Sweet and Sour

I heard a movie reviewer–talking about “The Social Network” — describe the filmmaker as so soured that he was unable to see his characters as anything but one-dimensionally cynical. It’s alienation and greed and petty self revenge all the way down. Given that this movie– and Facebook– had its origins in the darkest days of the Bush administration, perhaps a dour perspective is to be expected, particularly from the man who created “The West Wing.”

I worry that my own perspective is soured too; I criticize while only rarely pointing to what might done to end the quagmire of education in the U.S. (The final chapter of my book does offer solutions.) I don’t like grades, but I don’t talk about portfolios often enough; I think administrations are much too large, over paid, and have too much power, but I don’t discuss unions and democratic reform of university administration in enough detail.

We need the sweet as much as the sour. I think that the overall goal of pedagogical change, for example, ought to be nurturing intellectualism and science. The Chronicle of Higher Education has provided a nice example of what could be done here. The main goal is to reintroduce students to the aims and goals of intellectual work by re-integrating the practical and the theoretical. (The technical term is praxis.)

Dump the standardized tests, organize the teachers, cut administrative budgets in half, reduce tuition, and take our ideas into the wild. Elementary schools can focus on scientific investigations and on nutrition and physical health, while in later grades students can move out into the community and then the world. Education becomes, in a specific tangible sense, both a way to understand people and society and to ameliorate suffering.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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