Sunday, October 19, 2008
Survival of the Witless - American Nightmare part 3
So where was I?
Ah yes, media and advertising and commercialism and how they have twisted our country into something that will ultimately betray us. Have I not said that out loud yet?
It's coming. It is. It may take another hundred years, or we may realize it as a culture beforehand and avert the crisis, but I really do think it's coming.
Appearances, as we all know, can be brutally deceiving. And our culture, despite what we may all protest, is all about appearances. Perfect home, whiter teeth, sleek clothing lines, sporty physique, trappings, accessories, glitz, glamour. Plenty of mothers of girls understand and teach that the magazine images aren't realistic, but then, we have teenage girls having plastic surgery. We have Air Jordans for infants. We have Britney Spears as a role model.
Let me back up a minute - just yesterday I witnessed something pretty terrifying, on some gut level. My nephew, who will be 3 on Monday, cracked his head on something - a grill, I think. And he's Tonka tough, but he got all manner of attention about it, and it bothered him. He didn't want that kind of attention, and he had a little meltdown. I figured it out when he looked over at me, pulling his contorted face from his dad's legs, saw me looking at him, and wailed harder and reburied his face. He was embarrassed, plain and simple. It really bothered me. How does a kid learn embarrassment? I've seen it in animals before, so maybe it's a natural emotion, but it's also, on some level, learned, and it's shame-based.
I hate and lament that - kids should be totally unselfconscious until they are, I don't know, 12 maybe. Maybe 13. To be fair, I'm not a parent, and not really qualified to discuss it. But I'm not really qualified to discuss education either, and yet. . .
It's the next tree to fall in this clear-cutting of the forest. Because this culture of appearances has taught us that if everything LOOKS ok, then it is quite likely that everything IS ok. Education is the root of our entire culture - this is where we teach our kids a common framework of approaching the world, how to be respectful of others, the basic building blocks that will be used one day to build a career and to add to our society in some way. And now, we judge our teachers not buy what they do with our nation's children, but how well they prepare our children for one specific thing - achievement tests. It no longer matters on a fundamental level if a child is respectful of the rights of others - they need to be able to perform on a standard test - this is shoved down their throats, pushing aside other concerns. I believe teaching is a calling, and I have had wonderful teachers who inspired me to performs, and I have made other teachers literally cry with frustration at my antics and disinterest. The teachers aren't the problem unless they buy into the culture.
The culture says things like - your school needs to be performing at X performance level or we will penalize you. How is this a motivation to the only people who can really make a school successful - the kids? The parents, in some cases, are no better. They will go and argue grades with a teacher - you're hurting junior's chances of getting into a Good School, they insist. And the Good School - that's part of the image of success that the media has shoved down our throats.
So it stops becoming a matter of how the child actually performs, how much the child has actually learned. It becomes a sickening blend of performance, spin, negotiation - this is the underpinning for our future, and we are haggling about it. We dumb down our testing progressively to even the playing field and boost test scores. No child left behind? WTF are you talking about?
It's the skewed yardstick again, insisting that academic performance is the only viable measure of a child's progress and worth, and THAT is the worst bullshit of them all. THAT is what makes parents twist the logic and limits to accommodate their special flower. What is wrong with this country - we have some deep need to distill everything down to something simple and straightforward, to package it tidily, to make things easier. It's not supposed to be easy - this is not a binary world, with either this or that choice. There should be, accordingly, no yardstick whatsoever in this regard. Either you have the 'right' shoes or you don't. Either you're manly enough or you're not. Either you succeed according to this measure, or you are not succeeding at all.
What we're doing is gutting our future. We're raising a bunch of whiny spoiled brats and one day they're going to have to work hard, and the future of the country will rest on them. And while we're cheating our kids, we're simultaneously teaching them that the system can be gamed, and that in this life, all that matters is the trappings - the reach on the yardstick. And that's killing the one thing in this country that could possibly save us from all of this.
Respect. Respect for each other, for our limitations, for the natural order of things, for varying levels of ability in varied areas. For individual differences, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Tune in next time for some thoughts on the death of respect and its implications for our future. Part 4.