Friday, February 1, 2008

Hillary's More Conservative Than McCain?

She's excited and upset and she's not particularly "nice," but Ann does make some sense. She just needs to switch to decaf:

I disagree with her when she says that Hillary and McCain would have the same policies as president or that Hillary is slightly more conservative than McCain. Unlike McCain, Hillary would probably emasculate our military, appoint pro-choice jurists, and, I fear, return corruption and venality to the White House. She would also run her administration like Cruella DeVille, but then so might McCain. On the other hand, Coulter is right in exclaiming that it's astonishing that Republicans are voting for McCain over Romney. That is, to me, a mystery.



My students hear me tell them, some would perhaps say ad nauseum, that ideas have consequences. My friend Byron forwarded me a brief piece by Greg Veltman which makes this point very well by referring to an old Alfred Hitchcock film titled Rope. Here's what Veltman says:

In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock made a film called Rope. Based on a stage play the entire film is set in a small apartment, and the whole film is one continuous shot. But holding the well done technical aspects of the film together is an amazing story of an outrageous idea.

In this story, two recent Ivy League graduates, Brandon and Phillip, decide to kill an acquaintance of theirs, David, who they see as an inferior person. They are attempting to test out the theories of their education. Believing that they are superior men, they have advanced "beyond good and evil," and so they can kill and cannot be held responsible for the consequences, in fact they are doing society a favor.

Brandon and Phillip then invite over a few friends, the victim's family, and their esteemed philosophy professor, Rupert Cadell for a dinner party. All the while David's dead body is in a chest in the living room. The climax of the film comes when the professor returns because of the suspicion that something is wrong. He has noticed one of the killers acting strangely throughout the party. On his return he confronts his students. They defend themselves by repeating back the professor's own Nietzschean philosophy. They say that they killed because they learned that if they really were superior to the victim than it is not morally wrong to kill him. The professor then has a critical moment of clarity and realizes that his theory has consequences- that his classroom extends beyond its four walls into real lives.

In the end, Professor Cadell tells his students that they have taught him a great lesson, that his ideas must be in line with his ethics, that ideas inform our everyday actions and decisions. He abandons his belief in superior and inferior people; he concludes that all human beings must be treated with dignity and equality and that everyone has worth.

We are not all that different from Professor Cadell. It is simpler to just separate out the ideas and theories that we discuss and argue about in the classroom, from our everyday routines of eating, sleeping, and hanging out with friends. And as Brandon and Phillip illustrate connecting ideas and actions can be dangerous - even criminal. The trouble is: How do we navigate the bridges and intersections of the ideas that we learn about and the way we live our lives?

After reading this I watched Rope and the cinematography is indeed interesting. Hitchcock used only one camera for the entire piece and there are no breaks in the narrative. It's shot in real time while the artificial city skyline seen through the apartment window constantly proceeds toward dusk.

But more important than the technical aspects of the film are its philosophical implications. It's interesting to me that Prof. Cadell's students, especially Brandon (played brilliantly, by the way, by John Dall)are more consistent in living out his ideas than he is. When Cadell (Jimmy Stewart) sees that his Darwinian view that the inferior have no right to survive actually leads to murder he's outraged, but why should he be? Why should he blame his students for being more logical than he himself is?

Anyway, Dostoyevsky also explores this same Nietzschean theme in his novel Crime and Punishment, and more recently Woody Allen's movie Match Point, which is a take off on Crime and Punishment (If you watch carefully you can even catch the main character reading it in one quick scene) does the same thing in chilling fashion. Match Point actually conflates Dostoyevsky's story with the theme of Allen's earlier film Crimes and Misdemeanors. Everyone should read Crime and Punishment, but if you don't have time for the novel watch either Match Point or Rope. They both highlight the moral confusion and nihilism which are the logical consequence of the abandonment of belief in the moral authority of God.


No Child Left Behind

My eldest daughter, who is a public school teacher, sent me this parody of the thinking behind No Child Left Behind. It compares the concept of NCLB with scholastic football and points out that if high school football were run like education then the following would ensue:

1. All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable. If after two years they have not won the championship their footballs and equipment will be taken away until they do win the championship.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time, even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents. All kids will play football at a proficient level!

3. Talented players will be asked to workout on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th game. This will create a new age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimum goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child gets left behind. If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote for vouchers and support private schools that can screen out the non-athletes and prevent their children from having to go to school with bad football players.

Pretty ridiculous, no? NCLB is an example of good intentions enacted into law by people who simply don't understand the dynamics of either a school or a classroom.

I once knew an administrator who constantly reminded his teachers that every child can learn. This, of course, was true enough, but what it glossed over was the additional truths that not every child wants to learn and, among those who do, not every child can learn the same content or at the same rate. When it comes to aptitude in education, as in football, we simply are not all born equal.