Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Spokesman for the Emperor 

I’m in a state of outrage.  This morning on MSNBC I watched a series of vid clips sequenced to put together pronouncements by Stephen Miller. Even the hosts were gob-smacked.   In a robotic and menacing speech worthy of “Star Wars” (even without latex enhancement of his persona), he insisted that the president was 100% truthful and will not be questioned or there will be consequences.  Possibly nuking the citizens, I guess. Water sources have already been poisoned.  In some countries the air is suffocating citizens by the thousands.  Much more efficient than chambers with piped gas.

I kept thinking about the tone and manner of this talk and what it reminded me of and finally I got it when I read OZY news.  He’s like the Dean of Boys in a high school threatening discipline after his house was toilet-papered in the night.  The idea is intimidation.  It is a response to powerlessness.

When I last taught in 1990, I sometimes remarked that some kids — defiant, unfocused, dependent on parent money except for what they could make in the weed trade, and prone to blowing up or melting down — were our future.  Now they’re here.  But we made them.  We taught them that high school is about winning games, about cliques and bullying, about getting grades any way possible — including making your parents come up to school to make threats.  They were trying to break the system because it didn’t work.

This is the system idealists have been fighting since the Sixties and Seventies.“During the Industrial Revolution, educators adopted a factory-model system that monolithically processed students in batches, funneling them in one door as raw material at age 5 and ejecting them out another as finished educational products 12 years later. Back then, isolated boxlike classrooms were designed for crowd control and stodgy lectures, and learning was thought to occur in only prescribed places.”

The paragraph above is from an article that is part of a series on  (If you actually listened to your English teacher, you would realize that Ozy is not a reference to the Wizard of Oz, though that works, but a reference to “Ozymandias”, the poem.)  The “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone” are a pretty good reference to our two-party system, now frozen.

Here’s the link to the whole Ozy series, called “High School Disrupted.”

Here’s a link to one of the articles which proposes that instead of forcing all adolescents to attend high school, attendance should be gated: one would apply for admission.  The center of gravity would be drastically changed.  I doubt there would be more kids on the streets or besieging the labor market for jobs that adults want, which are a couple of conventional goals of universal education systems.

The articles also propose revolutions such as physical labor instead of detention.  Nothing so energetic as breaking up rocks or working on chain gangs, but rather pulling weeds or scrubbing bathrooms.  Since there soon won’t be any uncertified immigrants to do those things.

Those three or four people who paid attention to their English teacher might also know that the title An Immodest Proposal” echoes Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick.”  (1729)  It begins , ”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled . . .”  We don’t need kids to grow up to be cannon fodder anymore because our wars are fought so technologically and so remotely that only college grads qualify to enlist and even girls can do the job.

Every now and then someone stumbles across this “proposal” of Swift’s and takes it seriously.  (I don’t think David Bar Jonah ever read this — he was a free-lance cannibal.)  But it gets harder and harder to give people the cheap thrill that will get them reading.  If it’s not on TV.

Until now much of our government has been based on what is local: our town and county boundaries, our law enforcement, our schools and our voting citizens have been organized on the basis of home addresses.  That doesn’t really work anymore since so many people move all the time, have multiple residences, don’t want anyone to know where they are, or live on the couches of friends or on the sidewalk.  The internet erases all boundaries, even the borders of nations.  Why climb the fence to get to America when you can just google them?

It appears that even our elections can be engineered from other continents, our communications hacked, our campaigns reduced to advertising and rumor, our politicians discredited and mocked — make that “self-mocked” since they come from television game shows.  What sort of citizens can confront this world and how should we educate them?

It’s clear that our primary schools should be teaching key-boarding, coding, and interpretation of statistics since algorithms rule the worlds of finance, marketing, and entertainment.  They must continue to teach spelling since search engines depend upon that accuracy. 

But in high school the goals of skills should be quite different from the old-fashioned obedience and lock-step, popularity and athletics that damage students.  Quite aside from sex education, which students are motivated to learn on their own terms, we need to return to teaching about propaganda and how to interpret body language and the “tells” of faces that indicate lies or bluffing.  Semantics, symbolism, and other ways of getting access to the thought UNDER what is being said, which is what I take the Algerian/French philosophers to have been pursuing at college level, are now necessary for every adult.

One of the essays in this set proposes that high school dropouts should lose their citizenship.  That’s a little harsh in a time when some are working to restore the voting rights of convicted felons, but the whole set of proposals IS harsh and that’s the point — to jolt us into change, since we’re already in a state of chaos.  Surely it’s ridiculous that ordinary born-here people can vote regardless of their understanding, while immigrants must pass a test.  But then, this is a country that defends the rights of totally unqualified parents to produce damaged babies too full of meth to safely eat, much less teach anything.

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