[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[Xmca-l] Re: The ideal head


Edgar Rice Burroughs, along with Jack London (See Martin Eden, for example), Teddy Roosevelt, Brooks Adams, and many other intellectuals of the time, had a Social Darwinist subtext to their perceptions of the issue. Naturally the intellectually and physically fittest would conquer their conditions, all things being equal, and to attempt to eliminate the struggle, or to raise up those who needed more assistance to succeed, was to act against the natural order. There were nuances to this--in Brooks Adams' case, for example--regarding what characteristics truly fitted the times, so that the class of people exhibiting natural economic traits might trade leadership from time to time with people exhibiting natural spiritual warrior traits--such as Tarzan, let's say--so that as a society moved from balance to an excessively economic order, the spiritual trait re-emerges out of chaos, re-establishing civilization. And then there's Nietzsche, whose take on things
 was that civilization was inherently decadent, and that the modern Blond Beast should, as a matter of mental hygiene, abandon the shepherds of the unfit, and flee to the hills--or perhaps equatorial forests, though he didn't have a chance to express an opinion on the idea. 

We continue to have a form of Social Darwinism being practiced today, though it is more under the aegis of Friedrich Hayak and Ayn Rand, each of whom suggest that any group organization is inevitably led by Nietzschean shepherds, and thus inherently decadent, tyrannical, and inefficient. Governments, as the largest kind of group, are inherently the most oppressive and wasteful, so their social interactions in education and economic regulation are the most tyrannical and inefficient. From a more sensible economic standpoint, the waste of human potential produced by this theory of the survival of the fittest is irrational; what factory manager or farmer would say, as I heard a Phoenix University spokesperson say recently, that a 35% successful output rate (graduation within 6 years, at 10 times the cost of a California community college) was a little lower than ideal, but nonetheless a high-quality, competitively efficient outcome? His argument was that
 there was an inherent deficiency in some of the raw materials that they received, and so they could hardly be blamed if the materials failed them. Just so a farmer might say, well, the corn that required more water than the ground on which it was sown provided, and the sky provided, was not fit to grow, and deservedly lies wilted and dead. A farmer can't change the ground or the sky--it would be in violation of the laws of nature. 

I would hope someday that an ideology catches on of a more rational economics of education. We need an ideology that depends less on Social Darwinism, and more on the idea of maximizing the development of human potential, and producing a more productive, economically powerful society. The managers should be held accountable for not wasting the resources given them. Even for those who are disinterested in reason or rational production might be won over with references to such things as Matthew 25:14-30, and of the necessity not to waste the youth of each generation needlessly by selecting only that portion for education whose parents support it. All of us suffer from the loss, not just those individuals whose potential is left wasted. There is a marketing job to be done to sell the idea of rational education productivity. 

But this kind of complaint is like carrying coals to Newcastle, or (to modernize things a bit) chardonnay to Napa, so I've already said too much. But it is frustrating. I wish the society at large would ask themselves more about the fictional premises that guide so many wrongheaded policies that blight the world today. 


 From: Helena Worthen <helenaworthen@gmail.com>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu> 
Sent: Thursday, July 24, 2014 10:46 AM
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The ideal head

But my point is that the "fictional" idea has power -- enough power to make people think that if a kid tries, and tries, and tries, they can overcome the lack of special resources that are symbolized by "English nobility," or, in the real world, a rich cultural environment in childhood, good food, safe place to sleep, attentive educated parents, nice schools, etc etc...

Sometimes the "people" who believe that trying hard is enough are the parents. Sometimes they are the overseers of the school systems, who ought to know better.

Helena Worthen

On Jul 24, 2014, at 1:34 PM, Carol Macdonald wrote:

> Peter
> Or perhaps that the writer of The Tarzan stories had no idea about what it
> takes to become literate.  He had no-one to show him the arbitrariness of
> language and reading.
> If you remember, the primers for reading had multisyllable words in them.
> Peter is right - only in fiction is this possible.
> And trying harder isn't necessarily the way to move forward. Trying
> something *else *might do it.  Tell that mum.
> Carol
> On 24 July 2014 17:53, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu> wrote:
>> I'd say that working harder worked for Tarzan because he was fictional.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:
>> xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Helena Worthen
>> Sent: Thursday, July 24, 2014 12:40 PM
>> To: lchcmike@gmail.com; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: The ideal head
>> These views are persuasively bound up in the story of Tarzan, an
>> incredibly popular book published in 1913 and still being sold. Tarzan,
>> abandoned in infancy in the African jungle, comes upon his dead parents'
>> cabin and their library and, without ever hearing human speech much less
>> English spoken, manages to teach himself to read. Why? Well, 1) he tries
>> hard and 2) he's English nobility. The generations of kids and their
>> parents who read the Tarzan story (or see the movies) never question this
>> train wreck of ideas -- on the contrary, it provides support for the idea
>> that learning is the result of trying hard and being born smart (except
>> that that's a code word for upper class).
>> I had a heart-wrenching experience the other day that illustrates how this
>> works in real life. We're spending the summer in a small town in Vermont --
>> working class, very dependent on big ski area tourism. A friend of mine, a
>> working class woman, is paying big bucks to send her 12 year old daughter
>> to an academic summer camp at a very high-level hotshot prep school nearby.
>> The hope is that, with this extra boost, the girl will be able to speed
>> past the pitfalls of the local high school (which has a 30% dropout rate,
>> drug problems, etc.). The other students at the summer camp are prep school
>> kids repeating classes they didnt' ace plus rich kids from all over the
>> world, especially Asia. My friend's daughter did fine the first week, then
>> seemed to just freeze. Now daughter wants to quit and is refusing to eat,
>> etc. Her mom's idea is that the girl just needs to try harder, try harder,
>> try harder.Mother has moved down there and is starting to attend classes
>> with her.  Mother and daughter are about ready to hit each other.
>> My opinion: trying harder worked for Tarzan because he was English
>> nobility, and someone forgot to make sure my friend and her daughter were
>> English nobility (meaning, someone forgot to prepare her daughter with all
>> the class advantages, including self confidence, that the other kids
>> brought with them, along with their iPhones and designer swimsuits).
>> Where do you start, in a situation like this?
>> Helena Worthen
>> helenaworthen@gmail.com
>> On Jul 19, 2014, at 6:38 PM, mike cole wrote:
>>> Hi Peter. I had a similar experience regarding the accidental
>>> discovery of literature containing those colonialist-era books. My
>>> example was written for high level scholars over a century ago, but
>>> it, like this piece, expresses views that have not by any means
>>> disappeared in the intervening century.
>>> Nor has the resulting violence seemed to have eased.
>>> Attached.
>>> mike
>>> On Sat, Jul 19, 2014 at 12:03 PM, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu>
>> wrote:
>>>> http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/07/the-ideal-head-b
>>>> izarre-racial-teachings-from-a-100-year-old-textbook/374693/#comments
>>>> I wrote this very short essay that some might find interesting, and
>>>> have linked to the page that includes reader comments, which are
>>>> prolific and edifying for those who believe in the progress of human
>>>> thinking. p
>>> <Drummond- Ascent O fMan.doc>
> -- 
> Carol A  Macdonald Ph D (Edin)
> Developmental psycholinguist
> Academic, Researcher,  and Editor
> Honorary Research Fellow: Department of Linguistics, Unisa