Monday, May 17, 2010
This morning, as I was reading the Interweb, I came across two seemingly unrelated articles, one from Al Jazeera, the other a column in the Times.
However, upon closer examination, the two articles are perfectly linked.
The first article is about Dr. Noam Chomsky not being allowed to cross into the West Bank from Jordan to give a lecture at Birzeit University. Israeli officials held the noted academic and his daughter at the border and while the Interior Ministry is now pleading that the incident was a misunderstanding, it is clear to anyone who has read Chomsky exactly what happened.
An outspoken critic of Israeli policy, and Jewish, Chomsky is one of the most noted philosophers of our time, on par with the likes of his good friend, my personal favorite, the late Howard Zinn. Chomsky, who teaches at MIT, is now better known as a rabble rouser and anarchist, but to anyone with half a brain, these things don't matter when it comes to intellectual thought, curiosity, and a penchant for questioning the status quo.
The second article I read today was the first installment of the New York Times' new column, The Stone (which, of course, refers to the legendary Philosopher's Stone), and it promises to be all about modern-day philosophy, which just doesn't get the super star treatment it used to. I mean, no matter what I think, Chomsky will never have the name recognition that Aristotle does.
Anyway, I found an interesting link between these two articles that reminded me why I enjoy philosophy in the first place.
"Philosophy should come with the kind of health warning one finds on packs of European cigarettes: PHILOSOPHY KILLS," writes the author, Simon Critchley, referring to Socrates. He continues, "Philosophy has repeatedly and persistently been identified with blasphemy against the gods, whichever gods they might be. Nothing is more common in the history of philosophy than the accusation of impiety. Because of their laughable otherworldliness and lack of respect [for] social convention, rank and privilege, philosophers refuse to honor the old gods and this makes them politically suspicious, even dangerous. Might such dismal things still happen in our happily enlightened age?"
Well, clearly, as the incident with Chomsky proves, yes.
Philosophers are still enemies of the state and religion. And that is the one thing I hope will change in my lifetime - that the masses will being being interested in and listening to philosophy.
But, alas, I'm aware that this is a pipe dream... which is why I am a philosopher.
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
In the late 1980s, the first President Bush implemented standards-based education, through which all students in the United States were required to achieve a set bunch of standards in order to make sure that all students who graduated from high school were competent enough for the work force they were entering.
Throughout the 90s, these standards became more and more pronounced in public education, and Congress agreed on standards for basic reading, writing and math, which would be proven through standardized tests in key grades like fifth and eighth and a high school exit exam.
The problem with this, though, and the subsequent program, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), is that it is simply ludicrous to assume that all children throughout the United States are able to learn the same information at the same level at the same time and in the same way and not turn into cyborgs. Plus, the fact that financial incentives and punishments were doled out by the government in direct relation to test scores made sure that teachers everywhere would be not only sanctioned, but actually encouraged, to only teach what was going to be on the tests. So-called “teaching to the test” was making sure that all students scored highly enough to guarantee another year of extra funding for the school district, no matter what important information was being left out of the curriculum because there wasn’t time to teach it while focusing on what was really important: filling in bubbles with number two pencils.
Because NCLB allows for states to create their own tests, a number of states, like Missouri in 2008, admitted to lowering the standards of the tests to achieve higher scores and receive more money in reward. Meanwhile, students are only taught that as long as they understand the content on the test, they’ll be fine. This is, however, putting not only those students, but their generation and their country at a huge disadvantage. They aren’t taught to dig deeper, ask questions, and cultivate knowledge and understanding beyond a superficial level.
It’s only realistic to assume that the end result of such programs – those that push every single student to be the same as every other student – would be that the intellectual and educational level of every student in the country, an entire generation of students, is the same. And not only the same, but unthinkably low.
Our generation has been raised to only aim as low as standardized tests. Obviously, I’m generalizing. But that’s the thing about generalizations: they’re based in truths. And the truth here is that unless we were really, truly pushed to learn by a great teacher or parent, there’s absolutely no reason to do better than average. We will be rewarded for our mediocrity.
We now have an entire generation of people who are entering into politics, business and the media who have a fraction of the education than previous generations did. With the focus of NCLB mainly on reading, writing and math, students didn’t receive the broad and far-reaching education that even older siblings or cousins did.
We weren’t taught critical thinking or ethics in high school. We didn’t attend discussion-based classes that encouraged outside reading and research at public high schools, and now as we get herded into college, merged with students from all over the country, and possibly from states with even easier tests, there is a certain lethargy permeating higher education that I’ve witnessed for the past four years at my mid-level, private university. I’ve been in classes with people (who graduated high school and were accepted to university) who honestly believed that Hungary was in Africa and who had never read any of the romantic poets. How does that happen? These are things that perhaps aren’t on standardized tests, but are necessary in life nonetheless.
One of my biggest complaints with NCLB is that funding is not set aside for gifted and talented education. Students who are intellectually superior to the status quo are not cultivated the way they used to be – which was directly responsible for the United States being a leader in intellectual, entrepreneurial and technological innovation for so long. And now we wonder why everyone else thinks we’re stupid? Newsflash: we are.
Because they aren’t encouraged, motivated or challenged to go above and beyond the standardized requirements, gifted students are allowed to laze around, boring themselves to death. We have an epidemic on our hands of possible overachievers underachieving.
Still, the true test of whether the No Child Left Behind Act has left the entirety of Gen Y behind is if we realize it. Only time will tell.
This post was originally part of The Next Great Generation's Education Week