Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fractured lives of the educated elite

I am reading Elsewhere, U.S.A.--How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety, by Dalton Conley.

Though Dr. Conley may be "one of America's most brilliant and perceptive social commentators and scholars, and an excellent and entertaining writer as well" as Jeffrey Sachs attests on the back cover, the book itself is a whiny collection of anecdotes about how tough it is for the wealthy to put together myriad psychic lives (Intraviduals? Puhleez...)

Luddites (and other folks capable of thinking as individuals) are not the target audience, and I'm not a book critic, so I'll leave the intravidual universe to the wealthy among us who wake up in the middle of the night pondering which self they want to assume the next day.

Still, I am a teacher. Conley describes a universe of highly "educated"people in agitated states because they are doing exactly what highly "successful"people are supposed to be doing. Success becomes defined by shiny toys and shinier technology (hey, babe, check out my RIM Blackberry Curve 8900).

Something is very wrong here.

I have a couple of hypotheses:
1) Dr. Conley's personal education focused on skills, not the pursuit of happiness. (For the dour crowd that cringes at "the pursuit of happiness," call it the pursuit of knowing what matters, or (dare I say it?) teaching values.)

2) Any universe that focuses on human activities in human environments in a strictly human culture valuing only human accomplishments gets real boring in a hurry. Even if you're at the top of the heap--maybe particularly if you're at the top.

"What is the point of public education?" is a fair and open question.

"How are we going to 'prepare our children to compete in a global economy'?" is a biased and limited question, and one that will ultimately produce more fractured people.

That may help Dr. Conley's Amazon ranking, but will sink the Great Experiment. Are you listening, Arne Duncan?

The picture is of the more interesting kind of blackberry, found here.


Kate said...

Good morning, Michael -
I remember a parent/teacher conference a few years ago with the father of an advisee. The family had come to the end of a three year journey with a cancerous brain tumor. His wife and my advisee's mother had died over the holiday break, and this was my first chance to sit face to face with dad and talk as phone calls had been not so satisfying. He spent the entire conference fiddling with his Blackberry. Yes, I know that we were dealing with hard stuff, but his having the choice to disappear into the organizer was frustrating for me as I tried to connect human to human. Put it away and just be a dad for a moment I wanted to say to him. But I didn't.

doyle said...

Dear Kate,

Sad story. To be fair I'm sitting here stalling before plowing through lesson plans, though I did find some over-exuberant daffodils breaking through the ground today.

Someone forgot to tell them it was still February!

Kate said...

The squirrels are sitting in the sugar maple, sipping away at the breaks in the bark. It's the only sign of spring here as all the bulbs are still hiding. It can't be much longer.