The continued Assult on Critical thinking and the Liberal education.


Classic literature to be dropped from high schools in favor of ‘informational texts’

If you really want to hear about it, new educational standards now approved in 46 out of 50 states mandate that nonfiction books constitute at least 70 per cent of the texts high-school students read. As a result, The Telegraph reports, literature classics such as The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee are about to be replaced by insulation manuals and dated dispatches from the Federal Reserve.

Common Core State Standards call for the new, notably nonfiction-heavy reading regime to be fully in place by 2014. English teachers nationwide have about a year to decide which novels, short stories and poems to eliminate, according to the Washington Post. Great novels will be largely replaced by “informational texts.” Examples include Recommended Levels of Insulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009).

You can read the rest of the article here.

The Assault on Critical thinking and the Liberal Education

Though I am not a philosopher I hope that you will permit me to share some of my arm chair musings. I believe that there is a constant strife and antagonism between representational culture and the public sphere. Before I go further it may do well to define these two terms which I borrow heavily from Jürgen Habermas.

“Representational” culture, occurs where a party seeks to “represent” itself on its audience by overwhelming its subjects. Habermas’ example  of a representational  culture  would be Louis XIV‘s Palace of Versailles which was intended to show to the French Citizens and the world the puissance and might of France. Keep in mind this was not just any France this was the France with  Louis the XIV, the sun King at its helm  guiding it down the clear path to posterity.

The  culture that grew from the Public sphere was centred around there being a public space outside of the control by the state, where individuals exchanged views and knowledge. The defining feature of the public sphere is it critical nature

Habermas as I understand him, felt that the growth of the mass media has transformed in a way the public sphere into a  global bazaar.

Mass Media turned the critical public into a passive consumer public; and the welfare state, which merged the state with society so thoroughly that the public sphere was squeezed out. It also turned the “public sphere” into a site of self-interested contestation for the resources of the state rather than a space for the development of a public-minded rational consensus.”

This had grave implications for education for Education in any country is a social institution. After the merger of the state with society. education in many place becomes a tool to acquire, maintain and expands the resources of the state.Students are seen as a commodity that can be improved on and formulated into a final product that will serve some necessary end.

I have started to get into reading Paolo Freire and his seminal work: The Pedagogy of the Opressed and it has really influenced my approach to teaching. Freire believed education was a political act that could not be completely separated from pedagogy. Teachers and students according to Freire must be made aware of the “politics” that surround education. What struck most was his belief that the way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda.

Let me take it a step further.

Freire derided and attacked “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher because he felt it transformed students into receiving objects by seeking to control thinking and action, and leading men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.

While we may not be in an age of kings and queens and lavish palaces like Versailles we are in an age of lascivious dealings between government and corporates which is very hard to police or monitor due to the merger I feel of state and society. Corporations and by extension the politicians in there pocket seek to  overwhelm inundate us with technology. Technology too like pedagogy is a political act. Howe are  guide how to use and what to use it for is a political act that we should also be made aware. But we are not and at least in America we are losing or have lost civil liberties at an alarming rate.

I would like to for a brief moment remind you that the philosopher Karl Jaspers Jaspers warned about the increasing tendency towards technocracy, or a regime that regarded humans as mere instruments of science or ideological goals.

My introduction of  jaspers serves two purposes. First to share with you that as an educator of a graduate course I am  encouraged to almost find new ways of incorporating the latest technology into my teaching. Technology and pedagogy have an interesting relationship.

Secondly I wanted to introduce you to an important work by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset the author of the Mission of the University. I would like to copy and paste someone else’s summary of some of his major points:

  • The university’s function is threefold: (a) transmitting culture, (b) providing professional education and (c) advancing science (including training new scientists) in that order.
  • The focus of the university must be on the education needed for the “average person” to become a good citizen.  This includes first culture and second professional education.
  • Culture is the core set of contemporary ideas about life and the world, ideas that help us make sense of our existence, that help us be human in our particular historic context, that give meaning to an otherwise aimless, chaotic life, that shape how we interact with the world around us.  Culture is the vital system of ideas of our time.
  • Culture is made mostly of ideas that come from science.  But culture is not science.  Culture includes ideas about our physical world (physics), about our living world (biology), about the historic process of the human species (history), the structure and functioning of our social life (sociology) and our understanding of the universe (philosophy). But to have culture does not require that we become physicists or philosophers, that we master the technical and methodological aspects of these disciplines, only that we comprehend the key ideas these disciplines have produced.
  • Without culture, even those equipped with the most impressive professional credentials or the most advanced scientific knowledge are primitive, archaic, and rather dangerous barbarians.  Culture is particularly critical for people in positions of leadership (managers, government officials, judges, priests, doctors, teachers, etc.) because without understanding the vital ideas of our time, they would lead us astray or take us backwards.  Whether you are a engineer or a lawyer, without culture, you cannot be a leader.
  • The university must be cautious and not let excessive specialization and focus on science and professional education do away with the primary task of transmitting culture, because doing so could jeopardize our very civilization.

For me and I may be biased by the literary works are the means through which we access culture. They are our heirloom silently warehousing decades of human thinking and tinkering, human experimentation and exasperation. This new program to drop literary classics from high school is to me personally

  1. An attack on the future sovereignty and freedom of our children
  2. A further blow to the liberal education in America
  3. An acceleration for the decline of our own civilization

I have more to say, especially about the role that debt and the power structure intrinsic to it subverts the mission of the university. As  But I have other things to do. BTW this is not supposed to be an official article or work. There are no citations, this is all here to stimulate conversation. I am gearing up to purchase this coming Friday professor Gary Rolfe’s latest work: University in Dissent: Scholarship in the Corporate University so I thought I would share with you my thoughts  before reading his book and an official review after. Enjoy

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7 thoughts on “The continued Assult on Critical thinking and the Liberal education.

  1. What pisses me off the most is that the federal government strongarms state and local boards of education by threatening to remove Title I monies whenever they are trying to shove their latest, ill-advised “reform” measures down our throats (NCLB is a perfect example of this bullshit)! As local BOEs have very little (4% is probably the average) discretionary spending, putting these funds at risk is generally considered foolhardy (though when I was on my local BOE I suggested we lead the charge by refusing to kowtow to what I consider “terrorist” methods— I can still hear the “crickets” now). Foolhardy it may be, but eventually someone needs to do it.

    Great post!

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    1. I like your thoughts on this is there a way we can sorta of remove ourselvse off the teat of Title I money. I mean I could see this working for small communities but for large cities I dunno . I am at a loss really because it seems such a complex issue

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      1. It’s not so much complex; it’s about money (as it always is). How does a local BOE tell it’s constituency that they will have to absorb the loss of Title I money? How fast do you think there would be a recall election? Quicker than you can say “Rumplestiltskin”, that’s how fast! And then the folks who were forward thinking would be “out” and the folks who replace them would just turn around and take the Title I money. It’s a no-win situation.

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  2. Wonderful post. Don’t worry javaj240, no crickets that I can hear. Every time I hear a politician say “we need more accountability” I want to throw up. Yeah, nothing says “prepared for the world” or “well rounded and educated individual” like “just past the damn test, kid”. And seriously ….NCLB? It’s more like “Every Child Left Behind”. Sad.

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