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

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The Myopic Menace of Order

White man got no dreaming,
Him go 'nother way.
White man, him go different.
Him got road belong himself.

I have never been able to discover any Aboriginal word for time as an abstract concept.  And the sense of 'history' is wholly alien here....

...The Dreaming conjures up the notion of a sacred, heroic time of the indefinitely remote past, such a time is also, in a sense, still part of the present.  One cannot 'fix' The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen....

Clearly, The Dreaming is many things in one.  Among them, a kind of narrative to things that once happened; a kind of charter of things that still happen; and a kind of logos or principle of order transcending everything significant to Aboriginal man.  If I am correct in saying so, it is much more complex philosophically than we have so far realised [sic].  I greatly hope that artists and men of letters who (it seems increasingly) find inspiration in Aboriginal Australia will use all their gifts of empathy, but avoid banal projection and subjectivism, if they seek to honour the notion.

-from "The Dreaming," an essay on Australian Aborigines by W. E. H. Stanner (1953)


...when I say "I am at home" I seem to be saying more than "I am at a certain address, though I might be at some other."  "Home" is one of the most resonant of English words; your home is your own safe and sheltered place, your rooted abode, the place of your sacred things: what the Romans meant when they invoked the lares et penates, the gods of one's home and hearth.  But note that such feelings can not survive a demand that we define our terms; note too that order syntax detracts from feeling, insisting as it does on what Swift, defining "style," called "proper words in proper places.  We're aware, as we encounter "proper words," that they're not the improper words they might have been; so the mind drifts away from them to their surrogates.  And for that very reason a display of orderly syntax, in celebrating the exactness of each word's placement, can drain off the potential of any word to evoke feeling.  If verse does not drain off that potential, it is because verse foregrounds its rhythmic schemes instead of its syntax.  When rhythmic scheme and syntax mapped one another, as in the eighteenth century couplet, then feeling was notably schematized, attenuated.  There is something menacing about syntactic order... (97)

-Hugh Kenner, The Mechanic Muse (1987)

“African-American students at a Richmond community college could read just as well as University of Virginia students when the topic was roommates or car traffic, but they could not read passages about Lee’s surrender to Grant,” Dr. Hirsch recalled. “They had not been taught the various things that they needed to know to understand ordinary texts addressed to a general audience. The results were shocking. What had the schools been doing? I decided to devote myself to helping right the wrong that is being done to such students,” he said. 
Electrified by the insight gleaned from this research, Dr. Hirsch developed his groundbreaking concept of cultural literacy—the idea that reading comprehension requires not just formal decoding skills but also wide-ranging background knowledge. In 1986, he founded the Core Knowledge Foundation, and a year later, published Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know. A surprise publishing phenomenon, the book remained at the top of the New York Times best-seller list for more than six months. 
For nearly three decades, in books, articles and lectures, Dr. Hirsch has passionately argued that schools should teach a highly specific curriculum that would allow children to understand things writers and speakers take for granted, and to fully participate in democratic life. “We will achieve a just and prosperous society only when our schools ensure that everyone commands enough shared knowledge to communicate effectively with everyone else,” Dr. Hirsch concludes.
--From the bio of E. D. Hirsch Jr., Chairman and Founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation


The real language of men is chameleonlike; words refuse to mean what they ought to, and a culture which does not observe this is a culture in decay....there are no plain words.

This is a grave matter.  The belief that there were plain words sponsored the faith, three centuries ago, that science might unite mankind.  After all this time of increasing disunion, in the course of which word-men and scientists have pulled so far apart as only to communicate through interpreters, we are coming to wonder if people only understand one another's words when they pretty nearly understand one another anyway.  There are no plaine speakers either, no plain readers, only groups of us more or less skilled in a greater or lesser number of overlapping languages.  And this is not something that has gone wrong with our culture.  What went wrong with our culture was the insidious belief that it could ever be any other way: that people could, for instance, just speak their "real language."  That was a comforting but atavistic belief.  It is only the people we call savages who have a simple, a purposive, a unified culture: whose poets are "technicians of the sacred."  The decision to leave those simplicities behind, a decision we presumably do not propose to renegotiate, was entailed in our decision not to be savages.  (131)

-Hugh Kenner, The Mechanic Muse (1987)

1 comment:

  1. We all of us are continually in a sense of place. Our externality resonates most strongly when integrated with a human scale of proportion. Explodes at scale of immensity. And forever is captured in our sense of our internal place of dissonant yet belonging.