and get rid of their parents (for a good cause), sound good?', they don't even blink at the thought; they simply shrug and say :
" Yes, that will be the best way. And I think, Socrates, that you have very well described how, if ever, such a constitution might come into being.
Socrates, with, IMHO, a wink to the reader, leaves it just sitting there for us to think upon,
" Enough then of the perfect State, and of the man who bears its image—there is no difficulty in seeing how we shall describe him.
And for Glaucon & Adeimantus, that's apparently not a problem, for without the least hint that they might have just experienced Socrates' famous irony at its most ironic (even if Plato himself might not have), reply:
There is no difficulty, he replied; and I agree with you in thinking that nothing more need be said.”
Nothing more needs to be said and that's that.

I hope you recognize, as Melissa Harris-Perry and Bill Ayers do (?), just how old today's news is.

What more needs to be said when 'Nothing more needs to be said'?
One commenter on that passage noted:
"This is another of the passages in which Plato seems to lend support to revolutionaries. ... But Plato always held that the reformer must have or make a clean slate. ... And he constantly emphasizes the supreme importance of education."
Of course, you'd probably say that it would be monstrous to seize children from their parents, and exile them, or worse, and I'd agree with you, yet that is nevertheless exactly how central planners and reformers, then as now, actually do think. Central planning is always central to planning those ends which justify your means, which is why it is so dangerous to allow them, unchecked, the power to put their thoughts into action.

But to write Plato off that quickly, robs you of the one absolutely critical tool he gives you, that you can use to stop that potentially totalitarian state of do-goodery, in its tracks.

These commentators who like to take such easy shots as these at Plato, and for which he is often called the founder of the totalitarian state, they neglect to point out that if there's anything uncharacteristic of Socrates, as Plato has portrayed him, it is saying that 'Nothing more needs to be said'. It was Plato's own fear of sentiments such as 'nothing more needs to be said' and 'that's that' that caused Plato, a budding playwright, early on in life, to set fire to all of the plays he had written, because he was so frustrated with how the written word tended, in his view, to end active thought in those who read them.

What led Plato back into print was the truly revolutionary idea that instead of writing books or plays which, in his view, embalmed thoughts upon the page, he would write Dialogs. Dialogs were, are, meant to function as active conversations with the reader, and not just a lifeless recording of what had once upon a time been said and written down. Instead, the dialogs he wrote were to demonstrate the Socratic Method of questioning, so that it could be used to expose the deeper meanings of statements which might otherwise be uncritically accepted as "That's that, nothing more need be said" - and that is the key to overturning them.

When we come across such statements in the dialogs, just laying there, unchallenged, they are supposed to, IMHO, be our cue to continue the questioning ourselves, and to do so with a special emphasis on looking at issues in which we ourselves might be seeing the world through that same fun house mirror. When we notice those same statements being put out there in our world, unchallenged, they should serve as our cues to not only take up the dialog, but to take the next step and expand it, bringing in to the dialog those around us, helping each other to recognize that there is much more to be said on the issue.

Listen to the video above from Melissa Harris-Perry, and ask yourself, if you do not do your duty as a thinking person, as a citizen, and ask these 'What if' questions of those who have either been placed in power over you, or who, like her, presume themselves to direct those who are in power over you, what will prevent them from subjecting you to the power of their unchecked perspective? What will prevent their questions of What to do with you, if you cause those in power trouble? , from being the only questions that are asked?

Socrates famously used his dialectic method to tease the meanings of, and the flaws out of, the ideas of the 'Great Men' of his society (which, BTW, is what got him put to death)... and Plato, through his dialogs, has transmitted that method to us so that you & I can learn how to carry them into our time as participants in them (which is perhaps our truest Common Core). So that even if Plato got it wrong, the conversation needn't stop there, instead, it could, and should, gather new life and relevance through your continuation of it. Plato's value is not in what he said - I disagree with the vast majority of the statements and conclusions in his dialogs - but in the questions he raised and more importantly, the method he demonstrated in raising them - questioning, defining, integrating, clarifying, exposing contradictions and questioning still further - which you can and should use in your life today.

Especially in your life today, when so many are attempting to assume the ability to think and to speak for you - assuming that you parents are only tending their children - you need the ability which Socrates' method provides, to not just speak out against them, but to unravel them. Publicly.

Which probably explains why, though his dialogs once had a central role in our education, they are now either mistaught, or go entirely untaught, to our students today. With that in mind, I'll lay this statement out there for all you educational reformers - state, profit or private - ripe for the picking:
  • If a central part of your education did not consist of developing the habit of methodically questioning (through questions, not doubts) what is offered to you as knowledge, and if you have no framework for judging the worthiness of the answers your questions receive - answers capable of withstanding the same and able to integrate with your wider understanding - then no matter how many facts and skills you might be able to muster, or how many degrees you have acquired attesting to them, those skills you have received do not amount to an Education.
Have at it.

And if you cannot find fault with my statement, and yet that method is not central to your method of understanding the world around you, then you might want to consider what you have been given in its place. .. and what our children are being given in its place today.

And best of all, you don't have to go to school to learn what you weren't taught, you only need to read the instruction manuals, such as Plato's, and practice asking questions - ask them and you shall receive the idiocies of the Melissa Harris-Perry's of the world, being exposed, exposed to understanding, to laughter, and to a withering of their power over your life.

Tomorrow: Questioning the goals of the questioners
(Cross posted at The Bell News)


Anonymous said...

This is nothing more than Liberal logic to minimize responsibility away from people. If children are not yours, then your not responsible for them and they can be killed as needed.

Unknown said...

This is an area where we agree. Well said, Van, well said.

Van Harvey said...

Glad to see it Lance, and thanks.

Van Harvey said...

Anonymouse... one way or the other, I've got to laugh.

Christina M said...

Hello. I only just finally tracked this down today and am printing it out to read and digest right now. I am unfortunately a very slow possum.

freespeak said...

Hello there. I am still reading this, and it is certainly hard to put down.
I wanted to apologize if I offended you about the length of your posts. I am sometimes just awkward in conversation. So, watch and be happy :)