Talking Pineapples: Unreflective Education

Just finished reading an article titled Talking Pineapple on 8th grade New York State Confuses Everyone.

How does something like this happen? And how often? I’d like to know when the education system fully embraced its role to inculcate and train students with nonsensical, abstracted theory rather than educate students with sensible, relevant material rooted in experience. Has education replaced religion as the perpetrator of unreflective dogma? Or I am being too harsh?

Do educators believe students are simply too dumb and unreflective to realize that they’re being duped?  What is actually being tested here? Abstracted relationships with no foothold in reality. This leaves the mind way too open for programming. When you don’t have a foot in experience, when you’re holed up in a classroom, in a car, behind a computer, in front of your phone the majority of your life, you are liable to be believe the craziest, most nonsensical rhetoric.

When I train an animal— a dog for instance— I train it using extrinsic rewards. When it performs an instructed action, I say “good doggy”, pat it on the head, rub its belly, and produce a succulent morsel of food. When the dog behaves in an unacceptable way, I blow my whistle, scold him, place him in time out, give him a smack, or perhaps withhold food and treats. I use these rewards or punishments to condition his responses, however illogical they appear to be (what is logic anyway?). I could have him stand on a ball, balance a fishbowl on his nose, and have him howl a song. He doesn’t care how ridiculous it looks, just so long as he gets fed and a pat on the head. All he knows is that there is a reward at the end, every time.

When I train a human, I train him using extrinsic rewards. When the person performs an instructed action, I say “good boy”, put him on the back, give him a gold star, an A+ grade, or perhaps produce some dollars. When he behaves in an unacceptable way, I yell at him, scold him, place him in time out, take away his star, give him an F, whip him, or starve him.

It’s the same way for humans. When the instructions become so insane they don’t reflect our personal experience, and we’re alright with that, you can be sure you are being manipulated, that something is not right. “Why would I ever have to consider thinking about pineapples and cannibals in this way?” you might ask, “When have I ever in my past?” And they reply “Never mind, don’t think about the content of the story,” and say, “just remember what we told you in class, remember the answers, the response we told you to produce when you see the question.” It’s not education, it’s training. Education means  “to lead out”, such as when we lead someone to a new terrain, to new pastures. Training means to “drag out”, like when you drag a mule, or pull a slave by the collar.

(Educate comes from educere ex- “out”+ ducere “to lead”, from the PIE root *deuk- “to lead”, where Duke is derived. Training comes from trahere “to pull, draw,” from PIE root *tragh- “to draw, drag, move”)

I have been giving thought to similar problems I encounter throughout our education system and, more broadly, culture.

This is an example when theory trumps experience. What the hell does that mean? I mean schools don’t teach you how to reason from open experience, they train you to reason from closed theory. They prioritize syntax, structure, and empty relationships among symbols, among words. Pure abstractions.  There is no emphasis on content, semantics (associated meaning and feeling), and comprehensive understanding. Am I being too hard?

I don’t think I am. In our classrooms it doesn’t matter if you know what the worldly implications of an answer are so long as you answer it correctly on the test. It’s not like students ever experience or encounter the object— that is, what the words and relationships among them actually refer to—  as they sit for hours in their crammed classrooms. Most of education is abstraction. They teach you how to reason from principles, and the constructed relationships between them, that you’re instructed assume, ad hoc, to be true. When we simply believe words or principles are true, we commit the same error that religion commits. Words and authority don’t make something real. Just because the pope says the bible is the word of god doesn’t mean that Jesus was the son of  god— like we even know what god, which god, or who Jesus meant when we spoke of “god”; God could simply be enlightenment, desire for understanding, thirst for knowledge, or faith in your self, which is my favorite interpretation since it contains explanations for all the preceding.

As far as I’m concerned, there is one reality, one god, and it’s found deep within each individual if they dare to venture within and search it out. Reality does not exist outside of the mind: to be is to be perceived. Symbols, words, tokens, signs— they all seek to transcend the authority of personal experience with impersonal theory, and they are very persuasive, especially when “logic” knits the story together so convincingly.

What makes something real must be real according to you. I always suggest that you peer review your experience with others who have shared that experience, but ultimately the utility of your conclusions must be left for you to decide. Do not give the authority of your experience over to the authority of another due to complex justifications or compelling rhetoric.

*

Regarding this article and our culture, I believe we’re in a time where the sovereignty of an individual’s internal experience is on its way out, where individualism counts for nothing anymore.  We’re witnessing the rise of pedantic educational, political, and economic institutions that are similar to the rise of parochial religious institutions, all of which serve one purpose: enslavement.

How is this possible? How can this be?

I would bet it’s the natural corollary of civilization. Every civilization reached a point where ridiculous dogma and metaphysics governed the masses. And we think we’ve escaped the ignorance? We think that science has somehow saved us from ourselves? That is prideful ignorance.

Repetition causes words to lose their meaning. Scarcity creates value. And values prescribe action. But when there is no common experience, and control must be exerted, you must appeal to some values, some feeling for influence. What feeling can universally move the masses? We’ve discarded religion due to its incompatibility with the profits that science and technology can provide— But religion did work so well for so long! Wage labor a far better way of incentivizing work and extracting wealth than tithing is anyway: so what is the common value of industrialized society, for America? Materialism! i.e.  money and the “things” we can accessorize our experience with!

All that we do revolves around the pleasure of goods, the gratification of indulging in “things” or pleasing corporeal experiences. But what happens when there is no more scarcity, there is no more value, there is nothing unique about the human experience? What happens when your individualism becomes null because there is nothing in the world that hasn’t been felt by everyone else?

That’s why experience is so important, that’s why feeling is so significant, why authenticity is the reigning value of all values. Where you are your own god who creates your own meanings.

And what to I mean by god? I do not mean perfectly “omniscience, omnipotent, omnipresent”. That is for fairy tales. The god I am referring to that you possess within you is the ability to create meaning and value and visions and worlds and relationships for yourself. Without having to rely on some external superior power or governing authority.

Yes. You are your own god. Does that terrify you? It should. Is a slave terrified without his master?

You must learn to become, as Emerson said, Self-Reliant. The power exists within you, within the imagination, the depths of reflection, where memories mix and meld with reason and will, the desire to thrive and flourish.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.