Friday, May 08, 2009

That'll Teach 'Em

David Steiner and Susan Rozen did a study in 2004 of what books were actually studied in 18 top Education Schools across the US. Those studied included Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and U. Michigan. In seven, required courses were all and only psychology courses—no history of education, no philosophy of education. This is all very well, except that psychology has virtually no verifiable results of any sort. Psychology was a part of the curriculum in all but three programs.

Only ten out of eighteen programs, covered either philosophy or history of education. Even in philosophy of ed programs, they found only one prominent philosopher studied in more than one program: John Dewey. Only one program, out of eighteen, featured any mention of Plato, the founder of the Western pedagogical tradition, at all. “Philosophy of Education” courses, when they existed, were much more likely to feature the book “Pedagagy of the Oppressed,” by Brazilian Marxist educator Paulo Friere.

Courses in “Foundations of Education” were found to deal almost exclusively with “constructivism,” the recently fashionable (though now apparently being replaced by the new fad, “connectivism”) postmodern theory translated into educational terms. To sum it up: Nothing is real: reality is socially constructed. The traditional view of reality is constructed by the oppressor. It must therefore not be taught.

Only two schools, out of eighteen, featured any mention of direct instruction, the one educational technique actually demonstrated to work in reasonably reliable scientific studies. In both these curricula, its place was relatively minor.

What about rhetoric, which was, as we have pointed out in this space, the Western teaching tradition for over twenty-three centuries? Was there anything preserved from all those years of thought, study, and empirical observation, to be passed down to present teachers?

Nothing. Not a word.

What about non-Western teaching methods?

All of the schools featured required courses on “diversity” or “multiculturalism.” But what did this really consist of? As Steiner and Rozen found at Stanford, “all of these authors were American, and all but one of their books was written in the past 30 years.”

The student teachers learned (and learn) no more about non-Western than about Western traditions of teaching.

And people must go through these programs to be permitted to teach in American public schools. Yes, there are alternative routes to accreditation—but these too are controlled by the Ed Schools, and require essentially the same curriculum.

I have no real idea whether the same is true in Canada as in the US--but given that Canada tends to lean further to the left, it seems likely. You are paying for this with your tax dollars, and unless you are rich your children are required to attend the schools that result.

Me, I'm looking hard at home schooling.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Thank Heaven - for Little Girls

The shock about President Lugo of Paraguay having had a relationship with a much younger woman, perhaps as young as sixteen, and having a son by her, continues. At least for my friend in Paraguay. This has provoked the following more recent reflection about the immorality of having sex with teenagers--”pedophilia,” as he calls it.

It is certainly a huge cause for scandal these days—Anne Landers wanted all offenders castrated just a few years ago. But this concern, or at least this level of concern, is quite new, even in the West. In the old days, the only issue was sex outside of marriage. But today, governments like those in India or Saudi Arabia face heat on the grounds of "human rights" for "child brides."

But is there really something morally wrong with women marrying young? This is a very new idea even in the west. First, consider the ancient tradition (and historical likelihood) that Mary herself, at her marriage, was barely past puberty, no older than 15 at the outside. And that Joseph was an aged man--some early written sources say he was 90 at marriage.

How about that archetype of Western romance, Romeo and Juliet? According to the play, Juliet is 13. Romeo's age is not given, by Shakespeare-but in pre-Shakespearean sources, he is 20 or 21.

Some sources say Mohammed married his last wife, Ayesha, when he was 53 and she was nine. In Judaic tradition, consider the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs. We do not know the precise age of the woman in that famous love poem. But consider this moving verse:

"Our sister is little: her breasts are not yet formed. What shall we do for her on the day she is spoken for?"

How about that great medieval romance, the story of Abelard and Heloise? He was 22 years older than she was.

How about the romance that built the Taj Mahal? That's a big one, isn't it?

When Shah Jehan married Mumtaz Mahal, for whom the Taj was built, she was fourteen.

Probably the most famous Korean romance is the story of Chunhyang and Yi Toryong. Chunhyang's age at marriage? 15.

You might also have heard of the marriage between Mohammed and Ayesha; the precise ages are in dispute, but there is no question she was much younger than he.

Obviously, there was no moral issue, until a few years ago, for Christians, Jews, or Muslims.

So most cultures at most times seem to have thought a very young bride, and a significantly older groom, was not a scandal, but the ideal match. And this makes perfect sense: a younger woman is better able to bear many children, while an older, more established man, is more likely to be able to support them. Sheer survival of the species.

How recent is this prejudice against young women and older men?

Pretty recent. Among the five greatest romances of the twentieth century, Time magazine lists Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It has inspired popular songs and further movies. Bogart was twice her age. When they played a romantic couple in To Have and Have Not, she was 19, and he was 44.

How about “The Misfits,” 1960? There were at least twenty years between the romantic leads, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. How about “Gigi”? Gigi was supposed to be 15; Chevalier was 60. “Gone With the Wind”--there's a romance classic. Gable had twelve years on Vivian Leigh. In Shaw's play Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, she is sixteen. He is 52. Oona O'Neill, daughter of the playwright, spurned both Orson Welles and J.D. Salinger to wed Charlie Chaplin, 36 years her senior, in 1943. Unfortunately, they had to wait until her 18th birthday, becuase her father refused to give his consent.

And so it goes.

Something happened in the Sixties, obviously. It was feminism.

I really wonder, though, whether the objection was ever really to the age difference, or rather to marriage per se?

After all, self-respecting feminists from the Sixties onwards resisted getting married—-or, if married, divorced as soon as they could get child support. Not already safely married, at a relatively advanced age, they unfortunately discovered they could not compete for the attentions of men with these much younger women. They were scabs. They were busting the union. But of course, they could not be blamed directly or oppenly, because they were women. But the practice had to somehow be stigmatized, de-normalized.

Hence the new, ultimately wild-eyed, stereotype of "pedophilia."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Was Walt Disney Naughty?

Dante doesn't mention it, but I'm sure there must be a special place in hell reserved for biographers.

Not all biographers, to be sure, but for a certian type: those who write the inevitable highly-critical “revisionist” biography of a famous person after his death. The act itself is inherently cowardly, and inherently dishonest: the subject, no longer alive, can no longer defend himself, let alone sue for slander. It is done with the soul of a Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan: the perpetrator seeks fame and fortune from the accomplishments of someone else, while at the same time destroying those accomplisments and their true author. Even if the accusations are true, they can serve no purpose, after the subject is dead, and so necessarily are the sin of calumny even when they are not a libel.

On YouTube, I recently ran across such a piece, done by Britain's TV 4, on Walt Disney. Their claims against them, as I could isolate them, were the following:
That he employed women in the relatively menial job of inker, but did not employ them as illustrators.
That he was anti-semitic.
That he took credit for everything the studio did, though he was not in fact the artist.
That he was actually a lousy artist who could not even draw Mickey Mouse.
That he fought unionization of Disney Studios.
That he was an informant for the FBI.
That he testified in front of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and named people as Communists.

Let's look at them one by one, in Disney's defense.

That he employed women in the relatively menial job of inker, but did not employ them as illustrators.

That's just good sense. Women would be better at inking than men, because they have greater manual dexterity. This is the same reason they were universally preferred, at the time, as secretaries. But to put them in responsible jobs requiring a very high level of expertise did not make sense, because they would almost always leave their jobs at marriage.

That he was anti-semitic.

This seems to be a total fabrication, perhaps an urban legeng. Disney hired scads of Jews for his studio, and many of his closest associates were Jewish. He donated to Jewish charities. He was Beverley Hills Bnai Brith's man of the year in 1955.

That he took credit for everything the studio did, though he was not the artist.

First, this is just good business. Aunt Jemima didn't really cook all those pancakes, either. Sara Lee didn't make all those cakes. Putting a single human face forward as spokesperson is of great value in establishing a brand, and in Disney's case, it was far more authentic than most. I'm sure no one really thought he drew all those pictures personally, did they?

Second, this follows well-established practice in the art world. In the case of sculptors or even painters, since the Renaissance and before, the named artist very commonly only supervised the work, with details left to apprentices. But, because it was his vision, it is still considered his work. Surely it is reasonable to do the same with movies?

That he was actually a lousy artist who couldn't even draw Mickey Mouse.

Disney may not have been as good a draughtsman as many he employed, but he was surely legitimately an artist. First, that is what he was trained in, and that is how he began—by drawing his first illustrations and cartoons himself. Second, anyone can see a single, unified vision behind the great Disney animations; anyone can tell there is one mind and one voice behind them. Anyone can see this voice was lost when Disney died.

That he fought unionization at Disney Studios.

Why wouldn't he? It was more or less his duty as an executive. Unionization is bad for business. Ask Detroit. But even so, Disney claimed later that he was not fighting against unions per se, and pointed out that Disney Studio recognized over thirty different unions in their operations. The problem was with this particular union, because it was refusing to allow a free vote of members. Disney claimed to be defending his workers' rights.

That he was an informant for the FBI.

This claim has apparently not been proven. But if so, why is that a bad thing? Isn't it, rather, the sort of thing one normally would expect of a responsible citizen, so long as the government is not oppressive? Aren't we more or less legally obliged to give the law enforcement authorities all possible assistance?

That he testified in front of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and named people as Communists.

The actual transcript of Disney's testimony is available online.

In it, Disney says nothing unreasonable. He does not name anyone as a Communist, because, as he notes, nobody can ever really know. He gives the names of people he suspects are Communists, and explains why he thinks so. Why wouldn't he?

Of course, as has since been revealed thanks to now-released Soviet archives, the US State Department and the Hollywood Studios really were targets for Soviet penetration, and many there really were active Soviet agents, apparently including the first name Disney puts forward.

So where's the problem? There is a problem, I suppose, if you hold the entire idea of opposing and rooting out Communists to be illegitimate, and a violation of one's freedom of thought. Then Disney is guilty of something—along, of course, with most Americans of his time. But I think there is genuine room for the thesis that Communism as a movement was bent upon overturning the American system of government. If so, to actually sign up for the Communist Party would be, legitimately, the classic crime of treason. This is not usually considered a trivial offense. And concealing the identities of those you suspected of it would not be a patriotic act.

The real question, I suppose, is this: when, in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, the Soviet Union targeted the American entertainment industry, the American press, and the American education system for infiltration, subversion, and conversion to their ideological purposes, did they succeed?