Sunday, March 9, 2008

Political Rhetoric...

For most of my adult life I have held the belief that there are just some things that shouldn't be discussed when meeting people for the first time, or with those that are generally argumentative. Religion is certainly one due to the fact that there tends to be a lot riding on people's beliefs, even if they are not a follower of a particular religion. The other, of course, is politics.

Personally, I don't like to talk about politics with people because it generally boils down to someone thoroughly versed, or who thinks they are, in the relevant issues lecturing to me. Also, I tend to think that the political scene is a vile stage play that attracts actors of the most dubious character. But, if I were honest, I should mention that sometimes I just don't know how to approach the political topics of today.

Having started Lazere's 15th chapter entitled Thinking Critically About Political Rhetoric, I have a few new thoughts on why I dislike politics so much.

Hello, I'm a... partial conservative of the blue-collar and middle-class variety with tendencies that lean toward notions involved with neoliberals while having other non-conformist ideas that... make me a... crap, what am I?

The easy "culturally conditioned" answer is a Democrat or Republican. The ambiguity of calling oneself a member of one party or another has ties to rhetoric and my ambitions to stay away from current politics. If a Greek philosopher (Plato?) wanted nothing to do with rhetoric due to its playful nature (rather than cool rational thought's ability to get to truth) I think that modern politicians have taken rhetoric and ran with it, using it for personal gain rather than to champion the causes of their constituents. This corruptness is pervasive throughout as well, "many voters, disillusioned with one party, turn toward the other for awhile, then when they get disillusioned with that one, turn back toward the first again, without understanding that both are too diffuse and corrupt to provide any significant alternative to one another." Seems to have modern relevancy... but what is scary is that constant of corruptness. The choices we are given are different faces to the same monster who wields a dazzling rhetorical tongue. I have to wonder whether even the politicians believe in what they are saying sometimes, rather than simply getting caught up in the rhetorical opportunities available to them at any given moment.

Although it might be easier to say I follow a conservative/liberal ideology, or that I am a member of a particular party, it might be better for everyone involved if politicians cut out some of the playfulness so that the rhetoric can be used later, in a more productive way. But then again, who knows, I rarely know the answer to "what's for dinner?", let alone the reasons behind why someone might find politics so confusing. Maybe it would be better if I just dropped the subject altogether. Besides, I have to plan for tomorrow, I hear it might rain... what do you think?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Creative Teaching

A reaction to: Creative Teaching: Collaborative Discussion as Desciplined Improvisation by R. Keith Sawyer

Having an idea of what education should be and what it is now, most of the ideas presented within the article that had a direct personal resonance with me can be linked to the following quote:

Should we improve schools by investing in scripted curricula - a capital intensive approach - or by investing in teacher training and professional development, a labor-intensive approach?

The answer to this question seems fairly obvious when the benefits of creative teaching is spelled out by Sawyer. What is more, I can't really think of any recent occurrences where money being thrown at a cause (usually a fear-filled reaction to an impending "crisis") by governmental types
has resulted in any recognizable advancements. Scripted curricula might improve test scores, but should we really be focusing so heavily on standardized tests to begin with? But that leads into a different issue altogether that I will admit to being only marginally informed about...

What I do agree with is the idea that structure is important within the classroom, but that too much is a bad thing. As with almost everything, moderation is the key: too much fat in the diet- heart disease, too much testosterone- male pattern baldness. Although somethings just can't be avoided, others can. Keeping away from the rigidity of scripted education and blending structure and improvisation makes sense to me. It adds to the idea of teachers as professionals (imagine that!) who can fall back on their knowledge of course material when presented with spontaneous questions from a classroom of increasingly diverse students. Also, developing a teachers ability to respond to and develop related ideas within a directed framework allows an educator to address individual learning plans that can potentially divide a classroom.

Sure, the development of teachers is a lengthy process when done correctly, but isn't that the right way of going about it? It all seems like a lot of common sense being ignored for administrative accountability purposes, creating a system or pieces of a system (like scripting) so that there are fewer unknowns in educating the next generations. But if teachers are created in a manner that fosters the development of improvisational skills as well as their subject matter knowledge, I have a hard time believing that there would be more problems with education than there is at the present moment. There are certainly many more issues at play then whether or not teachers should adopt creative principles, but it seems like a step in the right direction.