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Tuck Fexas

Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change

The article outlines the new standards decided upon by the Texas Board of Education.

While on the whole, the actions of the Texas state board are at most regrettable and undesirable, there are a few points upon which they must be taken to task.

On one hand they deplore vicious attacks on capitalism (exemplified by such heart-wrenching insults as “you capitalist pig!”) replacing it with the new-speak term “free-enterprise system,” they just as easily  passed a measure applauding the McCarthy era’s vicious black-listing of supposed communists.

One member defends their actions by arguing that “We are adding balance… History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left,” the gaping holes of this logic aside (anyone who has spent any amount of time studying history can see that this question is not one so easily reductive). The board members seem almost unable to recognize their own hypocrisy, as if replacing bias for bias constitutes balance.

It becomes blisteringly apparent through the article, the members of this board have next to no regard for revolutionary or non-mainstream figures of any sort, when, for example, one Dr. McLeroy, “a dentist by training,  “[pushes] through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

This is one point which may in fact prove to be an unintentional thorn in their side. The glossing over of the effect of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers on the question of civil rights has always left an ill-taste in my mouth, so Dr. McLeroy’s inclusion leaves open an unintentional battleground where there may be some strides made– namely, while McLeroy’s arguably finds these forces distasteful and intends the mentioning of them as a warning to those who would disobey authority, a clear-headed study of these figures proves enlightening, not infuriating or scary. To wit: Before his assassination, Malcolm X denounced the use of violence in the Civil Rights movement. To assume that the study of revolutionary figures can only be used to reinforce cultural norms and to frighten students into obedience is a sad, sorry stance to take.

“Dr. McLeroy also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported. ‘Republicans need a little credit for that,” he said. “I think it’s going to surprise some students.'”

While I’m never above spreading the love around where civil rights are concerned, a problem arises when on one hand, there is approbation for certain areas of civil rights, and scorn for other [liberal] areas, as another boardmember, David Bradley did, when he won approval for “an amendment saying students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. He also won approval for an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.”

While the realistic recognition of wide abuses by the United States in War Time is to be commended, and the acknowledgment of all-too-human errors made by our country noble, to single out liberal policies whose effects are by no means easily parsed is entirely partisan in its aims and only further entrenches a sense of  obedience. As educators, is not our job precisely the opposite? To address every issue openly and let our students try to parse for themselves their opinions and beliefs?  The problem with the actions of these Texans is that, instead of redressing (possible) liberal biases in the framework of textbooks, they instead have created a system whereby they replace one (possible) set of biases for another. And to be honest, I’m not sure they quite grasp the depth of the epistemological clusterfuck into which they’ve wandered.

This disregard for epistemological issues also extends even to those those holier-than-holy American Saints, the forefathers, in particular, Thomas Jefferson. But again, their reasoning for almost wholly removing the author of the Declaration of Independence has nothing to do with a clear-headed study of the man, but rather, a reaction to his general distaste for Christianity.

Boardmember Cynthia Dunbar attempts to shroud this in arguing that “The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based.” While this is certainly true, to reduce their impact on the revolutions of the period is to cut the legs out from understanding them at all. Earlier Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke (from whom we get both the idea of the pursuit of [property] and a character on Lost) and Thomas Hobbes are entirely in dispensable. (Further, I was unaware that ‘The Enlightenment’ was a singular philosophy instead of the nomenclature of an era and intellectual movement lasting more than a century).

My question to Mrs. Dunbar would be this: Without Thomas Jefferson and his Enlightenment forbears, how exactly will you get from Medieval philosophers such as Aquinas to outright Revolution? Which non-enlightenment philosophers and theologists have you quoted and listed serve as direct linkage to the creation of our country?

What is to be gleaned, past their epistemological clusterfucks and blatant disregard for a logical understanding of the course of history is this: This whole charade seems to be a barometer of political hemorrhage. In the post 9/11-Obama-Administration-Tea-Party America, this odd blacklisting of a founding father seems disturbingly prescient. One of the largest red-herring debates of the post 9/11 era was that of divining the Patriotic from the Unpatriotic. But the actions of the Texas Board of Education completely dismantles that dialectic, and instead  re articulates it as a struggle between conservative Christianity and Whatever-Power-Structure-Opposes-Christianity in that instant. A people who for so long hid behind the shield of Patriotism easily disregard it when it fails to suit their means. The question of God and Country becomes, simply, God. And while I by no means identify myself as patriotic and neither do I believe in deification of the forefathers, the realization of this new struggle somehow frightens me even more.

Finally, To Mr. Bradley– It took a few moments of arduous googling of the words “First Amendment” to stumble across this nefarious little nugget of wisdom, buried deeply in the first pages of the constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

Make the check out to the ACLU, please.

At a lecture given by Vincent Leitch, head editor of the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism the other day among a number of insightful, interesting things he pointed out(1), was the consideration of many English departments (certainly not just Cultural Studies departments) toward rebranding themselves as Media Studies.(2) It makes sense. You already have an army of grad students sneering and berating literature into submission. In order to get a job anyway they make their intellectual gimmick about post-structuralist feminism (3) in Laverne and Shirley. It would merely provide a large tent under which hyphenated studies and wacko interdisciplinary academics may be housed.

…It would also mean I could fulfill my dream of writing my dissertation on the presentation and transference of mythopoetics and genre narratives in American cartoons of the late 80s and early 90s.(3) It’s all part of my plan to really earn the beatdown Theodor Adorno is going to give me when I arrive in hell.

Adorno the Adorable

1. Not the least of which is the idea of hypertext-as-poetry, which, as fascinating as it sounds, really only amounts to geocities-esque junk. Which, in my zealous blogging, I have  just enabled

2. This bleeds into the film industry as well: If you watch films from newer companies, they never brand themselves as ‘productions’ or ‘films’ but as ‘media,’ because it covers all manners of sin.

3. Of course I made that term up.

4. You think I jest but I do not.

In-class Procasturbation

The students in the course I TA, with their armadas of blinking, whirring Vaios, Dells and iMacs find any number distractions in order to ignore lectures on Mondays and Wednesdays. Mostly they bury their noses in facebook, myspace, failblog, fmylife and I’ve seen, I kid you not, porn.

The only one I’ve managed to catch occurred last week. A student spent most of the lecture scrolling through failblog. His neighbor got up to visit the restroom near the end class and as he pased by, I asked his compatriot’s name. When he returned, he whispered in the failblogger’s ear, who turned to look back at me. I wagged my finger at him. Looking petrified, he turned around and immediately slammed his computer shut.

[Sigmund Freud careens through a crowd of well-dressed Viennese socialites, puffs of fine white dust like a haze flow behind him]

Sigmund Freud: “GOD THIS PARTY IS SO GREAT CAN I TELL YOU ABOUT JOKES THEY’RE GREAT THEY’RE A… THEY’RE A.. IT’S AN… EXERCISE IN ECONOMIC PSYCHICAL PROCESSES AS THEY RELATE… OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS SONG! IS THIS PASSION PIT I LOVE THEM… I JUST… I JUST WANT TO DANCE…”

Well-Dressed Viennese Socialite 1: Yeah, We really need to get him some help.

Well-Dressed Viennese Socialite 2: Preferably before he starts ranting about his mother.

In a recent jobtalk for my University’s open Early Modernism position (out of the barest sense of decency I possess, I’ll refrain from naming names) one of the candidates gave a lecture, based on a book she was writing, concerning the possible worlds inherent in poetry and mathematics in the Early Modern period (a misleading term to indicate the late Renaissance). The lecture focused heavily on the poetry, (we are an English department, after all) yet, when asked to elucidate further on the mathematics portion of her argument, or rather, to at least explain how her interest in mathematics had arisen, she offeredwhat amounted to a weary skimming of mathematical topics and then stipulated that this interest grew “out of [her] interest in death.”

Death?

That is, in the reading of church records for another project, specifically those records which show the dates of a person’s life.

Ah.

Apparently, I must have lived my life under the  mistaken impression that the length of one’s life and the dates of one’s death were related to  simple, useless factoids of addition like “George Washington was 67 years old when he kicked the bucket,” or “Socrates was 70 or 71 when he chugged that hemlock,” or “Abraham Lincoln was roughly 53 when he wrote the Gettysburg address,” but rather, highly technical mathematical forms involving quadratic equations and trapezoids and shit.

What I had expected her to say, of course, was that she had double-majored in math and english, perhaps even considered studying mathematics at the graduate level. But no. It was death. It was doing simple addition and subtraction while standing next to Tombstones.

Yet, following her explanation was not the discernible hush of skepticism in the room which I expected. You see, I had forgotten the primary joy of academics, specifically those in the realm of Cultural Studies, our school’s chosen battlecry: We love to swing our dicks around and run our mouths off about things we really don’t understand. What’s that? You took a stats class back in undergrad? Great, go ahead and wax arrogant on theoretical mathematics. You once audited a course on Native American Drumming? Cool, write up an ethnographic study that maims the scientific underpinnings of sociology. You read the Huffington Post? Fuck yeah, you now understand foreign policy and should write a paper recommending how to deal with the theocratic government of Iran. Oh man! We’re all so with it and part of the conversation!

The mistake I made, however, was in assuming that people who so heavily value credentials– coming from the right program, knowing the right people, wouldn’t so easily succumb to drunken, smug assurance of their own intelligence.  Or perhaps, that coming from the right place, knowing the right people, guarantees that no matter what, you must know what you’re talking about. Even when you sound like a dumbass in front of potential employers.

Though I guess they bought it, so good on her.

We tend to think that academic calendars exist the way they do, with a long summer break and a smaller break during the holidays, as a result of America’s pre-industrial heavily-agrarian origins. This just isn’t the case. A cursory study in history or at least some simple critical thinking proves otherwise. Harvests and plantings occur in autumn and spring, not summer and winter. Regardless, the perpetuation of this system is utterly silly and harmful to American students. It should be scrapped for a tougher, year-round schedule.

Though there’s some debate on the specific origins of this ‘agrarian’ calendar, it is generally agreed school breaks were created in this manner to accommodate an industrial society’s need to both comply with child labor laws (rural school children spent far less time in school than industrial city children by about 100 days,) as well as concern over children remaining locked up in hellishly warm or freezing buildings with no air conditioning or central heating. There is also belief that the long summer vacation was a response to an increasingly mobile society’s desire to vacation. At any rate, the September-summer calendar became regularized by about 1920, the same time local governance began to mandate school attendance for children. Before this time, children were in school from May-August and November-March, months which do correspond logically to an agrarian calendar.

The harsh effects of this woefully outdated system have been extensively documented and debated. According to Harris Cooper, Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, on average, children’s tests scores were at least one month lower when they returned to school in fall than scores were when students left in spring.” Further, that a month out of school resulted in a loss of 2.6 months in mathematics. The length of our school calendar contrasts drastically with that of other countries, most specifically Japan, where students spend on average 240 days in class.

Concern over the deleterious nature of long summer breaks is hardly new, however. The now-infamous 1983 “A Nation at Risk” report pleaded for a longer, tougher school schedule, including the teaching of foreign languages beginning in elementary school, a seven-hour school day, an increase of school days to at least 200-220 and far more stringent academic standards across the board. It also advocated tougher standards of acceptance for colleges. “A Nation at Risk” takes a hardline stance, but not flippantly, its research found much the same as Cooper’s research.

At the present moment, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is pushing for a longer school year and longer school days, but isn’t finding much support. Parents worry about daycare costs, family time, and at the very core, they see fit to blame teachers for wasting school time instead of utilizing the school day more effectively. This argument is not wholly without merit. According to Cooper’s research, a 5 or 6 day increase only represents 3% increase in school time, but does address the reformation of curricula needed within the school system. What is argued as necessary is a substantial increase in school days, as well as an adjustment of curricula. There is also growing support for a shorter school week, just four days, which has shown an increase in student productivity and attendance. The shorter school week was begun mostly as a cost-saving measure that yielded unexpectedly positive results. This point in particular seems the most striking and salient, almost slapping Duncan’s conclusions in the face.

For all the swagger these arguments hold, particularly the last, they do not seem to effectively address the problem at hand; that interrupted learning is corrosive toward student performance. The argument that whole curricula must be addressed is of course, vastly important, but if we hold uninterrupted learning as our initial goal, perhaps a synthesis of longer school calendars with shorter weeks could sustain student interest, lessen the financial burden of school districts, while retaining a grasp on a school year with greater continuity so that students aren’t struggling to catch up at the beginning of every year.

Introduction

“Otherwise, despite its size, this bloated pleasure apparatus adds no dignity to man’s lives. The idea of “fully exploiting” available technical resources and the facilities for aesthetic mass consumption is part of the economic system which refuses to exploit resources to abolish hunger.”

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.

Barring a few employment opportunities that can’t be listed truthfully on a tax form (mobster, pimp, sub-Saharan Warlord) I’d argue that the three most useless jobs in the world are  as follows: Ballerina, Sportscaster, Graduate Student. I won’t speculate much on the former two, except to say that any job that allows you to list a tutu as a tax write-off or receive a paycheck to discuss Brett Favre isn’t actually a job.

Actually, I will extrapolate just a tad more: I don’t mean that in any new-wave, follow-your-bliss, pop-philosophy sense. I mean it really isn’t a job. The services you offer are scant at best and pointless at worst. You want to dance? Start a dance studio to teach little girls they should starve themselves for a dream. You want to talk about sports? Cool. What you’re saying on the radio isn’t any more insightful than what my father says when he screams at the 49ers. You aren’t discussing how to curtail water waste or improve the political situations in any countless number of countries. You’re arguing with another overweight man with high blood-pressure about a two second time- frame.

This is not to say I dislike sports, or the ballet. Well, I don’t dislike sports at any rate. But as a member of the third ignominious category of workers I listed, as a Graduate student in English, I feel I have the prerogative to wax philosophic on the topic of uselessness.

Before I go any further, I should probably explain the title of this blog. Anyone out there who has read Adorno and Horkheimer’s 1944 treatise on the “Culture Industry” (Don’t worry, I don’t expect anyone to, in fact, I probably advise against it, unless you want to spend a day with a headache reading the only thing that makes listening to Elliott Smith seem like rollicking in a sun-drenched daisy field) will recognize this as a derisive (and utterly silly) term for the culture industry itself, a play on Althusser’s concepts of Ideological and Repressive State Apparatuses (See? Bona fide pretentious Graduate student). Adorno and Horkheimer, though particularly Adorno, are derisive of practically everything in sight, from movie theaters to Jazz music, viewing it all as mass produced art created by a capitalist system to both feed itself and keep its participants docile. Rays of sunshine, right?

But the beauty of language is that it can be subverted to whatever means we see fit. If I felt the desire, I could probably go out and create a whole grass-roots movement hellbent on using the term ‘Bloated Pleasure Apparatus’ to mean ‘Rosie O’Donnell’ (Alright, on that one, I probably give myself too much credit). The point, however, is that I appropriated the term to mean, all at once, Graduate School, Education, Literature, Theater, History, Politics and quite possibly and most appropriately,  myself. For all things of these are topics for which I feel quite deep affection, even as my inner curmudgeon seeks mostly to denigrate and mock them as unabashedly silly.

This is perhaps especially true of my relationship with Graduate school, which seems grandly consumptive and self-congratulating to the point that it’s almost masturbatory. If I seem utterly harsh toward sportscasters and ballerinas, it pales in comparison to the degrees I find Graduate School contemptible, and thus worth mockery. Somehow, graduate students, though we are told school is now our ‘job,’ fail to produce anything substantive or worthwhile for the world at large. Our paychecks certainly reflect this truth. We exist on a plane somewhere between adult-hood and toddlerdom, where consequences and harsh realities are like pithy philosophical daydreams. While we opine radical political positions and read dense impractical treatises from the comfort of a coffee shop, elsewhere, someone of little consequence to us is starving or cold and could really use a meal. We know this person on in abstract, in theory. In class, we spend hours arguing the definition of the term “culture” or whether or not alternative lifestyles truly exist and be studied, or can never be anything but co-opted once identified. But these conversations are not substantive. They are not giving healthcare to those who need it, nor feeding the hungry. They are the smug musings  of smart people sitting in a room, slapping each others’ backs.

All of this may beg the question of why I persist, if I find graduate school and its denizens so detestable. The truth of the matter is, I enjoy being angry. I enjoy disliking things, I enjoy being curmudgeonly and so beneath my rantings and my protestations, you’ll find what I hope most of us are, a lover of literature, history, politics and their peculiarities, an appreciator of education and its possibilities. I believe most of all that through active, unpretentious, inclusive education we will improve the world, even if it takes a long, winding and altogether strange path. For me, Graduate school is the first necessary step up that path.

Welcome to the Bloated Pleasure Apparatus.