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

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Cereal Box Prize of Hatred

I wonder at the necessity of asserting that reading and writing foster reading and writing.

But beyond that there is the familiar disconnect, in the "What's the Matter with Kansas" sort of way, where the idea of testing and drill and vocabulary lists or word recognition lists being used ad nauseum in the lower grades--exactly the time when doing this induces an abject hatred for and distrust of WORDS as they are offered in the context of judgement--that this method of "education" is extraordinarily invasively "regulatory."

That is to say, the very people who produce an endless stream of invective about government regulations and intervention seek to inundate our schools with a steady diet of content/context regulation.  The very people who expound against "eggheads" and academic experts and elites resort time and again to "experts" of their own who offer any number of (specious, or at least contentious) studies saying that the "method" of learning words best suited to elementary grades is that developed by an expert who seeks to "input/output" lists of information.

That is to say, for some reason, one can't just love stories, to read them and write them, anymore.

But the further problem is that this is actually non-partisan.  The progressives tell you what to read and how to read the same as the conservatives or fundamentalists.  Each heaven the one and only truth.

This is beyond my ken.

The very institution that I would offer has likely done more than any other to deaden one's sense of discovery and kill one's excitement in learning for its own sake--dammit, it's fun to read and write and talk about stories and ideas!--seems hell-bent of making it worse still.

All via the regulatory control of the state and federal governments; all via the "market" control of Walmart; all via the liege-lords Bush, Gates, Broad, et al.; all via the very groups who constantly scream for the government to get bent.

Now, these ironies are irrelevant to me as the theater of opposites is intended to distract not instruct.

Our institutions are no longer viable to my mind.  There is no justice system that checks or balances power, if there ever was; there is no armed corpus designed to protect and serve; there is no equality before the law, before the cash register, or in the schools

But I don't need reams of reports to tell me this; and I don't need citations from academia telling me that this or that method does this or that thing until that method is supplanted by this or that academic and this or that testing service for this or that political entity or this or that billionaire donor.

I will reiterate that all the authors I personally revere read much, read often, read deeply in literature.  NOT "informational texts"--it's a sad day if you can't decode "instructions."  They wrote letters, not tweets.  They watched, well, nothing.  They called no one.  They read and wrote and talked.

So, it is clear to me that the very society that screams about this or that inability and imbecility--home-damn-grown--is one in which that inability appears fairly irrelevant.  Why would managers, owners, politicians, etc., want anyone to be intelligent?

There is absolutely no one in power who wants the populace to be better prepared to call bullshit except as it serves a partisan persuasion; as long as it mimics Limbaugh or Maddow or whoever it is you pretend speaks "for you."

Think hard about the ways we are offered information for living--nutritional stats are a good place to start...cereal boxes as text.  It's really our truest measure of our cultural "gift" to the world.  Designed to replace thought, designed to supplant thought.

Again, Lincoln, revered and reviled in this country, depending on geography and skin color, read two books to near memorization--(unimaginable to the modern world)--The Bible (which is "books") and Shakespeare (also books).  That is, a library of language committed to memory; a library of wisdom absorbed in such a manner that it informed all his thinking; a library of politics; a library of relationships.

Melville, a voracious reader to his purposes, also had absorbed the Bible and Shakespeare (and Robert Burton*, and Milton, among others).

No, school--not in any grade, from pre-k to graduate school--expects this of anyone and rather promotes the opposite as it seeds human devolution via the iPad.

But there are 250 words or so you'd better be able to sight-recognize before your seven-years-old or you just won't test well.  Of course, that has nothing to do with YOU and everything to do with the managers of our social, political and economic systems.

This is hateful.

This is a society that simply hates its people; respects no one but those with money, because if they have money they must be right; loves only what can be repeated endlessly, market-by-market, to the profit of the narrow few; cares only about celebrity weddings, divorces, suicides; reveres the military; reveres the very technology that will enslave it physically if it hasn't already enslaved its thinking.

This is hateful.  All of your citations are hateful.  You participate in the very act of hate that spawns the industrial expertise which produces citations in opposition.  Institutions, machines, prisons.

Liberation waits, with no muss or fuss, with no expectation, upon the nearest shelf.  It nearly trembles under its coiled kinesis.  They are afraid of it.  And so they are hateful of it.  And so their systems diminish its power; dissecting the method of unleashing the power...focussing on the method, reducing the fissile knowledge by lengthening, thickening, dampening the fuse.

Read a book, talk to a child, go for a walk, throw a ball, ride a bike, sing a song, paint a picture, watch ants for hours....

"Romp with joy in the bookish dark!"

How damn hard is that?



  1. Thanks for this essay, Doug.

    You speak of education as "coiled kinesis" unleashed that all of us aspire to who have been fortunate enough to experience it at some point. Whether in a classroom of third graders, a seminar with doctoral students, or on the beach reading Madame Bovary or Wallace Stevens. Having had some of it, we are audacious enough to want everyone to have a chance at it, too. It is the immaterial in the material, not as the "meat that thinks," as Minsky would have it, but as the "patterns that connect," as Bateson preferred.

    The power of ignorance and the ignorance of power: both the enemy. The necrophilic billionaires don't want it, you are right, for any who serve them. The power of ignorance fueling the ignorance of power: both the enemy. Not power as the enemy, for we must have some of it for education to be shared. And shared it must, if catastrophe is to be averted. That is the struggle for me.

    Myles Horton said his 3 most important books were the Bible, where he learned values, Marx, where he learned to argue, and Shelley, where he learned about the ferocity of indomitable spirit to keep alive life worth living in the face of great odds.

    I hope my grandchildren have teachers who love the power of language/literature and know its value as you do.

    1. Thank you, Jim.

      I'm afraid that "meat that thinks" and "patterns that connect" are as readily abstracted. Though the "meat" can bloody, but perhaps too the patterns can fade.

      I still can't get over how stupid this whole mess is.

  2. "The disease of the last century and a half has been 'abstraction.' This has spread like tuberculosis.

    "Take the example of 'Liberty'. Liberty became a goddess in the eighteenth century, and had a FORM. That is to say, Liberty was 'defined' in the Rights of Man as 'the right to do anything that doesn't hurt someone else'. The restricting and highly ethical limiting clause was, within a few decades, REMOVED. The idea of liberty degenerated into meaning mere irresponsibility and the right to be just as pifflingly idiotic as the laziest sub-human pleased, and to exercise almost 'any and every' activity utterly regardless of its effect on the commonweal."

    Ezra Pound, "The Teacher's Mission" (1934)