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

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Bloodless Abstractionism

A dedicated advocate for putting the reality of a living being, a child, back into the actuarial equations of our political considerations, Peg With Pen posts this on the first day of 2013:

Teachers, as you plan how to resist corporate education reform and rebuild public schools on National Opt Out Day (Jan.7th)  - or any day for that matter - here is one way to do it - do not allow others to refer to children based on their test scores. Children cannot be called "UnSats" or "Partials" or any other label attached to a number.
It is beyond disrespectful and allows teachers to become removed from the actions they are taking, therefore, they/teachers are less likely to wake up to the pain and suffering inflicted on these children from such abusive top down mandates. If children are numbers, rather than individuals with talents, personalities, ideas, heart, pain, and joy, it becomes much easier for corporate education reformers to move forward efficiently with their plan to profit off of these children as they are tallied, divided up and scattered randomly within communities.
It is a common practice, describing and "equating" living, breathing beings as if they were simply the abstractions used to describe them.  By naming a being by its assigned number one then identifies it as meaningful ONLY in that abstraction.

These are not tactics though.  This is the way many of us think.  We have been trained to think statistically, to describe ourselves as trends, as credit scores, as sub-prime or triple-A.

And because this is a kind of mental "ground" or a framework it is necessary that we do as Peg suggests: shout "NO" in thunder to any attempt at this kind of abstracting of living beings.  One way to do this is to always return to our starkest example of this kind of inhuman calculation: the Nazi program abstracted as the "solution."  Undesirables, UnSats, that is Jews, were forced to wear a large yellow Star of David on their outer-garments as a "badge" of inferiority; this was superseded by the tattooed number of the concentration camps.

When living beings are numbered, when living beings are considered "sociologically" as manipulable groups (this is the way our politics works, by the way), when living beings are abstracted, then living beings are no longer living beings.  We become nothing.  Marks on a page.  Marks in a column.

Bloodless yet soon to be bloodied.

I think we are naive to imagine a change in our public "mind."  It is and has been managed and directed for so long now that we too think exactly as the managers do.  We too find ourselves lacking; we too find ourselves the bearers of the burden of failure; we too believe the economic failures (successes for some) are "our fault."  Even when we say "their fault" and so try to lay the blame elsewhere, we are only laying the blame on the "others" who are exactly like us.

I don't believe there is a public school that isn't complicit in our education towards viewing everyone else as valueless abstractions.  The very structure of the institution reveals this.

So while I agree with Peg in the above, I don't believe we do ourselves any good by positioning this as something specific to corporate reform.  This is a fight against the state too.  This is a fight against the culture, the way we are trained, the way we privilege a kind of "scientism" in our mutually insured living.
Words, discourses, inherited paradigms of belief: these were what confounded thought by forcing it into straitened terms and generating insoluble problems that were actually functions of an idiom.  Recognizing the contingency of vocabularies, however, did little to help...(Milder, Exiled Royalties, p 38.)
We must first recognize that we are operating within these idioms.  We must commit to realizing these ways of thinking and talking direct us from within--we have internalized these abstractions.

The question will be, even if we are able to admit this and see that we too contribute to this problem, will this be of any help?



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