Back to the issues at hand
Something interesting happened the other day in my Educational Psychology class. This guy asked, "do they study schools in China, since they do so well?" Our instructor thought he meant, 'do American researchers study schools in China?' She responded, "of course. But it's a totally different situation, because the kids there just spend way more time in school." There was an awkward pause, in which some people thought, "huh. Perhaps that has something to do with their complete mathematical and scientific dominance in test scores?"
The funny part is that the guy was actually asking, "Do Chinese psychologists study Chinese schools?" His point was that they probably don't, because they don't need to. Their schools work. We talked about that for a bit. You know what young kids in China do to learn numbers and counting? The abacus. If anything in this world is old school, it is the abacus. Of course, they also just practice and practice basic math until it becomes automatic, or as we here in the always-clear education world say, until it "reaches automaticity."
I realized after class the irony of the whole situation. Usually, the instructor lectures for about 10 mintues, and then for the rest of the hour we just talk back and forth about the articles we read. The thing is, none of us really know what we're talking about. We read the articles, but that doesn't mean we really understand them. That's why we're in school for this crap. The lecturer, on the other hand, is familiar with many of the major studies on the issues we're studying and could actually set us straight about some stuff. So we end up arguing but not learning anything. And so, I am actually in a constructivist learning environment in which I am arguing about how ineffective constructivism is, and it actually is quite ineffective for me. Weird, huh?
Today I had a seminar in which we discuss our student teaching experience. It was interesting--a LOT of the people in my seminar have the same kind of complaints about their schools that I do: lack of discipline, lack of consequences, not enough attention to basic skills and knowledge, etc. Somehow the entire seminar agreed that these schools were examples of "liberalism run amok." So that was amusing.
That whole seminar is hilarious. The guy who runs it is probably the most intense person ever. He has wild black hair and I could tell from the first time I saw him that he holds views that are "radical." He's a great guy, and definitely has sound educational views--a result of teaching for three years in the worst high schools in Philadelphia. But somehow he always steers the seminar away from discussing teaching and schools and toward other social ills that we are really not going to be able to deal with. For example, today somehow we got to the prison-industrial complex.
I found myself discussing my visit to the Cook County Jail in Chicago. It's the largest jail (as opposed to prison) in the country, except for LA County. There's supposed to be like 9,000 inmates in there, but there's actually 11,000. Some of the inmates are there for short-term sentences. Others are still awaiting trial. Some wait for a trial for years, often imprisoned on bonds of $100 or less that no one will pay for them. Some just choose to plead out right away, so they can get sent downstate to a real prison, a significantly more humane place. The County Jail was built in 1929, and you can tell. Everything is metal and incredibly mechanistic, with levers and bolts. The cell blocks are shaped in a square, with 10 or so closet-sized two-person cells surrounding a center room. The inmates in Cook County usually spend 23 out of 24 hours in their cells or this center room, which is bare except for metal benches and a tv. The warden who was showing us around told us about how the inmates would throw feces at the guards as they walked by, and then showed us a rack of confiscated shanks. I think it was the most horrible place I've ever been. I felt sick and trapped, like an animal. If you weren't a criminal or an addict when you went in, I can see why you would be when you got out.
See how easy it is to get side-tracked? These issues are all so pressing and so depressing and dire, but really you can only concentrate on one thing. And you have to put all your energy toward it. That's my theory, anyway.
Anyway, I'm so exhausted and haven't eaten very much today, so this didn't turn out very funny. Sorry about that. Really, I'm here to entertain.
Just one last thing before I go: I have this feeling that when the United States empire is drowning in its own cesspool of overextension and debt, the very last thing it will see is an abacus.