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 Flexner argued, and successfully for that matter, that the Classics as The Foundation of education were out of date.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.”

Hospital Food for the Mind

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I had to be in a meeting at lunch yesterday, so I didn’t get to write this post in my normal manner: thumb-typing on my smart-phone between bites of food.  I hope that doesn’t affect the quality of this piece.  I have a question:

Is the Presidency of the United States obsolete?

Up front, I’ll admit that perhaps if I was more impressed with President Obama’s performance in the job, and thought that even one individual in the Republican pack of hounds bounding and baying after his job was truly qualified, I might not even ask the question.  That not being the case, however, I am asking the question: Is the presidency, as one of the three constitutional pillars of our Union, now an obsolete political paradigm best abandoned and replaced by something else?  Or anything else?  Okay, that second question is just for the sake of rhetorical sarcasm.

Here’s my beef with the current situation.  I was always taught that the three branches of government in the United States were specifically designed to provide a balance of power, and that principle was to be inviolable to the degree that no one branch could supersede another.  This idea is based on that handy little political doctrine called the Separation of Powers.

Looking back over my lifetime, I generally place the beginning of this nightmare on the near-destruction of the Constitution by Richard Nixon. Ever since it seems we have been sliding toward a full-blown night-terror (the infamous pavor nocturnus) complete with an Incubus sitting on our national chest.

I would suggest that as the country has become more politically partisan, like a fault-line sending up waves telegraphing a coming earthquake, the election process has absorbed those toxic seismic waves. Apparently closest to the fault-line, the Judicial Branch has become all too often no more than a political equivalent of the Roman Coliseum, fought over by the conservatives and liberals in Congress–the Legislative Branch–the floor of each chamber devolving into an arena for ideological gladiating.  Only, there’s no emperor to give thumbs up or thumbs down, and so they just go on bashing each other, oblivious to their complete abdication of their Constitutionally sworn oath to govern.

Gone, in my humble opinion, is my confidence that the Justices of the Supreme Court (and the lower courts they oversee), selected once as the best of the best, view their appointment as a sacred duty to ensure their decisions rise above the everyday fray of American politics.  Yes, I know in reality it was never quite that noble, but in prior generations there was at least a generally accepted principle that the people who wore the robes and sat at that bench comprehended the high calling to which it is enshrined in the Constitution.

As for Congress, any sense of statesmanship is long gone, of dignity–even though they put on a show of being polite most of the time through gritted teeth–and an utter evaporation of “the loyal opposition.”  Factionism has permeated both the House and the Senate because factionism has permeated our political culture.  We have created this incubal demon through the ballot box and I fear it is only the beginning of a great price we will pay as a country for this gathering divisiveness.

So what of the presidency?  With the continuing deterioration of two of the three branches of government, can we expect the Executive Branch to weather the temblors and quakes unscathed?  I just do not think so.  The Legislative Branch’s warfare shows no sign of abating, even as we teeter on the verge of a double-dip recession. The Judicial Branch has become a hammer used by well-funded special interest groups to sledge their will into law, regardless of the damage they do to the rest of us.

Can one man or woman effectively push back the crumbling pillars to maintain the Constitutional integrity of the office of the President of the United States, like a reverse-Samson holding up the walls and roof, sparing the Philistines from certain death rather than bringing down the edifice upon them?  I don’t know the answer to this question.  Would the parliamentary model of governing be better?  Looking at all the problems our best international friends have (e.g., Great Britain) in managing that approach to government, I would not be eager to jump to that solution.  Nor would I ever endorse the fractured model currently used by the Russians in which two people apparently share power, but not really, but the one who is supposed to be the subordinate has figured out a way to actually control the other one and…  God protect us from a mess like that.

We are rushing headlong into another general election season (not that you can tell any difference, because the 2012 election has been in full-gear since the moment Barack Obama was declared winner in November 2008).  If I could work my will upon the country, the presidential election season would start six months before the actual date.  No one would be allowed to campaign.  No one, individual or business, would be allowed to contribute money to a candidate.  Political Parties would have to hold their nominating conventions 90 days before the election.  No political ads could air for any candidate or for any party until the parties had nominated their candidates.  I’ve got more to say on that, but it will have to wait for a later date.

Is the presidency obsolete?  Again, I don’t know the answer to that, but I know that it is every bit as battered as the other two branches of our government, and because of that, the future of the Republic is at stake.

I do hold one hope.  I continue to believe that we the people, by voting and exercising our right to petition our government, can reverse this earthquake of factionalism.  We are not beyond saving the Union.  But the day is upon us in which we must begin to do just that. To end this national night terror we must push the Incubus of Factionalism off of our chest, and, most importantly, wake up!

Dumbing Down the POTUS

This post is not about George W. Bush.  Really.  Although he had a role in my thesis.  This post is about our current president, Barack Obama.  I don’t want there to be any confusion about that.

It finally struck me yesterday what the GOP is up to regarding the November elections, after four events, three of which were unusual, filled the majority of my day.

They were, in this order:

  1. I watched two hours of Fox News shows at the behest of my friend, Dr. John Bogen, who is politically as conservatively moderate as I am liberally moderate.  Many of the themes I discuss below were the primary topics of those shows.  (If you are a regular reader of Extreme Thinkover, you will remember John’s very fine posts last fall on the H1N1 Pandemic, both regarding vaccinations and his advice how to understand H2N1 H1N1 (thanks, John!).
  2. I read an article about how the White House allowed President Obama’s passport–yes the President’s passport–to be photographed to counter the ongoing idiocy of the so-called “birthers” who obstinately cling to the totally false accusation that Obama was not born in the United States.  The issue of people believing the President is a Muslim is so far off the scale of absurdity it doesn’t even get its own separate number.
  3. While wandering around a big box electronics store I started experiencing chest pains and deciding to err on the side of caution and went to my hospital’s urgent care.  All my tests came out negative, fortunately, but with my family’s history of cardiac artery disease I’ve earned a ticket to be the main attraction in my second stress test.  Thinking about one’s mortality is a sobering moment for anyone.  I also have health insurance.
  4. After I got home, I got to watch my favorite NASCAR driver, Kyle Busch, set a NASCAR record at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee by sweeping the three races of weekend.

It was during the race it hit me what the conservatives are doing to try to defeat the Democrats this fall and to discredit not only the president but the presidency in every way possible for their advantage. Why during the race?  Maybe it had to do with the vagaries of a car race, the strategies, and the ever-present reality that each driver and his car only has so much control over what is happening to them.  Someone else makes the smallest of mistakes and you can be out of the race with your car a pile of scrap metal in a fraction of a second.  Or maybe it was just dumb luck.

You will remember, quite painfully if you are a person with any capacity to carry on a civil conversation with someone you disagree with, the Cirque de Chaos we had to endure during the Congressional recess town hall meetings last August over the Tea Party and health care and carrying guns around in public like it was the Showdown in the O.K. Corral.  This year, there’s hardly been a whimper over this.  That’s because the new strategy is much more subtle and the Far Right learned one lesson: viewer fatigue.  By the end of August last year, the “scream at your politician” gambit had backfired; most Americans get fed up with toddler-type tantrums very quickly.  Simply put, the Far Right overplayed its hand.

The plan this summer is to make the president look dumb.  Also incompetent, if possible, but definitely dumb.

Why?  Because Barack Obama is probably one of the smartest presidents in the history of the nation in terms of sheer intellect.   So the way to attack him is to create, in this case, two exceptionally dumb fabrications about him: he wasn’t born in Hawaii, and he is Muslim, and then keep feeding those very stupid lies by constantly just hinting about them or have pundits “debate” the issue on TV and radio.

Dumbing Down the POTUS. Image Courtesy Motifake: http://www.motifake.com

http://www.motifake.com

This strategy works because there is no rational way to defend against it.  You can’t “put this one to bed” because there is no effective counter-strategy.  So the Republican leadership, now held hostage by the Far Right Wingnuts, can just keep the topic alive by continuing to feed their constituents who have bought into it.  And the way you do that is very simple: whenever the question is asked, you deny it, but ambiguously.

Last year, the Far Right tried shouting and threats of revolution.  It fell flat on its face.  This year they are trying lies and innuendo.  It’s a big gamble for the GOP because the Tea Party and other Far Right groups are much like a political multi-headed Hydra each with its own idea of who should be in control and what the outcomes should be.  But the Republicans lack a Hercules to control this beast.  Rep. John Boehner, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and RNCC Chair Michael Steele to a person lack the ability or imagination to keep these groups under control.  I suspect Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are hoping they can throw meat at the monster without getting eaten themselves.

The question is can the Democrats find their equivalent of a Hercules to cut off the heads, politically speaking, of the Right’s Hydra?  President Obama, in my opinion, is more than capable, as we saw him campaign for the office, but now as Leader of the Free World, his focus should be on his job, not slaying dragons.  The same goes for Vice President Joe Biden.  Sen. Harry Reid, in addition to being in the fight of his career to keep his senate seat, is the epitome of milquetoast.  Rep. Nancy Pelosi has the fire, but in addition to being speaker of the House, is in her own campaign.  The DNC’s chair, Tom Kaine, is an excellent administrator, but has wisely kept out of the spotlight.

I’ve heard more than one pundit and politician say the Democrats are disorganized and not responding effectively to the attacks from the right.  That may or may not be true.  It may be the Democratic strategy is to let the Far Right, with all their fractures run their course, and when they begin to collapse, pounce with the equivalent with a sledge hammer against a glass window pane.  In reality it would not take much for the Republican Party to implode upon itself.  The GOP’s structure is much more precarious than they are letting on.

In the meantime they are going to attempt to make the president look dumb, out of touch, incompetent, a threat to the American Way of Life.  He is none of those things, so eventually the truth will out.  I continue to read the polls with a huge grain of salt.  Now I know what I’m looking for, I’ll be able to tell more clearly what is happening below the surface.  November 2, 2010 is still going to be a very interesting election day.