Saturday, July 14, 2007

Blissfully Uneducated

Colleges lost their way in the 1960s, contends VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, a classics professor. Students now get a `therapeutic curriculum' instead of learning hard facts and inductive inquiry. The result: we can't answer the questions of our time

Is "ho"-the rapper slang for the slur "whore"-a bad word? Always, sometimes, or just when an obnoxious white male like Don Imus says it? But not when the equally obnoxious Snoop Dogg serially employs it? Is the Iraq war, as we are often told, the "greatest mistake" in our nation's history? Because Israel and the United States have a bomb, is it then O.K. for theocratic Iran to have one too?

Americans increasingly cannot seem to answer questions like these adequately because they are blissfully uneducated. They have not acquired a broad knowledge of language, literature, philosophy, and history. Instead, our youth for a generation have been fed a "Studies" curriculum. Fill in the blanks: Women's Studies, Gay Studies, Environmental Studies, Peace Studies, Chicano Studies, Film Studies, and so on. These courses aim to indoctrinate students about perceived pathologies in contemporary American culture-specifically, race, class, gender, and environmental oppression.

Such courses are by design deductive. The student is expected to arrive at the instructor's own preconceived conclusions. The courses are also captives of the present-hostages of the contemporary media and popular culture from which they draw their information and earn their relevance. The theme of all such therapeutic curricula is relativism. There are no eternal truths, only passing assertions that gain credence through power and authority. Once students understand how gender, race, and class distinctions are used to oppress others, they are then free to ignore absolute "truth," since it is only a reflection of one's own privilege.

By contrast, the aim of traditional education was to prepare a student in two very different ways. First, classes offered information drawn from the ages-the significance of Gettysburg, the characters in a Shakespeare play, or the nature of the subjunctive mood. Integral to this acquisition were key dates, facts, names, and terms by which students, in a focused manner in conversation and speech, could refer to the broad knowledge that they had gathered.

Second, traditional education taught a method of inductive inquiry. Vocabulary, grammar, syntax, logic, and rhetoric were tools to be used by a student, drawing on an accumulated storehouse of information, to present well-reasoned opinions-the ideology of which was largely irrelevant to professors and the university.

Sometime in the 1960s-perhaps due to frustration over the Vietnam War, perhaps as a manifestation of the cultural transformations of the age-the university jettisoned the classical approach and adopted the therapeutic. Many educators and students believed that America was hopelessly corrupt and incorrigible. The church, government, military, schools, and family stifled the individual and perpetuated a capitalist, male hierarchy that had warped Western society. So if, for a mere four years, the university could educate students to counter these much larger sinister forces, the nation itself could be changed for the better. Colleges could serve as a counterweight to the insidious prejudices embedded in the core of America.

Unfortunately, education is a zero-sum game in which a student has only 120 units of classroom instruction. Not all classes are equal in the quality of knowledge they impart. For each course on rap music or black feminism, one on King Lear or Latin is lost.

Presentism and relativism are always two-edged swords: today's Asian victims of racism are tomorrow's Silicon Valley engineers of privilege. Last year's "brilliant" movie of meaning now goes unrented at Blockbuster. Hypocrisy runs rampant: many of those assuring students that America is hopelessly oppressive do so on an atoll of guaranteed lifelong employment, summers off, high salaries, and few audits of their own job performance.

Once we understand this tragedy, we can provide prescribed answers to the three questions with which I started. "Ho," like any element of vocabulary in capitalist society, is a relative term, not an absolute slur against women. "Ho" is racist and sexist when spoken by white men of influence and power, jocular or even meaningful when uttered by victims from the African-American male underclass.

If few Americans know of prior abject disasters during the winter of 1776, the summer of 1864, or January 1942, then why wouldn't Iraq really be the worst mistake in our history?

If there are no intrinsic differences-only relative degrees of "power" that construct our "reality"-between a Western democracy that is subject to continual audit by a watchdog press, an active political opposition, and a freely voting citizenry, and an Iranian theocracy that bans free speech to rule by religious edict, then it will matter little which entity has nuclear weapons.

In the end, education is the ability to make sense of the chaotic present through the prism of the absolute and eternal truths of the ages. But if there are no prisms-no absolutes, no eternals, no truths, no ages past-then the present will appear only as nonsense.


Pittsburgh schools drop 'public' from name to boost image

Leftist belief in verbal magic again. Reality does not suit them so they do all they can to conceal it

The Pittsburgh Public Schools will drop "public" from its name and adopt a new, standardized way of referring to its schools as part of a campaign to brighten and strengthen the district's image. For example, Schenley High School will be called Pittsburgh Schenley. Superintendent Mark Roosevelt's staff unveiled the policy at a school board Education Committee meeting last night. Under the policy, the district simply will call itself the "Pittsburgh Schools." The district's logo -- a pattern of circles, triangles and squares -- will still be used. But the district also will begin using "Excellence for All," the name of its sweeping academic-improvement plan, on all stationery and other written materials. "Excellence for All" has its own logo with a gold swirl and star.

Lisa Fischetti, chief of staff, said the district isn't changing its legal name or the legal names of its 65 schools, it's just introducing a new way of referring to them. She said the new policy complements Mr. Roosevelt's efforts to remake the district academically and boost its image. Under the new policy, Sterrett Classical Academy will be called Pittsburgh Sterrett. But the school's traditional name still will be used -- albeit in smaller print -- on stationery and other printed materials.

School board members offered little reaction to the policy, which does not require board approval. By dropping "public" from its name, Randall Taylor said, the district might be able to avoid the negative attitude often associated with public schools. Ms. Fischetti noted that suburban districts don't have "public" in their names, and a marketing consultant who helped develop the policy, Meade Johnson, said the district is less interested in the "public" tag than in linking its identity to the "Excellence for All" agenda.

By adding Pittsburgh to the identity of each school, Ms. Fischetti hopes the public will come to associate a level of quality with every school in the district. Ms. Fischetti said the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has developed that sort of customer respect by attaching its acronym, "UPMC," to its member hospitals throughout the region. Ms. Fischetti said she had no timetable for implementing the name changes.

Also, the district last night announced plans to upgrade its parent hotline into a "customer service center," another initiative aimed at boosting the district's image. The plan includes better training for operators, the ability to send out thousands of phone messages or e-mails at once and a standard turnaround time for responding to parent complaints.

The district also said it was forming a committee to revise its curriculum on human reproduction. Mr. Roosevelt said the group will study the possibility of adding contraception to the curriculum. Currently, that subject is raised only in presentations by outside agencies. Students must have their parents' consent to attend those sessions.


Australia: Safety 'sanitises' science

STUDENTS have been robbed of the fun of Bunsen burners and the whiff of sulphuric acid as fears of litigation rule out classroom experiments. A federal inquiry into Academic Standards heard yesterday Australia will regret the day it sanitised science. Megan Motto, from the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia, said science and maths were being left behind in the prevailing shift to humanities studies. Engineering students often spent the first year of their degree doing remedial work in maths and science, she said. Ms Motto suggested parents be invited into classrooms to help oversee science experiments. "This could make a great difference to the way science teachers teach."

The inquiry also heard from the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, which said literacy levels in Australians schools were not as bad as portrayed in some sections of the media. Vice-president Mark Howie said Australian standards were considered quite high from an international perspective. But he said Australia could learn from Finland where literacy standards were more consistently high across demographic areas. Mr Howie said one area of concern for all teachers was computer skills, with school kids often better skilled and better equipped in the technical area. Teachers seldom had the luxury of picking up the phone and calling the Information Technology department when computers crashed, he said. "We ring some poor colleague who might not be able to get to your problem for the next few days."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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