Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Death Of, The Love Of Knowledge

What the 20th century of measured human history has done to society is rid it almost entirely of the want for enlightenment. No longer does the invidual in society have the craving to be accurately informed. It is now enough to know so much and exist with that until death.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Philosophy, children - children and philosophy. And philosopy doing children? No. No. No.

Have any of you googled for 'philosophy children'? Just type the words in and press enter. Why. Things are being done about acquainting dem kids wid Socrates.

Here is a quote from one of the many, many websites (this one is called 'philosophy for kids'. I wonder what it is about):
"A “stripped-down version” of Plato’s Theory of Learning as Recollection might say that we have access to some innate conception of, for example, what it is to tell a lie."


Yours christmassingly,


Way back in August, my girlfriend did gift me with birthday Chekhov.
The House with the Mezzanine was one of the stories in the book.

Some quotes:
"Belokurov began a long diatribe about pesimism, the sickness of the age, complete with heavy sighs. He talked forcefully, as if I was arguing with him. Even endless miles of bleak, empty, scorched steppe ar less depressing than a person who just sits and talkes for ever and ever. 'But thep roblem isn't pessmism or optimism,' I said finally, witrh irritation; 'but that ninety-nine percent of people don't have brains.'"

"'In my opinion, medical centres, schools, libraries, and first-aid kits can only prolong enslavement in the current conditions. The poor are bound by a huge chain, and you aren't breaking that chain, just adding new links... They constantly worry about their hungry, sick children, they are constantly scared of death and disease, they constantly have to take mediction, they fade early, they grow old early, and they die amidst dirt and stench. Their children repeat the whole cycle when they grow up, and so it goes for hundreds of years, with millions of people living worse than animals in a permanent state of fear - and all for the sake of earning a living. Surely the most awful thing about their position is that they never have time to think about their souls, or even remember that they are human beings... You turn up to help them with hospitals and schools, but that's not going to help them, it's only going to enslave them more, because when you bring into their lives new standards, you increase their number of needs, and that's quite apart from the fact they have to pay the zemstvo (council) for the ointment and books, forcing them to work even harder."
Lida, argues that we 'must do something' to help the poor: i.e. that what we're doing now is at least something and therefore good enough.
The main character, an artist, says - If I may paraphrase - that treating the poverty of the poor with hospitals and schools does not address their labours, that we must all take on some of this work, for if everyone who was capable laboured for 'two or three hours a day' there would be no oppressed poor. His argument's core is that 19th century Russian society must free the poor to allow spiritual and intellectual fulfillment. (By spirit, I am not sure it is meant in a Christian way. It seems more 'artistic', in keeping with the character and his ideals.)

Free the poor from the chains of the world around them, that force them into numbing, destructive labour (now no longer exclusively physical) and only help them to alleviate the pains and pressures of that life rather than actually transform that life. Then you can ask them to think, feel, and be human - perhaps?

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


From the article quoted by NewsIsGood.

"An adolescent culture can bring about self-esteem and a level of active sociability that is hard to find elsewhere. It is driven by passion, energy, curiosity, pleasure: qualities that I'd like to hang on to as my own age continues to blur."

Adolescent culture --> self-esteem?
Adolescent culture --> passion?

It seems this man was never a teenager. Adolescence is a climate of fear; It is in adolescence that teenagers start to come to terms with the world on its own terms, and struggle and suffer as they do so. The innocent curiosity of childhood is replaced with the learning of social boundaries, responsibilities and respect for others, which restrict teenagers and naturally make them reclusive, antisocial, apathetic, or a whole host of other such things depending on the teenager and the circumstances. Adolescence is a rite of passage into the adult world, one that we continue to get wrong consistently and purposefully to stoke the economic fires of consumerism.

"What critics might mistake for superficiality, or short attention spans, is perhaps a different kind of intelligence. Here memory is less important than the ability to find, absorb and move through vast amounts of information and stimulation."

Whimsically flicking from one web browser with Brittany Spears on it to another with free text messaging isn't an activity that moves me to claim to have discovered 'a different kind of intelligence'. Important is the kind of information young people spend their time 'absorbing' - the quantity of how much of this they are able to absorb is not necessarily something to celebrate.

"All these themes reveal a preference for personal influence over political impotence. And this preoccupation is not selfish but practical, because mostly the local is all they can hope to affect. "

The preoccupation is not selfish because they have rightly given up on politics? What is it then? Pudding?

I find the implication that the adolescent culture we live in is one of caring about one's immediate community completely laughable. The only social communities we recognise are those that stroke our egos. Oh, wait, that can't be true because our preoccupations aren't selfish due to the fact that politics... er.... whoops.

James Brown Funky Christmas

My girlfriend bought me the CD in this post's title as a 6-month anniversary pressie. It is excellent!

Thankyou, Matt, for reprinting my learning journal without permission. Note that I will one day do the same to you, and the revenge will be sweeter than Swete, the special sugar-replacement-substitute made from condensed mashed swedes and sweets.

And this is the article I wish to share (which might have some bearing on certain problems (which might have some bearing on the things we are considering in this blog (which might have some bearing on your thinking (which might have some bearing on your existence (which has no bearing on anything))))). "Young people aren't trivial, but they eschew party politics for things they feel connected with."

"...don't think he'd mind..."

This is one entry in the teaching journal of NewsIsGood. I found it excellent and don't think he'd mind me posting it here for him. Sorry about the dreadful spacing/paragraphing, it's blogger's stupidity. [Fixed by NewsIsGood, sorry for altering your work. And revengeful actions ARE equal to the sensation of sweet!]

Learning Journal 9
8th December

 I was observed two days ago, by my college mentor, and mostly everything was A-OK.  The only problem - other than some piggledy boardwork, which will take me a while to perfect - was the classroom management, as before in my first observation.
 I'm not sure what to think about this.  I am in conflict over this issue.
 It has not been long since I myself were a student, so I can recall what it was like to take an A-Level.  And it was rather frustrating - being presented with a load of information to remember that meant nothing.  In chemistry, I understood that sunlight had something to do with vitamin d, but not why or how.  In biology, I understood that lipids did this and DNA was that, but not why or how.  What use is knowledge when it is nothing but a fact?  To make facts from knowledge is to make a factory of it, processing dead things to make a homogenised sausage fit only for the poorest to live on.
 At this point, an astute reader such as yourself might observe that I am somewhat opposed to this.
 When I was an A-Level student, I felt almost honour bound to not do much work.  The teachers rushed around balming away confusion and worry with remarks such as "just revise and you'll do fine", and we slowly came to realise that achievement meant getting marks, which meant answering questions, which meant memorising the textbooks and guessing what the markers wanted.  After every modular exam, condolences would be issued from the teachers - oh, I can see how you didn't understand how to answer this question, what they actually wanted was...
 It seemed that what the markers always wanted was for us to have read the mark scheme beforehand.
 Of course, amongst the academic teenagers - the males cross-browed persons playing RPG games on their PCs, discussing university placements and ever-smelling of a mild unwashedness; or their female counterparts the ones who dressed about ten years above their age, always looking slightly out of place and having a more girlishly trilling giggle - this came naturally.  What was knowledge but pebbles to swallow and then regurgitate in shiny polished form?  But others rebelled, tired and angry and scared of a world which didn't explain itself, a hall of mirrored secrets.  How could we get into the minds of the examiners and figure out what they wanted us to say?  How did the questions exactly specify the answers they apparently wanted?
 As a teacher now marking mock exams, I can see it all relies on remembering everything exactly.  When asked for a THEORY one must say THIS.  When asked for a STUDY one must say THIS.  It is not a test of being intelligent and linking things cleverly, or thinking creatively, or arguing a point, or studying psychological phenomena (the sort of thing, for example, a psychologist might do).  It is remembering Who, What, When about dead people.  Each course is the same, for all intents and purposes, except for the dead people studied.
 And so, our observable and accountable teaching leads to observable and accountable students taking their observable and accountable exams, and we all breathe a sigh of relief as that tricky concept of education is ignored.
 Considering this, I don't mind if my students talk, or play with mobile phones, or listen to music in lesson.  I don't mind if they don't know what they're doing, and don't want to ask.  They don't know why they're doing it anymore.  They came to college wanting to pass courses but two years of it stretch ahead - a foreverish time - and it is still a scary and alien and strange place.  Michel Foucault wrote about the French schooling system seeming to always point forward, saying that the mystery would be solved at the next stage, at the next stage, and then they would understand what they were doing and why.  But he wrote his dissertation and was ejected from the system, realising that the system had never had anything to give him, that he had been lied to.  It is fine if the real point is the development of the student within, and towards a realisation of whatever intellectual and social processes can be fermented - yet why must we lie about it, and explain to each pupil they are reaching towards some far off star and must grow upwards to catch it?
 Many students realise that things aren't turning out as they were promised, that the secrets are not being solved, that they are getting no closer to this inner circle of knowledges.  The cult of education is not letting them in.  Some will turn away forever, despising the whole stupid thing - and one wonders if this is a cause of the pervading culture of anti-intellectualism.  Some will succeed in some way, herded into pleasantly simple vocational courses where every single aim is obvious and close and near and tickable (although the why's of the process are even less tangible, in many cases).  And some will fit in with the open spirit of university, where questions had many answers and meaning can be found.  But none of it will make sense of what's gone before.  Maybe it makes no sense.
 So, we come into college today, and it tired us that we have to chomp through masses of facts, and even the teachers turn off, tired and bemused and not understanding the why's and the how's, not able to answer such questions from the students, feeling the questions in exams unfair, and not entirely teaching anything at all.  We dress up in the clothes of a teacher, but perhaps we are just instructing dogs to beg for scraps.  No wonder they sniff each other and woof and play little doggy games and don't listen to us.  We're demeaning every subject we teach, and abusing the intellects of our students, not giving them a choice or recognising the abilities they have.  And so they turn away from us and don't give us the attention we are required to wield.
 I don't want to be required to take command of anybody or anything.  It would make me part of the massive chain which shackles us all.  I believe that, unless we free each student and give them the responsibility to learn, to nurture the desire to understand, we are not doing anything of use.  Nor do I mean the more subtle power relations of a Rogerian 'humanist' classroom.  I mean something else, which would have the capacity to breed those thoughts which question everything, and thinkers which understand ideology and its constraints, rather than submitting to its comfort gladly.
 And, until then, I don't want to tell my students what to do if they're merely amusing themselves.  I can't ask them to listen to what not even I have any respect for.  The things I can make mine, the things I can truly teach, aspects of the curriculum I have wrestled from EdExcel and made something else, these would be things I could expect, in my enthusiasm, all to listen to.  But this is not classroom management, it is engaging interest of all parties with something wholesome and worthwhile.  I cannot force others to consume what is just dead sausagemeat.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


This is part of an email sent to me by a lady I have been corresponding with. Needless to say I will not be taking her advice and bowing in front of capitalists for allowing me to share the earth with them.

You wrote: "The modern relativism of 'ooh, nothings certain' that I (and you, indeed) detest so much in the people of today is due to a lot of things, most crucially a lack of the ability to think critically and philosophically brought about by the industrialization of education and consumer capitalism in general."

False. The cause of the inability to think is, fundamentally, the wrong/false philosophies, especially false epistemologies, applied to all education.. Industrialization and Capitalism is the best that today's world has to offer for human life. We are very fortunate to live at this time in history, and we should bow and bless all Capitalists for it.

This is pretty worrying. Had I not been the recipient of this mail I might not have believed that someone actually thinks this.