Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Does Schooling Promote Personal Authenticity? Should It?

We need to find the courage to say NO to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity. -- Barbara de Angelis
Just how to interpret the expression, “Know Thyself,” has been debated throughout history. We can cook down the options into two categories of personality theory:
a. Clothes Make the (Wo)Man : your so-called “personhood” is like an empty coat hanger whose appearance changes with the suit or outfit that is hung on it as the situation requires. (see The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman)

b. The “Inner Core” theory: There is in you an inner, unique something, call it a spirit, a soul, an essence, that must be developed and nourished despite the external world’s, society’s pressures to render you a clone of everyone else.
Clearly de Angelis quoted above would support the second theory.

But is it possible, and if possible, desirable for schools, in this gigantic, multicultural, minimal-consensus society of ours to try to get each person to say “No!” to all of those who are perceived as “not serving” that particular individual?

What if students, at any age, do not perceive their parents and teachers as “serving” them? What if some people -- there are obviously no few of these -- don’t perceive laws and moral codes as “serving” them.

What if I perceive your continued existence as “not serving” me?

Will you set up in authority some kind of committee that will tell me and the others when our perceptions are mistaken? And how will you get us to submit to your so-called “authority”? With -- to put it into old-fashioned language -- “fire and sword”?

Is that the “authenticity” you want? Our would you prefer that, occasionally, we all suit ourselves as the situation requires -- preferably in fashions not too clashing?

For references and to examine these issues further, see STUDENT CENTEREDNESS: reconsiderations

--- EGR

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thank Your Politician for Carrying the Burdens of Democracy

Money talks. Bullshit walks -- Richard M. Nixon
Here is a definition of politics we ought to seriously consider: Politics is the craft (art, science?) of reconciling disparate goals to common means. It is a means of holding together what otherwise would deteriorate into warring communities. Americans are a mish-mash of peoples who, were it not for our vast country, would be at each others’ throats more often than not.

A favorite past-time of us All-Knowers is to make fun of politicians. Consequently, every last one of us who imagines we might run for public office insists that we will never be like the incumbents: “I may lie, I may cheat and I may steal; but I will never be a Politician.”

Most of us, however, will not run for office. Who really wants a job where you have to put up with:
1. Listening to likely ignorant, greedy people whine that they don’t have enough of what they want; or
2. Listening to people whine that other ignorant and greedy people have more than they deserve of what the Whiners want; or
3. Ingratiating yourself with ignorant, often obnoxious but wealthy petitioners to get funding to continue in your job; or
4. Avoiding entanglement with morally deficient “operators” ready to drag you into risking your reputation or life in shady, if not illegal, activities; and, finally,
5. Missing a great deal of the joys of private life, e.g. watching your kids grow up, or just hanging out with friends, rather than with “connections.”?
We’re just too busy with our own concerns, we Americans. Too busy to read, too busy to watch anything “serious” on TV. Too busy to get involved in all but, even begrudgingly, a very few of the activities, e.g. voting, that promise us more or less an immediate “return” on our “investment” of time and concern.

Unless, of course, getting involved has to do with our ideological “Truths,” or our religious “Faith,” on which we spend a great deal of time and money to proselytize for or to protect from the vast majority of other so-called Americans -- very likely born in Kenya, or some other God-forsaken hole -- “Americans” who do not fervently hold to our personal dogmas.

Politicians, God Help Us, are the guardians of our freedoms. They work at it, rather than just bad-mouthing it. They’re hardly saints, but if we had to wait for saints, we could give up on any resemblance of government with the consent of the governed. And if we waited to support them until they agreed with our beliefs down to the last letter, we’d be long buried along with this society we take so much from yet give back to so miserly.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education

--- EGR

Friday, April 15, 2011

Systems Don’t Do the Work: rear echelon vs front line

edited 072719
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismay'd?

Not tho' the soldiers knew

Someone had blunder'd
Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.
-- Tennyson

Generals don’t shoot enemy soldiers. Stock market traders don’t chop onions. School Board members don’t teach children. Logistics is not delivery.

History demonstrates that it is far from unusual for rear echelon people to foul up the front line action. The best any rear echelon person can do is to provide the wherewithal to those who are on the front lines.

On the other had, the best generals can be stymied by the mutiny or cowardice of their soldiers. The best businesses can fall to the stock market manipulations of traders.

What really fouls up a system is when rear echelon and front lines personnel serve competing interests. If superintendents pursue longevity and sinecure, whereas teachers pursue comradely relationships with their students and sinecure, then given the demands most school systems face today, trouble, if encountered, will be swept under the rug, rather than intelligently handled.

To examine these and related issues further, see ON THE VIABILITY OF A CURRICULUM LEADERSHIP ROLE 
Avoiding Confusion of Role and Function

--- EGR

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Multiculturally Sensitive, or Just Making Excuses?

If individuality has no play, society does not advance; if individuality breaks out of all bounds, society perishes.
-- T. H. Huxley (1871)
One of the oldest and easiest methods of “getting back” when an injury has been done is reprisal. For example, if someone in group A injures someone in group B, group B members grab anyone in group A, innocent, involved or not, and injure them “in return.”

Unfortunately, the practice of reprisal continues on today in many parts of the world, not the least important of which is in American public schools, where kids in gangs or cliques act this way up through college, as popular movies and TV illustrate. But teachers and administrators do, too.

Consider only the practice of giving class detentions, or making sports teams do “punishment exercises” for losing games, or depriving whole groups of privileges for “offenses” done only by a few. No Child Left Behind programs have closed schools and transferred teachers and administrators when only a small percentage of students failed to show “adequate progress” on standard tests.

Clearly normal school practices are not as barbaric as killing the family members of criminals, or bombing the home villages of suspected insurgents, or NCLB, but the violation of moral or legal principles is the same.

Now an interesting thing often occurs when we deal with an offender that depends upon whether he (or she) is one of “us” or belongs to a different group; or -- as we say as we pretend to be enlightened -- another “culture.”

If the offender is from another culture, there is a tendency to attribute the offensive behavior to a “cultural difference,” i.e. “all people like him are like that.” But if the offender is from our own culture, then the offensive behavior is “an individual act,” unless we can alienate the whole family, “who permits that behavior.”

On the other hand, if a child does not understand English well and gets low grades, as teachers, or administrators, or school board members, we can disavow any concern for the grade difference by “understanding” that “people like him or her” are just showing a “cultural” adversion to ambition and learning.

“Cultural difference” thus becomes a magic wand by which we punish or disregard the less than sterling achievements of the hapless who are different, somehow from what we “normal people” are.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Multiculturalism & The Problems of Immigration

--- EGR