Tuesday, September 08, 2020

our god-awful mess

How did we get in such a god-awful mess? We have whole groups who don't believe in science, and refuse to take steps to protect others from our deadly coronavirus pandemic. They have made their own refusal to wear masks a point of pride. So how would an anti-science view of the world emerge and be nourished? I place some of  the blame on our schooling... Not on the teachers but on the structures of education.

When I was in high school, they had a two-track system, on divergent rails. One track was to lead to college, and the other was to lead to the trades. The idea had been solidified back in the days of Woodrow Wilson's presidency.

In 1916, Congress passed and president Woodrow Wilson signed into law, the Smith-Hughes Act. The Smith-Hughes Act had been regarded as a victory for the manual arts, as it directed federal funding into vocational education, but not the kind of manual arts training that would touch the lives of all students.

Smith-Hughes isolated vocational education from the rest of the curriculum and from most school settings. Woodrow Wilson, as president of Princeton University had said:

 "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."— Woodrow Wilson 

He was talking about class divide and the need to sustain it through a two-tier educational system. Haven't we had fun with that?

Proponents of Educational Sloyd warned that building a class divide within the educational system would bring the end of democracy. One of the purposes of Educational Sloyd and it being offered to all students was that all students, in order for democracy to exist, was to build, within society, a respect for the dignity all labor, and through that for each other.

Some will remember Joe the Plumber during the 2008 presidential campaign. Joe was supposed to represent the common Joe, the guy who made it barely through schooling, and would therefore have an anti-academic bias after getting out from under the thumbs of "learning" and into the real world where he would discover all the stupid stuff that supposedly smart people put down pipes. He would certainly be smart about certain things, and perhaps not others. His curiosity about things that were unrelated to his actual survival had now become dead, for science (that academics love) and intellectual stuff were not brought successfully within his scope of interest. 

There are two things at play in education that are relevant to the nurturing of the Joe the Plumber types. One is that all students are not ready for abstract studies at the same time, and flexible schooling would allow for all to reach some level of interest and curiosity in science and abstract studies. Instead, we have a system that makes some students hate such things. Those students whose level of maturity  in engaging abstract studies are promoted as smart, only to show up later in the lives of the Joe the Plumber type for sticking stupid things in their toilets, proving to Joe that academia is not at all what it was cracked up to be, intelligence wise.

The second thing in play would be that those who had been deprived of manual training would have no awareness of the intelligence involved, and would likely develop little or no appreciation of those who labored in the trades. They would think that they were justified in their feelings of entitlement. After all, they'd been promoted successfully through their ranks and had unreasonable rationale for their economic success, never realizing or acknowledging the work by others that their own successes were founded on.

So if we have politics in which the flames of resentment and fear of each other are running wild in this election season, there are things we can do to fix things. And the first is to listen to each other and to be kind. The second is to value each other and the contributions we each make toward our success.

Make, fix and create...

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