Saturday, March 5, 2011

Message to Bob Herbert's of the NY Times, March 5, 2011

What we know, what we create, what we study and we are told to study are sometimes related but quite often, not. The greatest advance on contemporary professional dancing did not begin in academia or elite dancing schools but in the urban ghettos of the USA. These youngsters took their moving bodies beyond any discussion of what dancing was all about in the highly regarded institutions. And the same can be said about literature as some oral forms of poetry begin to filter into the written texts. Perhaps the problem is not with the attitudes or lack of preparation among the students but with the inability of the adults to understand what is happening outside of their ivory towers; and how these new ways that are used to create, formulate knowledge influence society at large. If the Spartans taught their youth and read about war heroes and the Athenians were concerned with reasoning treatises and texts it is because they knew what was valued and wanted from their given societies. Some institutions should remain in the study of the past while others need to focus on the present, therefore they cannot be evaluated as if they had the same intentions, philosophies. A recent visit to a community college in the South Bronx revealed a large group of women, from very poor backgrounds, studying to be nurse and teacher aides. Their knowledge of some of their communities’ health and educational needs and characteristics were richer and more profound than what their assigned texts would say; leading many of them to very rational and astute critiques of those readings. They wanted a degree, and they showed a great deal of commitment to achieve it. None of them would make it into Harvard but I truly doubt that Harvard would know how to deal with what they know and how they think about it. The utilization of standardized testing to evaluate and report knowledge is in itself a reflection of a very behaviorist oriented society, and it is this behaviorist school of thought what needs to be questioned first.

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