OPRF high school has to go, some said, and they had a plan! "Wannabe reformers" castigated. Dog dumplings for dinner. Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. Masonic ritual from old, never-was Egypt . . .
June of 96, a Blithe Spirit exclusive . . .
When truth and fiction collide (2) . . . Late development on the OPRF High School academic support front [odd name: isn't the whole school one big academic support operation?]: Helping professional Barry Goldwater (no relation) has teamed with Mrs. V-2 of the PONTOON group, a highly credentialed educationist, to propose what seems a massive redoing of the whole damn school.
As community members of a committee composed mostly of school staffers, they have proposed a "don," as in Oxford don, system with 25 or 30 "learning facilitators" meeting regularly with groups of students. Another term for it is "house system," first with freshmen, then with all. It seems a social-service model, vs. academic, and thus presumably qualifies as "academic support."
It's also expensive as hell at first blush, not to mention compulsory for all students. These facilitators would apparently try to provide a home away from home for all, whether home is already there and doing quite-nicely-thank-you or hellish or nonexistent or somewhere in between. More later on this plan, with a nod, I am sure, towards Thomas More, who did a good job on Utopia ("nowhere") a long time ago.
Utopia reconsidered . . . Not yet in the Thomas More mode, but in Stanley Pogrow's. Don't know Pogrow from Adam, but American Federation of Teachers Pres. Albert Shanker does, or at least knows what Pogrow says about school reform. Pogrow wrote about it in the June Phi Delta Kappan, which I missed as usual, but Shanker didn't and reported on in his weekly NY Times advertorial. Yes, it’s a tangled web . . .
The problem with school reformers is they have great ideas but are weak on engineering them for mass consumption. Neither Pogrow nor Shanker put it this way, which is a steal from industry, where something is invented and made to work in a lab but for wide use has to be engineered.
The transistor, for instance, was a Bell Labs achievement of no small dimensions, but it took Motorola to make it work on radios. So there are ideas among researchers about teaching and schools. These are (routinely?) given in untested form for teachers to apply in classrooms, says Pogrow, a Univ. of Arizona prof, later of San Francisco State. It's as if production supervisors were given the latest from the labs and told to make the product, say I.
It's "a lot of bull but no beef," says Pogrow unkindly, in his article called also unkindly, "Reforming the Wannabe Reformers: Why Education Reforms Almost Always End Up Making Things Worse."
Where are the "techniques for implementing a complex reform idea?" he asks, listing what's hot now: whole language vs. phonics, team teaching, block scheduling, school-within-a-school, vouchers, teacher empowerment, authentic assessment, decentralization, and child-centered curricula.
It's a dizzying array, nervously embraced by au courant administrators and others, but too often unaccompanied by the technology -- detailed instructions -- to make it work.
Words to the wise . . . I can't resist quoting the 18th century's Alexander Pope on this point: "Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside."
Pope is an engaging figure for his contrarian nature, by the way. When it was political to be Catholic, he stayed Protestant. When it became political to be Protestant, he became Catholic. He did not take the line of least resistance -- a line I learned from my father, also by the way.
Dog-lovers, eat your hearts out . . . Providing a hair of the dog that bit you (Irish for a medicinal shot the morning after) had a meaning all its own for the Oglala Sioux, or Dakota, whom U.S. historian Francis Parkman spent time with on the Oregon Trail in 1846. For them it was providing the whole dog.
He watched a woman pick up a plump puppy from the litter snoozing in her father's lodge, hammer it on its head until it was dead, swing it over the fire until its hair was singed off, cut it into little pieces, and toss the pieces into a boiling pot.
From that came a "dog feast" for Parkinson and his prairie-doctor friend who had been fixing what ailed the Indians. It was offered in gratitude and had to be eaten, lest offense be given. Call off your old tired ethics on that one, eh?
A line for the Bob Dole campaign . . . "Bosh! What does that Arkansas ass know about it?" (Name of Clinton, you know.) -- from Mark Twain's 1869 story, "Legend of the Capitoline Venus"
Mark Twain's legend . . . In that Capitoline Venus story, Twain tells of a starving American artist in Rome who needs a quick $50G to win his beloved, another American, as his bride. Her father says all the right things about the impracticality of art and demands the guy come up with that much kale.
The artist's buddy says he will solve the problem and beats up on his friend’s masterpiece, a statue of America, chipping its nose, reducing one leg to almost nothing, etc., all in front of the artist, who faints on the spot.
Six months later, the artist still has no money and is despairing. But then a series of knocks on the door to his crumby apartment reveal creditors dying to extend his line, fit him for new boots and suits, etc., and finally the girl's father dying to give her away.
He's rich, thanks to the practical friend, who had buried the half-smashed America statue on a desolate half acre, deeded the land to the artist, dug up the statue -- and the rest was history. A committee of experts said it was a third-century B.C. Venus, and the guy's fortune was made.
Mark Twain's "Day at Niagara" . . . is another story, in which at one point the narrator is twirling in a whirlpool, grabbing and repeatedly missing a tree branch by which to pull himself out. A man comes to watch, trying to light his pipe all the while, finally asks the hapless Twain -- you got it -- for a match.
Same story, the narrator keeps approaching Indian trinket-makers to observe the noble savages -- these are they who, irritated, toss him into the whirlpool. They turn out to be not noble savages but immigrants from Limerick, brogue and all. Can you imagine Twain getting away with that today?
One of the heirs to his tradition, The Tribune's Mike Royko, tried it recently with Mexicans, and a lot of bad stuff hit the fan, you may recall. [You can read about it in Richard Ciccone’s Royko, a Life in Print, pages 4 and following.] Our society would have no use for a Twain, [yes and no, the writer must add] and he apparently saw best to censor himself at that. His less tractable contemporary Ambrose Bierce, of Devil's Dictionary fame, chose disappearance into Mexico. So watch what you say.
Not Out of Africa (more) . . . Afrocentrists unknowingly depend on a very European view of ancient Egypt. An 18th-century French novelist, Jean Terrasson, popularized Egypt, being sure to give it a European flavor to help sales. Among other inventions was his idea of an ancient Egyptian university for which he took care to use Greek and Roman starting points, says Mary Lefkowitz in Not Out Of Africa: How ""Afrocentrism"" Became An Excuse To Teach Myth As History.
He also made repeated references to Greek and Roman myths, with which his readers were quite familiar, supplying a standard-fare descent to Hades (see Dante and Milton) and the rejecting by his hero of love and marriage for the celibate life. He even portrays Egyptian deities Osiris, Isis, and their son Horus as a sort of holy family or trinity, take your pick.
Several generations of Europeans ate this up -- unfortunately, since there's no evidence for any of it and evidence to contradict much of it. Terrasson's work was there when Freemasons shopped about for ritual and worldview. Convinced it gave them standing, they hopped on it.
One of them, Mozart, of "Amadeus" fame, built his "Magic Flute" on this fictitious Egypt. In it his choruses sound like church choirs, which he knew firsthand, in contrast to Egypt, of which he knew nothing but what Terrasson's novel told him.
Freemasons clung to this good old Egypt for centuries, including black ones in the West Indies and the U.S. -- ancestors, you might say, of lodge members Amos 'n' Andy.
More, more, more later on what's not out of Africa.
Jim, My head is spinning. Are you recycling old columns, writing new, or are your blog posts a combination of both?