Friday, May 27, 2011

A Hazy Shade

"Look around, the leaves are brown now; and the sky's a hazy shade of winter," says the old Simon & Garfunkel song. It's an autumnal song, and somewhat unsuitable for the day just past, which was my brother's 40th birthday.

One of the main points of the conversation over dinner was his account of how his new students were unable to say why, precisely, a 'non-traditional security threat' was 'non-traditional'. After all, as he pointed out, piracy and plagues are historically not uncommon.

I laughed and said, "The main thing is that you can't use traditional agencies of state, soldiers and police, to deal with these things, right?"

"Exactly!" he boomed. "But how is it that these young people can't get it?"

That's the problem with the current educational system. Having holy scriptures in the form of the 'Dominant Narrative' (which sounds like The Lord's Prayer, etymologically) of local history, and the 'Ten-Year Series' (which sounds like an analogue of the Decalogue), students don't know things and don't think about ideas that fall outside the spotlit magic circles of their learning. They aren't academics, but pragmatics — doers who do thinking, rather than think.

Of course, there are always exceptions. But these prove the rule (which means they challenge the rule, not that they provide evidence that the rule exists), and in a city-state with a dominant rule, such proving is a perilous task; the tendency to essay such a task is often scythed down by well-meaning friends, relatives and teachers.

Perhaps this year signals a new start. Perhaps those who prove the rule will show it is not proof against criticism. And perhaps we will once again have learners who learn, and thinkers who think.

Otherwise, "Look around, the leaves are brown; there's a patch of snow on the ground."

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