Saturday, July 4, 2009

Arne Duncan, meet the Declaration of Independence

“The best thing we can do is educate our way to a better economy."

I try to keep catechism out of my classroom, and not just the Christian sort. If you think you can learn science from a textbook, or from an interactive computer program, or from packaged lab activities, you are teaching catechism.

I also try to keep religion out of my classroom, but pushing the limits of what we know can lead to "dangerous" thoughts among my tadpoles.

"You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. Schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year."
Arne again, talking to students in Denver

Perhaps Arne did not pay attention during biology classes. Or maybe he did. It is quite possible to ace an introductory level biology course without understanding much.

The Earth teems with life; life teems with energy. Our existence depends on the flow of energy through organisms--that's why we eat.

The Earth receives a finite amount of energy each finite moment, gifts from the sun. We are gulping up millions upon millions of years' worth of sunlight stored in fossil fuels, again finite.

We, as part of this teeming community dependent on the sun's light, have limits.

I am confident that we are on the right course as the Administration implements a comprehensive cradle-to-career education agenda to prepare our citizenry to compete in the global economy.
Yep, Arne

The religion of the global economy, however, does not recognize limits. "Economic growth" drives the world economy.

We cannot continue economic growth indefinitely--we are ultimately tied to the land. If I can teach one thing to a child, it would be that we came from the dust, and we shall return to the dust. Our cultural mistake, our cultural tragedy, is belittling the dust, and the energy that allows the dust to swirl and change forms.

Science only works when we seek to get beyond the world inside our heads. Grasping the world outside, however, depends on creating representational worlds inside our heads. Sadly, we confuse the latter with the natural (or the universe or reality or the mystery, or whatever word you choose to use--science cannot tell you what that great mystery is).

Thinking we can grow or exploit our way out of an economic crisis reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of basic biology.

Community colleges like Miami Dade are going to be an extremely important part of restoring the economy over the next few years and ensuring that our students can compete not just with their neighbors down the block, but also with their peers in China and India.

I have a hypothesis:

Should we ever raise a generation of knowledgeable children, grounded in natural world, capable of thinking for themselves, not surrounded by the constant commercial hum defining success (money, bright teeth, money, large home, money, fast car, money, firm thighs, money, multiple degrees, money, executive privileges, money...) the gross domestic product would come crashing down.

That would be bad news for most of us in the States. We would lose a few digits in our electronic portfolios. Our tidy retirement funds set aside to provide us with the finest nursing home care might evaporate. We might not be able to travel far from our backyards.

On the plus side, such a generation could grow food, dress themselves, repair engines, darn socks, bake bread, build homes, unplug a toilet.

These investments [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009] are the surest way to provide long-term stability in to our economy. With these funds, we will educate our way to a stronger economy.
Arne again

The point of public education should be to promote a functional citizenry. And the point of government? Today's as good a day as any to ask. We got a pretty good answer to that question back in 1776.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

For all the talk of the economy, for all the talk of education, we've managed to screw up the intent of both. Arne is tying these two disastrous misadventures together, convinced he is serving a noble cause, and I cannot really blame the man--he is the epitome of what the best in education can produce today. He is not the only disaster produced the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. His tragedy, his blindness, is ours. Few of us know what we want anymore.

So long as the sun shines, though, I remain an incorrigible optimist

Today is one of the few days Americans congregate outside. Children will chase lightning bugs as the adults will slap at mosquitoes. Just about everyone gets a chance to see the sun set.

It's a good world waiting for us outside our heads--and for a few wonderful hours, our culture will unplug itself and celebrate a country that still exists in our heads and in Norman Rockwell paintings, but that once existed for real.

It can happen again. It's why I teach.


Doug Noon said...

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance."

Arne is a ventriloquist's puppet. He is ours to deal with. Happy Independence Day.

"We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

Happy edu-insurgency.

doyle said...

Dear Doug,

It's like you read my mind--I was debating whether to throw in bits of the Declaration.

Happy Fourth of July!

Kate said...

Michael - I am happy to join you in fomenting revolution, as I know that you will remember that in every revolution we need to dance!

A poem came to me today that I had to share with you. From The Writer's Almanac A Warm Summer in San Francisco

doyle said...

Dear Kate,

The poem is wonderful! There's a point in late June, early July when you can start to smell a hint of death under the teeming life.

As far as "fomenting revolution," I'd settle for fomenting thinking. If that leads to more satisfied lives, less waste, and (Heaven forbid) less ambition, then I've not wasted my time teaching.

Some children still aspire to things other than glory and gold. They keep me honest in the classroom.

And, yes, more dancing--we do not need a revolution for that.