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Philosophy Cafe - Cafe Philosophique Message Board › Your Last Word on SCHOOL

Your Last Word on SCHOOL

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 69
Usually here I would put the topic questions that we came up with during the meeting. I wrote down many of our responses to the "tools" with which we tried to spark new insights, so I can use those to frame questions now, though we didn't follow up on them that way at the time. (Perhaps with practice I'll be able to do this translation in real time.) I will try to remember what we discussed in the second hour as well.

Feel free to respond with a well-constructed, self-contained (maybe even lyrical) paragraph outlining your answer to any of these.

Tool: Top 10 Reasons to Put Philosophy in the K-12 Curriculum
• Suppose training in philosophy produces more and better philosophers. Might that stimulate job creation for them?
• Would it be so bad if kids learned their philosophy in the streets? Is the philosophy we would teach any better?
• If we trained them to philosophize, would they direct their questions at themselves, at their parents, or at authority in general?

Tool: PMI on Increasing Economic Access to Education
• Does universal education lessen its value? Not just to the marketplace, but to ourselves?
• Comment on the idea of education as a means of converting physical resources into human resources.
• If school weren't mandatory, who would choose to go? Would there be more or less innovation in teaching?

Tool: Small Groups' Quick-and-Dirty Plan to Teach Students Who Vary Widely in One Ability
• Is uniformity of ability overrated? Who cares if you can read, as long as you can solve problems?
• How, or who, does it help when the learners being taught are similar? How, or who, does it help when learners are different?

Tool: (If Not You) Who Should Be In Charge of Educational Decisions: Child, Parent, The State, or Professional Educators?
• Why might parents trust teachers more than their own children?
• What does it mean when anybody makes an educational choice "in the best interests of the child"? Is that really possible?
• Teachers are beholden to the state (for their paycheck) and children (for cooperation). What might that do to their relationship with parents?

Tool: Kafka's Trial–How Were You Selected for Punishment (for an unspecified "crime against education")?
• Why should market mechanisms be trusted to detect value in education? Why should we distrust them?
• Comment on the idea that being raised in a school district with low test scores might rationally be used to penalize you, in the way that living in a high-crime neighborhood might raise your auto premiums.
• The "whole-child" approach (adopted in Oakland Unified) involves assisting the child in any problem area of his or her life. Should that be extended to evaluation, say, by grading the home environment?
• So academic achievement test scores are low. How can that say anything about why they are low?
• If we scan students' brains, what information might we get to help us decide what's wrong (and who is at fault)?

More questions:
• Education is a very complex system. Is there any meaningful way to break it into parts for analysis?
• Does the United States' pluralistic society justify lower educational goals compared to more homogeneous states, e.g. Scandinavian countries?
• Do the parallel education goals of training for critical thought, imparting practical information, and promoting social solidarity conflict or aid one another?
• What's the point of trying to force kids to learn?
• How might we change the image or the concept of what education is and what it's for, so that we could more reasonably resolve differences in how to manage it and distribute its costs?
• Who is responsible for the kids, ultimately?
A former member
Post #: 1
Those are beautiful questions. I'm really sorry I missed this one.
user 20648001
Oakland, CA
Post #: 1
I see many excellent questions here, more than enough for one meeting. It might help to sort them into "higher" and "lower" levels, though. As an example of a higher question, that is, one of greater scope but perhaps less precision, we could ask, "Why should society support good education, however this might be defined?" There are strong reasons, after all, why a society like ours might reject, fail to fund, or just be oblivious to good education since this challenges the status quo from a lots of different angles. What are the sociological and intellectual obstacles to providing a good education for al?

Incidentally, by "good education" I mean any introduction to the world that helps young people participate in reality. The key words here are "help," "participate," and "reality."
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 71
• What's the point of trying to force kids to learn?

"Do I have to go to school?" The kids say they don't need no education. Maybe we should take them up on it. Think of the efficiencies that would be gained, if we only had to pay teachers per student-hour taught. Think of how much better-behaved the student body would be with the ne'er-do-wells outside the school walls. Test scores would skyrocket. Teachers would have to improve their offerings in order to retain clientele, but in contrast to a voucher system that merely substitutes parents' wishes for the state's, the market would discover what children actually wanted to learn, so we could expect them to actually learn it. Would children choose to learn the right things? Who really knows what the right things to learn are, in this fast-changing modern world? Long division? Riiight. California history? Maaaybe. Perhaps it would be better if children just learned anything, as long as they had the real experience of learning, versus spending six hours a day pretending to learn, thinking they are in prison. Would they? What if they didn't know that learning can be fun–like, you know, maybe they didn't see the poster? Perhaps they would still want to go to school to participate in recess–and lunch! Maybe being kicked out of school could become a realistic recourse for schools, the threat of social deprivation being a prime motivator. They might even have to prove that they were learning to stay in, even devise their own tests. Let's take a page from the Jack Welch handbook and fire 10% of the students every year! ...Okay, yeah, this has been a test of the "provocation" strategy of idea generation, but you have to admit it doesn't seem all that far-fetched when you spend some time with it. Children take their cues more from how people around them act–adults, students, and other kids (but these may mostly amplify the adult reactions)–than their own impulses (watch a child deciding whether to cry when injured). If we show them (implicitly, unconsciously) that school is an imposition, a bore, a farce, then their behavior will reflect that belief. If Google can allot 10% of employees' time for creative license in personally-selected projects, then why not do likewise with children, who are unavoidably creative anyway? They won't select a project for its unknowable future value to the company (or their parents, or society), but for how it makes them feel. And they want to feel useful, appreciated–now. How many kids say they want to be teachers? We'd find out what methods kids can use to educate one other. By making them determine the reason they "have to go to school," at least it would be something worth going to school for.
user 34964582
San Francisco, CA
Post #: 2
What you propose is ideal, but the reality is that this is an impossibility under educational curriculum dictated by multinational corporations.
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 72
Actually, Diego, I don't believe it to be ideal–nor impossible. In fact, when I wrote up the question after the meeting, and even when I sat down to write the answer, I intended to go in the opposite direction!

Once I wrote "Maybe we should take them up on it" I realized I had a good provocative stance to stimulate exploration. About halfway through it crested to being absurd, so I took another pass with a stronger dose of realism, but still provocative. If we don't allow ourselves this practice, then philosophy becomes the rationalization of the status quo, because fragile new ideas cannot survive being a "position" long enough to be developed.

I'd be happy to discuss the scholastic aspects via email or after tonight's meeting if you'd like. I'm trying to keep this thread more for posting parting thoughts rather than dialogue.
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 128
This essay was written as an assignment for the Coursera online course I'm taking, "The Modern and the Postmodern", but my interpretation of Rousseau's relationship to the Enlightenment has much to do with the educational system, whether it be 18th-century France or 21st-century U.S...or even Meetup.

Question: How did Kant define Enlightenment? Use Kant’s definition to discuss whether Rousseau is an Enlightenment figure.
All quotations from Kant's "An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?" or Rousseau's "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences," except asterisked quotes, which are from Rousseau's "A Discourse Upon the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind"

Was Rousseau an Enlightenment figure? That is, was he "for" Enlightenment–in Kant's terms, for "man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity," to learn to think for himself? It seems Kant and Rousseau agreed that man's infancy was ending, yet they disagreed on whether maturity was a good thing: Kant looked forward to men "cultivating their own minds" and "continuing on their way," while Rousseau was wistful for a prehistoric "state of nature"* in which selfish instincts had been restrained by a rough balance of power. Kant allowed that social approval (such as the intellectual freedoms bestowed by King Frederick) was in practice necessary to stimulate enlightenment, while Rousseau believed it was increased sociability itself that had stimulated our vanity to pursue "agreeable talents rather than useful ones."

Does Rousseau's anti-intellectualism disqualify him as a proponent of Enlightenment, or did he merely oppose the "inane education [that] decorates our minds and corrupts our judgment"? That is, did he categorically oppose thinking, or just vanity passing for thought? They did share a reluctance to consider moral disputes as settled for all time: Kant warned that commitment to a "certain unalterable set of doctrines" (by clergy) would prevent enlightenment, and Rousseau declared that the agreement of previous generations to the concept of property was invalid–and for a reason Kant, who maintained that only laws a society would freely impose upon itself are justified, would approve. When Rousseau stated that "it would be unreasonable to imagine that men at first threw themselves into the arms of an absolute master,"* he granted that men are, in fact, reasonable–except when their vanity blinds them into accepting "an artful usurpation [changed into] an irrevocable title."* Once the rich have fortified their hegemony, the poor man can be forced to give up the one thing no animal, including man, sacrifices–its freedom.

Both philosophers hold freedom to be inalienable, yet easily rendered ineffectual: as Rousseau admitted men can be duped by vanity, Kant stressed that "a public can only achieve enlightenment slowly." "A revolution," such as the ones coming in 1789 and 1848, "will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking. Instead, new prejudices, like the ones they replaced, will serve as a leash to control the great unthinking mass." Rousseau's account of man's early history (which uncannily resembles contemporary accounts of man's social evolution) is a sad tale of deterioration, for having gained natural freedom over the physical environment, exercising civil freedom in a crowded society soon means that "it is merely from [others'] judgment that he derives the consciousness of his own existence,"* whether they are above or below him. Kant, however, sees civil freedom as bound up with intellectual freedom: once the latter "has developed within [the] hard shell" of restricted civil freedom, "it gradually reacts upon the mentality of the people, who thus gradually become increasingly able to act freely." Kant realized that man had to be trained to think–"in public"–as a means of braking the hyperactivity of the undisciplined intellect. Rousseau felt the "state of reflection"* helped a man reason away the suffering of his fellows, making him "a depraved animal"*; we rely on the emotion of pity to combat this disconnection.

For that, Rousseau is labeled sentimental. He recognized man's passions, but, lacking Kant's trust that decorations and corruption could be painstakingly removed from public Reason, pessimistically recommended merely to restrict the arts and sciences to "learned men of the first rank." Rousseau, though doubtful of Progress, was not against Reason: he merely preferred, to the vain casuistry of "inane education," the "sublime science of simple souls," which is "to go back into oneself and listen to the voice of one's conscience in the silence of the passions." He is warning us that the Enlightenment is being subverted by "those compilers of works who have indiscriminately beaten down the door to the sciences and introduced into their sanctuary a population unworthy of approaching them." Reason might yet save us all, if only its many pretenders would get out of the way! In attempting to police the ranks of the trendy Enlightenment, while supporting its higher aims, Rousseau was its "loyal opposition."

...Which brings to mind a titillating possibility. Might Kant's Enlightenment motto, "Dare to know," be a subtle reminder of sort of courage required to pursue knowledge? Too soon, we find out how little we know. How injurious to our vanity if we fear ourselves not up to the task!

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 166
• What does it mean when anybody makes an educational choice "in the best interests of the child"? Is that really possible?

I just read the "Bringing Up Children" chapter in Jared Diamond's latest book, The World Until Yesterday. Under the heading "Child play and education," he notes that children in hunter-gatherer societies have only a few toys, that they themselves have created. Their parents also supply them with near-replicas of adult tools, that it may take them years to learn to use. "It is rare for hunter-gatherer games to keep score or identify a winner." They emphasize sharing and discourage contests. Yet these children are perceived by Western observers as being more creative that their own children, raised on manufactured toys. "Education in small scale societies is not a separate activity." Colin Turnbull: "For children, life is one long frolic interspersed with a healthy sprinkle of spankings and slappings.... And one day they find that the games they have been playing are not games any longer, but the real thing, for they have become adults....It happens so gradually that they hardly notice the change at first, for even when they are proud and famous hunters their life is still full of fun and laughter."

In the rest of this chapter, the underlying difference that Diamond identifies is the interest of the state in "our" children. This dovetails nicely with his Pulitzer-prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel: states have arisen out of the competitive (selective) advantage of large-scale coordination. Another way of saying it is that the state has its hooks into our children because they are necessary to its survival. (And since there are no large-scale societies without states, that means everybody's survival.)

Not that this post really sets out the answer the question above, but one conceptualization of the child is precisely the intersection of interests of others. They are a site of contention because they have, or eventually may have, relationships to many others. The phrase "best interests of the child" seems to me usually employed to mask the speaker's self-interest. One might view the child's interest as the residue or remainder of the child's behavior after the interest/effect of others is taken into account. That would be equivalent to saying that only the child can express its own interest–like adults, they must act for themselves.

If we let them act for themselves, however, they will make mistakes. Yet despite the interest of a band or tribe in supplementing its numbers, small-scale societies tend to safeguard their children against causing themselves harm (e.g., playing with knives) LESS than we do. They are treated more like adults–as autonomous...and expendable. In this process they learn that actions have consequences, and tend to pay attention to their elders to avoid costly mistakes.

Diamond mentions how living in the small-scale societies doesn't present many of dangers the modern world does (electrical outlets, busy intersections, etc.) Another way of looking at this is that modern living, versus tribal existence, is comprised largely of behaviors that must be learned, because the culture and technology they are tuned to did not exist during our evolution. That is, the "distance" between children and adults has grown. It seems that is why we invented "school."

But people still have to develop relationships with others in their society, and hunter-gatherers learn this sooner than we do. We might posit that the shape of social relationships have changed as well, such that "mommy and me" classes are necessary. But what if it was school itself that changed us, that made us believe we have to trained to do anything...?
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 167
It has come to my attention that the idea I attributed to Franz Kafka–Kafka's Trial–How Were You Selected for Punishment (for an unspecified "crime against education")?– may have been inspired instead by Jorge Luis Borges (who wrote after Kafka). His short story "The Lottery of Babylon" describes a lottery that added punishments to make it more exciting to play. It would dictate to some people what role they had to play, until the next drawing. It becomes compulsory and morphs into the controlling force of the society, but not due to conspiracy or design of any sort.
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