"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Flat Worlds, Poison Toys, and Political Thinking

What happens when you depend upon businessmen to make educational decisions, businessmen whose prime motivation in life is the never-ending uptick in corporate quarterly earnings? You end up with a politically-and-artistically- denuded curriculum that's heavy on science, math, and technology--and short on everything else. Welcome to Achieve, Inc. and the Business Roundtable's new vision of the American high school.

When the world got flat, you see, the pedagogical braintrust, not at Teachers College, but the one at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, made the determination that economics is the only social studies that matters in school anymore, and that if we need to emulate China's totalitarian tunnel vision in order to achieve its level of productivity, then so be it. Cardboard dumplings, poison toys, anti-freeze toothpaste, melamine animal feed, slave labor, environmental disaster, political repression? It's what maximum efficiency and amazing economic engines are built on, according to the Business Roundtable. China's your best example--nobody does it better.

I went in K-Mart the other day, and everything I picked up had an American brand and was made in China. I could not find anything not made in China. I wondered what cost-cutting poison was waiting to be brought home in these pillows and camp stoves, and I wondered how many workers died in forced labor camps in order to have this row of 40 gleaming bicycles, all under a hundred dollars. I finally found a shirt made in Nicaragua. I bought it and left.

Anyway, I found this interesting story today in the NY Times on some pedagogical developments in India that the geniuses at Achieve, Inc. probably haven't heard about, either. There, politics, real politics is being used in Indian high schools to teach and learn critical thinking. And students are eating it up. So, too, are their teachers. Maybe the world is not flat--maybe it never was.

A clip:

NEW DELHI, Aug. 14 — Quietly, a great upheaval is taking place inside Indian high schools.

For the first time, the messy brawl that is modern Indian politics, including some of its ugliest and most controversial episodes, is being taught in political science class. It is part of a broader revision of the school curriculum, with potentially long-lasting implications for how Indian children grasp the workings of their nation and its place in the world.

Using cartoons, newspaper clippings and questions that invite classroom debate on thorny contemporary issues, the new curriculum comes at a time when democracy has firmly rooted itself in Indian soil and is indeed one of the nation’s principal selling points as it tries to assert itself in the world. India marks the 60th anniversary of its independence from Britain on Wednesday.

“Sixty years after independence, it’s a statement of maturity of Indian democracy,” said Yogendra Yadav, one of the two chief advisers to the political science textbook committee. “This couldn’t have been written 30 years after independence. This probably couldn’t have been written 15 years ago.”

Shikha Chhabra, 16, offered an example from her new 12th-grade textbook, “Contemporary World Politics.”

She said she had always been taught that the nonaligned movement, in which India played a leading role during the cold war years and countries carved out at least a rhetorical policy of independence from both the Soviet Union and the United States, was “a wonderful thing.” The new textbook, she noticed, treats it differently. “Now they raise the question — does the nonaligned movement really apply in the world today? Was it just fence-sitting?”

She decided that it no longer applied, joining a contemporary hue and cry among politicians and political observers in this country about the merits of India’s new friendship with the United States. The class had a rich debate about the pros and cons of aligning with the Americans. It came during a chapter called “U.S. Hegemony in World Politics.”

“You do question what India’s strategy should be,” Ms. Chhabra said.

Her teacher, Abha Malik, head of the political science department at the Sanskriti School here, pounded on the textbook, which the National Council of Educational Research and Training, a government agency, rolled out four months ago for both public and private schools. “You can’t have a regular, regular class with this,” she said, beaming. “This book won’t let you sit still.”

In a country where rote learning has prevailed even at the most elite schools, the new emphasis on critical thinking signals a major shift in pedagogy. More striking is the substance of the new curriculum. Before, the emphasis in political science was on political theory. “This is realpolitik,” Ms. Malik said. . . .

Is "hegemony" on the vocabulary list of the Achieve curriculum? Didn't think so.

1 comment:

  1. I apologize for the length...and i'll be posting this on .net...but...your final question reminded me of something I wrote with a friend of mine a few years ago...

    The Marxist Primer
    By Philip Kovacs and Eric Zheno

    We will never have a participatory and egalitarian social order until we have adults with the language to imagine and articulate such an order. But where do those adults come from? Our schools? Doubtful... Leaving education up to corporations, we have basically ensured America's children will have to wait until after school...if they are lucky....to appropriate the language necessary to free themselves, and each other, from various isms...

    Here are a few important words children need to know to become the type of critical citizen necessary for identifying and checking power, the type of critical citizen necessary for genuine democracy...

    Read it to your kids, and then your neighbor's kids...if you don't have kids, have kids, and then read it to them....each of these words should be printed upside down on bibs, that way, instead of reaching out for Disney, they'll reach out for democracy.

    An issue first identified in the 19th century, ALIENATION, or isolation from one's self, others and the world, remains problematic today. Media, especially television, creates false consciousness and false need, separating us from our selves and each other. This same mechanism then sells us back a surrogate connection in the form of consumerism.

    BRAND IDENTITY, the "personality" which a company projects about itself and its products, replaces meaningful community as people form bonds not with each other, but with symbols. In desperate pursuit of acquisition, CAPITALISM places economic growth, or profit, at a higher value than human life.

    Conversely, DEMOCRACY values human life, treating people as individuals capable of participating in the institutions that shape their lives. A utopian understanding of democracy is EGALITARIANISM and requires individuals reaching out to help others help themselves.

    The state opposing egalitarianism and democracy is FASCIST, where the ruling class engages in economic and social regimentation, using propaganda, censorship and violence to suppress dissent. Ironically, this sounds like our democracy looks.

    GREED, the excessive desire to acquire more than one needs, is nothing new to humanity, but its ramifications ring louder in the twenty-first century, as unequal distribution of wealth reaches levels not seen since aristocrats ruled. The new aristocracy maintains their power via HEGEMONY, suppression through institutions such as education, advertising, news, and religion. Hegemony cannot maintain without IDEOLOGY, the production of sense and meaning. Ideologues rule according to their myopic needs, calling critics irrelevant, misguided, or dangerous.

    In contrast, a society that believed JUSTICE to be more than a word, would allow citizens to level counter narratives to the stories perpetuated by the state. In fact, the people would be the state and the story itself. This will never happen so long as we leave fact finding up to others...

    All children, and all adults, must learn to question official KNOWLEDGE. That is, Americans need to ask ourselves, how do we know that what you know is true? Information sanctioned or filtered by the system isn't necessarily the truth. Using knowledge to dismantle structures that hinder justice is how genuine LIBERATION occurs.

    MEDIA is changing in the twenty-first century. While the Internet remains a temporary site for resistance, corporate America maintains a stranglehold on the broadcast spectrum, using it to maintain capitalist hegemony here and abroad. At the forefront of this mission is a small circle of policy shapers: the NEOCONSERVATIVES. Neocons believe America must take its role as imperial leader and secure the globe for free markets, sacrificing truth and life to reach this end.

    They cannot succeed without OPPRESSION, the silencing of dissent. At home, dissenters are kept quiet by questioning their PATRIOTISM, understood today to mean uncritical flag waving, though real patriots were once known to be America's most vocal critics. Abroad, bullets silence dissent.

    One very effective tactic of oppressors is divide and rule. Here, individuals use media to create an enemy within the state in order to prevent coalition building. In America today, the QUEER has been effectively othered, and individuals who would undeniably benefit from working together are instead kept apart. Queers, niggers, crackers and others have a common enemy, unseen as they are kept hating one another.

    Until we acknowledge multiple realities together, REVOLUTION, a sudden or momentous change in the face of our specific tyranny, will remain a Utopian dream, a dream only to be realized via communal organization and a shared investment in our lives; this is known as SYNERGY.

    The United States Department of Defense defines TERRORISM as "The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological." One has no reason to wonder then, why countries the world round are terrified when our troops touch down on their soil and why respondents to global polls list the U.S. as the number one threat to world peace.

    It also explains why, to a growing extent, we act UNILATERALLY, without the consent or aid of our allies, who grow increasingly wary of our VIOLENCE both at home and abroad.

    WATER...You were expecting "war" weren't you? Expect it. Expect it to be fought over water. Expect it to be fought in places like India where Coca-Cola is breeding new terrorists by draining aquifers. Expect to be asked to hate others as we need what they have. Expect XENOPHOBIA, the intense fear or hate of "foreigners," to grow, thanks to neo-fascist propaganda.

    YOU are the essential element in this equation, and you have a choice in changing the dynamic of the game. You are what makes synergy, democracy, egalitarianism, and liberation, possible. Humanity continues to play the ZERO-SUM-GAME it has been playing since the beginning of history. In it, for every gain made by one element, there must be a loss for another. But there are other ways of living, ones we can't realize unless you and I, him and her, near and far, realize our collective lot and act accordingly.