Truthdig on Humanization

He said:

For me the ironic part is that the “liberal” hillary clinton would have done these same things albeit perhaps not as quickly as trump is going to. And Hedges is correct as usual. The drums of war are already beating and I don’t refer to the farcical, self perpetuating war on “terrorism”. There are big bucks to be made by killing each other and I wager putin and trump have talked about that

And I replied:
Yes, and it is important that liberals announce with a kind of joy for the idea approach that true liberalism is about humanity, about joy itself, about the belief in the possibility of societies in which all share happiness. Approximations of such are what need demonstration, model communities that are neither socialist or capitalist but humane, organized for the welfare of all. Such places can only be created through interaction, through the exchange of what selves are about and what individuals want for themselves and those about whom they care, individuals hearing close up and personal about the selves who are others and of their needs and desires and notions of what constitutes good in life. Here begins the process of building, perhaps rebuilding if there is anything left of the old that is good enough to keep. And it is with education that the foundational understandings for building the new are created, education that celebrates the capacities of human brains, the power of the human brain to develop understandings of things so well as to produce the kind of knowledge that changes the circumstances of life, the possibility always there to create something better. The trouble is that we, human beings, have been made to disbelieve our human capacities, to understand our lives as shaped by circumstance only and not by the decisions we make moment to moment. Most of us do not believe much in our own capacity, as individual human beings, to affect reality in the present and into and for the future. This is a product of the kind of education Ivan Illich wished to get rid of by deschooling society, schooling that by causing individuals to understand that answers were always outside themselves, beyond their capacity to reason to good answers, dehumanized them and, by dehumanizing the individual caused him or her to regard others as something less than what they were, capacity wise, at least. As for liberal Hillary, she was so transparently illiberal that it had to be some kind of willful blindness that caused so many with liberal tendencies to see her as being anything like a real liberal. But she was the hope so many of the liberal leaning that it has to be clear that she and her minions have, over the years, redefined liberalism in a way that took most of the energy out of liberality, distorted the basic principles of true liberalism in order to make palatable a vile neoliberalism that made it seem as though it were possible to be corporatist and human at the same time. Hillary and Barbara and Chuck and Nancy, Obama and Biden too, sold a brand of hope that caused people to cheer the stock market and the market share of Whole Foods and Apple instead of those, like Hedges and that guy Chomsky, who were trying to say that these cheerleaders were cheering mostly for themselves, cheering on others to support the system that, left in place, would continue to deliver them a good share of the goodies at the expense of others whose only hope was to one day be on that cheerleading team receiving the perks of membership.


Truthdig Post

Throughout my career as a teacher of teachers I have taught that the teacher who is a teacher for democracy is a person who thinks for him or herself and is well informed on the important issues of the day, the background necessary to understand what they mean so that he or she can participate in the decision making processes of a democratic society. Such is not on the lists of desirable traits for those who are hired as teachers and, as a result, those who are charged with educating often are without ability to demonstrate to students how a well educated person goes about making sense of the world and deciding what to do about the conditions that exist. For all of the years I have spent in and around schools, as a student and as a teacher and teacher educator, teachers, almost all of them, “taught” what they were prescribed to teach, reliant not on the knowledge and understanding they themselves had accumulated and worked for but upon the curriculum guides and teacher’s manuals they were handed by those in authority. I fear that they will continue to do so, to do what they are told, now by administrators who will do what their school boards and state superintendents tell them to do, those boards and superintendents telling teachers what to do based upon what the DeVos Department of Education tells them to do. At colleges and universities, institutions dependent more than ever on corporate “donations,” what is taught will be what someone wants taught, the agenda unlikely to be freeing minds and growing wisdom of the kind that allows human beings to get to the truth of matters so that society can respond to the contingencies of existence wisely and humanely. Corporatist agendas are hardly ever about making life better for all or making the world a better place for all who live in it. So, what I hope for from those who understand what is taking place in this country and around the world at this point in time, people of good intention, is that they will find ways to gather to have honest conversations about what is and what needs to be done, honest conversations about how to about growing minds, freeing minds so that there are many, many voices, voices of informed independent thinkers that can lend to the development of solid plans for the better future, sensible plans that are based in imagining what can be and what should be rather than upon what people have been told is, will be, must be, cannot be otherwise. In a proper democracy, it is these voices feed the kind of intellectual battles from which come the best ideas for how to proceed. The current school system, from the first years through graduate education, need to become about thinking, about helping individuals grow as thinkers who are able and willing to take in what is going on, understand it well to formulate perspectives that are worthy of being examined by those concerned with the good of the whole. I do not think that the current “system” or the iteration forthcoming will be about fomenting independent thought and I do not think that many within the system will take on the task of forcing upon the authorities the kind of school programs essential to functioning democracy. So, maybe, as has happened in other times when people realize that they are oppressed and do not have to be, we can form the small and local groups that will learn from one another how to grow a viable movement, a movement that wins by doing what is necessary to educate well the individual human minds that can, with solid knowledge and extreme thoughtfulness, make good sense decisions as to what should be and how what should be becomes the new reality. Can we develop a network of such ongoing forums for meaningful education, education that serves what Amy Gutmann calls the “democratic imperative,” education that is not about telling people what to think but education that offers students the tools essential to effective decision making?


To Democrats in Response to Invitation

Note from our county’s democratic party organization:

HELLO Stephan!

We are writing to you because you were a Bernie Sanders Delegate/Alternate to the Washoe County Democratic Convention!

REMEMBER how it felt to be INSPIRED and INVOLVED?

REMEMBER Bernie Sanders saying “Real change never occurs from the top down, but always from the bottom on up”?

My hurried note back:

The Washoe County Democratic Party will be holding elections in April and true progressives are running for leadership roles in the party. We are about being inclusive, transparent and allowing YOUR VOICE! This is the beginning of the change that Bernie was talking about and NOW is your chance to get involved and create that change.

As the note you sent me indicated, I was a supporter of Bernie Sanders and a delegate to the state convention.  My experience at the convention was, to say the least, terrible and it was terrible because of the arrogance of the convention committee and the Hilary surrogates—Barbara Boxer being the main distraction—who made ever move possible to convince people such as myself to shut up and be counted, counted for a candidate who ended up losing an election that should never have been lost.  Arrogance on the part of the party elite—at all levels of the party—destroyed the party as a viable voice for liberal perspectives in American politics.  At that convention we were not only derided for our choice of candidate but defamed before the American public for what party leaders told the press was uncivil behavior during the event.  The party “leaders” even went so far as to make sure the national press could label those of us protesting a rigged nomination process violent.  I left the convention angry, very angry and now, after the party has brought about the worst political disaster in the history of the nation, I feel I do not want to support an organization that serves none of the political purposes for which I gave my support when a democrat.


I have no party affiliation now because of what the democratic party, at the state and national level, have done to deprive true liberals of a place in the political process.  Trump is beyond terrible but the democratic party really does not offer a viable alternative, the presidential candidate who lost as conservative on important issues—THE MAIN POLITICAL ISSUES—as that group that was being called mainstream republicans and much worse in effect that those nominally sane republicans because it co-opted liberalism to make it, the party, seem to be something it was not, the pro-the-people option.  What I experienced was a few well connected, many rich, individuals forming a cabal that thought it could win over those concerned with the rights of the people by being just a little more concerned about most of the people than those in the other party.  Hell, the candidate for president is known to have ties to the Trump family and to be enamored with that most anti-democratic of people, the man responsible for destroying many a democracy for the sake of American corporate interests, Henry Kissinger.


So, you are no longer my party and not even my friends because friends listen to one another and party membership should mean a voice in party decisions.  It is documented that the democratic party used undemocratic practices to find its nominee and that nominee lost to the worst candidate in the history of the nation.  So, you tell me why one such as myself, who tried to be civil until treated with incredible disrespect and who, along with many other good people, had their reputations tarnish by your process, should want to participate in party activities.  I do need a party and there is not one that supports any kind of truly liberal, truly progressive agenda.  I thought that participating as I did in the nominating process might allow my voice to be heard.  Every time I attempted to speak or that someone with ideas for democracy similar to mine tried to speak we were not only told to listen to our superiors but to be quiet for the damage our honest speech might do to party prerogatives.  As a result, I came to dislike the party and its leadership and to feel that the democratic party, as manifest in 2016, was a threat to democracy.


Maybe you wish to talk to people like myself now?  Perhaps you can convince people like me that you are sincere in your desire to make amends for the terrible behavior you displayed, for the bullying in which you engaged to make sure that your terrible candidate got the nomination and then did the impossible and threw the election to another kind of bully, worse maybe than the democratic party bullies, but one of a species of beings who want things their way even if there exist good argument against what they wish to do.  Bullies do not listen.  They intimidate, they smear, they act superior and use their power to prove they are superior.  This is bullshit, of the worst kind.  So, maybe, because no other alternative exists, party-wise that is, than yours, maybe I can find reason to come back and try again to participate in a meaningful manner, as a respected member of a community of people who want something more than adulation, something more than rank, something more than self-aggrandizement, people who really do care that all are able in a democratic society to lead decent lives, their needs and their ideas important elements in the conversation by which community decisions are made.


I sincerely hope that there is reason to keep my hope alive that there can and will exist a good and effective alternative to the autocracy that is developing, an alterative that is truly by and of and for the people, something better than the neoliberal force that the democratic party has become, a party run by rich and comfortable people for the sake of insuring their continued wealth and comfort while providing them with a false sense of goodness and righteousness through their advocacy for a few selected policies that help others but never at the expense of what they have come to have by way of the very economic system that got them what they have, so often at the expense of those who continue to have relatively little.


Right on Kevin: It’s Thinking that Counts

“They knew who Trump was. They knew he was spectacularly unqualified. They knew he was thin-skinned. They knew he was unstable. They knew he was egotistical. They knew he was vengeful. They knew he was dangerous. But they supported him anyway.” —Kevin Drum

Whipping a dead horse here, maybe, but there seems to be agreement in Drum’s statement, indirect as it is, that there is a problem with the way in which good numbers of people think and it is people’s thinking that is getting in the way of good judgement, not Donald Trump who, if people were to really understand what he and his “movement” are about would have rejected him long before he won the nomination to become the president of the United States of America.

Those who are educators should be concerned about the capacity of the American public to understand the realities that face them and their ability to deal with complex–sometimes even relatively simple–issues that are confronting them, to which they need to pay the kind of attention that would cause them to be properly informed and thoughtful enough to understand.  In a democracy, a real and functional one, it is the people who do the deciding.  In a real and functional democracy that really works for the good of humanity, the people are so well informed and so thoughtful as to make sensible decisions, the sensible, by nature, being the most humane.


Repost: Common Core/Thoughtfulness

This one I repost because the current talk about the problems with the results of the election says little about addressing the causes for those results.  Ultimately, how a person votes, how people are swayed, whether or not they vote sensibly or not, whether they are adequately informed or not, whether they are taken in by propaganda and false news, has to do with the ways in which they think and how they go about thinking through things to arrive at their sense of what is true and what is right.  For years, I have been speaking out about the inadequacy of the American way of educating people and the consequences of this for the American democracy.  For some of those years, I have been directly arguing with the people who, like Diane Ravitch, believe that the Common Core State Standards are somehow not only bad but evil that, if one looks at specific standards, such as those noted in the piece below, they should look like the antidote to ignorance and group think rather than means for ruining minds.  What I think the critics, many of them claiming liberal credentials, mean is that the CCSS are about disrupting the reign of conformity as a proper outcome for instruction, this conformist thrust embodied in the textbook/teacher guide, one answer not to be questioned by students or teachers who are very much encouraged by those who choose and by the books to stick to what the manual says to be correct.  Think about this!  Why would anyone want to encourage students to believe in the validity of answers forced upon them but, worse, to believe that good students do exactly that, this conveyed through the rewards proffered that award points for repeating what one is told!!!

So, if you read nothing else of what is written below, do read the CCSS examples and decide for yourself if such outcomes are righteously in line with goals related to proper citizenship in a democracy or anti-democratic as some opponents of the Standards have argued.

Repost: In defense of the Common Core Standards, December 9, 2013

I find the current conversation (where ever it is taking place, who ever is participating) concerning the common core standards to be confusing and rather mind-boggling as any educational/social/political conversation I have ever encountered.  I think this may be a good thing, a good beginning to a conversation that educators can never leave if they wish to be relevant, one which too many do too much to avoid, the question of what the purpose of education is and, along with this, what the purpose should be, avoidance, I think, precipitated by the fact the question forces one to address the gap, the gap that exists between what is and should be.

When it comes to the CCSS, I look at the individual standards, particularly the ones for the secondary grades, and find much in them that helps me make the case of instruction relevant to the cause of the democratic society, instruction aimed at growing the individual intellect, empowering people by helping them to learn skills that make the act of thinking more powerful and cause people to treat knowledge as something other than stuff to be remembered.  Reading the criticism coming from educators I respect causes me to wonder if we are reading the same standards documents.  We are, but we may be concerned with different matters and have different notions of what actually does matter.

It seems to me that a good amount of the criticism is aimed not at the actual standards but at how they were developed and by whom they were developed.  I am well aware of the fact that but a handful of people were responsible for creating the standards and that many who might have been consulted were not.  This, it seems, is always the case when initiatives such as this are developed; a group of people get together or are brought together to fashion a prescription for solving the problems the current system is being blamed for causing.  The group finds advocates for the plan and those advocates sell the plan to whoever it is who has the power to implement it.

This is pretty much the “process” that created the CCSS, but, this said, this does not mean that the standards produced are bad.  In fact, again, reading the standards for the secondary schools, these seem to be enabling rather than debilitating.  They call for thoughtfulness, from teachers and their students, more so than any other set of standards I have seen.  They are not as prescriptive as most standards are, leaving much room for individual teachers to figure out how to go about moving students to types of thinking essential for real participation in this complex society that exists in a very complex world.

For those who somehow think that what schools have been doing over the last ten to twenty to thirty years, I ask that they look at the manner in which the educated public has gone about making the important decisions Americans are called upon to make and the consequences of those decisions.  Are Americans being properly and adequately educated by the teachers who have been teaching what they have been told to teach all this many years?  Is it alright that good numbers of people know more about the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or more about a bad call on the field than about a decision made in the court that will in consequential ways affect their lives?

I have read many a post on sites such as those run by Diane Ravitch and Herbert Kohl where teachers, all teachers, are being defended against the new expectations, the argument being that what they are doing is good, good enough and that the new standards are an imposition, even an attack upon their virtue.  I, on the other hand, see the CCSS as having the potential to liberate the truly good teachers, a good many of whom feel as though they have been deceived into believing that the schools are a place where the intellectually astute, the intellectually alive can find others, like minded, who will work with them to constantly reshape the institutions into places relevant to building a world where lots of smart people get together to build a sensible society that has the features any truly sensible and intellectually engaged person would desire, a real democracy that is respects the opinions of its people because its people are intellectually able, intellectually engaged enough to deliberate so effectively as to live up to the basic standards of thoughtfulness required for a functioning and functional democracy in which what is for, of, and by the people is truly good for the people.

I ask the critics to stop focusing on the David Coleman aspects of the CCSS, the involvement of Bill Gates and other billionaires trying to wrest control of education in America and use what these people have created as a means to keep them from getting their way, over and over and over again.  The CCSS have built into them the excuse for dismantling the power elite that rules over us in spite of democracy, in spite of the real purpose of schools in a democratic nation, to educate citizens for participation in the decision making processes that are the engine of self-governance, the most precious gift human beings can receive for this is what allows them to be free as individuals amongst other individuals who also prize and deserve their freedom.

The sensible approach to the CCSS is to do what Peter Elbow recommends people to do when trying to figure out how to deal with the issues that confront them.  He says that we need to play the “believing game,” that is, work to understand all the arguments that support a particular perspective before moving on to the “doubting game,” just as important in the decision making process, but considerably more potent when applied after the argument at hand is understood for all it is worth.  In this case, in the case of the CCSS, I think it would be in the best interests of all, all here to include all human beings living now and into the future, to look at what they contain that may be of real worth.  The rest, after careful deliberation can be rejected but rejected because there is truly good reason to do so, rejected because they interfere with the growth and development of individuals who are able to deliberate effectively using the best information and sound reasoning to come to conclusions that govern right action.

Tell me what is wrong, for instance, in asking English teachers to teach so well as to allow students to “Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses)”? This is standard RI.11-12.8 and I would love to see the day when all graduates of our schools could do such a thing, be willing, on a regular basis to do such a thing, and be highly competent in developing a sensible analysis of such critically important matter, matter that really does matter.



Repost: Austerity

Another Blast on Austerity, April 29, 2013

Here is an analysis by the Bloomberg people on the current dust up about the austerity study reconsideration.  This one takes time to read, but it just may be time for us all to find our way through to understand the conclusions authors such as these wish for us to reach without our understanding just why we should.  I am going to give it a second read.  Now, considering that lafered is about education, I ask anyone who may read off of this site to help me understand what it is that one should be able to do who receives a proper and adequate education.  The study under question is getting the attention it is getting because of the influence it has had on public policy around the world, on policy that has affected BILLIONS of people.  And, if people were to know about the way in which economic policy is developed, would policy look different, particularly in democratic nations such as our own?  Or is Robert Reich right to say that democracy has been trumped by capitalism and this is so because the public exerts little control of either?  Say that it is true that the rich are getting richer and the reason this is so is that the monied are better at and better able than ever before to manipulate public opinion and that things have gotten to the point where people have given up trying to understand the forces that are determining their destinies and, therefore, foregoing participation (real participation) in the democratic discourse by which policy in a democracy is supposed to be developed.  Have our schools helped people develop the capacity and the will to participate?  Or have people been sold on the idea that their happiness is to be found in avoiding or ignoring what goes on in the governance of a nation that is supposed to be governed by the very people who are doing the ignoring and avoiding?  Just think what a truly well educated nation could do if found such things as the economy to be more interesting than Judge Judy and football!  But, of course, it is the will of the people to remain uninformed and uninvolved, right?  Or is that just something they learned in school?


Austerity and Capitalism. April 29, 2013


People around the world are suffering as governments implement austerity programs to solve fiscal problems created by the very people advocating austerity as a solution!  The Reinhart-Rogoff study mentioned in the previous note is being scrutinized as are its writers, and for good reason.  Here is another story in what I expect will be a long chain.  The NY Times recently published the Reinhart-Rogoff response to the criticism and it is good that the many take a look at it as well as the articles to which they are responding.


Economic ignorance fostered, April 24, 2013



This article just posted by the NY Times tells us something that we should already have known.  Just listen to the Allen Thicke ad played on the radio that has Thicke telling people that, once having advised his sitcom kids on finances, people should trust that his endorsement of a financial company is a viable one!  Someone believes that the people (enough of them) will buy this asinine pitch!


Response to discussion of death of literature, April 24, 2013


Good for Chanella!  What has happened with literature is that we have allowed people who do not get from literature what literature has to give to teach the courses in which literature is a part of the course content.  We teach literature safely when it is dangerously potent and often the work of those too many would like to call the devils.  If one really wants those he or she teaches to discover literature for what it is worth, he or she simply needs to place before students the truly good stuff and allow the conversation to emerge in a setting without limits, yes, without limitation on what can be said because the better the book, the better the conversation because the book, readers will find, is good, at least in part, because it explores areas of our existence excluded from polite conversation.  Literature suffers from the fears of those who have been brainwashed to believe that the good things in life are those that should not be a part of polite conversation.  To hell with polite conversation and let’s talk to each other as though we were as free to say what we think as are our best writers.  Push aside the puritans and let them live their half lived lives paying homage to whatever forces they wish to bow.  But afford students their human right to participate in the human discussion that is the humanities where gods may be discussed but never to limit what is thought or what gets said.


Amy Gutman: Democratic Education

May get sued for reprinting such a long excerpt, but this gets to the essence of what hasn’t been happening and what so badly needs to happen IF we are to bring about the existence of a truly democratic society.  First published on lafered in April 30, 2013.

Amy Gutman,

Whoever makes decisions concerning the curriculum of elementary and secondary schools in a constitutional democracy must confront the question of what constitutes a good education. In the Epilogue, I therefore also address two important issues that have gained greatly in prominence in recent years concerning what constitutes a good education. What is the appropriate response of democratic education to the challenge of multiculturalism? Should schools try to cultivate patriotic sentiments or cosmopolitan sentiments among students? These and other controversial issues of democratic education raise general questions about democracy and democratic citizenship. Democratic Education, therefore, calls for a complementary conception of democracy. One of the aims of Democracy and Disagreement, which I coauthored with Dennis Thompson, is to provide such a conception.’ The conception of democratic education developed in Democracy and Disagreement supports the account of democratic education in this book, and also pursues the implications of its basic principles beyond education.

What is the democratic ideal that complements democratic education? A guiding principle of deliberative democracy is reciprocity among free and equal individuals: citizens and their accountable representatives owe one another justifications for the laws that collectively bind them. A democracy is deliberative to the extent that citizens and their accountable representatives offer one another morally defensible reasons for mutually binding laws in an ongoing process of mutual justification. To the extent that a democracy is not deliberative, it treats people as objects of legislation, as passive subjects to be ruled, rather than as citizens who take part in governance by accepting or rejecting the reasons they and their accountable representatives offer for the laws and policies that mutually bind them. Deliberative democracy underscores the importance of publicly supported education that develops the capacity to deliberate among all children as future free and equal citizens. The most justifiable way of making mutually binding decisions in a representative democracy-including decisions not to deliberate about some matters-is by deliberative decision making, where the decision makers are accountable to the people who are most affected by their decisions.

Deliberative decision making and accountability presuppose a citizenry whose education prepares them to deliberate, and to evaluate the results of the deliberations of their representatives. A primary aim of publicly mandated schooling is therefore to cultivate the skills and virtues of deliberation. Why should deliberation be considered primary even for public education when the opportunity for most citizens to live a good life today requires many more basic skills and virtues, such as numeracy, literacy, and nonviolence? Deliberation is not a single skill or virtue. It calls upon skills of literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking, as well as contextual knowledge, understanding,and appreciation of other people’s perspectives. The virtues that deliberation encompasses include veracity, nonviolence, practical judgment, civic integrity and magnanimity. By cultivating these and other deliberative skills and virtues, a democratic society helps secure both the basic opportunity of individuals and its collective capacity to pursue justice. The willingness to deliberate about mutually binding matters distinguishes democratic citizens from self-interested citizens, who argue merely to advance their own interests, and deferential citizens, who turn themselves into passive subjects by failing to argue, out of deference to political authority. Justice is far more likely to be served by democratic citizens who reason together in search of mutually justifiable decisions than it is by people who are uninterested in politics or interested in it only for the sake of power.

Amy Gutmann. Democratic Education (Kindle Locations 59-63). Kindle Edition


Repost: Pertinent to politics

Inspired by Moyers and conversations about the death of literature, April 30. 2013


From: Bill Moyers, The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets

When I was a schoolboy our teachers required us to memorize poems. By copying the lines over and over, I excelled at the sport. But it was only a sport. The works I had committed to memory were divorced from meaning or emotions. I knew the poems but not the experience of them. Only later, when a series of English teachers gifted in Elizabethan theatrics began to read serious poems aloud in class, did I hear the music and encounter the Word within the words. Now love truly became “a red, red rose;” “the rod not taken” proved to be haunting; and I knew for certain that it is indeed wisdom “to follow the heart.” Poetry that entered the ear traveled faster to the “upper warm garrets” of my mind than poetry perceived by the eye. I continued to value the architecture of a poem in print, but as Maya Angelou has said, “poetry is music written for the human voice.” Hearing’s the thing, and poetry readings are concerts of sheer joyous sound. In the words of Octavio Paz, “When you say life is marvelous, you are saying a banality. But to make life a marvel, that is the role of poetry.”

No less a figure than Adrienne Rich has worried aloud about poetry’s banishment to the margins, “hoarded inside the schools, inside the universities.” She sees this exile as a form of censorship that “goes hand in hand with an attitude about politics, which is that the average citizen, the regular American, cannot understand poetry and also cannot understand politics, that both are somehow the realms of experts.”

Lafer’s addendum:

We kill poetry by not living the poetic life in our homes and our classrooms. While David does not believe that literature will ever die out, I think we can do much to arouse it from its slumber, or arouse the slumbering from their unpoetic lives. Of course, a part of the reason some are smelling death is because there does exist some putrefaction of the intellect as schools bury students in a curriculum that is morbidly about job training and little of anything that is truly vivifying.

Those who care about literature cannot just sit back and teach literature but must become politic enough to change the world so that it is a place where the poetic is a regular part of life.



Repost:Logic of Class size does not matter

New preface:  Much of the problem with schools and the kind of education they offer students has to do with a lack of focus and concern for individuals and individual thought. That class size has been debated for so many years and the fact class sizes have risen as a result of school funding policy, reflects a critical problem with schools and the conception of education that allows for class sizes beyond 15 to exist.  No human be sensitive to the needs, come to understand what is on the minds of those in the classroom when there are so many individuals in a single classroom.  But American schools, most, do require teachers to teach to numbers of students exceeding 20, to often, 30 or more.  To teach, then, has to be about telling everyone in the classroom the same thing and expecting that everyone will be able to repeat what everyone has been told, little room, little time to hear out how students are thinking about what they have been told, to critique, to say what they have come to understand by thinking about the material being taught.  I make the case in many posts in the various places I post, that such teaching is exactly the kind of teaching that prepares students to accept the autocratic and authoritarian, a kind of teaching that is about listening and not about thinking even about what one has been told.  The article below speaks again to this problem.

Ramble concerning the “logic” of “class size doesn’t really matter.” March 2, 2013

I just heard that our state superintendent of schools (Nevada), once of the George W. Bush Institute, commented today that smaller class size is not an issue, that what we need are quality teachers.  I have to say that such a notion coming from our schools’ chief should not surprise as this is pure and unadulterated garbage rhetoric of the type that has forever come from those who want cheap education, not just education on the cheap, but cheap education of the type that is more likely to ruin good minds than help them grow.  And growing strong intellects, helping the people of a democracy acquire the skills, knowledge, and disposition that allow them to talk back to fools in positions of authority, is exactly what those of Mr. Guthrie’s kind do not want and for reasons already implied in this sentence.

Anyone dedicated to helping build schools that celebrate the power of the individual mind, interested in building a citizenry that is thoughtful and resistant to foolishness and the policies of fools knows that no one can do what is necessary to help students grow their minds if all that a teacher can do is hand out worksheets from curriculum packages developed by mass marketers rather than qualified curriculum developers, the latter always coming in the form of truly qualified teacher.  Good teachers, to be good, have to be incredibly smart and they have to be able to share their smarts with those they teach.  They teach students to think (not how to think) by demonstrating thoughtfulness.  When the Guthries of the world make statements concerning the irrelevance of class size, they show either ignorance of what constitutes meaningful learning for people in a free society or they fear the consequences for themselves and those like them if the society were to be populated with people aware of the power of their own intellects, people resistant to the idiotic ploys of those who hold power without holding the real credentials for properly dealing with power in a free and democratic society.

Please do note that I use terms such as fool and idiot here in ways that just might earn me criticism for lack of politeness.  But what has been allowed to happen in our society and in our schools, in the society as a result of what has happened in the schools, is beyond wrong and even beyond criminal.  What has come about as a result of the policies written and supported by people such as Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Bush, Mr. Rod Page, the creators of No Child Left Behind and those who supported it out of either wrong headed understanding of proper education for a democratic society, or malicious intend to kill off that that is essential to effective democracy, an informed and thoughtful citizenry (there is money to be made by doing this—a quick refresher on modern American economic manipulations would be helpful here), is an educational system that prepares students to blindly purchase goods that are not necessarily good goods, not good for health, happiness, well-being), politicians and ideas amongst these items for incredibly high prices (including loss of real citizenship, home foreclosure, decay of vital infrastructure, environmental degradation, and the like).  This is beyond tragic and, because of the severity of the consequences, those who are fools need to be identified as such so the power they hold can be redistributed.

By the way, I heard an economist say today that there need not be redistribution of wealth but, rather, more sensible pre-distribution of wealth.  I think I know what he means and, perhaps what we need, really need, is education that helps people rebuild society so that sensible pre-distribution can be the way we operate, people working to earn a decent wage that allows them to live a decent life in a very wealthy society that, by the way, really can afford good teachers and afford those good teachers an environment in which they can use their smarts to help others grow smarter.  Our worry should not be about what we cannot afford; it should be about what we cannot afford to do without and, if we are the people of a democracy, we cannot afford to be without people so well educated as to be able to engage in informed deliberation about the things affecting the society that is theirs.  Such a society would not tolerate power in the hands of fools and idiots and such a society would not be sold on stupid promises or on the absolute permanence of things that action based upon good thought could definitely begin to change.

Two very good programs kind of related to this ramble: titled “Vulgar Keynesianism,” and titled “The Problem with Saying Everyone is the Problem.”



Repost: Dirty English

A post to the Council of Teachers of English 21st Century Literacies discussion:  Dirty English


I haven’t written to this spot in a while, probably because I have come to think that issues concerning English language arts instruction are issues of the world and not just a discipline and that English, to get to be what it needs to be needs to look beyond English curriculum for answers to what a good English curriculum should look like.  I am not talking here about the Common Core notion that English teach reading for reading in the content areas.  Rather, I think English needs to ground itself in the stuff of life that sometimes leads to literature but, that, is a literature of its own when literature is writ big and situated where it belongs, with the life experiences of real human beings living real human lives, these always meaningful in the most profound ways but, most of this life lived too regularly ignored as the base stuff of the kinds of thought and communications with which we should be concerned and with which we should be helping our students to be concerned, the house around the corner and the junk pile on the side of the house, the children playing in the junk, the junk that the children carry in their minds and their parents junk that influences the thinking of the children, for example.  Or the life of Rosemary Clooney of whom I had forgotten but who I instantly recalled as a nice TV lady we used to watch in our part of the fourplex at 6081 Alcott Street, Los Angeles, 35, Calif.  She disappeared from TV at some point, went into a breakdown state for a while, I had heard, but found out on Jazz Profiles that she was broken by the experience of having witnessed close hand the shooting of Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel when he was running for President.  I take in the story, am stunned, empathize, try to grasp the magnitude and the later reality I had missed when she rebounded and started singing the song of the jazz singer and singing so well that a listen to just of bit of the stuff knocked me to the floor, that voice, the phrasing, the precision of the timing of the interplay with orchestra and instruments.

I picked up that story because I once met Rosemary, at here house in Beverly Hills moments after I crashed into her son’s car on Olympic Blvd. and followed him home to get some Rosemary sympathy and sign the necessary papers.  And I picked it because that wonderful story telling technique they use on Jazz Profiles is something worth telling my students who will be English teachers should know of and come to appreciate, the music, the interviews, the news clips, the narration woven together to get at the being who is the subject of the biography.

What I really have come to hate about too much of what I see to be the typical English classroom is that it is not alive and that it does little or nothing to bring life into the study of English.  It remains sanitized and it feels rather sterile.  Why?  Probably fear of many fearful things, the sanctioning of teachers (much like the kind of sanctioning cutting edge artists experience?) and the need or the desire or the willingness to stick to the “program,” the choice here being a “safe” one for a course of study that should constantly be taking teacher and students out of their safe zones.  My god!  How can a course about human magnificence and human slime and plain old human encounters with the world and with one another even begin to make itself safe without killing off all the good germs that make its subject matter infectious!!!

The recommendation I want to make is that we follow Bob Marley’s advise and lively up our selves and sus it out, the meanings, the marrow, the good and tragic stuff that is communicated through literature of all and every type.  Yes, man!  Do talk about sex and violence and real love too and terrible love and nice love and generous love and spiteful and jealous love, about hatred too, and tarnished lives and regal lives lived where ever hand however they might live, lives like that of Rosemary and of Hemingway (the real “guy”) and those true crazies like Whitman and Shelly and Byron and Shakespeare, the bard and the bawdy.  Give a glance at the poets like that guy Rodriguez whose amazing story is found in the film “Searching for Sugarman” or in the story of the life of Miles Davis, a story with tones of the life portrayed by James Baldwin in “Sonny’s Blues,” or how about a little of the real history behind To Kill a Mocking Bird?  Too ugly to tell of?  Then perhaps we should think about why, about why we are afraid to deal with the real Bob Ewell story, or even with what Romeo and Juliet may have been doing together in bed with the help of the good Friar!  The Friar, a Catholic priest!  I won’t go down the path this moment seems to be wanting to take me, but I am taken by it and its implications and I am conjuring “impure” thoughts that are sparked by stories that come from terrible books and terrible news reports that will color the nature I will encounter as I take my dogs for a walk on a wilderness path.

I want to say; I have to say that I want to teach the meanings I live with, lived meanings.  And I want students to experience the meanings and the lives of those who are compelled to pour out that life and the meanings found in living life through the stories they tell, where ever they are told.  I want my students to know that it is I who make meanings and the meanings I share with them are of me but also of experiences that are of me and things other than me and that it is this mixing that produces the mixture that is the Praxis I share with them as a thinking human being who delivers more than information but, rather, meanings made from my encounters with life.