Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow

Externalizing the Internalized

Jonathan Lee


The mothership has landed.George Clinton and his P-Funk bunch, old and new friends, have entered the arena, and have become the temptress - mesmerizing us with their incessant rhythms and infectious melodies, and heralding their battlecry from the high stage:free your mind and your ass will follow!Like the rats of Hamlin, we lose control of our senses, forgetting who we are, where we are, what we stand for.We become pawns, doing as they say and praising what they do.We are at dusk in the night of the living dead. 

With this grim picture, I invoke our America.I invoke what Spanos calls the Pax Americana; the peace of the (American) world.I invoke that which I previously referred to as ‘the end of thinking’, a term of Paul Bove’s.Specifically, I wish to address its relation to the project(s) of American sociohistorical education. 

When I refer, above, to ‘our America’, the italics are not aimed at drama.By ‘our’, I mean the internal vision of educators in the American system.We are the tempted, the lost, keepers of a peace (Spanos-inferred) that we claim to oppose.Precisely, I refer to this notion of ‘reflective practice’ among social educators.What a nice package.We claim social activism and a sort of ‘academic disobedience’, but insofar that it does not impose on our comfort-level outside of the school setting.Or inside, for that matter. 

Yes, I include myself here.And I do not discount the project of reflective practice, especially as outlined in ‘NCSS Bulletin No. 88’.But I see it more as ‘reflective theory’, in that a true critical reflection requires the practitioner to be reflective en masse.Plainly, reflection requires consistency, especially where it hurts the most.Thoreau talked about the impossible dialectic of living as life that is both honest and comfortable, in the tendency for us to object only up to the point where our level of comfort is impinged upon.And then we give.[Thoreau, Gramsci, Mandela, King, Antonio Negri, aside] 

For one, we are too quick to accept new approaches to educational discourse.We read Zinn, Loewen, and Nash, proclaiming their brilliance without practicing what they preach.In other words, what makes their history the correct one?They constantly are critical of sources and evidence, but do not ask their audience to be critical of them.And so, we take their word as the new history - the history that we will teach in the stead of older histories.In Specters of Marx (Routledge, 1994), Derrida calls for a heavier weighing of historiography, in place of history, within the academy.Rather than critiquing facts and writers, we should be focusing our attention on the temporal conditions that caused the creation of such facts and writers and, more importantly, the conditions that lead to, what E.O. Wilson refers to as, ‘consilience’ (internalized group consensus) within the greater society.Trinity College philosopher Avi Tucker claims the similar (in a call for historiography), stating that we should not focus on the determination of ‘realist’ history (in the singular), since we have no absolute access to the past.As critical teachers, we need to accept this (very difficult) challenge.If we do not begin to reconceptualize, and continue calling for a simple re-examination of evidence, we are simply changing the color scheme on the same old Imac.[In a similar sense, the acceptance of Anyon’s Ghetto Schools, without a closer eye to the essentializing principles contained within the ghettoization of some very ‘non-ghetto’ problems, plays directly into the false gratification claimed by ‘reflective practice’.] 

In another sense, we should be concerned with how we are certified as fact-bearers.Number one, there needs to be a serious reconsideration of the notion of ‘tenure’.In essence, tenure cuts out the heart of reflective practice, in that it requires teachers to be active educators in the first few years of employment (or, directly within the paradigmatic bounds in which they were actively engaged as ‘students of education’), but then allows them to settle into a groove as they become ‘more experienced’, which is precisely when they should be constantly tested and examined, with the temporal passing of new strategies and concepts (not to mention new histories).

Secondly, the continued importance placed on child psychology and educational philosophy, rather than a focus on practical training within the specific disciplines (math, social studies, etc), is troubling (and shows a lack of reflection on the part of the ‘higher’ academy).All of that ‘head’ stuff is well and good (and certainly fascinating), but in the field, it amounts to squat.Rather than asking the teacher to deal with the students as non-essentialized individuals who are living in the real moment, it forces them to see the student as simply inhabiting some rung of Piaget’s step-ladder.The answer to this lies in more fieldwork, and less bookwork.[This point is partially dealt with in the MAT format.]After all, we are indentured for thirty-some-odd years (until we can retire to the enjoyment of a state pension) - we have tons of time to read about Piaget.

Finally, these day-long ‘child wellness’ workshop requirements (often masked as ‘professional development’) frightens me.It is the same thing as the ‘multicultural education’ or ‘dealing with special needs students’ workshops that plague the teaching profession - where a $24 fee and five hours of activity makes the State feel confidant in sending teachers out to deal with some very specific and dangerous situations.Rather, there needs to be a changing of the guard in teacher education.Emphasis should be placed on what we do and where we are going.Yes, theory and history are very important.Anyone who disclaims Marx or Thoreau or Dewey or DuBois, saying that times are new and they are dead, is a fool.But it does make one wonder why it is that students of engineering, for example, take countless courses in computer-assisted drawing and physical mechanics (practical to their career), while students of education get a heavy dose of theory and history and psychology - and never encounter their main professional target:the students themselves.Learning teachers, in the year 2001, should be facing more courses on practical matters (school violence, home abuse, etc), and less on educational theory.Similarly, students of social education are (as above) bombarded with the call for resistance and rewritten histories, but we are not forced to take part in that resistance or rewriting.During my graduate work, there was no call to attend various social protests and events – including the FTAA protest in Buffalo and the NYSPSC march on Albany (each within a few hours from my school).Again, reflective in theory, not in practice

We are told in academic writing to be concise, to the point, and to avoid the bullshit.But, in a sense, I find it very hard to do this with the subject matter at hand.It is a reading of reflective teaching that seeks some ‘between-the-lines’ analyses.And, as a disclaimer, this is not meant to be critical of Zinn, et al (not Anyon) - for in many ways, they do call for critical teaching and learning.But, by writing ‘new histories’, they are playing right into the hands of the powers-that-be; the same powers that promote tenure as job security (and not as the opposite to teacher resistance and critical introduction of new methods) and who are confident in having it on record that Mrs. So-and-so took part in a few games of ‘culture bingo’ and a rousing round of ‘Martian anthropology’, thus making them experts in multicultural education.Basically, we need to externalize what has been internalized in all aspects of the teaching profession.We are at a time where the new is immanent, and we need to go through our academic community dragging a wooden cart and proclaiming (in the best Monty Python tradition):bring out your dead, bring out your dead.

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