Extreme Thinkover Comments Require Civil Discourse

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To my dear readers:
From the beginning of Extreme Thinkover, I have set a standard for civil discourse on the blog.  I hold myself to that standard.  See the header for my statement on civil discourse.

In the past few days I received a comment from an individual that appears to fit the description of a “troll.” Trolls or trollers are persons who search the blogosphere for posts or blogsites that they disagree with for political or ideological reasons and then write comments that are usually tirades that often use profane, even lewd language attacking the individual they oppose.

In this case, the comment was a crude, ad hominem attack against the President of United States, as well as myself.

The individual who wrote the comment is a known troll who writes inflammatory comments, not just to individual blogs, but as a prolific far-right-wing spammer.  It is possible that the writer may actually be more than one person, but his style (a male’s name appears as the author of the comment) is quite consistent with other material I have read authored by the guy, so I assume that one person is responsible for the comment..

How do I know this?  WordPress provides its bloggers with a significant amount of information from those who submit comments and replies.  As a result I have access to some of this man’s track record on the Internet.

I have no problem with my readers disagreeing with me.  In fact, in my statement on civil discourse I specifically mention you are welcome to do just that.  I will not, however, approve comments or replies that violate that standard.

ACA Aftermath: Three Little Pigs & the Big Bad Wolf

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Three Little Pigs. Silly Symphony Original Release Poster, 1933. Courtesy Walt Disney Company.

Remember the story of the Three Little Pigs?  You know, one pig built a house out of straw and a second built a house out of sticks, while the third built a house out of bricks.  The antagonist is the iconic “Big Bad Wolf” whose ravenous appetite for pork knew no bounds.  Endowed with an impressive lung capacity he goes to each of the little pig’s houses and, as the story goes, “He huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down!”  (It’s more fun if you say it out loud with all the enthusiasm and glee a four year old would put into it.) The house of straw immediately collapses under this pneumatic assault, and the one made of sticks fares no better.  Their plump porcine owners scramble to find shelter in the house made of brick, which as we all know, survived the wolf’s hurricane-force winds, unscathed.  It is, of course a morality tale about being wise to the ways of the world and “building” the various parts of one’s life out of material that can withstand its big bad wolves, or storms, be they actual or virtual.  Either that or a clever publicity story concocted by the bricklayers union, but I prefer the former.

Now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) there has been non-stop huffing and puffing by the Republican opponents of the law, who thought they were going to be rewarded with a Health Care house that was made out of straw, or at the worst, of wood.  SCOTUS, they reasoned, would strike down all or part of it so that they could legislatively “huff and puff” and finish blowing the house down.

Big Bad Wolf: “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!” Three Little Pigs, 1933. Courtesy Walt Disney Company.

But it turns out that the Court took the position of the third little pig and, in declaring the law constitutional, revealed a house made of bricks.  It’s rather like that moment on the television show, Extreme Makeover (Huh, something familiar about that…), where at the moment of climax as the family stands in nervous anticipation, the crowd yells in unison, “Driver, move that bus!”  Only in this scenario, the Republicans and their conservative wolf pack are not overcome with emotion at the fabulous new home standing before them, but rather are stunned, being confronted with an edifice made out of material largely impervious to their huffing and puffing.

Here’s the thing.  The story ends with the wolf leaving in abject defeat, his hunger unsated.  Conservatives, however, apparently lack the capacity to see they have lost this fight and therefore continue to huff and puff, launching into tirades to any convenient warm body holding a mic and a TV camera, insisting that they have actually won and it’s only a matter of four months until the General Election to prove that point.  Already, they have coined a new term to try to recapture their bluster: Obamatax.

We will be subjected in coming months to their incessantly chanting this new mantra as the justification for their huffing and puffing, but they fail to realize the American people just aren’t that stupid and soon it will become distracting background noise.  In fact, it already is.  Yes, the Supreme Court changed the word “penalty” to “tax” but despite the conservative’s vitriolic demonstrations of outrage and consternation over the ACA being declared “constitutional” there is nothing new here.  Nothing.

It is completely dishonest to claim that on June 28, 2012, President Obama imposed a new tax on Americans.  Completely dishonest.  And it only piles a huge mound of disingenuous, uh, bovine excrement, on top of that dishonesty to claim that President Obama lied to the country by promising there would be no new tax.  There wasn’t and isn’t.  Chief Justice Roberts bears the responsibility for substituting the words in his ruling.  The wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of the GOP and the hyper-cons is all for show, political theater at its most profane.  Over-played and badly acted, at that.

The inconvenient truth for the Republicans is that the statue of their graven idol, Antitaxus Ultimatum, has feet of clay.  The Supreme Court just took a sledge hammer to it.  It now teeters, susceptible to collapse from the tiniest puff of air from a butterfly’s wings.  Or a poorly aimed huff from one of their own, say, perhaps one Mitt Romney?

I see two important lessons that Democrats should learn (and avoid at all costs) from the Republicans: If you lie to the American public long enough on the theory that the one who shouts the loudest is telling the truth, it does not take long for you to start believing your own lies.  Second, once you begin believing your own lies, you lose all perspective regarding the reality that ultimately the Big Bad Wolf failed.  He could not blow down the house made of bricks. Ever.

Why?  The answer springs forth in the words of the man who neither succumbed to the lie nor lost his perspective of what it means to be an American:

“…that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863. The Gettysburg Address.

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A Modern School

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With President Obama throwing down the gauntlet daring Congress to pass his American Jobs Act legislation, including $30 billion allocated for the repair and refurbishing of American schools, I decided it was time for me to weigh in on the subject.  More specifically, the school buildings of the American education system.  Back to that in a moment.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a number of months.

The American Education Revolution of 1916

The title of this post is nearly 100 years old.  It wasn’t a book written by John Dewey (1859-1952), who led the progressives to reform education in America, and is still widely read by students and scholars of education.  No, this was the title of a small work by his contemporary, Abraham Flexner (1866-1959).

A Modern School was published in 1916, and had a major influence on the huge revolution taking place at the time in our nation’s education from the top to the bottom. Flexner argued, and successfully for that matter, that the Classics as The Foundation of education were out of date.  He foresaw the United States as a growing economic power, that despite the huge emphasis on manufacturing and industry fueling the national economy that propelled us through WWI and later WWII, the country was inexorably moving toward an urban and white collar world.  He was largely right; the Classics never really recovered as the core of the nation’s curriculum and we indeed became financially the most powerful nation on earth.  He stated,

It follows from the way in which the child is made, and from constitution and appeal of modern society, that instruction in objects and in phenomena will at one time or another play a very prominent part in the Modern School. It is, however, clear that mere knowledge of phenomena, our mere ability to understand or to produce objects falls short of the ultimate purpose of a liberal education. Such knowledge and such ability indubitably have…great value in themselves; and they imply such functioning of the senses as promises a rich fund of observation and experience. But in the end, if the Modern School is to be adequate to the need of modern life, this concrete training must produce sheer intellectual power. Abstract thinking has perhaps never before played so important a part in life as in this materialistic and scientific world of ours,—this world of railroads, automobiles, wireless telegraphy, and international relationships. Our problems involve indeed concrete data and present themselves in concrete forms; but, back of the concrete details, lie difficult and involved intellectual processes. Hence the realistic education we propose must eventuate in intellectual power.  Source: Abraham Flexner, “A Modern School,” American Review of Reviews 53 (1916): 465–474.

Bits

Flexner’s day, however, has come and gone (and Dewey’s, too, but Flexner’s vision has truly run it’s course). There is an emergent paradigm for which America’s youth must be educated.  It is my opinion as an educator, however, that they will not receive that essential new pedagogical foundation.  In fact, we are already at least twenty years behind.  If you think that the key to education is still, “Our problems involve indeed concrete data and present themselves in concrete forms; but, back of the concrete details, lie difficult and involved intellectual processes. Hence the realistic education we propose must eventuate in intellectual power,” you haven’t yet switched paradigms, either.

Why such a radical breaking with these giants of American educational history?  Bits. Simply put, the virtual reality created by cyber-bits has dissolved, for all intents and purposes, the structures and pedagogical foundations of American education, of global education, really.  I would submit that we aren’t teaching our children how to live and work in this new reality, and will go so far as to say we don’t for the most part even know how to teach them what they will need to know this afternoon let alone tomorrow or next year.  Flexner’s world dominated by “intellectual power” has evaporated like so many quarks into the quantum foam.

The Building is the Curriculum

It is said art imitates life.  In the same vein, schools imitate reality.  Their architectural design imitates the work place.  Their schedules imitate the daily routine of the nation.  Their curricula imitate, since Flexner and others, America as the urban and financial powerhouse of the world.  That world is crumbling before our eyes at an astonishing speed.

So, I am pondering the question, should we really refurbish and rebuild our schools in the way President Obama envisions?  I support passage of the AJA.  I strongly support students having school buildings that are safe, enhance the learning process, are energy efficient, etc., etc., but will that $30 billion be trying to repair that which can no longer serve these functions in this new paradigm?

Consider that the school building is a teacher, too. As a manifestation of the Flexner paradigm, our schools are far past retirement.  Add the way we teach our teachers, to the degree our teacher education conforms to the Flexner model, we are preparing them exclusively to teach in those outmoded buildings.  They will not know how not to teach in those schools. Teaching in a sparkling new building with the most up-to-date technology money can buy will make no difference in the alternate universe of the emergent digital paradigm.

What if we did the most radical thing imaginable: Tear down all those worn out schools and design new ones to reflect the new paradigm that is ruled by the  bit, the byte, where those who command the power of Virtuality have truly been educated in “A Modern School.”