Saturday, July 2, 2011

A New Voice in Education

In recent months, I've been spending a lot of time (arguably too much) contributing to various blogs and online discussions about our current situation in education, and must say I'm appalled by the discourse standards I've encountered. In particular, the tendency towards vitriolic personal attack, perhaps motivated by the frustrations of educators who know the world is changing and feel it isn't changing for the better, is marked and repellent. This last point is important because, now more than ever, we need to come together as much as possible, as a nation and as a world, to solve problems that concern us all.

I used to be suspicious of educational objectives that promised to produce students who would "change the world" or "make the world more just", since I thought they contained an anti-conservative bias, and implied that the world is wrong as it is; I wanted to teach my students how to think, not what to think. But with today's disorienting pace of change, I no longer object, because our current world is totally unsustainable and inevitably will change, whether we like it or not; so an educational aim I now approve of is to produce students who will improve the world of the 21st century. We are all going to have to work at this, or this planet by the end of this century could well contain unprecedented concentrations of massed misery.

This being our situation, yelling at each other ALL IN CAPS, impugning one another's motives or intelligence, all these things have got to go, and will henceforth be banished from this, my new blog.

A very interesting book I read is George A. Kennedy's Comparative Rhetoric. I used to teach rhetoric, in my AP English Language course, and this "historical and cross-cultural introduction" to the subject utilizes a fascinating approach. Part I studies "rhetoric in societies without writing", including even other species, and Part II "rhetoric in ancient literate societies" of the Near East, China, India, Greece and Rome. From these sources, I synthesized a classical stylistics rubric: arrangement, consistency, completeness, correctness, clarity, ornamental sweetness, and proper dignity are the linguistic characteristics most admired by people in these disparate societies, and I will try to compose my entries in a manner consistent with these traits, and invite others to do the same. I hope we will use these virtues to bring divergent educational thinkers together through online discussion that will ultimately benefit our nation and our world.

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