Back to school–I mean, “possibility space”!

Back to school–I mean, “possibility space”! September 2, 2014

Daniel J. Flynn has written a book entitled Blue Collar Intellectuals: When the Enlightened and the Everyman Elevated America.  He writes about a time when “intellectuals” spoke to “the common man,” and how many in the demographic of “common man” (and woman) distinguished themselves as “intellectuals” in their own right.  He writes about blue collar savants like Mortimer Adler, Milton Friedman, and Eric Hoffer.  All of this contrasts with the tendency today, in which “intellectuals” speak only to themselves in an arcane idiom that no one else can even understand, while the “common man” is content with mindless pop culture pablum.  And even intellectuals have become anti-intellectual.

But that’s not what I want to blog about.  An excerpt from his book published in the Intercollegiate Review includes a devastating send-up of the state of contemporary education.   I offer it to you as a “Back to School” present.

From Daniel J. Flynn, Stupid Is the New Smart | Intercollegiate Review:

“I don’t read books,” a Rhodes Scholar and former student body president of Florida State University explains. “Sitting down and going through a book from cover to cover doesn’t make sense.” He Googles his way to the answer. A Duke University professor of literature candidly confesses, “I can’t get my students to read whole books anymore.” These aren’t dropouts scorning literacy but rather the young adults touted as the best and the brightest. Intelligent people are using reason to rationalize intellectual laziness as progress and ridiculing time-tested methods of acquiring knowledge, wisdom, and understanding as outdated.

Much of K–12 schooling involves educating for a standardized test, superficial learning that does to the mind what Botox, steroids, and plastic surgery do to the body. The type of education predominant in college is professional training that prepares cogs to fit into the economy rather than liberally educated citizens ready for the responsibilities of freedom. Institutions that shun broad knowledge graduate shallow people with narrow interests.

Quest for Learning is a public school in Manhattan where students play video games, blog, create podcasts, film YouTube-style videos, and partake in other digital activities that young people overdose on outside of the classroom. They also call their teachers by their first names, refer to their school as a “possibility space,” and forgo traditional lettered grades for “pre-novice,” “novice,” “apprentice,” “senior,” and “master.” Crassly mixing philanthropy with business, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helps fund the school. Teacher Al Doyle calls spelling “outmoded,” says that podcasting is “as valid as writing an essay,” and regards memorization as irrelevant in light of search engines. “Handwriting?” Doyle remarks. “That’s a 20th-century skill.” It was surprisingly unsurprising when the New York Times Magazine said of the school’s executive director, “Until a few years ago she knew little about educational pedagogy and was instead immersed in doing things like converting an ice-cream truck into a mobile karaoke unit that traveled around San Jose, Calif., with a man dressed as a squirrel dispensing free frozen treats and encouraging city residents to pick up a microphone and belt out tunes.”

[Read it all.]


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