Tuesday, February 27, 2007

P.S. to Yikes

So to address the underlying issues here...

I don't think that the world is, overall, so much drastically worse than ever before. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah, the old "nothing new under the sun" argument, etc. I don't think that the whole "slippery slope" notion necessarily holds a whole lot of water, either.

However, many of the people I know who've chosen to homeschool their kids (especially in a manner, if not completely classical, at least heavily influenced by the Trivium), have done so for nearly identical reasons (religious and social issues aside). . .

My grandfather is nearing the end of his tussle with Alzheimer's. A few years back, at the beginning of his loss of function, he was sitting in on our then first and third grade math session and began to remember aloud the way that he'd had to know math by the time he was done with high school. His class was required to mentally work vast columns of numbers, all the time, correctly, all of the pupils. While I'm sure there were some who weren't as able as others, it was the standard for the time.

Do you know anyone who has to do anything like this as part of their public schooling experience? I don't.

I wish I could remember the name of the person who discussed this particular issue--it's brain death, dontcha know. Dorothy Sayer, maybe? The idea was that society has coasted on it's educational capital for quite some time. Latin, higher math, Literature, are not taught in public schools (or most private schools) the same way that they were at the beginning of the last century. They may not be taught at all, certainly not in the lower grades. Yes, the necessary knowledge base has shifted. Yes, more people have access to education than before, but at what standard? That previously hard-won educational capital provided us with baseline assumptions of knowledge throughout society. Now? We're exhausting that capital, if it's not completely gone already. Minus the understanding of certain useful basic issues (math processes, vocabulary), it becomes impossible to have an intelligent conversation, much less accomplish anything that would genuinely further our function as a population.

It is my contention that something resembling the collective consciousness is replacing such useful information with a hollow capital, that of pop culture. The term "value" has become passe and even silly in certain contexts, but think about what it means. It is meant to communicate the worth of a particular thing. In this case, the culture places a great deal of value on having "fun", small fluffy dogs in totes and other odd accessories, and accumulation of eye shadow on one's person and in one's drawer. To what end? Do these things help a person comprehend mitosis? The process of a combustion engine? The definition of entropy? The inherent order in chaos theory? The cure for cancer? How to just be nice to other people? I can tell you that I've owned a lot of eyeshadow, and it's never done a thing to make me happy, smarter, more useful, or helped my socioeconomic position. (Not that there's anything wrong with eyeshadow, per se.)

I think that the saddest thing about the creep of pop culture is that it serves to further spread the gap between the classes. The people who possess knowledge are able to manipulate those who do not. This goes back at least as far as early Athens. The value placed on knowledge there served to protect individuals from the unscrupulous. As my former first grader said when we were studying this, "The people of Athens wanted to learn stuff so they could know who was telling them the truth or if they were just trying to get their stuff." Apart from a few altruistic souls, who will do that now?

In the same way that we are suffering a loss of understanding because of the dumbing down of our educational standards/opportunities, we are suffering a drop in standards of personal ethics. We do not exist in a vacuum--something must come to fill the space that a rigorous education, goals, ideals worth working for, have left. Apparently, it's name is Paris. Or Britney, train wreck that she appears to be. These girls wouldn't exist in the context they inhabit if there were not approval and desire for their behavior, be it tacit or implicit. Or, in the case of their parents, complicit. Because these children (and they are, whether or not they can legally imbibe or--help--vote) don't turn out this way without the people who are meant to guard the gate having left their posts.

Again, just because a child likes sugar by the bagful doesn't mean we give it to them. The same is true for brain candy. There are plenty of good options from which to choose. Even if I wouldn't pick a particular thing for my child that thing doesn't automatically become bad or evil. I don't believe this is about judgement on those around me. Truly. (Judgement is another word that's gotten a bad rap--what happens when we cease to use judgement? Anarchy. What happens when we use judgement on people to get between them and God? Shame on us.) I believe what makes this of particular importance now is: two things. First, we have actual research (cited below) with which to begin to address the impact of certain behaviors, choices, etc. Second, the incredible speed with which "news" travels. With the available media, one can easily, in the name of boredom/entertainment, know more about what a jackass (insert philandering celebrity name here) is than one knows about one's own family, never mind what one knows about chaos theory.

A perpetual fascination with trash leads people nowhere useful. Ever had a few chocolates right at dinnertime? Were you hungry for the spinach salad? Roasted potatoes? Or were you hungry for more chocolate? I argue that the same principle applies here.

Ahem. Rant over. I promise.

(We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming--more Q news coming.)


Squeaky said...

Interesting stuff, I am taking a class at WSU Vancouver discussing these types of Topics and more. I'll respond more later. The history of education in our country and its purposes are something we should be looking at more closely today. After my short experience as a public school teacher I would definitely choose the home school route for as long as I was able to do it. You avoid things such as "Five billion years ago..." Please include a link to us on your blog if you wish. If you can, get my Mom to start one(they're so easy)

TheTutor said...

Wow! That was one of the most well-written, insightful rants I ever read! I will have to come back and read it again later because all my brain is responding with right now is, "Wow!"

Great post! You should submit this to the next Carnival of Homeschooling!

Amy @ the foil hat said...

I'm with The Tutor - keep ranting! That was really great, Carrie. Very insightful and, sadly, true. (I'm pulling my overweight border collie out of my purse as I type. LOL)