Sunday, January 10, 2016

machine run amok

Last night, they held yet another largest ever Powerball jackpot drawing. It again failed to produce a winning ticket, even though millions of tickets were sold. Now the next jackpot will be well over 1 billion dollars, so you know once again, Americans will be hoping that the machine delivers to them in the most personal of ways... showering them with money they have done nothing to earn.

The lottery is a devilishly devised way to get people to acquiesce to a system run by an elite. My wife asked me how they know there were no winners without allowing time for winners to come forward with their tickets. I assured her that the machine knows.

In school, I have one girl who, having made a bow and arrows, insists there is nothing more I can get her to do with wood. That may be shortsighted of her, and she is abundantly skilled, but I have allowed her to take an alternative course that is more interesting for her and that supports the interests of the class at large. She has become our story reader. Just as cigar makers would hire someone to read and keep his employees engaged and alert, my student is reading to her class.

The current text is E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops." Published in 1909, it should be read by all those who've become overly dependent on digital technology, not only because of the precariousness of our predicament, but because of the insight it offers into the human soul. The lead character Kuno, who had become bored with the machine, had discovered to his complete amazement that "man is the measure," which is one of those things we should be teaching in school. But in order to know your own place in the measuring of things you have to get up from your desk. If you look at the use of standardized testing and the machine at the core of standardized education, you will see a direct parallel between this modern time, and that which Kuno  in the story hopes to escape. Without wood shop, without music, without the arts, without the hands to test principles in mathematics, history and science, we might as well just prop everyone up in similar chairs and sell them lottery tickets, that they might hope at some time in their lives to be delivered from the machine.

The following is from Susan E. Blow who founded the first public school kindergarten in the US.
The greatest mistakes in education are rooted in the failure to recognize and conform to the different stages of natural development. Educational theorists are constantly pointing out this error; educational practice is constantly repeating it. Notwithstanding all that has been said and written, we still make knowledge our idol, and continue to fill the child's mind with foreign material, under the gratuitous assumption that at a later age he will be able, through some magic transubstantiation, to make it a vital part of his own thought. This is like loading his stomach with food which he can not digest, under the delusive hope that he may be able to digest it when he is a man. It is forcing the mind to move painfully forward under a heavy weight, instead of running, leaping and flying under the incitement of its own energy and the allurement of its own perceived ideal. The attempt to force a premature activity of reason can result only in repulsion of his sympathies and the stultification of his mind. – Symbolic Education, Susan E. Blow, 1894.
The preceding was written in an attempt by Blow to explain and promote the educational philosophy of Friedrich Froebel, and if you have your wits about you, you may notice that Froebel and Blow had discussed stages of learning and development long before Piaget was even born. Thus it was in the early days... Educators made profound observations that were thence soundly ignored, and educational policy makers developed schooling that had a complete disregard for the developmental issues facing each child. If a single child was run over by a subway each day, the nation would be clamoring for change. But the fact that huge numbers of children are run over in school each day by educational policies run amok, seems to be of no concern at all.

A friend of mine, Mario, reminds me that very few educators will defend the machine that they serve daily. All appear to see the chinks in it and the damage it does. And so, perhaps I need to work a bit on clarifying my proposal. We need to push back on the machine. Remove it from our lives for extended periods, and reclaim the development of mind that comes when attention is cultivated and applied.

The drawing above is for a class I will teach in Portland in March.

Make, fix, create and extend to others the chance of learning likewise.

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