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Friday, February 15, 2013

Fields of Ignorance

I have stolen the title from the best chapter from Michael Lewis' book Moneyball.  In this chapter, Bill James, the baseball statistician / historian is brought up.  James was a pioneer in the business of baseball, albeit unwittingly.  James' unique and unorthodox ways of measuring the value of players rubbed the establishment the wrong way, simply because it was never done that way and James was the consummate outsider.  He was seen as a nobody who didn't know his place and was therefore worthy of ridicule.  The problem was that James was tenacious, thorough and correct in his findings.  What he exposed was that the cloddish and lumbering Major League Baseball establishment was ignorant in its measuring of players skills.  Bill James showed that the Emperor had no clothes.  James had the last laugh as well, today he is a God among baseball statisticians, and is currently employed by the Boston Red Sox as a premier consultant.

It is high time that people realize that the educational 'establishment' has no clothes.  As I am in the educational establishment daily, I'm here to tell you that the institution you are entrusting the education of your children is rife with political correctness, narrow mindedness and millimeter deep levels of reasoning.  A recent meeting stands out as a microcosm of what I see daily.

Two of our reading teachers shepherded a special education student through an interpretive project dealing with the Walter Dean Myers book Monster.  The student made a youtube video of what would work for a thematic movie preview for a potential movie for the book itself.  The video was exceedingly well done - the imagery, neatly spliced video clips and the embedded wording neatly summarized the issues of injustice inherent in the text.  The main character, a young black male, is seen as and called a 'monster' at his trial.  Steven Harmon (the protagonist) is 'seen' in this video as guilty until proven innocent - handcuffed, stuffed into a police vehicle, ready to be crushed by the prison industrial complex.  The fear within the young man is captured, as is the injustice of the prejudgement and feelings of helplessness that go along with the criminal justice system.

The reaction to this student made video was incredible in its lack of tact and thought.  One person saw the video as confusing and she 'wasn't sure what she was looking at'.  Upon having the video explained, she was 'uncomfortable with some of the images' in the video.  Another colleague went on a repetitive tirade about the use of 'that word'.  I am not sure if the word was 'monster' or 'thug' that offended her, but she was sure that it was a horrible thing to have said such a word and there was to be no debate allowed.  It was presented as fait accompli.  Remember, this was student driven work, intended to be shared as an example of how some of our difficult to reach students can use technology to communicate in a literate and effective manner.  Not only that, but the theme of the book is precisely what my rabidly politically correct colleagues advocate - that the plight of the young black male can cause untold harm.  These issues were not to be discussed.  The absurdly PC reaction to the images, without any questions, without any forethought or discussion was breathtaking.  Simple images, on a student project, from a book by a black man, caused an electric current of indignation and created waves of supposed shock, as if there were racism involved.

Perhaps I have naive ideas about free speech and freedom of expression.  Shouting down colleagues, in a laughably ironic display of political correctness was disappointing to the core.  Dr. Benjamin Carson devoted the first part of this speech to the evils of political correctness.  Perhaps we should listen.  The fact that in a school, with educators at both the helm and manning the positions of the rank and file could produce such a wretchedly small minded and emotionally driven nonsensical argument is astounding.  Images of a black teenager, relevant to the story that cause tripwire sensitive feelings of 'injustice', however factually misguided and thematically inappropriate, are to be used to end discussions, emotionally hurt others and bully staff members.

The emperor has no clothes.  The school system had become a haven for limited thought and even more limited speech.  This is just one example.

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