Sunday, July 22, 2012

'Story of Stuff’ Videos Aim Stealth Indoctrination at Students

Yesterday, I noted a sure sign that summer is nearly over: There were commercials on TV for ingredients to make school lunches.

Already, the folks at Oscar Mayer are offering suggestions for how to make a lunch that kids will find nutritious and delicious, though they don’t offer any advice in the ads on how to keep school administrators from pitching your homemade lunch and force-feeding your kid chicken nuggets.

Advertisers aren’t the only ones looking ahead to the coming academic year. Yesterday, the prolific folks at the Story of Stuff Project released yet another short video that is sure to become part of the stealth curriculum meant to indoctrinate our children into an anti-capitalist worldview.

This time, it’s “The Story of Change,” and the message is alarmingly clear: America needs a “new economic system” that is more environmentally friendly, more “fair,” and more democratic (with a small “d”).

Perhaps you are not one of the 15 million people who have viewed the original film that launched this agitprop empire: “The Story of Stuff.”

“The Story of Stuff” uses simplistic animation and sweeping generalizations to “educate” viewers, especially the nation’s schoolchildren, about anti-capitalism and eco-radicalism. It was funded by the Tides Center.

In this documentary, creator Annie Leonard convicts Americans of hyper-consumerism and U.S. corporations of essentially raping the land and exploiting all the citizens of the world. I’ll synopsize, in case you don’t have 20 minutes to spare: All companies are bad, everything contains toxins, all governments are corrupt, but “democracy” will save the day. And the planet.

Between YouTube and DVD sales to schools and churches, an estimated 15 million people have seen “The Story of Stuff.” It routinely is assigned as part of science and social studies curricula. There’s even a faith-based program — “Let There Be Stuff?” — to inculcate the film’s message via religious education classes and Bible-study groups.

In fact, the dissemination and proliferation of “The Story of Stuff” has spawned a veritable cottage industry of left-wing cartoons, including “The Story of Bottled Water,” “The Story of Cosmetics,” “The Story of Cap and Trade,” and “The Story of Electronics.” And last year Ms. Leonard was quick to produce “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC,” to explain why our Supreme Court got it wrong.

Now comes “The Story of Change.” Ms. Leonard’s premise is that personal behavior — while admirable — won’t solve our environmental “crisis.” It’s not enough to replace your light bulbs or carry your green cleaning products home in a reusable shopping bag.

Only a systemic change in our economy will produce the result we need, Ms. Leonard says. Just what would that change entail? For starters, an end to free markets and the adoption of a “new economy” as outlined by the

This radical group says the purpose of an economic system is “to organize human activities in ways that support healthy and resilient human communities and ecosystems for both present and future generations.”

That’s a far cry from the vision of our nation’s founders.

The purpose of our American economic system is to permit the free participation of free people in whatever economic activity they choose. It’s the vehicle through which people realize their hopes and dreams, provide for themselves and their families, and yes, accumulate property. (Gasp.)

Ms. Leonard’s new film, sure to be a hit with social studies teachers across the country, promotes the notion that economic measurement ought not be based on growth, but on “those things that really matter: public wellbeing, environmental health and social equity.”

It’s the sort of lofty language that makes for a breezy civics class and gets children talking about what’s “fair” and “not fair.”

What’s really not fair? That millions more children will be taught that capitalism is inherently immoral, while socialism (disguised as “democracy”) will make everyone happy.

Because as we all know, socialist economic systems are never corrupt, right?


Why teachers should aspire to know something about the subject  they teach -- and maybe even have a devotion to it!

Too many educationalists today believe an intellectually informed curriculum is only suitable for the elites and not the masses

Frank Furedi

One of the central characters in Glee, the American musical comedy-drama series, is high-school Spanish teacher Mr Schue. In one episode, he is reported by a student of his for being a poor teacher. It turns out that he doesn’t speak Spanish and only took the job because no other teaching positions were available. Towards the end of the episode, Mr Schue resigns so that a genuine Spanish speaker can take over. We learn that he will now teach history, since there is an open position available in this subject. Presumably Mr Schue’s lack of expertise in history is not an obstacle to his teaching it.

Sadly, Mr Schue is not simply an invention of a TV show. Nor is the phenomenon of the unqualified secondary-school teacher confined to the United States. According to the UK Department of Education, tens of thousands of teachers have no qualification in the subject they teach. Is it any surprise that young people leaving school often lack basic knowledge of maths when more than a quarter of mathematics teachers have no qualification in their subject? More than 20 per cent of English teachers have no higher than an A-level in their subject and the situation is far worse in subjects like physics and geography. The teaching of languages is particularly affected by the absence of qualified teachers. The majority of Spanish teachers and a third of German teachers do not possess a relevant university degree.

Of course, it could be argued that you do not need a first-class degree in mathematics or history or French to be an effective and inspiring teacher of that subject. There are many teachers of physics and biology who, because of their intellectual interest in their subject, have become self-taught masters of their discipline. But a high-quality system of education depends on a cohort of teachers who have mastered their subject to the point that they can use their scholarship to guide their pupils through difficult intellectual terrain.

What the figures suggest is that far too many teachers in English schools lack the academic knowledge required to develop intellectually their pupils. This is not a minor problem. The act of learning and the very pursuit of knowledge require pupils to accept the authority of the subject through its representative in the classroom, namely, the teacher. When children go to school, they rely on their teachers to help them comprehend new forms of knowledge.

Not taking scholarship seriously

The trouble with England’s school system is not simply the relative absence of qualified teachers, but the fact that this is not seen as a problem by the education establishment. Sadly, the education establishment finds it difficult to believe in the power of ideas. Instead of encouraging teachers to gain a mastery of their subjects so that they can go on to inspire their students with the quality of their ideas, pedagogues prefer to put their faith in motivational techniques to manage classroom behaviour.

Most of the so-called reforms and educational innovations of the past three decades have side-stepped the question of how best to cultivate the intellectual development of young people. Instead they draw upon market and psychological research to devise schemes that promise to motivate students.  Hope is invested in the capacity of this new psycho-pedagogy – learning styles, brain functioning, thinking skills, emotional intelligence or multiple intelligence – to engage students.

This pedagogy is fixated on learning styles but cares little for the knowledge to be learnt. The minor status assigned to knowledge by current pedagogy reflects its studied indifference towards the intellectual content of education. Worse still, schools are influenced by a pedagogy that has little faith in the potential of academic education to transform and develop children. That is why teaching without having demonstrated mastery of an academic subject is not seen as a big deal.

Education may serve a variety of different purposes, but unless a central role is assigned to the acquisition of subject-based knowledge, it is not really education. Only through the acquisition of such knowledge can children transcend the limits of their experience and gain the intellectual independence required to make their way in the world. It is regrettable that in the twenty-first century it is not always possible to assume that schools are prepared to uphold this sentiment. One reason why the central role of the acquisition of subject-based knowledge needs to be upheld is because so much of what goes by the name of ‘pedagogic innovation’ has been frequently designed to undermine pedagogy.

Most parents and non-specialists would be surprised to discover that many educationalists have a very low opinion of a subject-based curriculum devoted to the cultivation of children’s knowledge of history, literature, maths or science. These days, professional educators frequently refer to an academic curriculum as an irrelevant, elitist, nineteenth-century relic. They take the view that a subject-based curriculum belongs to the Victorian past. Since intellectual and scientific development occurred, and continues to occur, through distinct academic subjects, it is far from evident why a curriculum based on these disciplines should be outdated. The knowledge that children gain through the study of these subjects is no more outdated today than it was a 100 or 200 years ago.

The charge that an academic curriculum is outdated is rarely informed by a serious reflection on the content of subjects. The justification for this hostility to a subject-based curriculum is not that maths, science, history and literature have become less relevant to life today than in the nineteenth century. Rather such criticisms are usually justified on political or social-engineering grounds. More specifically, a subject-based curriculum is blamed for perpetuating an elitist culture of schooling. It is frequently asserted that a subject-led education discriminates against children from poor homes because they are likely to struggle with its intellectual content.

There is little doubt that children from poor homes are likely to face difficulties when they engage with a school culture informed by an ethos of scholarship. Indeed most children – including those from the middle classes – are likely to be stretched by an academic school culture. However, the role of educators is to establish an environment where children are helped to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of attaining a good academic education.

Decrying the value of such an education avoids confronting the challenge of how to provide quality education to everyone regardless of their social circumstances. It also significantly underestimates the human capacity for learning. Sadly, the currently fashionable pedagogy of limits distracts society’s energies from realising the formidable potential that education has in inspiring young people to develop their intellectual powers.

There was a time when radical educational reformers sought to provide working-class people with the opportunity to gain access to a curriculum with a high level of intellectual content. As the academic Harold Entwistle recalls, the issue for these reformers was ‘discovering ways of bringing to the socially and economically disadvantaged the benefits of the kind of education which has traditionally been reserved to the ruling class’ (1). This approach was forcefully argued by the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci who believed that the problem with the kind of education monopolised by the elites was that the rest of society was prevented from gaining access to it (2). In contrast to Gramsci’s valuation of the ‘great works of European culture’, today’s reformers assume that such a classical education is elitist and therefore not suitable for a national curriculum.

It is hardly surprising that in an age where education was the ‘property of the privileged, the subjects thought worthy of inclusion in a curriculum were intellectual’, states a report hostile to knowledge-led schooling. Instead of proposing that this kind of education ought to be available to everyone, the authors of the report acquiesce to the age-old prejudice that an academic education is not suitable for the mass of students. They insist that ‘the classical and elite model containing a narrow range of intellectual knowledge and skill is inappropriate for an age of universal education’ (3).

Typically, intellectual knowledge, which has a unique capacity to expand the mind and the imagination, is caricatured as narrow. But, paradoxically, this polemic against the classical model is based on assumptions that are surprisingly similar to those held by the elites that they criticise. For today’s anti-subjects crusaders implicitly agree with traditional hierarchical educators on one important point: an intellectually informed curriculum is only suitable for the elites and not for the education of the masses.

Criticism of the ‘knowledge model’ of education is often expressed through statements that explicitly question the authority of knowledge. One recurring argument used to contest the knowledge-led curriculum is that it is quickly outdated in an ever-changing world. It appears that since ‘what is known to be true changes by the hour’, the ‘rote learning of facts must give way to the nurturing through education of essential transferable skills’ (4).

Typically, ‘truth’ is represented as a momentary epiphenomenon and knowledge acquisition is caricatured as the ‘rote learning of facts’. The representation of truth and of knowledge as an unstable and transitory phenomenon has become an unstated, core assumption of opponents of an academically based school curriculum. A position statement by a teachers’ union asserts that ‘a twenty-first century curriculum cannot have the transfer of knowledge at its core for the simple reason that the selection of what is required has become problematic in an information-rich age’.

The claim that transmitting knowledge to children loses its relevance in an information-rich age fails to understand the distinction between knowledge and information. A society’s knowledge gives meaning to new information. It allows people to interpret new facts and helps society to understand what significance to attach to new information. Through the appropriation of new experience, knowledge itself develops. But the latest knowledge is organically linked to what preceded it.

Scepticism towards the authority of knowledge implicitly calls into question the meaning of education itself. Once the knowledge of the past is rendered obsolete, what can education mean? If ‘what is known to be true changes by the hour’, what is there left to teach? The alternative offered to the knowledge-based curriculum is an agenda that encourages students to acquire skills that allow them to adapt to a constantly changing environment. From this perspective, what’s important is not what students know but their ability to adapt to new circumstances.

And this is where we come back to Mr Schue. He is an adaptable classroom manager whose lack of knowledge does not inhibit him from teaching a language he does not understand. After all, from the perspective of current, throwaway pedagogy, what is there to teach in our information-rich environment?

But there is no point in blaming Mr Schue. The real problem lies not with unqualified teachers, but with an ethos that discourages them from aspiring to the status of scholars.

The current debates among policymakers regarding the examination system and the content of the curriculum need to shift focus on to the teacher. Restoring the intellectual authority of teachers, and encouraging them to gain academic depth in their subject, is the precondition for improving education. That requires an almighty challenge to the philistine attitude prevailing in the educational establishment today.


Schools are adopting a new 'tough love' teaching initiative

SCHOOLS are clamouring to adopt a revolutionary "tough love" teaching initiative - replacing empty praise and gold stars for coming last.

KidsMatter is a radical shift from three decades of enhancing student self-esteem through positive reinforcement and rewards.

Students are now getting lessons in reality and learning self-management, responsible decision-making, and coping with difficulties and mistakes.

Adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg said it was time for all teachers and parents to focus on social and emotional competencies.

"Young people in Sydney would be far better off if we spent time teaching them anger management, problem solving, decision making, conflict resolution, and how to name and recognise not just their own thoughts and feelings but those of other people, too," Mr Carr-Gregg said.

Carlton Public School in Sydney's south this week introduced the social and emotional learning skills.

Principal Stephen Cooper said it emphasised personal and social development and relationship skills.

"I think the modern generation of kids are protected and they need to be exposed to situations that challenge them," he said.

Despite a successful pilot in 2006, the take-up of KidsMatter remained slow. Of the 800 primary schools across Australia implementing the program. the majority have signed up this year.

It was developed in collaboration with Principals Australia, the Australian Psychological Society, and BeyondBlue. The federal government and BeyondBlue will fund rollout to another 1400 schools by 2014.

Psychology professor Dr Helen McGrath said schools were rethinking the emphasis on self-esteem.

"Change in any sector such as education can be slow but I think there are an enormous amount of schools aware of what is happening," she said.

However, one western Sydney principal said some parents pressured schools to recognise their child with awards.

"I think it's come generally from society in that you can't fail any more," he said.

Dr Carr-Gregg said the self-esteem movement protected children from failure, robbed them of loss and grief and created a spate of anxiety disorders in young people unable to cope when they leave the protective cocoon of school or home.

"The idea of not actually allowing kids to be inspired by misfortune and the terrible things that can happen to them from time to time is almost cruel," he said.


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