Archive for September 27th, 2010


by lizard

Education is everywhere right now.  The mainstream media (providing a slew of cheap publicity for David Guggenheim’s new documentary Waiting For Superman) has brought to the forefront the “crisis” in education like it’s something new.  Well, it’s not, but for us Americans with crippled attention spans, it’s the flavor of the moment, so yum yum.

A friend of mine recently turned me on to a book first published in 1969:  Teaching As A Subversive Activity, co-written by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner.  The authors use innovators like Marshal McLuhan (the medium is the message) to launch their critique on conventional teaching methods, and it’s still relevant, probably more so now than it was then because of the degraded state of our education system.

The national debate seems to be leaning toward allowing free marketeers to push their privatized charter school scheme because there is no national priority to fund schools like we fund the war machine.  But nowhere in the debate do we address the fundamental methods of teaching, which must adapt to 21st century tech-brats, and nowhere in the debate do we even consider why our public education system has been eroded and ignored, because that might entail pondering subversive thoughts about who our stupidity and ignorance ultimately serves.

In examining the structure of a conventional classroom setting, the authors state:

“…what students mostly do in class is guess what the teacher wants then to say.  Constantly, they must try to supply “The Right Answer.”  It does not seem to matter if the subject is English or history or science; mostly, students do the same thing.  And since it is indisputably (if not publicly) recognized that the ostensible “content” of such courses is rarely remembered beyond the last quiz, it is safe to say that just about the only learning that occurs in the classrooms is that which is communicated by the structure of the classroom itself.  What are these messages?  Here are a few among many, none of which you will ever find officially listed among the aims of teachers:

Passive acceptance is a more desirable response to ideas than active criticism.

Recall is the highest form of intellectual achievement, and the collection of unrelated “facts” is the goal of education.

The voice of authority is to be trusted and valued more than independent judgement.

There is always a single, unambiguous Right Answer to a question.”

That was written 40 years ago.  I graduated high school in 1997.  And I’m not inclined to say there’s been much progress in how we educate our kids.

Part of the problem we face now is “education” hasn’t kept pace with the megaphone of consumer culture, and the result is this country produces more passive consumers than critical thinkers.

Again, someone is benefiting from the way this system is set up.

So, yes, our education system is in crisis, but that’s old news.  The real tragedy is that innovation has been lurking in the shadows for decades, waiting for a conducive environment in which to flourish.

We are still waiting.

By Duganz

Kill a person and you’ll go to jail for life. Kill an entire town and, well, it’s a different story. Today is the anniversary of just such a crime.

Thirty years ago oil conglomerate Atlantic Richfield Company drove a knife into the side of Anaconda, Montana–my hometown. I wasn’t alive to see the looks on people’s faces that day, but the look has never fully left. Twelve-hundred people lost their jobs, and the town lost a lifeline.

That’s not something that goes away, maybe ever.

In my mind Anaconda hearkens back to a different America, one that fueled an industrial boom and a daunting suburban sprawl––company people in a company town. You see it everywhere: Flint, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey. The cookie-cutter homes lining the cookie-cutter streets, now slowly decaying as those better days recede further into the past. These were places where guys who couldn’t turn out court briefs, but could turn a wrenches, were welcome; a place where collars were bluer than any nearby water. Conjure to mind your favorite Norman Rockwell… that was Anaconda. It is a perfect representation of the 1950s Pop Culture zeitgeist.

After the Washoe Smelter closed there came a mass exodus of desperate people who took to the road looking for a future in a crumbling American economy (sound familiar?), and a changing world they were no longer meant for. Conjure if you will another stark American image: The Grapes of Wrath.

Those who stayed behind gobbled up what jobs they could to keep themselves going, holding out hope for more jobs that never have returned in quite the fashion everyone was hoping for.

Deer Lodge County lost 66 percent of it’s tax base in 1980, and recovery has been long and hard, and not entire. I remember when my Dad, who until recently worked as a CNA at Montana State Hospital, got a pay raise in 1994 and announced that he was finally making what he did when he worked on the Smelter in 1978. That’s a tough show to watch, and a tough reality to grow up in.

If prosperity was trickling down during the 80s and 90s, Anaconda was nowhere near the faucet. Makes one wonder what Reagan was thinking when he proclaimed it Morning in America back in 1984. Maybe it was morning somewhere – like on Michael Eisner’s yacht – but in Anaconda, Montana it was night, and a cloudy one at that.

*** Continue Reading »

By Duganz

Our always helpful federal government has taken a huge jump into the book burning business.

In an effort to help sales of Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer’s new memoir Operation Dark Heart, and give a decent one-two to the First Amendment, the feds bought 9,500 copies of the first run of the book. That leaves 500 copies available. The government sites security concerns, and so the book now includes these riveting lines in new printings:

“Here I was in Afghanistan (redaction) My job: to run the Defense Intelligence Agency’s operations out of (redaction) the hub for U.S. operations in country.”


Nice to know we’re so free. I mean, the government burns books, but not every copy. Freedom marches on!

Hopefully in the future Uncle Sam will only burn literary disasters that deserve it.

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