Brave New VoidPosted: February 13, 2011
If you have not noticed, I have created a new banner for this blog. It is an image I had stuck in my head for weeks, which I finally executed as a digital collage. It also comes on the heels of my rereading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The image is what my imaginative surrealistic thinking part has channeled into an image that is intended to startle and make one think.
The prime theme in this illustration is a child in a jar. The jar sits on a desk in a standard classroom with a teacher at the rear giving lessons. The teacher is a baboon and on the blackboard is written the word “ROTE” over and over again as if to say, this is the only thing being taught in this classroom.
This parable is intended to convey suffocation as to what I consider public education to be. Each day I read articles that talk of our comparisons to other nations. Where we stand in the rankings. How our children have fallen behind the Chinese in math and science. And how we will be stuck somewhere in between the Third or Fourth World sometime very soon if we do not get those “numbers” up.
But here is a brief response from an article in a recent edition of Slate by Ray Fisman:
While we shouldn’t excuse the dismal showing of U.S. high school students in math and science, we may also not want to push America’s next generation to compete head-on with the tiger children of the East. We may be wiser to celebrate the aspects of American culture and education—promoting free-thinking and creativity over rote memorization—that are well-suited to America’s current place in the global economy. Let China—with its armies of flawless test-takers—produce automobiles and computer chips with error-free precision; we’ll focus on generating a few revolutionary ideas to ensure the next iPhone or Facebook is conceived and designed in America.
Is it possible that as a culture, we do not wish to be limited to solving a few marketing or technical issues? There are common problems all around us. All you need to do is step outside your door and turn your head in 90º degree increments and you will see many of the problems that need solving.
Take note of the mountains of garbage that are piled up in front of everyone’s homes waiting for the city sanitation workers to come and pick it up to be taken to a location out of sight and out of mind. Each day as Noah and I walked to school, we would be shocked at the computers, televisions, appliances of all kinds, that are discarded daily with no thought as to where they come from and where they are going. Alvin Toffler was right when he predicted in Future Shock that we were becoming a “throw-away-society.”
Look at the housing stock in your area. Is it really suitable for energy efficiency in the 21st century? Will we have the resources to heat or cool these structures in the way we have been doing? Energy will be one of the many BIG topics that are coming due. Americans need to be aware that our current life style has reached its’ due date.
Notice the cars parked along your street. Bumper to bumper here in Brooklyn. With the changing energy picture and the way automobiles affect our social network, is it possible to envision another type of society that will bring communities back together rather than apart? Do we not realize that Henry Fords’ invention with the complicity of Robert Moses who is responsible for much of the highway system, have successfully destroyed communities and towns across the United States? They called it progress. I call it something else.
I ask these questions because this is what I talk to my son about every day as we ride the bus and train to BFS. I am not trying to brainwash him. Rather, to have him open his eyes and look at the world he lives in. He has already developed a sense that he can make a difference in this world. That he can design, or innovate, or collaborate on something that will have an influence. Who knows what that is. But because he is involved in an environment where he can pursue what interests him, he begins to learn far more than than any child being stuffed with facts and figures.He is not subjected to the treadmill of testing which has shown itself to be completely useless in teaching anything, except cheating. Ask any teacher how they feel about what they are doing these days and you will hear the voice of disappointment and despair in being locked into a curriculum that does nothing but tell most kids to shut up and sit down.
Educational progressivism is the belief that education must be based on the principle that humans are social animals who learn best in real-life activities with other people. —from Wikipedia
My illustrated vision is not far off from Pink Floyd’s image from their video for The Wall. In that video, children were marched from the classroom onto a conveyor belt and into a meat grinder where the by product was hamburger meat. But in my image, children are stuffed into jars, no matter who they are, and required to recite back to the teacher the same repetitive load of crap. Mr Fisman says in his article that we should not dismiss the need to teach math or science. But why not teach it to those who want it. I see children at the Brooklyn Free School who vary in their interest to learn such things. There are many who are more inclined than one would think. Many choose to learn these things. And those who do, astound me with their deep understanding of these topics. On the other end of the stick are creative types, who learn many things in the pursuit of their creative activities. And teamwork is a big one. Rather than feeling isolated in one’s desire to be creative, they are assisted by others who have complimentary talents. They learn to have an idea and then find the people who can help execute it.
From my chair, this is what America really needs. We need to have community again. And schooling is part of the community. Everyone is involved in this utopia. Every man, woman, and child is important. Everybody’s ideas have value. All experience is useful. In this world we do things for a reason. We do not do it because it is convenient, or that it benefits only one greedy business interest, but that what we do benefits the community. This may seem Utopian to some of you, but I feel that it is the very thing that will help many of us survive the mounting mess we call America. There is a better future only in the ability for us to look at the present. The current reality needs a new approach. The current attitudes as to what “education” is are antiquated, stale, dead, and poisonous to us now. They need to be buried. As a nation, we need to cleanse ourselves of this illness and open our eyes. We need to let our children out of those jars.