Around the time of 9/11, during one of my many sojourns into higher education, I was in a CAD program–which I regret not finishing. One of the required courses was Algebra and I did well, out of 100 achieving a 96 average — math being one of my favorite subjects. And, most heartening, in an admittedly chauvinistic way, the only other person who did better than I did in the subject was also a black woman. (We were the only women there of any coating.)
By no means were the men in that class either stupid or ungifted. However, they were uniformly very young—at least they seemed so to my then forty-year-old self. One of the things that they marveled at about me was that I could do simple arithmetic in my head. When one of them asked me how this came to be, I explained that I was born well before the advent of the calculator and was taught at home to memorize multiplication tables. Another of the young men made some joke about my age and a slide rule and, though I laughed, I realized how archaic that device had become. Following on the realization that I hadn’t seen one since the early 1980s, I was impressed that the guy even knew of the tool.
Being around so many innately very intelligent young people who had been—as far as I could see then—short-changed by the very same type of technology that they were learning to manipulate to make a living, made me a little sad. However, now I know that those men—and that young lady who kicked my behind in Algebra–are the blessed ones. They had the desire to know — something that is all too rare.
I still plan to return for my B.S. in mathematics.
My son in third grade was assigned to do an essay on “My best friend.” He proudly showed me a paragraph. And I hit the roof.
The sentences – as far as I could tell through the horrible spelling – were ungrammatical and incoherent. There was no thought progression, nothing the reader could follow. It was as though he thought if he included “my best friend” in every sentence it would work, even if it was “my best friend is rocket fire.” It read like absurdist poetry. And it was maybe all of 300 words.
I thought, “He’s ill. He’s having a bad day.” So we went into his book bag (my son hates the very concept of lockers. Still does) and looked at his graded essays. They were all As. They were all horrible. The teacher routinely gushed about his writing in parent-teacher conferences. I later had reason to realize that the fact he could write at all, with words and everything, as his younger brother would say, was amazing to his teachers.
Which didn’t make any of this better. Further inquiry elicited information that they weren’t actually teaching spelling or grammar or any of that stuff because it was better if the students picked it up “organically” because it encouraged “self-expression.”
Of course, what it mostly encouraged was incoherence.
So I dug out my books on “English for Foreign Learners.” I figured by then it was what my poor child had become. I started assigning him grammar exercises and spelling lists (they actually introduced these in fourth grade, probably because of parent rebellion. They were mostly puerile words the kids should have known). When he got home from school, there was work to do. He got published professionally at thirteen. And he can write with verve, fluency, and coherence, as can his brother.
Hoyt’s children are blessed to have a mother who cares about true literacy, but it seems to me that people like her, even non-writers, existed in greater abundance 30 or more years ago than they do now. (I was taught to read, write, and compute — before Kindergarten — by my first custodial parents, my great-aunt and great-uncle: a beautician and a city employee, respectively. Both had high school diplomas earned during the heyday of segregated public schools.)
The reasons for the dearth should be obvious: the maleducation of American children began at least two generations ago. Today, many of those who are parents and grandparents are unable to grasp the importance of true literacy, much less pass it on to their progeny. But those who are able need to pay attention to the chaos being intentionally inserted into the minds of their children. If you don’t plant your form of order into those minds, government schools will plant their form. We’ve seen these weeds all around us for decades.
Philosophy can be a bit like a computer getting creakier. It starts well, dealing with significant and serious issues that matter to anyone. Yet, in time, it can get bloated and bogged down and slow. Philosophy begins to care less about philosophical questions than about philosophers’ questions, which then consume increasing amounts of intellectual attention. The problem with philosophers’ questions is not that they are impenetrable to outsiders — although they often are, like any internal game — but that whatever the answers turn out to be, assuming there are any, they do not matter, because nobody besides philosophers could care about the questions in the first place.
This is an old problem. In the sixteenth century, the French scholar and doctor François Rabelais satirized scholastic philosophy in his Gargantua and Pantagruel. In a catalogue of 139 invented book titles that he attributes to the library of the Abbey of St. Victor, he lists such titles as “The Niddy-noddy of the Satchel-loaded Seekers, by Friar Blindfastatis” and “The Raver and idle Talker in cases of Conscience.”
Centuries later, we seem to be back to the same problem. This is how philosophy speaks today: “The Failure of Class: Postcapitalist narrative and textual precapitalist theory” and “Deconstructing Lyotard: Cultural narrative and premodern dedeconstructivism.” Or: “As Lewis taught us in a classic series of articles, trope theories Gettierise zombie arguments” and “While the contextualist disagrees, we still hold that supposed mind/body ‘problems’ cannot generate an unacceptably Russellian picture of the world.”
Do not try to understand these lines. I produced the first two using a “Postmodernism Generator,” and the second two using an “Analytic Philosophy Generator.” They sound like real examples of contemporary scholasticism — philosophy talking about itself to itself in its own jargon. Such scholasticism is the ultimate freezing of the system, the equivalent of a Windows computer’s “blue screen of death”: so many resources are devoted to internal issues that no external input can be processed anymore, and the system stops working. The world may be undergoing a revolution, Rome may be burning, but the philosophical discourse remains detached, meaningless, and utterly oblivious. Time for an upgrade.
Read the whole thing. Flip on your brain’s comprehension and application switches first. It’s amazing that all too many of us need to be reminded to do these things. I think that’s a summation of this essay.
Dr Ray Stantz:Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities, we didn’t have to produce anything! You’ve never been out of college! You don’t know what it’s like out there! I’ve *worked* in the private sector. They expect results.
Governor William J. Le Petomane:We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen! We must do something about this immediately! Immediately! Immediately! Harrumph! Harrumph! Harrumph! [pointing] I didn’t get a “harrumph” out of that guy!
In Yesterday’s piece Cause and Effect 1/2: The Broken Clock at the NY Times … I pointed to the comments section of the piece noting that the arguments against including conservatives in faculty would be familiar to any segregationist of the first half of the 20th century. (Thus the Richard Russell quote above). I also suggested that the NYT piece that I was quoting was not so much a warning about effect of the creation of a liberal echo chamber at universities by banning conservative thought but was an effect in itself brought about by a different cause.
What is that cause that has had the effect of the NYT suggesting that the university no longer become a bastion of segregation based on political opinion? The ongoing education apocalypse that has the potential to sweep away thousands of well paying jobs that are filled almost exclusively by liberals who would otherwise be almost unemployable.
I think the best way to illustrate this my point is to cite an expert on cause and effect and segregated employment the late Negro Leagues player Buck O’Neil.
O’Neill became nationally known because of Ken Burns Epic saga “Baseball” and one of the things he understood was that the effort to keep blacks out of the major leagues was not so much a question of superiority but a question of economics:
I could understand Cobb. Ty Cobb had what the black ballplayer had. The black ballplayer had to get out of the cotton field. He had to get out of the celery fields, and this was a vehicle to get him out. This was the same thing with Cobb. Cobb had to get out of Georgia. He had to fight his way out and this was why he had this great competitive spirit. And so what he’s saying against blacks was the same thing that I think every poor white man had against blacks. Because we were competition to him. We weren’t competition to the affluent, to the educated. No. But the other man… we were competition to him.
It must be remembered that it’s wasn’t like today where being the 25th man on a major league roster meant you were making six figures or being the 10th pitcher on a staff can make you a millionaire. Until the 80’s most players worked in the off season and even you were a big star like Cobb and didn’t invest your money wisely as Cobb did (he bought plenty of stock in Coca Cola) you might be back in the coal mines or fields before you can say “waver wire.” Those baseball roster spots were valuable and meant everything for a person who might otherwise face a life of manual labor. O’Neil again:
For Jackie to play in the major leagues, that meant that one white boy wasn’t going to play. We had played against these fellas and they knew that we could play. And they knew if we were allowed to play, a lot of them wouldn’t play. See?
16 teams, 25 roster spots that’s 400 jobs, if 20% of those jobs went to black players that meant 80 white players would be back working real jobs, and that not even counting all those roster spots in the minor league that while not well paying were better than being a common laborer.
By an odd coincidence within three years of the Boston Red Sox becoming the last team to integrate (1959) the major leagues expandedtwice after being static since 1900. Suddenly there were 100 new major league roster spots to be filled and several hundred new minor league jobs available.
And that brings us back to the education apocalypse.
And that’s even before we get to unsustainable student debt being built to obtain useless majors whose only possible application is in higher education itself.
Put simply, there are already a myriad of good reasons why even the liberal 50% of parents might look at the university system and decide it is bad investment for their kids. If the conservative 50% of the potential customer pool of those institutions decide to give higher ed a miss or restrict their choices to the few colleges where conservatives are not considered pariahs by their very existence the gravy train will end.
And if that means tolerating a few more conservatives professors and speakers on campus to keep the money coming until the current crop retires, well it’s better than risking the lot.
I submit and suggest that If we didn’t see the backlash against places like Mizzou which puts in danger the jobs of a profession which employs liberals at a 90%+ rate, we don’t see this type of piece in the New York Times.
This liberal soul searching is all about protecting professors from gender studies to sociology who from a private sector that expects results and preserving their phony baloney jobs.
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