Saturday, March 10, 2007

What it Would Take

How can the President get the media to pay attention to all the important things going on in the world? Perhaps the best way, maybe the only way, would not be popular with GW. At least Ramirez doesn't think it would:


Dumb and Dumber

George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center thinks that the new generation of atheists is angrier and dumber than their intellectual forbears. I don't know about dumber, but they certainly are angrier.



The blog Conscious Entities has an interesting post on Idealism and also one on the moral, intellectual, and phenomenal gaps between animals and humans.

Idealism is the view that everything we encounter in the world is ultimately reducible to ideas in minds. There is no material substratum to reality.

It was given its most notable expression by George Berkeley (1685-1753) in Principles of Human Knowledge where he argues that all we can experience are sensory phenomena like color, fragrance, sound, etc. But these sensory phenomena exist only in minds, thus all we can have experience of are ideas in our minds. It follows that if knowledge is a product of experience then all we can know are these ideas. A material "stuff" that generates the phenomena of experience is not only absurd but unknowable.

Since Berkeley was an empiricist and believed that all of our knowledge comes through sense experience, he concluded that we can know nothing of anything other than these ideas in our minds. We have no experience of, and therefore no knowledge of, matter. The notion that there is a material world behind the phenomena of our senses is superfluous and should therefore fall victim to Occam's Razor.

All that exists, according to Berkeley, are ideas in minds, and for Berkeley the entire world exists as idea in the mind of God. The world is a virtual reality generated by God, which may be one way to read Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:13.


Why Are Students Bored?

So why do American kids find school boring? Is it because of poor teaching as the No Left Turns guys say? Probably to some extent, but there's more to it than that, as many of our readers have pointed out.

American kids are jaded by affluence. It takes a lot to excite young people surrounded by stimulants that appeal to their hedonism and materialism. Having never wanted for anything, many students find any kind of intellectual work unappealing and unnecessary. They do enough to get by, but any glimmer of concern for the life of the mind is easily extinguished by social and extra-curricular concerns.

Schools minimize academics. In many schools today only lip-service is paid to the importance of academics. Everything else the school does implicitly sends students the message that the least important thing they do in their school day is what they do in the classroom. At the school at which I taught for thirty-five years a student could be taken out of an academic class for almost any activity imaginable, but a teacher of an academic subject dare not insist that the student remain in class nor could he take the student out of another activity to do academic work. For instance, if the band needed to rehearse, or the swim team had a meet, or the student council had an activity students could leave class to participate, but a classroom teacher was not permitted to take the student out of band class, or swim practice, or student council to tutor him/her on what was missed.

In other words, every activity trumped the academic program in my school, and, I suspect, the same situation exists at most schools. When the school administration tacitly communicates to the student the lesson that academics are the school's lowest priority, only the exceptional students can be expected to take a particular interest in them.

Modern culture devalues great literature, art, history, and philosophy. The value of these disciplines is intrinsic, not instrumental. One studies them for the intellectual satisfaction and enrichment one gains from them, not because they'll enable the student to one day buy a new Lexus. Our culture, however, tacitly disdains any curriculum which is not oriented toward a career or the making of money. Subjects which are pursued for their own sake are deemed less important than those which are more utilitarian. Students realize this and take such classes only because they are a state requirement, and they embark upon it with the attitude that they'll put forth the minimum effort necessary to get whatever grade they feel they need.

Finally, many kids in many schools come from homes and neighborhoods which are so dysfunctional that the student starts out way behind and can never catch up. He/she has no idea what's going on in the classroom and tunes it out. This starts in the earliest grades and continues all through school. By the time the student is in tenth grade he/she is often languishing at a second or third grade level. Understanding nothing of what's going on in the classroom it's little wonder they're bored.

So, to Peters Lawler and Schramm at No Left Turns, yes, there are too many teachers in classrooms who are uninspiring and apathetic, but that situation certainly exists in schools in India and Asia. It's in fact probably worse there than it is here. So why do those kids do so well and ours perform sub-optimally? Look at the affluence, look at the importance placed on academics and the life of the mind, and look at the culture.