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 Post subject: UH-huh
PostPosted: Thu May 08, 2008 5:24 pm 
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http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread. ... 0508182223

What would you sacrifice for an education?

A South African village is demanding that a bridge be built across a crocodile-infested river to stop children swimming it to get to school.

Students as young as seven have been making the crossing for two months since the community's boat was stolen.

This brings into focus just how far some people are willing to go for an education.

For some other individuals and families, the sacrifice that is made is financial.

A recent study says many extremely poor parents in Lagos made great financial sacrifices to send their children to private rather than public schools.

What would you sacrifice for an education? What sacrifices did you make to get your own education? Do you find that the quality and standard of education in your country today is worth making great sacrifices for?


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 Post subject: Re: UH-huh
PostPosted: Fri May 16, 2008 11:25 pm 
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In all sincerity, I'm having trouble deciding how I would respond to the offer of facing crocodiles for self-betterment. But, I could use this as a springboard about the meaning of Education, which is, in the United States, two diverse concepts colluded: Bildung (self-actualization) and Vocational Training (even if the vocation is professorial or scientific, or something comparably "elevated"). This is an ambivalence that runs even through institutions of higher education. Sitting in a philosophy class, there are those thinking about the concepts at hand and how they apply to themselves and their experience; then there are those thinking "this class will probably help me get into law school."

Rich and Ramsey (I don't remember who coined the term) refer to the latter folks as "Pre-Med Smart." People involved almost sheerly for the paper and accreditation, and whose education never even budges their concepts or worldview. People who can cram, over expensive Guava smoothies and Vitamin Water, and pass the class, not in order to synthesize new skills, knowledge, or concepts, but in order to get to the next node or rite in their chosen career path.

As you could guess, I'm not very crazy about the Pre-Med Smart outlook on education, especially because this view casts Learning as a form of Work, a hurdle, another chore of Necessity, rather than something done for fulfillment, during leisure hours, when the chores of Necessity have been met. Which is why, from my point of view, the point of an educational system is more to instill the desire to learn rather than the actual diffusion of knowledge. What is this desire? What is it to lack this desire? To just sit and breathe in stale concepts all day long.

And institutionally, vocationally, administratively, education has to get structured like the workplace, in order support its continuity with vocation. And culturally— and locally, from what I've seen with the interaction of the Institute with our community— people react accordingly. "Learn? On my day off? Fuck that, there're three dollar draughts at McGlinchey's!!"
— Which blows my mind, and critically disappoints me in my fellow man.

Which is also, of course, a motivation behind many pedagogical aspects of the Institute. A novel pedagogy that begins with the pure desire for Bildung— and absolutely zero vocational aspects. Even the desire for the pedagogical game, and Sesame Street formats for Adult Philosophers, learning-as-play and play-as-learning, Playstation games which teach real skills— real world history or geography rather than mythical history or geography— why does this not exist? There is, I'd bet, a spoken resistance— as long as the content is useless, it's play, fun, desirable. It is a matter of making Learning— Bildung— back into ostensible forms of play.

Even if the play if sufficiently grave: like crossing crocodile-laden waters in order to learn how to read.


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 Post subject: Re: UH-huh
PostPosted: Sun May 18, 2008 11:44 pm 
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I need to preface this response by saying that I don't mean this personally against anyone here or elsewhere. However, I think it should be said that these issues hit closer to home for some people than others may assume.

I am going to substitute Brandon's term vocational training for "economics" or some disambiguation of that term.

I almost always find the distinction between education and self-betterment and education as economic driver to be a straw man. In my line of work (working in education with very poorly educated people) the cracks in this argument are very much magnified. And given that the stakes are in almost all cases that I deal with something along the lines of life and death, it reinforces my caution at deploying a) any blanket criticism of the economic role of education, b) assumptions or judgments about the motivations of others in pursuing education, c) an argument that assumes that these things are mutually exclusive--or perhaps more accurately that they are mutually exclusive for a majority, and d) that economic self-betterment is somehow less "better" than what I would call spiritual or intellectual self betterment. Point d) is complicated further by the reservations I have as noted in c). The bottom line is that it has not been convincingly argued (rationally or empirically) to me that any of this is indeed the case.

From my own experience in dealing with a large population of people who have been abandoned both economically and educationally by our culture (and especially our beloved city), I have yet to meet anyone out of many hundreds so far, for whom there is any hard and fast distinction between becoming a spiritually/intellectually/whateverly richer person, and getting a better job. It is quite clear, in fact, to many very insightful yet intellectually untrained people that the two go hand in hand, which always makes me wonder why it isn't so clear to others. I have met and documented the thoughts of countless people on just this issue, all of whom consistently make remarks about their aspirations toward being a fuller, more knowledgeable person who is able to take more out of the world around them more deeply, and in the same breath mention the very human and natural desire for a better material existence. For this group of people, this of course includes things like not having one's home taken away, a safer neighborhood and so on. The various points always coalesce around issues of human dignity, self-respect and efficacy--all of which many educated people seem to either take for granted or see as issues external to themselves. I think in general that there might be for many of us a "fish-in-water" effect here, where we can't see the effect or role of what we are criticizing at play in our own lives and therefore assume that we are either outside of or above it.

This speaks to both a) (the idea of criticizing individuals for focusing on economic and personal benefits that the criticizer takes for granted) and c). However, I think there is an extremely important point to be made with regard to b). Namely that while commenting externally about the motivations and actions of others, and making value judgments about them, is fun, this is an extremely intellectually irresponsible thing to do. I've heard much made of people who "go to college and buy their degrees," but these kinds of criticisms lack any amount of context or complication--both things that I know I as an intellectually minded person prize in any argument or analysis. My own adherence to the general standards of intellectual decency that those of us for whom education is more about self betterment take for granted would necessarily preclude this kind of analysis at all--unless of course I were to go ahead and poll every individual I had my suspicions about. And if I did, I would hazard a guess that the picture that would emerge would be far, far more complicated than I would have guessed. My assumption would be that with the exception of a few on other extreme, most people would express some combination of desire for intellectual and economic betterment. I have seen this being empirically true for poor people, whom logically should be more concerned with economics, so there is no reason for it not to be true for middle and upper class college kids. People really aren't that different. The point is that I can not level this criticism of pre-med smart people in any way that I find intellectually, ethically, or politically responsible because I simply don't know.

This also begs the question of why someone can't be an insightful doctor or lawyer, just as much as being an insightful crust-punk?

While I mean nothing personal by this to anyone, I find myself leveling a criticism of arguments like this that to me seems obvious: I have never met anyone in my life who criticizes the idea of education as economic driver who is not doing so from an economically comfortable vantage point. And that very much, perhaps most importantly, includes cultural capitol. As we all know, the latter is far more valuable in both senses than hard cash.

I guess my question ultimately becomes why are the two concepts noted viewed as two concepts at all? How are these things genuinely different? If I were to go with Occom's Razor, I'd have to conclude that this is an easy way for smart people to feel special. Essentially: it's a non-question and an artificial, if not ethically suspect, distinction.


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 Post subject: Education and economics.
PostPosted: Mon May 19, 2008 8:57 am 
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Great send-up, Dan. Especially, in pointing out the false distinction between economic advancement and self-betterment among the disadvantaged. What would this distinction even mean if I were talking about literacy or the development of viable trade like carpentry? I now clearly see that is silly to speak about Education, as a whole, containing two distinct concepts parading as a unity. I was overlooking that segment entirely. So I'll withdraw that assertion, and try to figure a new way to phrase my prejudices.

Also, I didn't mean by "Pre-Med Smart" that any person pursuing an economically viable career— medicine, law, engineering— was selling their soul, while we purists in the Philosophy corner retained our dignity and our communion the The Good and The Right.
Quite the contrary, I think the meaningful pursuit of medicine, law, or engineering is as dignified and meaningful as any other path of development, and of Bildung. I'll go even further with this and say that I can imagine that, experientially and pragmatically, ten years in a hospital or court would probably be a better philosophical education, for the insightful, than ten years of isolated study. The court and hospital present the human condition at its frankest, rawest— as a great play of forces without any cloak or euphemism. So, again, the distinction, badly made, was not supposed to be between intellectual purists and mere tradesmen.

It was intended to be a response to people who ask me, uncomprehendingly, what I had intended to "do" with a philosophy degree. This is when and where I do not have to presume anything about people's educational ideals: they tell me outright. I'd bet I have failed to convince most strangers of the validity of education as Bildung, as self-creation. And I do not think rich people are all idiots, but— and here comes a prejudice— I do think that Rich Idiots are the worst possible combination of all traits. So my prejudice is: when it comes to them, I think that spiritual and intellectual betterment is better than economic betterment. When I was speaking about the cleavage in the meaning of education, I had intended to criticize other economically comfortable individuals (primarily in higher education), and perhaps the idea of careerism as the archprinciple of all education.

But there is another belief (rather than a prejudice) motivating another part of this. This is the belief that the most fundamental problems are not fundamentally economic, in a large sense. That is to say that, on a wide scale, scarcity and privation will not be solved economically (we already have the means to do this), but rather through a re-arrangement in the Moral Order of Man. And even many problems that appear economic— such as the conflation with the idea of Status— are really more about meanings and belief-structures— things susceptible to the Bildung-ish facets of education.

Granted, for many individuals, for a talented and driven person haplessly born into a poor Indonesian family, the problem is bluntly economic. For the lifeworld of the a West Philadelphian, trying to secure employment and a better life, the problem is economic. But for my former roommate, a graduate of the UVa business school, a person who will probably decide and restructure the lives of the former two, a person who revealed his motive behind a business education as a chance to "own a jet," the problem is certainly not economic.

On graduation day, however, we both received diplomas which in my opinion meant two entirely different things— but that the common lexicon unfortunately put together in a single term.


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 Post subject: Re: UH-huh
PostPosted: Mon Jun 23, 2008 9:35 pm 
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Joined: Mon May 12, 2008 4:32 am
Posts: 7
Actually, this song by Jeffery Lewis, of New York, has some insightful and funny, not to mention well-rhymed, things to say about some of this. It also features a cameo by Tuli Kupferberg of the Fuggs.


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