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

Thursday, August 20, 2009

DEHUMANIZED When math and science rule the school

Here is an essay you can take to the beach.

Mark Slouka's article in the September issue of Harper's Magazine, DEHUMANIZED When math and science rule the school provides an economic, social and historical context for "what we teach and why." He argues the emphasis on mathscience and the devaluing of the humanities by those who control education and write and talk about education in the general media have framed the discussion within the context of economic success and competition.

He asks the question, Why is every Crisis in American Education cast as an economic threat and never a civic one?

Here is a short excerpt from the essay but it's worth picking up a copy of Harper's and reading it in its entirety.

Many years ago, my fiancée attempted to lend me a bit of respectability by introducing me to my would-be mother-in-law as a future Ph.D. in literature. From Columbia, I added, polishing
the apple of my prospects. She wasn’t buying it.“A doctor of philosophy,” she said. “What’re you
going to do, open a philosophy store?”A spear is a spear—it doesn’t have to be original. Unable to come up with a quick response and unwilling to petition for a change of venue, I ducked into low-grade irony. More like a stand, I said. I was thinking of stocking Kafka quotes for the holidays, lines from Yeats for a buck-fifty. And that was that. I married the girl anyway.

It’s only now, recalling our exchange, that I can appreciate the signifi cance—the poetry, really—
of our little pas de deux. What we unconsciously acted out, in compressed, almost haiku-like form (A philosophy store?/I will have a stand/sell pieces of Auden at two bits a beat), was the essential drama of American education today. It’s a play I’ve been following for some time
now. It’s about the increasing dominance—scratch that, the unqualifi ed triumph—of a certain
way of seeing, of reckoning value. It’s about the victory of whatever can be quantified over
everything that can’t. It’s about the quiet retooling of American education into an adjunct of
business, an instrument of production. The play’s almost over. I don’t think it’s a comedy.

Despite the determinisms of the day, despitethe code-breakers, the wetware specialists, the
patient unwinders of the barbed wire of our being,this I feel is true: That we are more nurture
than nature; that what we are taught, generally speaking, is what we become; that torturers are
made slowly, not minted in the womb. As are those who resist them. I believe that what rules
us is less the material world of goods and services than the immaterial one of whims, assumptions,
delusions, and lies; that only by studying this world can we hope to shape how it shapes us;
that only by attempting to understand what used to be called, in a less embarrassed age, “the human condition” can we hope to make our condition more human, not less.

Then there’s amortization,
the deadliest of all;
of the heart and soul. —Vladimir Mayakovsky

Now go get a copy of Harper's and have a nice day.

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