Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Goats in The Patriarchy

I had a revelation at Hookah House last weekend:  Traditional Education is a Patriarchal Imposition. I immediately imagined telling Woody about this recognition and hearing him say, "Well, DUH." He used to be a college professor, so he ought to know.

Colleges recruit students, and as soon as those eager young learners are installed in the dorm, The Institution sets out to Fail them in an effort to separate the Sheep from the Goats.  Apparently, a College sees a number of goats that can be turned into sheep if the goats are willing to put in a bit of effort.

Velvet had made an appeal to some committee that instead of being suspended, he be allowed to register for a Forestry class so that he could receive Tree Hugger credit for his course in the Rockies.  Tree Hugger said, "No."  We haven't been officially notified of this rejection.  Velvet needed a professor to sign a form for his Rockies course and the guy refused because the appeal was rejected.  Once Velvet explained that the form merely states that he wasn't kicked out for drugs or alcohol, the guy quit being a dickwad about the whole thing and signed it with a smile.

That's when Velvet knew he was being Punished.  Some of his brothers, who have also been suspended from Tree Hugger for grades, have told Velvet that nobody's appeal is ever approved.  Once the period of suspension is over, getting readmitted is no problem.  Being suspended must be part of the process of turning a goat into a sheep by requiring said goat to submit to said process.  Since Velvet is determined to go back to Tree Hugger in the fall simply to prove to himself and the world that he can succeed in that environment, I suppose being suspended is having the desired outcome.  When you don't comply or conform, you get punished so that you eventurally conform in order to avoid punishment.  That's how old fashioned Behavior Modification works.  Pavlov didn't do brain surgery on the damn dog, after all.  Just Behavior Modification.

I would be pissed about the whole thing since I firmly believe that the supports Tree Hugger provides for kids with learning differences are absolutely inadequate and that by requiring students to perform under these conditions, Tree Hugger undermines cognitive diversity.  You would think that an institution which is committed to Bio-diversity would also support Neurodiversity, but no.  Students sink or swim which, in my professional opinion as an educator with two of my own advanced degrees and twenty five years in Early Childhood, is simply fucking wrong.  Educators should be able to utilize a variety of methods when presenting material so that a variety of learners have access to that material.  That way, almost everyone learns to swim and has fun in the water.  You don't present material to a limited group of swimmers then curse the others for drowning.

The thing, is, however, that part of the reason Velvet failed two classes this past semester is that he skipped too many classes.  Most likely, he wasn't even high.  He was mostly likely playing video games at Hookah House and didn't feel like hauling his ass out into the rain to walk to class.  Or maybe he figured that he already knew everything they were talking about and didn't need to go.  Since he got 85s on all his tests, he clearly did know the material.  The trouble is that he didn't look at the section of the syllabus that said, in no uncertain terms, that tests counted for 40% of the final grade.  Class Participation and Assignments counted for 60%.

Velvet's Executive Dysfunction does mean he gets sadly and terminally confused about assignments and when they are due.  His organizational abilities are For Shit, but I suspect the professors would have cut him some slack on that score if he had gotten off his ass and come to class.   You don't look at the syllabus after you get your report card and discover to your chagrin and surprise that class participation is worth 30% without consequences.

When I first started dealing with Velvet's situation, Mr. Charleston left a comment that Velvet didn't need understanding - he needed an ass-kicking.  I wasn't offended because Mr. Charleston is a military man and from a patriarchal perspective, an ass-kicking is in order.  At the time, however, I didn't understand that Traditional Education is as much a Patriarchal Imposition as the Military.  The pecking order I witnessed at Hookah House is a hierarchy based upon Patriarchal Imposition, too.

Although I don't know all the particulars of the situation I witnessed, I can say with certainty that when the guys were deciding if Brother A got precedence over Brother B with regard to living arrangements, they might as well have been talking about a poker game.  Three of a Kind beats Two Pair - the end.  Rules are clearly defined, designated individuals are given a certain amount of authority under these same rules so that they can settle disputes and order is maintained.  Sometimes an individual without any particular official status has a lot of clout because he's a dominant kind of Alpha Male - but even he would have to accept the decisions of office holders within the hierarchy.  Dominance alone does not give a person Authority.   Authority is a Social Construct - just like Morality, and just like getting suspended if and when your GPA drops below a 2.0.

Given that Velvet will eventually have to function in this society, and that this entire society is a Patriarchal Imposition all the way to Sarah Palin - I suppose it's in Velvet's best interests to learn how to operate within the confines of this system.  We can question whether or not it's a good thing to become a sheep later.

Years ago at the University of Texas at Austin I learned that college degrees prove nothing more than a person's ability to manage bullshit tasks like Library Fines and Late Registration.  Jump through a predetermined number of hoops in the appropriate sequence and you get a degree.  Certain jobs require degrees.  My Pulitzer prize winning brother does not have a college degree, so according to HR Rules at the paper where he works, he can't be an editor even though he's most likely twice the journalist his boss will ever be.  He's an all around better person, too, very likely - but that doesn't count for shit in a rule book.

Whatever a college degree proves - having a degree does not mean a person has more value in the world than anyone else.  PhDs may think they are superior, and Bureaucrats may dream up job requirements that protect their own positions.  Preachers may think God gave them Moral Authority, too.  They can all think that bullshit as much as they want.   A college degree does not automatically mean that your contributions will make the world a better place.  It just means you jumped through a few hoops.

Ultimately, my argument with traditional education is that it generally does not produce more critical thinkers on purpose.  It produces rats for the rat race - as if we need more rats.  If we need creative individuals to find alternatives and solutions to our current problems, we need to change the educational paradigm, as Ken Robbinson illustrates in this video.  It's long, but he draws an intriguing and disturbing connection between over-reliance on standardized testing, the subsequent removal of Arts & Humanities from the curriculum and the rise in prescriptions for ADHD.

Ever since I was first exposed to the ideas of Jonathan Kozol - about how traditional education guarantees plenty of workers for low-wage jobs and plenty of cannon fodder for the military because the curriculum is structured to prevent students from making the connections that would enable and empower them to Question Authority - I have been a dedicated progressive educator as defined by John Dewey.  We're not in the business of creating cannon fodder.   We agreed to take on the challenge when George Counts asked, "Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order?" even though it will take a hundred lifetimes working Inch by Inch, Row by Row.

As I watch my son being trained to run the Rat Race, every bone in my body cringes.  I'm pretty sure it's ultimately for the best because he must be able to function independently within this system.  I just wish somebody would encourage him to embrace his inner-goat in the process.


intelliwench said...

I'm no big fan of rules, myself, but it is often - if not almost always - true that in order to break the rules effectively, you first have to know what they are. Then you can choose to ignore/warp/subvert them!

Good luck to you & Velvet both.

MRMacrum said...

You point out that the system turns out rats instead of critical thinkers. But you really don't touch on the why of it.

Why would any society, government, company want to have a population of critical thinkers? Critical thinkers are trouble makers. Rats do as they are told. In the scheme of organizational set ups, this policy certainly makes sense.

Personally, I went down a different road. As the first male in five generations of Macrums to not graduate college(I was 15 credits shy and said fuck this shit). I went on the road and had a great adventure for five years.

My fear of being relegated to living out my working life in a cubicle drove me from the straight and narrow.

Yeah I paid a price. I am not rich or even close. I am a pariah in the annals of my family. And I don't have any letters I can rightfully finish my name with.

You are absolutely correct that college does not automatically make one a contributor to the better good. That takes well, actually contributing. I have met as many dumasses with degrees as I have met smart folks without them. And from where I sit, the track record of those with degrees is sketchy at best.

Kulkuri said...

Schooling is all about learning how to follow orders and become good little worker bees.
I think this country has gone too far with its credentialism. About ten years ago I heard of a paper mill that required all who applied for a job to have at least a 2yr degree, this for an entry level job in the paper mill, like cleaning up the wood pulp that spilled on the floor of the mill. WHY???

Anonymous said...

A college degree does not automatically mean that your contributions will make the world a better place. It just means you jumped through a few hoops.

True, true. I came to this conclusion about 20 years ago when struggling to finish a degree while juggling a husband and two jobs. The hoops you jump through in college are similar to those in the business world, and that prepares you more than PHIL 101 ever will.

Once I was able to detach my sense of self worth from my ability to hoop jump, I became 1) happier; 2) a good enough jumper to get the degree.

Jennifer said...

Agree. Agree. Agree.

My favourite postcard I ever got was from my sister in the UK and it still graces the front of my refrigerator: Beware of the Sheep.

I have a degree in adult education, and a good portion of a whole semester was devoted to managing learning differences. And the whole program was built around supporting and building up learners' critical thinking skills.

Now, I happen to teach in a venue/population that gives me a lot of freedom over my own curriculum and ensure people can succeed in my classes. I don't know how it's handled in more formal settings. But with funding issues (which are consistently put on the backs of the students) I don't expect it's much different up here.

Anyway - I expect money is a handy excuse for the forces for whom producing sheep is a good thing - because they're the same forces who happen to sign cheques for thinks like education systems.

Susan Tiner said...

Great post. My daughter is currently working on a double teaching credential in English and Special Ed while working full-time as a Special Ed teacher's aide at a local middle school. As she describes the Special Ed courses and lesson plans, it seems to all about managing learning differences and abilities. So it seems like these ideas are out there, but currently targeted at a "special" population, not available to everyone.

As for Velvet, one that occurred to me is that he doesn't have to go to college if he doesn't want to, right?

mac said...

"What does education often do? It makes a straight cut ditch of a free meandering brook." - Thoreau

The world might, indeed, need ditches. But, I ain't gonna dig 'em all.

Reading this post from you, I get a Cool Hand Luke kind of feeling. Maybe Velvet can take a cue from Lucas Jackson and just pretend to be sheep until he's done. That's what I do ;-)

Courtney said...

Thanks for posting this! I think the heartbreaking thing about higher education is that it claims to want to create critical thinkers (and it can), but it doesn't always (or necessarily) reward critical thinking.

I also enjoyed the Ken Robinson talk; thanks for pointing it out.

I really believe that what you and Velvet are learning is so important and that something good will come out of it all. Your post is a strong reminder that our societal credentials are always going to be secondary to who we actually are as individuals . . . even when it seems to be the other way around.

PENolan said...

Intelli - As a rule, I think so too. You have to know how to play the game, etc etc etc.

MRMacrum - One of the points that has always stayed with me from Kozol is that in order to maintain the status quo, no one can be able to make connections. Otherwise, the mine owner's daughter would realize her expensive clothes are bought with the sweat and toil of the Workers her father exploits. She might rebel. Can't have that. Got to have folks who follow instructions and don't complain. Seems to be working.

Kulkuri - an associate's degree to sweep floors? Like Kozol says: follow instructions and don't complain. Sheesh.

glasshouseslive - hello!
I noticed the same thing about those hoops and the business world at UT.

Jennifer, I have a friend in Austin who has gone back to school for Adult Education. Fascinating field. And you know it about those cheques. Need them for Wars, too.

Susan, when I got my MSEd, we saw that innovative methods were reserved for Special Ed while chalk and talk dominated traditional classrooms. As it happens, Velvet attended a board of ed approved private school for kids with dyslexia, ADHD and other processing variations from 2nd grade through high school - so he has benefited from all that innovation and care. We pulled him out of the mainstream, even though he was in a fabulous progressive school that we could barely afford, because it was clear that by first grade, he knew he was different from his peers and developed secondary anxieties as a result.

He wants to go to college, so I'm exploring alternative programs. He'll get 16 credits for the NOLS Semester in the Rockies as well as his Wilderness First Responder. Who knows where he'll go from there. Maybe back to Tree Hugger; maybe not.

mac, I love that idea and am putting Cool Hand Luke on the queue immediately. Right after The Unforgiven. A little Clint Eastwood never hurt anyone.

Courtney, Sir Ken is the absolute BEST. Glad you enjoyed it, and very glad you shared your thoughts. Hope things are going well in your neck of the woods.

Vancouver Voyeur said...

So much of this sounds like what Jr. has just gone through: failure to attend enough classes and then looking at the syllabus after the fact. In Jr.'s case, however, his school has a one time only get out of jail free card. F up your first semester as a freshman and you're retroactively withdrawn to start anew your second semester. This plays a little havoc with the financial aid situation, but he won't be digging out from under all those Fs this Spring. In my son's case, meaning no learning disabilities and no excuses for his behavior, I think he does need a good ass-kicking. There being no one here to give it to him, he will be sent off next week to see if he can development some self-discipline. If he cannot, then no more money from mom and dad for school, you're out on your own, get a job or go in the military. I'll keep you posted if it works. As for neurodiversity, I always teach on many levels using many resources. I use textbooks, monographs and primary documents for the students who can read and absorb, same with class notes that are put up on PowerPoint slides. I also tell stories while giving lectures. I incorporate videos, music, pictures, papers, projects, and exams to try and cover the various learning styles. I also meet with students to give them ideas on how to study and absorb the material for their particular learning style. I had a student a couple of semesters back who could not read and absorb. She could listen to my stories in class and get a little bit, but after bombing the first exam, I had her watch History Channel videos on the topics we were covering. She could remember the details from the movies because the stories were now "visual" and she passed the course.

PENolan said...

You are living proof that using variety of methods for presentation and assessment makes all the difference in the world to people. It's a lot more work for teachers, for sure, but imagine if schools had enough money so that class size was 12 - 15 instead of 25 - 30 in elementary school; larger in the upper grades.

Imagine what we could do in this country if we weren't funding Endless War.

Good Luck with Junior.
I confess that when I heard about that syllabus, I kicked Velvet's ass with my very own foot. He's responsible for his student loans for last semester and he has to pay us back for the rent on his apartment if the landlord can't find a tenant to take over his lease.

He and Buzz Kill are currently painting the apartment getting it ready to sell this spring. Lots of togetherness ;) and he's back working as a busboy at the restaurant where his grandmother, Vagina Dentata, is a barfly. He's solid ass depressed about that, for sure.

But he's also getting his first taste of the recurring nightmare about college that we all seem to have at some point in our lives.

Lord have mercy on us all . . .

dissed said...

Goats in sheep's clothing. It's the same as that Working to Live or Living to Work thing. Pass for a sheep long enough to get the paper, then eat it.

John Myste said...

"Traditional Education is a Patriarchal Imposition."

I keep saying the exact same thing and nobody gets it! OK, maybe not the exact same thing. I have mentioned my father a few times in the context of a discussion of impositions.

Now as for the world's need of ditches and who digs them, I imagine a world where one day all ditches are created by machines. Once this place exists, we can maintain it for as long as is practical, which I think will be until the machines are not longer content with their role in life, at which time we should work something else out. I think the idea that unpleasant work must exist to sustain my happiness is false, and if I am mistaken, then woe is me, and woe I shall remain.

I have a decent education and a job that pays well above the national average. The traditional educational path is one very good way to empower oneself. Knowledge is freedom. Wealth is freedom. The ability to control ones time and regulate ones thoughts are freedom.

My brother tried many things and was a complete slave to his circumstance. He started businesses, worked for “the man,” and had no freedom of any kind. He was poor, overworked and all his efforts maintained a life controlled by others. Then he went to law school. It was the best decision I ever saw him make and it changed his life.

I took a different path. His level of freedom and mine are similar now. We are both middle aged and do ok. We have some free time and have the ability to do some of the things we want to do with our lives. We have a measure of education and we enjoy the freedom it brings.

He has a degree in law. I dropped out of school in the fifth grade.

Those who read that were probably instantly surprised, which is evidence of what one must do: go to school! For most of you it is too late to do what I did. You already finished the fifth grade!

Mr. Charleston said...

I came to the same conclusion while in college many moons ago when I saw honor students standing in line waiting for job interviews at Career Day. Industrial cannon fodder.

BTW, I went to college following a required stint in the military (barely escaping a court martial for refusing to go to Viet Nam) and I believe that to some degree the military regimen made me goal oriented enough to complete a 4-year degree in three, while married and working a job. The point being, learning the rules is important on many levels. However, where I'm coming from on this issue is a slightly different perspective.

If you tell me that you want to do something and you ask me to pay for it and I agree, get your ass in gear and get it done. This attitude isn't driven by any military mentality but by the economic reality that I don't have any money to spare on someone else's follies. I can barely afford my own.

On the other hand, if the reason a kid goes to college isn't because they want to, but because their parent/s expect them to, well... that's a horse of a different color and the kid shouldn't be blamed for failing the system or the system blamed for failing them.

PENolan said...

Mr. C, I expect we're somewhere in between with Velvet and College. Looking back, he would have benefited from a gap year, working somewhere so he could get a better idea about what he wanted to do in college.

As it happens, my parents and you have pretty much the same attitude about financing miscellaneous follies. My issue with Velvet currently is that he has no fucking idea how privileged he is. We took him to India in 2000, and when he saw kids his own age digging for food in garbage heaps, he finally realized that his family was not poor. Until then, he thought that we must be poor because we only had one TV.

He's a product of his environment, and I created that environment. Today, however, I'm celebrating the fact that his attitudes and behaviors caused him to flunk this time - not his learning differences which means that he can, in fact, succeed in college if he pulls his head out from up his ass.

You're a wise man and a good friend, Mr. C. I'm glad you're out there shining a light to help me find my way.

PENolan said...

John Myste - hello and welcome! I see from your profile that you're buddies with Dusty, Hell's Most Vocal Bitch. I love that woman.

I'm going to have to explore your writings to learn more of your intriguing story.

dissed, I'm late to work this very minute ;)

John Myste said...

Dusty designed my wordpress site, which I am not activitly using yet. I also write for MMA and she is on the editorial staff there.

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Mr. Charleston said...

xenesis... WTF?

You give me too much credit Trish. I'm just a cheap old codger who, though I loved my college experience, doesn't believe that higher education is necessary to be successful as either a person or monetarily.

Cali said...

I've always said: The difference between college graduates and college dropouts is the graduates are better at jumping through hoops. My only child finally decided to go to college after four years of struggling to find and then keep a job. Living in farm country in northern California hasn't made that easy-- particularly the last couple of years.

He really enjoys gardening and is good with plants so he started out with the idea of landscaping or ornamental or environmental horticulture. However, he had a history going back to junior high of working (and enjoying the work) in the school's TV station to do the morning news and announcements. It's something he's good at and he finds it rewarding.

The second semester he changed his major to multi-media arts and has been totally thrilled about college ever since. He's even been able to get a part-time job working at the college's TV station video recording and broadcasting some classes. It could work into a full-time job as he becomes more educated and gains seniority as a college employee. He's found his niche. I hope, hope, hope.

The thing that derailed me and makes me fear for him are the unnecessary requirements for graduation. I fully understand that colleges supposedly want to turn out well-rounded individuals, but my son has always been a square peg/different sort of thinker. But many of the requirements seem much more like making sure professors continue to have jobs. Why are, say, art majors required to pass advanced algebra to get their degrees? I'm pretty sure drawing/painting/ceramics or whatever, don't require knowing how to solve a quadratic equation, yet it is still required for the degree. Cronyism is the only answer.

PENolan said...

Cali - hey there!
As I recall, there are good reasons for Algebra when it comes to problem solving and sorting shit out. When I was in college, we had Math for Liberal Arts Majors so I never had to take it. Things were sure different then when tuition was a few hundred bucks a semester. So much pressure these days on kids, parents - and schools.

I just think that you have more options when you have a degree. That's it.

Mr. C
Will you stop being a modest codger and take the credit? It's not like Punch or Jaded ever give you credit . . .

Cali said...

Oh, I completely agree that there are more options (and options that usually have bigger paychecks) for grads. I would never argue against that. It is one of the reasons I'm doing (and will continue to do) everything I can to support his educational endeavor. I think I was just agreeing with the comment (yours or someone else's) that college doesn't make a person better than someone who educates him or herself. If and/or when my son graduates he will be the first college graduate in my family since my great-grandmother graduated from a teacher's "college" just before the turn of the 20th century. Her education was nothing like what anyone would consider college today.

PENolan said...

Oh Girlfriend, I know what you meant. We're agreeing with each other so much over here that it gets confusing ;)

I've been obsessing a bit, though, because one of my friends in real life has asked why I think it's important that my son go to college.

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