Confessions of a Reluctant Teacher

February 27, 2010

Another “Wake-Up Call” for Education?

Nicolette over at Richer Dialogue has posted the trailer for a new movie called “We are the People We’ve Been Waiting For.” She also wrote up a synopsis of the film. Go ahead, check it out– I’ll wait. 🙂

Now, when I watched the trailer, I thought that it seems like a lot of the same old rhetoric: we need to spend more on computers, because that’s the only way they’ll be able to compete with developing nations (to be followed shortly by articles in the Times proclaiming, “If you kid is awake, he’s probably online! They’ll probably be stupider for it! ZOMG!”)! kids are the future! be all you can be! More of a snooze-fest than a wake-up call, really.

I found it especially ironic that Sir Richard Branson was up there saying “There are only two ways to learn entrepreneurial skills…either get out there in the jungle and get them, or (pause for dramatic effect) teach it to them in schools.” As massively successful as he is, which method did he use? Considering that he was a notoriously poor student in school and only holds honorary university degrees, I think it’s safe to say that he didn’t waste any time sitting around in a classroom.

Higher, better education for all is an admirable goal in theory. However, education was never designed to be the great equalizer. Why else would we have professors who only give out a certain number of As, regardless of the quality of the students’ work? The way we rank students, from A to F, is competitive by design. Grades are inherently meaningless: they only have value if there are “winners” and “losers.”

And I also found it really funny that they were showing footage of deforestation and global warming while talking about the need for more education to conquer these terrible things. Do they not realize that the CEO of the company who has hired the lumberjack to cut down those trees is probably college educated, several times over? As well as all the CEOs and managers of companies whose factories and/or products CAUSE global warming. Whereas we didn’t have wholesale destruction of the planet before the institutionalization of education. To quote an old friend, “I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.”

However, Nicolette told me that the film uses a lot of the resources and arguments that she used to write her thesis on deschooling for ecoliteracy, which sounds a lot more radical. Maybe whoever put the trailer together for them just didn’t “get it.” She hasn’t seen it either, so I guess we’ll reserve judgment until the movie comes out.  What did you think of the trailer?  Or if you’ve seen it, do you think it proposes some new, exciting solutions?  Or is it just a rehash of the same old rhetoric?

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December 31, 2009

And an ‘Upular’ New Year!

Filed under: Miscellaneous — christinag503 @ 8:03 am

This remix video made my day. It was created by an artist named Pogo, who uses sound clips from movies to create totally original music.

I wasted spent the better part of an afternoon watching all the videos he has posted on YouTube, and this one was my favorite. I love how he retains the spirit of the original movie: the retro vibe, the sense of wonder, the sweet yearning underneath it all. It moved me, both emotionally and physically. (Seriously, try to resist dancing around in your chair juuust a little bit. You can’t.)

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

July 13, 2009

A Teaching Moment

Filed under: Miscellaneous — christinag503 @ 10:43 pm

While doing research for my day job, I came across this post by a retired journalist, Saul Friedman.  He talks about a historic Fourth of July in 1970, when President Nixon tried to replace “Independence Day” with “Honor America Day.”  The administration intended it to be an answer to those protesting the war.  So all kinds of right-wing, conservative citizens swarmed the capital to show their support.

Mr. Friedman, trying to find an angle on the story, circulated a phony petition based on the words of the Declaration of Independence.  It stated, “Governments derive their power from the consent of the governed,” so the people have the right to overthrow the government if they aren’t happy with the results.

As you may expect, he could only get a few signatures.  Most attendees refused to sign anything in favor of overthrowing the government, even after they were informed of the document’s source.  However, he most clearly remembers his “encounter with a young civics teacher from the Midwest who had brought with him a number of his students. They were gathered about us when I asked the teacher if he would sign my petition. He read it carefully and refused, telling me, “I can’t agree with that.” I told him and his students, “The words and ideas come from the Declaration of Independence.”  I showed him the relevant passage from a copy of the Declaration. “You tricked me,” he said. His students laughed at his discomfort. But I think he learned something. And I had a story.”

This civics teacher exemplifies yet another disadvantage of relying on textbooks for information, rather than researching primary sources.  It’s far more intellectually stimulating to grapple with primary texts first-hand.  Not only will it increase your powers of critical analysis, but the text will actually engage you in a sort of discussion, provoking new ideas and questions in your mind as you read. Plus, you get to decide for yourself how to interpret the writer’s words, rather than only learning what other people want you to know.   When a radical political document like the Declaration of Independence is taught in schools, it is watered down and stripped of its revolutionary tone.  Why?  Because a public that learns from, and is inspired by, radical and revolutionary ideas is much more difficult to control.

Ultimately, letting an institution decide what you will learn is like being served pre-chewed food: you’re only able to consume what others choose to give you; it lacks nutrition; it’s disgusting, and certainly doesn’t make you feel eager for more.

No wonder I was always so bored in history class.

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