Wallace Stevens tells us that violent order is disorder and great disorder is order. Stevens says that these two things are one. The philosopher Pascal tells us that those who indulge in perversions tell those who are living normal lives that it is they who are deviating from what is natural. This is how great disorder comes about — removing the normal from what is natural. Thus violent disorder and great disorder are our new order and choice is eliminated, which is a significant aspect of human life.
“The great gansterization of America,” as Cornel West defines it in Hope on a Tightrope, is upon us– a tragicomedy where vision and hope are challenged by a perspective that focuses public interest on horror and the expansion of fear. I see this everywhere, but particularly in students.
Voodoo remedies can be found on the internet that promise safety from H1N1; “swine flu parties,” bring people together to supposedly expose themselves to the virus on purpose; record profits on Wall Streets on the backs of tax payers, and health insurance companies that don’t want to give up profits and insure all Americans; Iraq is walking a tightrope, at best; Afghanistan is a dark hole; and American education, K-12, is a disaster, reform focused on homogenizing everything, while more college students are dropping out or, after graduation, are ill-prepared to meet the demands of a competitive world that requires collective intelligence. This is our tragicomedy, our disorder. Young people, most of all, need a community to sustain them but our communities are broken, in some cases non existent so that children have no cultural armor to protect them.
We don’t know what to call what we’re experiencing today, we don’t know how to describe it. But these are the signs of cultural decay. In his new book, Why School? Reclaiming Education for All of Us, Mike Rose tells us that, “We live in an anxious age and seek our grounding, our assurances in ways that don’t satisfy our longing — that, in fact, make things worse.” Rose calls his small book an “appeal,” saying, “We need such appeals…because we’ve lost our way.” Imagine, we’ve reached a point in our culture that we, educators — and only some of us among educators — have to actually make appeals as to why school is relevant. “We’ve lost hope in the public sphere and grab at private solutions, which undercut the sharing of obligation and risk and keep us scrambling for individual advantage,” Rose continues. “We’ve narrowed the purpose of schooling to economic competitiveness, our kids becoming economic indicators.” In education, the economic – production model has created a hyper-banking system of education. The tragedy is that we’re all going along — a complete and total sign of cultural decay, if I ever saw one.
I look into the faces of students, today, and as they look back and try and give me the illusion of meaningful engagement, I know that motivation, for many, comes from this hyper-banking system. “Where will I fit in this economic-production model?” their gazes tell me. In a response to a long online asynchronous discussion about “insulting art” and the “role of art” (at least I thought I was discussing this) in one of my courses, I finally said, “I give up. I’m tired.” And I gave the class a link to Plato’s Simile of the Cave, and I said, “Being chained to the wall, seeing shadows, is tragedy.” I wanted to say more, but I couldn’t — literally exhausted. My sense is that it doesn’t matter — what I say or where I point students to is irrelevant, so mired are they in the economic-production model and biased and prejudiced cultural constraints manufactured so long ago that they seem to them as truth and reality. And then they text and facebook and tweet merrily along as if nothing esle is going on, as if texting and facebooking and tweeting are somehow ways of gaining the assurances we desperately need, though ironically take us in wrong directions, as Rose says. The incongruities are indeed staggering, so much so that one mere, tired educator can’t keep up. It’s best just to teach the simple sentence, focus on that.
Cornel West, in Hope on a Tightrope, says that, “The poor and very poor are sleeping with self-destruction. The working and middle classes are struggling against paralyzing pessimism and the privileged are swinging between cynicism and hedonism.” I am really exhausted by this world — isn’t anyone else?
We have entered into a period that is undefinable. Frank Rich, in The New York Times, tells us that Stalinists have co-opted the GOP. Obama salutes dead veterans on a tarmac in the darkness of midnight. Students have nowhere to go, nothing to do, no apparent future.
If Wallace Steven is right that a great disorder is the order of the day, entropy follows. What we’re witnessing — I feel this in my weariness, to the bone– is the wicket downward spiral of decay. When I look at students’ eyes, I don’t know what I see — a virtual person? a real person? an illusion of a person? But what I do see, is the deadly scramble for individual advantage, which means no learning can take place at all .