Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rejecting "Pomo": Another Reason to Homeschool

My post-secondary education has been mostly in the sciences. I hold degrees in Geology, Biology, and now, I am studying in the neurosciences.

Now, some of you--the ones who spent your mornings in English Literature classes and your afternoons playing Frisbee on the Quad while we poor science geeks were in physics labs quantifying the forces on said toy (you know who you are)--might say: "I'm sorry. You missed a lot."

And it is true. I missed the phenomenon called postmodernism--called "pomo" for short, according to Wickepedia. I did not learn it. I do not understand it. I cannot "grok" it. I try not to even think about it.

I know that's an evasion--but we all have our weaknesses.

But yesterday a set of books from Amazon--ordered a week ago by 2-day delivery (don't ask)--arrived. (If you insist on asking, the books were originally dispatched from Coffeyville, KS). One of the books was Who Killed Homer? (WHK) And that is the one that I started to read with my lunch yesterday.

Wow! I almost didn't get my afternoon work done. In fact, I admit that I took some shortcuts.
The book is about the rapid disappearance of an understanding of our culture's classical roots in American education. Publisher's Weekly puts it this way:

"...classicists Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath explain what has been killed, who did it, and why. They rescue the Greeks from postmodernist scholars who disparage the thought and art of these 'dead white European males'..." (paperback back cover).

I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know if they actually "rescue the Greeks,"* but I did spend some reading time grappling with the problems presented by postmodernism. And now I am actually thinking about it. You know how it is: if you ignore entropy, it only gets worse. But at the same time that I was pretending that postmodernism would go away, or that, at least it did not affect me when I was teaching at the college, high school and elementary level, of course it was. Affecting me--that is.

From my reading about the term postmodernism--admittedly limited--and from the discussion of it in WKH, I will reduce it's complex and (according to Wickepedia) somewhat fluid definition to the essential idea that reality is socially constructed. All of it. In other words, the postmodernists think that Aristotle had it wrong: reality isn't really real. A is not A.

So that's what the classicists, philosophy majors and creative writing afficianados where discussing on the Quad while I was laboring to isolate my unknown by titration in Quantitative Analysis. Damn! I wish I'd have know that someone had revoked reality. I wouldn't have wasted my time determining the unknown amount down to the nearest picoliter. Who cares? It's not real anyway! Let's go play frisbee! Oops. But what if Newton's laws of motion aren't real, either? Better just have a beer.

OK, for you chemists out there, I exagerate. Our titrator was not that precise. In fact it had the disconcerting habit of letting loose more than one drop of reagent at the critical moment, turning the solution pink before we could count the actual drops. Meaning that we had to redo the experiment. From the beginning. And buy the TA the supper he missed because the Dining Hall closed at 7:15 PM. For the non-geeks reading this, that's called "burning the midnight oil." Drat that 1970's technology!

But I digress. Sort of. Because the point I am trying to make here is that a scientist cannot accept this premise of postmodernism. I mean, if reality is socially constructed--which I take to mean that it is agreed upon by a culture--then the Earth ceased rotating around the sun during medieval European times. But only for the Europeans. And only until Galileo. But of course, at the archives of the Roman Catholic church, the earth did not start revolving around the sun until 1993, when church officials remembered that they'd condemned Galileo of heresy all those years ago and cleared him. Maybe they were eager to have seasons again?

I admit that this is a ridiculous argument that takes the "pomo" stance way too far. I got carried away. I'm sorry.

My actual point stands though: a scientist cannot accept that reality is socially constructed.
The job of a scientist is to use experimental and empirical methods to determine how the universe functions. In order to do this, the scientist must start with the idea that the universe operates in a predictable way following universally (get it?) applicable laws. If a scientist wishes to do her job with integrity, she cannot decide to throw out evidence because it does not agree with her (socially constructed) ideas about the world.

I'm sure that a "pomo" advocate would interject here that science is, itself, a socially constructed pursuit with socially constructed rules. And that integrity really doesn't exist. (Or is this last nihilism? Amoralism? Damn--wish I'd have taken that modern philosoply course. But I didn't have time. I was spending hours mucking about with reality in science labs). At the least, the "pomo" would say that integrity is whatever we say it is.

And that brings me to the issue of postmodernism and education. Because, if we say that reality is whatever we agree it is, then nothing is absolute. Not the laws of nature. Not the values of western culture. Justice? Forget it. Right action? It's whatever we say it is.

Talk about the tyranny of the majority!

Those people, those heroes, who stood up against injustice, must have been delusional--after all, they did not accept the socially approved reality. Martin Luther King? He was just wasting his time. With pomo, society needs no heroes.

These ideas--although generally not this blatant (no good pomo-ist would say that about MLK)--are pervasive in our educational system. And the effect on our children is that it teaches them to never stand out in a crowd. Never stand alone. Although our children are taught all about multiculturalism on MLK day, they are implicitly taught never to do what MLK did. He stood up for an absolutist principle. The one we call justice.

And if our children do not learn that there are values worth standing up for, they become sheep for the sheering. Not taught to think independently, they become servants of the state rather than free citizens. That's not the purpose of eduation in a republic.

And that is another reason why I homeschool my son. I am not interesting in raising cannon-fodder.

"Am I buggin' ya? Didn't mean to bug ya. Edge, play the blues." --Heard on "The Joshua Tree" released by U2.

Well. I wonder what diatribe Chapter 4 of Who Killed Homer will provoke?

*I have a hard time thinking of Agamemnon and Achilles as needing rescuing. Oh, all right, I admit that they were probably oppressors of women and war-mongers, but they were authentic HEROES. And heroes can take care of themselves. Or at least discuss what their tragic flaw was when they met as shades in Hades.


Alasandra said...

I can't wait for the next post. I'll have to see if the library has the book. If not I foresee me making another purchase at Amazon.

Judy Aron said...

You bring up a really good point .. and now I wonder how MLK escaped being a sheep... afterall he challenged authority and spoke his mind, and that is certainly not taught in g-schools.

I guess when the people get tired of all the injustices they get fed up enough but only those who understand their options (i;e; know their rights and how they got them) get brave enough to actually open their mouths and either forge new laws or make the authoritarians read the existing ones.

Pomo? first I've heard of it - but I am not into the whole intellectualization of all this stuff along with it's jargon. Being an up and coming fossil I prefer to stay very simplistic in my thoughts most of the time.

Thanks for the post though, it was a very good one.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, Alasandra! When the library fails (to have the book),
Amazon mails.
And my husband wishes it were not that easy!

Judy--I missed the whole concept of postmodernism and the fact that it is called "pomo." But MLC (my 22 year old) has mentioned a few times in the context of humanities classes and social science classes she has to take to get her degree. I was never curious enough to figure out exactly what she was talking about, I only knew that she despised it as "fuzzy thinking."
Then I starting reading Who Killed Homer? and the authors talked about it as a problem in Classical Studies. When I looked it up at Wicki, there were pages of description and a disclaimer that it really is "fluid." Very fuzzy--even in the discussion. So I went with the WKH take on it.

About MLK: He was educated in segregated schools prior to Brown V. Board. Those schools had some real deficiencies, but at the same time the teachers and students shared the same experiences in the same community and so they learned differently than in the g-schools of today. I also imagine that his preacher father and his study at a theological seminary enlightened him to the ideals of freedom and justice.

Crimson Wife said...

Interesting post! I haven't read the WKH book but "Climbing Parnassus" is excellent.

Sara said...

I'll have to read the book - I just can't imagine that this mind set actually matters very much. People may love to argue about weird stuff like "is reality real" over coffee or beer in college, but most adults (including PS teachers) are just too busy mucking through reality to bother thinking about it anymore.
But, like I said, I'll have to read the book, because you've piqued my interest.

Melora said...

If it makes you feel any better, none of the English majors (or history majors, or political science majors, etc.) spent afternoons discussing postmodernism. Or any other time, that I ever noticed. I suspect that is more the sort of thing that university professors who desperately need to write a whole lot of nothing about something in order to get tenure come up with. And I hate to bring up string theory again (like I have even the most remote understanding of it!), but doesn't that say that reality is only reality some of the time? Or is that quantum mechanics? Anyway, I think things can get silly in just about any field, where you have a bunch of really smart people spending a lot of time thinking too much! I agree, though, that postmodernism, as you describe it (and I'll take your word for it!) is absurd.

Your image of Agamemnon and Achilles in Hades discussing their tragic flaws made me laugh! T. asked why, and I had to explain. We are always homeschooling!

Melora said...

I meant to say that no English majors I Knew discussed postmodernism, and also that the professors might need to write something about nothing. And I might need to proofread what I write! And I was mostly teasing about science (in case that wasn't clear!).

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Wonderful points, all!

Sara: Unfortunately, ideas in "the academy" do trickle down to the K-12 level. This is true because schools of education tend to go with trends. In my Master of Special Education studies, I became aware of just how much this is so. Also schools of education have their own educational psychology and do not intermingle much with the schools of arts and sciences courses that might give them a more solid basis in the science of it. Although I had not heard of postmodernism except as a school of art (which is already 'old'), the idea has become part of the currently accepted trend in public education and because of that, some rather unsound ideas about the educational needs of children are being promulagated and followed slavishly. In fact, certain 'pomo' ideas have become pretty common in popular psychology as well, to our detriment. Consider how ideas are advanced not because they are good ideas, or pragmatic, but because they are politically correct. That is a stellar example of how, as a culture, we have begun to believe that reality is what we make of it. Unfortunately, though, reality denied tends to come back and bite us in the collective butt!

Ah, Melora! 'Some of my best friends were English majors...' Hyperbole aside, and most of what I wrote was just that, since my Dad was an English professor, I spent most evenings of my young childhood going to sleep to the sound of banging typewriter keys (yep--no word processing in the '60's).

Most students of science avoid the humanities like the plague because outside the world of empirical evidence, we have not been taught how to counter absurd ideas. The deficiency in higher education in science is that we are generally not taught the philosophical bases for our field.I was poking fun at my younger self as well!

But ideas are important! If a society's ideas do not hold water, it will not be long before the plumbing breaks down as well. And, once again, reality comes along to bite us all in the butt!

No Apology said...

I am an admirer of VDH - for the clarity of his ideas, and his willingness to publish them. The cultural constructivists viewpoint is rooted in Marxism, which has found expression in radical feminism, multiculturalism, and lately, the phenomenon of environmental "scientific consensus", an oxymoron parading itself as the most worst-conceived polyglot of skewed & stewed statistics heralded by a long list of fallacies both formal and informal.

Whew! I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get free of that sentence.

But the immediate danger lies along two lines: one is that such politicized constructs tend to introduce an informal censorship among researchers (you want grant money?-better get with the program), and two, the threat of reprisal for not going along with the proposed hysteria. Feminists and multiculturalists use the same methods to good effect, which is always seen first in the so-called institutions of higher learning.

An honest researcher will find the going rough, indeed. And, of course, this crap not only trickles down, it is deliberately set in the agenda of the NEA and federal and state educational bureaucracies. The effect on objective reality is deadly. To maintain this cultural constructivist mentality, it is necessary to re-write history, deny scientific enquiry, etc..

In short, it is actually working perfectly as planned, because it was planned and executed by cultural Marxists one hundred years ago, as preposterous as that may sound.

The same manipulation of reality is taking place in the "language arts" and math curricula.

It is why our schools are producing in vast numbers, children who cannot think for themselves, who doubt themselves, and who are helpless in the face of the Tyranny of Good Intentions. I feel a post coming on...HaHa.

Good work, Elisheva. I love that name, I don't know why...

steph said...

More on the rest of the post later. The little one wakes me up once an hour these days and I must get to bed. However, just have to say...

Thanks, thanks a LOT for piquing my curiosity and sending me Wikipedia. I can spend all DAY there, tiny children and all. Well, the bathroom's not getting cleaned tomorrow (ooo, big loss!)