Saturday, January 15, 2011

Un umim, y un tumim.

Those who have not read "El Alquimista" by Paolo Coelho, if you can comprehend it in Portugese, good for you. Spanish is a highly suitable secondary stand-in. The English version is only minimally approximate. But the reference to his work in the title of this blog is crucial. It is an experience I do not hesitate to recommend.

These past weeks have been so full of momentous events and developmental challenges that it seems impossible to approach them all with a clear head and find a particularly poignant point with which to punctuate my pontifications. But then, at the same time, that specifically is the purpose of this post; 'pontification,' as if emanating from the office of a pontiff, which clearly I am not, nor do I harbor any desire to be. Besides which, Jewish heritage likely precludes you from such a position, though I'm certain I don't know the rules behind it. 

In any case, I had initially intended to deal with this in a later paragraph, though it seems to have jumped to the fore much earlier. Following directly on the title, and my perambulatory ramblings above, I'll have to begin with Tuscon, and the most recent shock to the National psyche. Avid readers of this column will have already developed a prescient sense that I published a timely article regarding Jared Lee Loughner's atrocities, though my purpose here is unique. Much like the allusion to pontificatory publications in the principal paragraph, we suffer in this country of ours from predilections for perturbations and aversion to sobriety. We love dirty laundry, the public is galvanized and drawn as iron filings to a magnet once the mudslinging starts in a political dialogue of any sort. Politics infects everything - our schools, our national sports, our buying choices. And the virulent infection spreading throughout society erupts from series of non-events, is perpetuated by a two-step flow, and is delivered by the hypodermic injection of the ubiquitous media-rich environment that surrounds us. As a teacher, we are admonished for allowing students to witness anything visual, read anything, or hear lyrics that might be considered overtly contentious, inciteful of violent behavior, or blatantly erotic. Never mind that some of the greatest - both greatly inspiring, and tremedously soul wrenching - moments in history were caused by none-too-mysterious confluences of all three. Perhaps that, in a sense, is an indicator in our supposed 'last bastion of freedom,' and that instead of a tacit acceptance of the modernized version of barely beveiled Puritanism as the subtext to the national political conversation, perhaps we should convert to a more strict orthodoxy of freedom. This coming Monday is Martin Luther King day, a holiday repealed by the Tragedy in Tuscon state, and how might the overarching themes inside their political borders change if public service, peace, and not just tolerance, but acceptance of brothers, neighbors, and all the children under the sun dominated instead of guns, hatred, and discord? As a teacher we are trained habitually how to interact with developing minds, how to treat them with care, what to say, and what not to say, and how to urge them along in a positive direction. 

Similarly, and I've said this habitually in conversations recently: way back in the 90's, when Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls were gunned down mercilessly (depending on how you view this,) a call went out to the entire rap community to calm down the lyrics because the country could ill afford to continue losing children to inner city violence. We all know the power and reality of influence that media has on the developing mind. That is the both the reason for and against using it for carrying punditry along the pundit-tree while the majority of the students across the land are crippled due to plummeting literacy rates and incapacity to comprehend, let alone remember history, nor understand the importance of the imagery that's being used. In stark contrast, every available voice that regularly utilized inflammatory language, consistently poured vehemence onto the airwaves, perpetually placated the masses with their rage inducing rhetoric, immediately took to their chosen distribution device - radio, television, web page, newspaper, - and quickly claimed "it couldn't have possibly been the lyrics." In the Communications field that's known as ad-libbing (or liberalizing your dialogue. Perish the thought!) In the Education field that's known as 'Brain Storming.' I claim no responsibility for the parity of this technique with another, much more pedestrian term. What I'm driving at is the fact that every single one of the "operators" - even that is a military term - pontificates, from every side of the quadrangle. O'Donnell's "Where is freedom of speech in the Constitution" to the Libertarian "What does the EPA, or the Department of Education...do?" to the Sarah Palin "blood libel" to Paul Kanjorski's hugely inflammatory commentary on Rick Scott. The answer, as I've said often and early in my column, is Education. Not the kind that's going on now, but the kind that takes into account classics, critical thought, philosophy, and trains students to be thoughtful, insightful, and enlightened citizens of the union. 

To that end, the College Board has made the magnanimous decision to revamp the AP Biology course and exam (two separate operations that, of all things, are closely coordinated.) This is crucial, because at a certain point in educational history, the Advanced Placement curriculum and exams were the gold standard against which each other class was measured. They represented - and I would warrant they still do - the pinnacle of educational achievement, the meter stick against which all other class curriculae were measured. Disproportionately, and as is pointed out in the excellent piece by Valerie Strauss, the longer we perpetuate that continually failing No Child Left Behind and conversion to privatization of our public experience has to be universally tempered with the ever present ideal that our objective is to plant the seeds of the ongoing Enlightenment Era thought experiment that is American Society. At the same time that the AP curriculum was the universally held ultimate objective in terms of educational attainment in the Secondary system, Arts, Sports, Music, and Foreign Language programs flourished, and this was indeed for the betterment of our society as a whole. Heed well the lessons of the daguerreotype analysis. For if we should continue down the path we are currently following, we shall be lulled slowly to sleep by our infinite ignorance, only to be woken up, as the man in the video, by the scurry of rats as they seek to do their natural, genetically precoded duty to help decompose that which is dead: our minds.

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