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clipped from www.telospress.com
Richard Rorty, the leading American philosopher and heir to the pragmatist tradition, passed away on Friday, June 8.
He was Professor of Comparative Literature emeritus at Stanford University. In April the American Philosophical Society awarded him the Thomas Jefferson Medal. The prize citation reads: “In recognition of his influential and distinctively American contribution to philosophy and, more widely, to humanistic studies. His work redefined knowledge ‘as a matter of conversation and of social practice, rather than as an attempt to mirror nature’ and thus redefined philosophy itself as an unending, democratically disciplined, social and cultural activity of inquiry, reflection, and exchange, rather than an activity governed and validated by the concept of objective, extramental truth.”

Richard Rorty, 1931-2007

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Richard Rorty’s contribution to American Pragmatism was important and profound. I am deeply saddened by the news of his death, Rorty had a significant influence on my own thinking, especially his distinction between normal and abnormal discourse. It will be a long time coming before another philosopher of Rorty’s stature and influence appears on the American landscape.

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clipped from www.y-origins.com
Q.
IS THE ARGUMENT FOR DESIGN BASED ON SCIENTIFIC IGNORANCE?
A. But, today’s intelligent design arguments are based upon a growing body
of scientific evidence concerning everything from DNA to the laws of physics;
and upon our uniform and repeated experience.Design theorists offer extensive evidence that blind, material causes are
incapable of building irreducibly complex and information-rich systems.
They then point out that whenever we know how such systems arose such as
with an integrated circuit, a car engine, or a software program invariably
a designing engineer played a role. Design theorists then extend this uniform
experience to things like molecular machines and the sophisticated code
needed to build even the first and simplest of cells. An increasing number
of leading scholars attest that increased scientific knowledge about such
things has greatly strengthened the argument for design.

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The argument from irreducible complexity suggests that the removal of a single part from a system destroys the system’s function, ergo evolution is ruled out, ergo the system must have been designed by some external force. This is the basic argument advanced by Michael Behe and his followers. Below I counter some of the claims made by the proponents of irreducible complexity.

  • Sometimes the functions are changed so that they do something other than what they did prior to mutation. Such evolutionary development of irreducibly complex systems have been described in the scientific literature in great detail.
  • Even if irreducible complexity does preclude Darwinian evolution, the conclusion of design does not follow. Many other possible conclusions can be argued. It is an example of a failed argument from incredulity.
  • Systems have been considered irreducibly complex that might not be so. For example:
  • Michael Behe’s mousetrap example of irreducible complexity can be simplified by making some minor alterations to the mousetrap. Furthermore, the mousetrap may lose functionality as a mousetrap if a part is removed but then one might craft a fishhook from the spring, turn the nonfunctional mousetrap into a paper weight and so on.
  • The bacterial flagellum is not, in fact, irreducibly complex because it can lose many parts and still function, either as a simpler flagellum or as a secretion system.
  • The immune system example that Behe is so fond of is not irreducibly complex because the antibodies that mark invading cells for destruction might themselves hinder the function o fthose cells, allowing the system to function (although not as well) without destroyer molecules of the complement system.

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I am posting a short video I made that addresses Pascal’s Wager that simply states that even if the odds for the existence of God or gods is overwhelming, there is the slight chance that one is wrong. If it turns out that God(s) exist then the non-believer risks eternal damnation while the believer is eternally rewarded. If it turns out that there really is no God or God(s) then it makes no difference to the believer or non-believer–nothing is lost in the bargain. So Pascal concludes that on the off chance that there might, in fact, be a God(s) it makes sense to believe.As this video points out, there are substantial flaws in Pascal’s reasoning. Which God(s) does one choose to believe in? Wouldn’t picking the wrong one be tantamount to not picking at all? Isn’t Pascal’s belief merely a belief of convenience and not of conviction; wouldn’t an omnipotent, omniscient God(s) see right through the rouse and leave the pretender in the same position as if he didn’t choose at all?

I think I’ll remain a Bright. There simply isn’t enough evidence to convince me beyond a reasonable doubt that God(s) exist. I’ll not fall into the destructive trap of Pascal’s Wager.

clipped from youtube.com

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Clipped from YouTube, this video is a powerful reminder that asking the skeptical questions is the first and only requirement of being human. Without skeptical inquiry we would still be napping flint weapons, living in caves, and wandering about the plains in search of food. Asking skeptical questions, however, is not a remedy for ambition, hubris, or evil. It is not a remedy for those who believe without evidence. It is not a remedy for stupidity. Skepticism is, however, the springboard to human progress and greatness.

clipped from www.youtube.com

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And this is a powerful response to Pale Blue Dot.

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I decided to mess around with making a video for my students as I begin to teach research methods to graduate students. In this course I push ideas such as clarity of thinking, accuracy in both thinking and in how one relies on source material, precision in thought processes, relevance of information to one’s argument, the depth and breadth of one’s investigation of both the relevant literature and the methodological approach one takes as a researcher, the logical development of the argument, the significance of the argument and, finally, whether or not one has been fair to all sides of a given position–this last point is not to argue that one cannot take a stand, rather that one must at the very least acknowledge alternative stances and, if one wishes, pick them apart.

This YouTube video will serve as an introduction to the class in which we discuss issues related to the difference between belief and rigorous research. I sort of like what I made here. I think it serves as a good introduction to the topic, but, then, I am the creator and am a bit biased.

My university is insisting that we all teach using technology to a greater extent in order to look good for an accreditation review upcoming in 2010. So there you have it.

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Žižek (2001) makes the claim that in order to break the liberal-democratic hegemony in order to reclaim an authentic radical posture, one must endorse a position that refuses to compromise (in the pragmatic political sense) and be willing to accept both the positive and negative effects of one’s position. To do otherwise is to fall embarrassingly short of the “unconditional ethical demand.” In order to accomplish this goal Žižek suggests that one cannot turn to foundational theorists. He argues that Christ does not become Christian until he encounters St. Paul and later Augustine, bishop of Hippo; that Marx does not become a Marxist until he is interpreted by Lenin; that Freud does not make sense until he is seen first through the eyes of Jung and, finally, through a Lacanian lens. The point made by Žižek is simply this: the revisionists, those that first put into practice that which the foundationalists offer reject the “irresponsibility” of the foundational thinkers. Žižek argues that the foundationalists advocate grand projects, but, when the chips are down, they are unwilling to pay the price for implementing their positions with concrete and often cruel political acts. “Like an authentic conservative,” Žižek writes, “a true Leninist is not afraid to pass to the act, to assume all the consequences, unpleasant as they may be, or realizing his political project.” Žižek goes on to write, “[A] Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e. of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it.” (emphasis in original)

In brief, what Žižek suggests is that in order to break the strangle-hold of any established institution, in this case perhaps global-liberal-capitalism it is not enough to simply fixate on adjusting the old program to new conditions. To do so is something like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. Change, in Žižek’s terms, is not nostalgia, not more of the same, not a return to the good old days. Change, rather, is brought about by radical acts that are bound up by in but are significantly different than their theoretical origins. Žižek sums up this way: “What Christianity did with regard to the Roman Empire, this global “multiculturalist” polity, we should do with regard to today’s Empire.” This clear reference to Gibbon’s argument that the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of Rome was the root cause of the decline and fall of the once great Empire is arresting. What does Žižek see as the uncompromising force of the 21st Century that will prove to be the underlying action that will bring about the decline and fall of the West?

References

Žižek, S. (2001). On belief. London, UK: Routledge

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I sat through an active presentation by Steven Turner in which he asked whether teaching for achievement or teaching for understanding is appropriate in public schools. In the current climate many of the participants at this session agreed that teaching for achievement as an isolated concept equates to teaching skills appropriate for testing with little or no evidence of transferability or sustainability. We also tended to agree that teaching for understanding led to students developing critical thinking, reflection, rigorous sense of internalization of knowledge. One participant argued that teaching for achievement meant teaching to a predetermined, external set of standards while teaching for understanding had no predetermined borders but is broadly focused on relevant issues and knowledge. What also developed from this discussion was a consensus that if one teaches for understanding this does not negate the need to teach the necessary skills required for particular understanding. The two are not mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the great irony is that when children are taught with understanding as the goal of the process test scores rise in a direct relationship to student engagement. If, however, children are taught only for achievement their test scores are erratic and, perhaps more importantly, students become resistant to school and schooling. Turner’s work is worthy of a second look and some follow-up studies as well.

In a second session, Steven J. Thornton and Keith C. Barton presented a paper entitled Why history education is impossible without social studies. This work suggests that teaching history as a separate academic discipline is impossible without relating the history being taught to the other social studies, areas of study that include economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, geography and the like. I was drawn to the session not only because of Thornton’s work, but by the title of their paper. I have been thinking about how to effectively link the social studies to teaching history as many social studies educators are doing but I simply assumed that history serves as the underlying foundation for the rest of the social studies. Thornton and Barton suggest a different relationship, one that understands history as the factual exemplar for the theoretical concepts endemic to the rest of the social studies. An example they gave is the American Revolution. One cannot understand the revolution without understanding the concept from political science of representation or the concept from economics of taxation. While a gross oversimplification, the point they are making is that political science and economics provide us with theoretical constructions while the narrative of the revolution transforms those abstractions into narrative reality. History, in this sense, is the exemplar that provides students with concrete examples of weighty though abstract concepts. I really liked this take on the problem raised.

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This week the American Educational Research Association is holding its annual meeting in Chicago. This important conference brings together researchers and teachers from all areas of the spectrum of education and, as such, is one of the more exciting places to be as a professional educator. In this post I am going to summarize some of the more important points I heard today.

David Berliner spoke about the state of education in the United States today as a political space in which the ENDS of education have been taken away from professional educators and the MEANS of education have been corrupted by the reduction of knowing to a single test-score number. As test scores become the ENDS of education, primarily due to NCLB, then the MEANS of education become teaching to the test. When knowledge as an END is replaced by test scores then the only thing worth knowing is “is that going to be on the test?”

Another speaker argued that there is simply too much policy, policy layered upon policy upon policy. Fossilized reforms are something like geological layers as legislators fail to review either old policy prior to passage of new policy or evidence in support of policy legislation in the first place. The result is a web (more like a rabbit warren) of overlapping policies and legislation that boggles even the least capable minds.

Perhaps my favorite speaker argued that we do not live in an age of educational uncertainty. Quite the contrary, NCLB has placed a strangle hold on certainty. Schools are certain as to what programs count and what to teach in order to avoid the degradation of being labeled low performing. The problem is not certainty but faulty logic. NCLB is based on a confused logical structure where knowledge is reduced to test scores, schools are expected to solve social problems, and reading and math instruction are scripted and uniform across irregular contexts. This speaker called not for evidence based teaching as NCLB does, rather he argued that there ought to be EVIDENCE BASED LEGISLATION. I suggested to a colleague sitting next to me that perhaps those that pass the laws ought to be subject to the consequences of their own legislation. Congress ought to be forced to sit for say the 12th grade test. It was also suggested that no legislation be passed that does harm to anyone.

Finally, a speaker argued that education cannot be reduced to a model that corresponds in any way to producing widgets in a factory. By that logic FedX Delivers–Teachers Teach holds supreme. The fact is, however, that teachers do not exist, only teachers in a context exist and only in that context can teachers navigate through the murky waters that make up the classroom. Teaching is not something that can be planned except in broad brush terms if only because the unexpected is bound to happen at any moment of the day. Teachers are not tutor technicians preparing their students for tests. In the end, high stakes testing is blocking effective implementation of curriculum that encourages students to solve problems, to think about difficult problems, to rigorously reflect on ideas and concepts, and to remain curious about the world in which we all live. American educators for years have been critical of the centralization of European and Asian educational systems. The irony is that Europe and Asian nations are becoming decentralized as the United States moves toward a centralized national system of education.

I expect to be NCLB’d out by the end of the week. More to come later.

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Reported by STEVEN R. HURST, Associated Press Writer on Yahoo.com

The powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his militiamen on Sunday to redouble their battle to oust American forces and argued that Iraq’s army and police should join him in defeating “your archenemy.” The U.S. nilitary annoucned the weekend deaths of 10 American soldiers, including six killed on Sunday.

Security remained so tenuous in the capital on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the U.S. capture of Baghdad that Iraq’s military declared a 24-hour ban on all vehicles in the capital from 5 a.m. Monday.


There you have it, the surge must be working. The article goes on to report that at least 47 people were found dead on Sunday, 17 of whom were executed and dumped in Baghdad. What a strategy for winning George II seems to have.

While I don’t really want to go out on a limb, I think I will. I am sort of thinking out loud here. These ideas are in the process of forming in my own thinking but I thought it was time to share. It seems to me that the Iraq war is q 21st Century version of the 11th Century Crusades. Christians and the Christian God fighting Muslims and Allah for control over lands that both consider sacred but for very different reasons. In the 21st Century, the sacredness of the land from the Western point-of-view is the oil riches that lie beneath the ground. Nevertheless, the battle is one with deep religious undertones. Islam and the complete submission to Allah and the Western submission to greed and acquisition of great wealth as an outgrowth of Christian theology. Why does Muqtada al-Sadr refer to the United States as the archenemy? Why else, unless this was, at the core, a war for religion and religious supremacy–the control of the Middle East by the West–domination of Islam by Christians? To ignore this possibility is to ignore the historical record. To ignore this possibility is to live in denial.

Think about the fact that it took a fundamentalist Christian president of the United States, backed by NeoCons and evangelical church leaders to engage the United States in the renewal of this ancient battle. Even George I, (remember him–Saddam tried to kill my daddy), had the sense to accomplish military objectives but leave the dictator in power so as not to destabilize the region. Not George II. His goal, to insert a Western democracy in Iraq, code for lets Christianize the Middle East, demanded the destabilization of the country in order to accomplish his goals. What remains is the simple fact that to date over 3,000 American men and women have lost their lives, over 25,000 more are wounded in battle, scarred for life. This does not count the few British soldiers and even fewer coalition force troops that have been killed or seriously injured in this war effort.

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Appearing in the Peninusla Clarion. The writer demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of both the point of the first amendment and the history of ‘In God We Trust’ as a jingoistic slogan. Now I suppose it is okay for a citizen to be ignorant but for an editor to actually choose this letter for publication is simply unconscionable. See for yourself. I am deeply offended by Shannon’s bigotry, intolerance and anti-intellectualism. Her lack of knowledge and understanding regarding alternatives to faith suggests a world view that excludes cognition and rational thought rather than working toward acceptance and clarity. I am tempted to ask Alice Shannon to stay in Alaska and not wander into the lower 48 but that would be falling into her trap. How about an old fashioned face-to-face debate. Maybe that would be enlightening (pun intended).

Believe or else!

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I received a comment from someone who did not agree with my position. After some consideration I decided that I would delete the comment, not because of its content, but because of the language used to express disagreement. In two lines I counted five off-color comments. Rational debate has no room for language that is offensive, for name calling, or for displays of anger that are out of control. One of the great features of a blog is the ability to carry on reasonable discussions regarding many issues of interest to the blogger. This blog is no exception to that idea. My concern here is not that someone disagrees with my position; I do not nor can I claim a lock on any knowledge. Rather, my quarrel is with the tone and tenor of the comment itself. Rather than dispute ideas, the commenter resorted to name calling and foul language that has no place in civilized discussion. I will delete comments like this one every time I see one. I will never delete a comment that engages in an exchange of ideas.

Giorgio Agamben (1998) makes the point that modern democratic societies run the risk of decaying into totalitarian states when the subjective self confuses itself with the objective whole thereby granting to the sovereign all power, even full power over death. The comment I received was from an individual who, in his (or her) anger, could no longer engage in rational debate; he (or she) could no longer recognize that a difference of political opinion in a democratic state must not lead to responses embedded in anger, rather that they ought to be open to the light of day for all to respond. When anger wins out Agamben’s point appears in full force–the totalitarian state is here as we are expected to submit to the will of the dictator, in this case, George W. Bush. Granting the sovereign maximum power outside of debate and with no accountability is nothing more than objective submission to totalitarianism, something a democracy cannot tolerate.

I struggled with deleting this particular comment, the first time I have ever done so, because I believe in the power of rational debate, discussion and the inevitable disagreements that flow from these debates. The fact is, however, that I have chosen to approve comments as a form of censorship of abusive, crude, or foul language; language that has no place in thoughtful debate or discussion. I doubt if the commenter is a regular reader of this blog, but if he is I invite him to resubmit his comment without the language problems that prompted my deletion. Make your point, make it clear and let’s have at it and see what ideas prevail in the end.

References

Agamben, G. (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life (D. Heller-Roazen, Trans.). Sanford, CA: Sanford University Press.

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Is there a significant difference in making an ontological statement and an epistemological statement. Susan Buck-Morss (2003) presents the following examples of the problem raised. Consider the following statements:

  1. Because the United States does not violate human rights, it is a civilized nation.
  2. Because the United States is a civilized nation, it does not violate human rights.

Statement 1. is an epistemological description allowing for critical judgments about relative truth or falsity. Statement 2. on the other hand, is an ontological description establishing by definition the fact that the United States is civilized. This is not a judgment but, rather, a statement of truth. There is no room for judgment in the predicate because civilized nations do not violate human rights. Since, as a matter of fact, the US is defined as civilized, anything it does is, therefore, the act of a civilized nation.

The epistemological opens the door to critical debate. Stated in another way, Because the US does (or does not) violate human rights, it is not (or is) a civilized nation. Here the relative truth values can be weighed, discussed, debated, or otherwise set to a test to determine the truth or falsity of the statement or its converse or any shaded, nuanced levels in between. Not so with the ontological. The ontological statement is one meant to justify a position, to close, even usurp, debate. By defining the conditions of being as a fact, there is no possibility of refutation. To do so is to be unpatriotic.

The US is not the only nation or group to engage in ontological justification. Here are a few other examples of ontological statements that are meant at their core to justify behavior without substantive debate or discussion :

  1. As a Muslim my struggle is Jihad, a holy struggle; therefore whatever violence I employ must also be holy.
  2. Imperialism is undemocratic however, Israel is a democracy; therefore Israeli occupation of Palestine is not imperialistic but a defense of democracy.
  3. Because I am an American (Iraqi, Israeli, Egyptian, _____________) I am prepared to die for my country (religion, ethnicity, gender, _____________). You can fill in the blanks for whatever requires an ontological justification.

While the change from epistemological to ontological appears to be small—a mere shifting of the subject and predicate of a statement—the result is one that is open to or closed to critical thinking and debate.

My point here is really quite simple. Reasoned discussion always stems from knowing and not from being. Ontological statements define being in terms of a truth statement that is not subject to debate while epistemological statements embrace notions of debate, the weight of evidence, and otherwise thinking about interests being served. Ontological debate is, and can only be, a shouting match. Perhaps it is time to stop shouting.

References

Buck-Morss, S. (2003). Thinking past terror: Islamism and critical theory on the left. London, UK: Verso.

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In a stunning article in Educational Theory, Tyson E. Lewis (2006) argues that contemporary schooling in the United States, through policies of zero-tolerance, lockdown, and No Child Left Behind policies, separates and isolates students from the body politic by creating ambiguities that emerge from the complexities of disciplinary procedures and high-stakes assessment policies prevalent in inner-city schools that serve low-income, minority students. Lewis relies on arguments made by Italian political philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, and Critical Theorist, Theodor Adorno to make his case.

According to Lewis, Adorno makes the case that schooling creates the precondition for fascism to take hold due primarily to the undemocratic nature of the classroom. In Western education the classroom is often understood as a place of discipline and punishment, of separation and separating, of execution and executioner that is implicit in the student-teacher dialectic of power and passivity. School is not understood, in the main, as a place for developing autonomy, critical decision making, or self- and communal-response-ability; this in spite of rhetoric to the contrary. Lewis seems to understand the difference between language and the Real (Žižek, 2002).

Agamben, according to Lewis, presents a case for the Nazi death camp as the paradigmatic case of the creation of exceptional space, space removed from the principal political space of the community yet existing within that space without visibility or recognition. This form of exceptional space extends to many institutions found in the Western idea of Global Capitalism such as airports, hospitals, and credit bureaus. Lewis argues convincingly that schools must be included in this exceptionality as well. When such exceptional space is created “life is held in suspension, neither inside nor outside the polis, neither fully alive or dead. Stated differently, life is made to survive in legal limbo” (Lewis, 2006, p 161). Schools, create space that is inherently undemocratic. Student’s lives are suspended while dependent upon the whims and fancies of outsiders, political and administrative demands, that place their lives in suspension where survival in legal limbo is, perhaps, all that can be expected.

What is destroyed in the process is not dignity, rather it is control or the illusion of control. When placed in survival mode, life is reduced to the bare necessities, to what Agamben (1998) has labeled homo sacer, literally, sacred life, but in Agamben’s terms is defined more metaphorically as bare life. In the paradigmatic exceptional space, the Nazi Death Camps, homo sacer collides with the ordinary citizen, one surviving in limbo, outside of the borders of the political system and one entrenched within the borders of that system; one powerless, the other holding the key to ultimate power—life and death.

The United States is not exempt from creating borderless states of isolation. Native American people have lived in isolation on reservations for a hundred years or so, isolated as sovereign nations within a sovereign nation, a euphemism that is intended to hide the source of Real power. During World War II, Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps, isolated in the California desert and the Great Basin where they could be separated from Real Americans. More recently, the detention camp at Guantanamo place the lives of enemy combatants in limbo under the watchful eye of the military. Each of these instances, including the paradigmatic case, fall into what Agamben (1998) calls biopolitics.

Lewis extends this argument to schools, labeling the activity of schools and schooling as biopedagogy. Students are placed in a position of being homo sacer in the sense that because they are subject to nothing but external rules, to not being able participants in the decisions that directly and indirectly impact their lives, schools are places where students necessarily collide with those that choose to control them. Schools isolate, separate, and punish sometimes just because they can. The real tragedy is that this all appears to be normal to the rest of us.

 References

Agamben, G. (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life (D. Heller-Roazen, Trans.). Sanford, CA: Sanford University Press.

Lewis, T. E. (2006). The school as an exceptional space: Rethinking education from the perspective of the biopedagogical. Educational Theory, 56(2), 159-176.

Žižek, S. (2002). Welcome to the desert of the real: Five essays on September 11 and related dates. London: Verso.

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World’s Smallest Political Quiz Results

I recently found the site Advocates for Self-Government where I took the “World’s Smallest Political Quiz.” It is worth the two to three minutes to take this quiz and really see where you stand as a thinking citizen. I found the whole thing eye-opening. Perhaps you will too.

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Slavoj Žižek (2002) writes, “The problem with the twentieth-century ‘passion for the Real’ was not that was a passion for the Real, but that it was a fake passion whose ruthless pursuit of the Real behind appearances was the ultimate stratagem to avoid confronting the Real.  Žižek is, in part, referring to notions of tensions between universals and particulars that often are distinguished through the use of coded language. 

This is especially true as the debate surrounding No Child Left Behind begins to take on steam.  Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings (2007), writes, “The No Child Left Behind Act has evolved from idea to law to a way of life. It’s the foundation upon which we must build, and the time to act is now.”  Spellings, by her argument that NCLB has evolved into a “way of life” codes NCLB as the Real yet she ultimately fails to confront the Real in the sense that she fails to respond to the critics of NCLB. 

In the same document Spellings goes on to point out how to build on the stunning accomplishments already achieved under NCLB.  She writes that we must now:

  • Strengthen efforts to close the achievement gap through high standards, accountability, and more options for parents.
  • Give states flexibility to better measure individual student progress, target resources to students most in need, and improve assessments for students with disabilities and limited English proficiency.
  • Prepare high school students for success by promoting rigorous and advanced coursework and providing new resources for schools serving low-income students.
  • Provide greater resources for teachers to further close the achievement gap through improved math and science instruction, intensive aid for struggling students, continuation of Reading First, and rewards for great progress in challenging environments.
  • Offer additional tools to help local educators turn around chronically underperforming schools and empower parents with information and options.

But wait, I am confused.  Each of the points Spellings makes is formulated in the negative and often oppositionally.  She speaks of “achievement gaps” and “high standards” in the same breath.  She wants to target individual students in order to develop universal achievement among the disabled and limited English speaking students.  She wants more rigorous and advanced high school coursework seemingly by providing new resources for low-income schools (where the “achievement gap” is the greatest).  She wants to provide more resources for teachers to close (oh my, here it is again) the “achievement gap” along side intensive aid for struggling students.  And finally, not to be outdone, she wants to help local educators turn around local “chronically underperforming schools” presumably by informing parents and giving parents greater options for their children.  So how is any of this different from the Real of the current iteration of NCLB? 

Spellings vigorously, but not rigorously, condemns schools, schooling, teaching and learning using language that alludes to underperforming schools, achievement gaps, and creating challenging contexts for learning.  Her claim is designed to spark disgust in the minds of those whose children “perform” at appropriate levels.  The problem here is that what is appropriate is and remains unclear.  The language used by Spellings is a language of blame, of pointing fingers at the victim which has a two-fold effect.  It removes blame from the dominant majority.  It is not their fault that some students underachieve.  Perhaps it is their low-income status, their disabilities, or their failure to master the English language.  Secondly, it fails to address the underlying social problems that lead to poverty, to alienation, and to resistance in school of working class and welfare class students.  But, gosh, most of us are off the hook.  Rhetoric alone will never fix the problem.

NCLB is something like coffee without caffeine, a simulacrum of the Real without the malignancy (Žižek, 2002, 2003).  NCLB is the perfect stratagem for the avoidance of confronting the Real.

References 

Spellings, M. (2007). Building On Results: A Blueprint for Strengthening the No Child Left Behind Act. Retrieved March 27, 2007, from http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/nclb/factsheets/blueprint.html

Žižek, S. (2002). Welcome to the desert of the real. London, UK: Verso.

Žižek, S. (2003). The puppet and the dwarf: The perverse core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Educating Alice posted a story regarding the Holocaust and Shoelaces. This story is important enough to read in its entirety.

I want to add my 2 cents here. I agree that we must teach kids to think about hard topics in a rigorous manner. Collecting 6,000,000 centimeters of shoelaces tied together is symbolic drivel, an act not worthy of serious consideration, except that it interferes with children thinking hard about the whole issue of the Holocaust.

I am currently reading a very short (66 pages) book by Robert Eaglestone, Postmodernism and Holocaust Denial. Cambridge, UK. Icon Books (2001). Eaglestone makes a thoughtful argument in which he distinguishes between the modern, liberal discourse that, through fear of political incorrectness, continences free speech to the extreme and a postmodern view that insists on rigorous attention to the ethical value of the argument itself. The modern view allows for debate where there is no debate. It makes room for Holocaust denial because free speech requires that both sides be heard–even when there is no other side. The postmodern view, however, requires one to address the underlying ethics of the argument leaving little room for sweeping events under the rug as if they did not occur.

Collecting shoelaces is much like Holocaust denial because it trivializes the reality of the event. It is something like creating a virtual reality, like decaffeinated coffee or non-alcoholic beer, allowing for an experience without the malignancy of the event itself.


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I want to focus on the regulation or regulatory function of the American academic standards movement. It is precisely the regulatory function of that movement that requires closure, the encapsulation of the model itself. In this short piece, I want to examine the connected concepts of standards-driven instruction and data-driven instruction in American public schools. In a nutshell, data-driven instruction derives its power from the larger concept of standards-driven instruction. Both, however, miss the essential point that instruction must be less about technical complicity and more about knowing and knowledge.

A current sub-discourse of the American standards movement calls for the implementation of standards-driven or standards-based instruction. What is really meant by this language? What standards is one speaking of? How shall one implement those standards in the classroom? What standards are really important and why? Marzano & Kendall (1998) asked the question, what if all national standards that have currently been adopted by discipline specific professional organizations such as the National Council for the Social Studies or the National Science Teachers Association or the National Council of Teachers of English, were taught in public schools beginning in kindergarten and continued to be taught until a student graduated from high school—how much time would it take to complete one’s pre-college education? Using a quite liberal formula for teaching and reteaching every standard and assuring a reasonable degree of mastery of each standard, and using the typical formula of a 180 day school year and a 6.5 hour school day they found that a student entering kindergarten at age 5 would finally be ready to graduate high school at the end of grade 22—ten full years after the normal grade 12. Given this analysis, students would not be ready for college until they were 28 years old. Marzano and Kendall did not even consider state standards or locally adopted standards as a part of their analysis. What is clear to me is that the obsession with standards has led to an insistence on quantity rather than on quality in education. One must consider that there are many ways to address quality education, only one of which is to obsess over the quantity of what one learns.

When quantity is the issue one finds multiple stories of abuse of the system. Emphasis on quantity leads to erratic implementation of and/or assessment of educational progress. An example seems to be in order here. In around 2002 in Illinois, where I live and work, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) decided that they would no longer test writing in the state assessment, the ISAT. The resulting message schools received was to effectively eliminate writing from the curriculum in grades k-12. This action came because No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements focused on the technocracy of reading and math. Writing was, therefore, legislated out of the literacy mix. In 2005 the ISBE announced that writing would return to the ISAT in 2006 and 2007 being phased back in over the two year period. The problem, however, became one of what would be tested rather than how to teach good writing. Teachers began asking, “What did they want on the test?” The clear implication was if what they (whoever ‘they’ might be) wanted was known then students could be drilled into compliance with the assessment and scores might actually rise.

My concern here is that when technocracy is substituted for learning the result is not education, rather the simulacrum of education. When it is more important to know what they want then writing does not re-present thinking, quite the contrary, in merely repeats a mindless formulaic approach to putting pencil to paper conforming to whatever is currently in vogue, whatever those in power determine, in this case, corresponds to appropriate writing. Instruction under these circumstances might be better classified as training, something we do to dogs, seals and dancing bears for purposes of human entertainment. Such instruction is not open to surprise, mystery, or wonder. It is not open to anticipation of something to come, of the absolute other. It is not open to ideas, thoughts, or innovation. It is efficient, predictable, and produces expected results. The technocrats behind the standards movement rely on regulation to insure the possible, to conserve what never was and to block everything that could be anticipated.

References

Marzano, R. J., & Kendall, J. S. (1998). Awash in a sea of standards. Aurora, CO: Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory.

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In a recent article in the Harvard Educational Review, Cochran-Smith & Lytle (2006) offer a well reasoned critique of NCLB. They analyze both the language of the act itself as well as the language of the tools used to implement the act published by the U.S. Department of Education. Cochran-Smith & Lytle explore in depth what they refer to as three images of teaching or, even more specifically, the “central common conceptions symbolic of basic attitudes and orientations about teachers and teaching that are explicit or implicit in NCLB (p. 668).” This article argues that NCLB is disingenuous toward teachers leaving them void of active agency as contributors to their own professional practice. The argument is further supported as they point to multiple instances where NCLB oversimplifies the processes of teacher learning and teacher practice because the act relies on a reductionist view of teaching and learning. NCLB focuses on a transmission model of teaching and learning at the expense of all other methods and models, this in spite of the fact that the past 30 years have pointed us in more constructivist approaches to classroom practice.

Cochran-Smith & Lytle also argue that NCLB has multiple detrimental effects on schools, students, teachers, administrators, the communities served by schools, and the nation as a whole. They argue that NCLB undermines the broad democratic purpose of education in our nation. Public schooling, since the late 19th century, has been, at least in part, dedicated to the development of a productive, contributing citizen; active members of the body politic. They argue that NCLB, by removing democratic initiative and decision making from local and state authorities, effectively removes decision making from the classroom. The imposition of a top-down system of regulations for public schooling flies in the face of democratic principles, hence NCLB undermines democratic principles by teaching teachers and their students that following orders is more important than thinking about the source or legitimacy of those orders.

Cochran-Smith & Lytle also remark on the effect NCLB has had on narrowing the curriculum by privileging reading and math at the expense of social studies, science and the arts. What is more disturbing is that when considering reading NCLB only considers the technical aspects of the reading process and then only follows a single model for the transmission of reading skills to students. There is no effort to address competing models, for reading for aesthetic pleasure, or for reading for content and information. Some studies have found that better than 71% of American schools have dropped social studies, science, and the arts from their curriculum and that the majority of these schools are those that are historically under-served in terms of both money and staff.

I am appalled by the problems that NCLB has created. I suspect that they are far more serious in both the short and long term than the problems the act purports to correct. I will be spending some time over the next few weeks thinking deeply about the issues presented by NCLB. I will address questions such as whose interests are really being served by NCLB. I will deconstruct the language of the act and the supporting documents that are designed to support the implementation of the act. As I do this I will be looking seriously at work by David Berliner (1985, 2002) and his colleagues and Walt Haney (2000) as well as a number of other researchers. I believe this is an important debate and invite broad discussion.

References

Amrein, A. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2002, March 28). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Retrieved July 19, 2002, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18/

Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America’s public schools. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2006). Troubling images of teaching in No Child Left Behind. Harvard Educational Review, 76(4), 668-697.

Haney, W. (2000, Aug 19). The myth of the Texas miracle in Education. Retrieved July 22, 2002, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v8n41/

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