Questions of perspective – Understanding our loss of understanding, and the question of getting it back
How sure are you that what you know, is actually so? How sure are you that what your child is learning, is worth knowing? Do these questions seem worth answering? Or asking? If not, does this one give you any concern:
- What if what you think you know, that isn’t so, is harmful to you?
Of course, I think you’d have to follow that up with this:
“Is there some situation where believing falsehoods and lies, is not harmful?”
Sure, that may lack nuance, but is determining whether you or your kids are going to be eating food, or poison, the place for nuance? Because IHMO, that’s the perspective that educational content should always be viewed from.
I’ve surely made it clear that I’ve very little (and by ‘little’, I mean less than zero) respect for the textbooks, materials, and purposes, employed in our schools today, but as bad as the sketchy facts, ideological spin, and lies by omission or commission (hello 1619 Project) of most educational content is, those alone don’t have the power to implant their ‘key facts’ into a bored student’s memory, or to significantly alter how they think. How such materials leave their mark on a student’s mind has less to do with what’s laid out on the page in black & white, than with what questions are asked, and how they’re expected to answer them. Schools devote a significant amount of time to drilling in the habit of how students are expected to ask and answer questions (quizzes, worksheets, tests, homework), because that pattern is what will persist in their thoughts & actions long after the ‘key facts’ and details of their more recent test scores, or total cumulative GPA, have been forgotten.
Sometimes of course, the purpose of a bad question is obvious.
It’s easy to spot the ‘Have you stopped beating your wife?‘ types of questions, which can only be there to subvert its subject and demean the student’s impression of it, such as with this far too typical question on an exam that was recently given to a friend’s child in a local high school:
“17. What were the American motives to imperialize? What are some examples of American imperialism?”
, and the intentions of such questions are so obvious that, at least in early stages, they quickly attract the necessary outrage of the moment required to deal with it.
Less obvious, and IMHO more damaging, are the more mundane questions and answers which tend to either go unnoticed, or worse, are applauded by parents and politicians alike for being the ‘right answers’ that flatters the Red/Blue leanings of their own communities (physical or political), with very little thought given to how such ‘Ok’ lessons might affect the thinking of the students being educated through them. With that in mind, I’ve got a three-part question that might help alter your perspective when reviewing the various “Things to consider”, and chapter quizzes in textbooks and worksheets, and the additional quizzes and tests which are used in sculpting your child’s thoughts, and that’s this:
- How do you know if a question is worth asking, and whether or not the answer to it is worth being pursued, and whether or not finding it might do more harm than good?
Whether that question’s perspective is one you’re willing to try out, or is one you’d rather ignore, or if you’re simply puzzled by it, likely has much to do with how your own education implicitly taught what this question is concerned with, by example, day in, and day out, year in and year out. What it’s concerned with is what most ‘educational content’ typically avoids, which is the stuff of metaphysics (which is not what you find in the ‘New Age’ section of your bookstore) and epistemology (which increasingly should only be found in the ‘New Age’ section of your bookstore). Why? Because they govern what we tend to pay attention to, and how we do so, which sets the stage for our deciding whether or not to take one action, or another, or none at all, and there are few things more important, and more commonly ignored today, than that.
Of course, answering that question requires asking a few more questions, about the types of questions and answers that are being used in our schools, in order to develop how their student’s will think about their subjects:
- Why are the questions there, what’s their purpose?
- How are students’ expected to answer them?
- Do they help in developing a wider and deeper understanding of what is justifiably worth knowing?
- Are their answers meant to be understood, or are they simply ‘key facts’ to be recalled as ‘the answer’, whenever prompted?
Does the expected answer provide a meaningful complement to the question, and clarify the importance of having asked it? Or are most answers simply ‘key facts’ to be recalled as ‘the answer’ whenever prompted (‘Remember class, this will be on the upcoming test.’)? Some facts do of course need to be committed to memory, and students should be able to retrieve them almost without thinking – math times tables, names & dates of history, the rules of grammar – those need to be effortlessly at hand as brick & mortar for the constructing of sound thinking with. But with other kinds of questions, questions such as ‘what caused the American Revolution?‘, those are matters of a very different nature, and they require a depth of consideration and deliberation in order to reach a depth of understanding which the recalling of lists of ‘key facts’, and names & dates, and tax rates, couldn’t possibly equal.
For example, the questions and answers that concern me most, are those seemingly innocuous fact-check types of questions, which require more than a simple fact to be answered well, the kind that a quick glance through your school’s materials will prove to make up the bulk of their student’s chapter quizzes, fill in the blank worksheets, and bubble tests, such as:
- “Question: #1: How is America similar in kind to other nations such as France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, England, etc.?“
, especially when the answer key expects an answer that’s flattering to the Red/Blue leanings of the community and school in which the question is being asked, which could be either:
- “Answer: A – each are members of Western Civilization“ , or
- “Answer: B – These Western nations are the source of systemic racism and oppression of persons of color“
However you or I might react to either A or B as the answer to Q#1, to argue over which should or shouldn’t be selected, is to miss the more important point.
You see, the more important point has little to do with whether ‘A’ or ‘B’ is the expected answer, the point is that whichever one of those answers will get their students a good grade, will ‘work’ just fine for one community, and vice-versa for the other, and what students learn from that is that what is real and true is not the point of their lessons. And that lesson – repeating the ‘answer’ that will work, as the answer – is the real lesson that our students are being inundated with, in nearly all of their lessons, worksheets, quizzes, and tests, which is the point that’s being missed in nearly every Red/Blue community in America today.
That memorization, and deliberation have different purposes, isn’t a new point, only a forgotten one (at best), one that Aristotle was pointing out 2,500 years ago in his Nichomachean Ethics:
“…in the case of exact and self-contained sciences there is no deliberation, e.g. about the letters of the alphabet (for we have no doubt how they should be written); but the things that are brought about by our own efforts, but not always in the same way, are the things about which we deliberate… Deliberation is concerned with things that happen in a certain way for the most part, but in which the event is obscure, and with things in which it is indeterminate…”
Of course it’s useful for students to memorize the alphabet and 2×2=4, and deliberating over such facts and unvarying results would be a waste of time – memorize them and have them at hand forever without giving them another thought (though some may recall Common Core Math demanding extensive deliberation over just such facts). But what of matters such as the causes of revolutions? Are those mindlessly repeatable facts like 2×2=4? Do such matters always turn out in the same way, or do variations in time and circumstance, tend to produce unpredictable results, such as the differing outcomes of the American and French Revolutions?
What do you suppose happens when a student memorizes a list of ‘The six causes of the American Revolution‘, and is given an ‘A+!‘ for doing so? That’s right, worse than such answers being simply wrong or inadequate, awarding ‘A‘s for such answers, gives students the impression that mindlessly recalling lists of facts, is equivalent to understanding the issue at hand, and each time that students are led to ingest such ‘answers’ as understanding, reduces the likelihood that they’ll engage in that type of deliberation in the future, which is what a deeper understanding of such matters requires.
That’s what I mean by ‘Questions and Answers‘ that aren’t worth being pursued, because finding them might do more harm than good, certainly more harm, than ‘getting straight A’s!‘ could ever compensate for. Helping a student to understand what is important, and training students to parrot a ‘key fact’ on cue, are two very different educational goals, and we need to recognize that when students are being taught and graded in this way, then the primary purpose for the materials, the questions, and the expected answers to them, is to further a narrative and habituate students to getting answers from ‘those who know best‘, and that is the ‘educational norm’ everywhere today.
Coincidentally (not !) that same approach is what we see being followed daily in our news media, Left and Right, and no doubt the familiar approach is what their successful ratings depends upon: A source declares that issue X is important, ‘key facts’ are provided, and experts advise that the acceptable answer is A (or B). That familiar approach is what propaganda depends upon and is spread through, and the metaphysical & epistemological methods that are implicit in it, convey its ‘answers’ that we are expected to accept, and repeat, on demand, despite what can be seen to be real and true by those who bother to look past the surface (See the Munk Debate on the topic of ‘Don’t trust mainstream media’ between Douglass Murray, Matt Taibi vs New York Times celebrity authors Malcolm Gladwell and Michelle Goldberg, and see the latter two cluelessly attempting to use their ‘expert status’ to define their opposition, and lose badly as scored by the audience, who weren’t buying it at all).
Questions worth considering
The funny thing is, that when the point of a question is understanding, rather than boosting test scores, then following in the wake of a reasonably in-depth study of those nations’ histories and cultures, that very same opening question can be used between a teacher and their students, as a first step down paths of understanding that are well worth travelling, guiding them into considering something that their lives will be richer from knowing.
- “Yes, America is, like those, a Western nation, but it also differs from other Western nations by degree – often significantly so – how important are those differences to what America was founded to be?“
And again, assuming the student has been paying enough attention to describe a number of meaningful differences, a living breathing teacher, rather than a standardized written test which simply induces them to regurgitate printed bullet-points, might follow that response with something like:
“Yes, those are significant differences. How is it that, with differences such as those, that the West somehow shares a common literature in works from Homer to The Bible, from Plato to Virgil, from the anonymous poet of Beowulf, to Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Rostand, despite each coming from as many and more different languages and ‘cultures’?“
When questions have a purpose, they are able to lead to replies that can lead to further questions, and develop into a pursuit of the subject that serves to develop a student’s ability to make meaningful distinctions, and even reveal within them a sense of wonder over how such a … er… ‘diversity’… of sources, managed to become woven into the recognizably Western understanding of what is right and true, which both serves and reflects the ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, and yes, religion, which underlies and supports it. It’s that broad understanding which has (or at least had) instilled Westerners with a widespread regard for the Rule of Law and a disdain for the arbitrary ultimatums of tyrants who’d demand that their subjects submit or die, which is what the subject of my ‘perspective question’ is very much concerned with.
So the initial answer to the first part of my question, is does a question lead you into an understanding of what is real and true? If it doesn’t, or if it expects you to accept something in place of that, it’s because those asking it don’t want you to understand it. Is a question being asked in pursuit of what is real and true? If you’re not able to tell, or if it settles for a diversion or a simulacrum of that, it is not only not worth pursuing, but it is leading you, either by intention or incompetence, away from what is real and true, and habituating you to continue doing that, which is exceedingly harmful to your education, and to your life.
OTOH, when a student is becoming aware of how and why the questions they are being asked, and the answers they are finding themselves giving to them, not only fit together, but instill in them the sense that something is developing in their mind and body that thrives from their being fitted together, then those questions and answers are leading them to a wider and deeper understanding of the issue, which is a sign that an education is occurring within them. But that sense of understanding will not develop from retrieving approved ‘answers’ that are taken from someone else’s conclusions, for them to repeat as needed for test scores, or for eliciting the politically correct approval of others.
Here then is a question that’s worth asking:
Q: Can any form of education which lacks, or attacks, that central Western root, be of use for anything other than the destruction of the West?
And here’s the only answer that’s worth giving:
Understanding, or data collection and narrative building?
The problem is that while follow-up questions that help develop understanding can come from a teacher orally testing a student’s knowledge, that engagement is unlikely, if not impossible, to come from the sort of printed tests with answer keys that we began using in America, as noted in previous posts, after Horace Mann injected them into standard practice for American schools in the early 1800s. As was also noted previously, what Mann especially liked about written tests was, they fostered a data collection strategy which he infamously used as a means for controlling and developing a narrative in public opinion about education, and to control which educators would be permitted to continue educating students in their society, in order to form and control that public’s opinion.
Along with the innovation of written tests, came the replacement of original sources with textbooks, quizzes, graded work, and standardized tests, not to mention separating students into age related ‘grades’, and moving students as the bell rings, from one classroom to another, to study materials that are treated as very ‘separate’ subjects. The shallow pursuits that have accompanied those innovations, are mostly pointless and trivial wastes of time, which are educationally destructive, and whether that destruction comes by way of a sledgehammer of failure, or the slow rot of getting ‘straight A’s!‘, the aims being achieved are the same.
Here’s a ‘key fact’ that’s worth recalling: uniform written tests and ‘Final Exams’ as we know them today, did not exist in our Founding Fathers’ era – instead they used oral examinations, where the teacher would ask questions of individual students, who would respond, and be questioned further based upon their responses. None of those features that we now take as normal today, were involved in the education of our Founding Fathers’ generation – they had no grades, no test scores, no GPAs – does anyone seriously imagine that they were less educated than our ‘straight A!‘ students are today (see Walsh’s ‘Education of the Founding Fathers of the Republic’)?
I’m not attempting to push some gibberish of ‘Grading student’s work is too stressful, just let them groove to the lessons!‘, I’m saying that the system of grading your student’s work, is being used to con you – it’s not the student’s education that’s being graded, but your willingness to accept that those grades indicate that your child is being educated!
That realization is what startled Pete Hegseth into realizing that we are all to some extent today, products of a ‘Progressive Education’, in that we can hardly conceive of the subject without them, and all of those ‘experimental’ innovations reflect the underlying pro-regressive approach to, or evasion of, what is real and true. And because more and more people are coming to that realization, an education that’s actually educational not only can still be found today, they’re becoming increasingly easy to find, but it does require looking outside the realm of textbooks and answer keys, where students can be led into observing and understanding just how significant it is that from its earliest foundations in so many diverse languages and cultures, whether coming from our Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian roots, through the likes of Socrates or Proverbs, the embrace of reality and reason, and a reverence for truth, virtue, and wisdom is what, has been both the needle and the pattern from which the Western ideal has been woven.
The sad truth is that ‘education’, as traditionally understood, has become a foreign concept to both ‘conservative’ and ‘woke’ schools, each of whose texts are primarily used for fact fishing exercises that do little more than train students in efficiently retrieving and repeating approved answers, in order to build up what their [school, school system, community, business, govt, ...?] sees as being a useful narrative, while also outputting a steady stream of useful human resources.
In short: Ideas have consequences, and ignoring how ideas are understood and validated has severe consequences for those who are under the power of those same ideas. That being the case, the question that parents and politicians should be asking, is whether such questions and answers that fill their textbooks and tests are even worth being asked or answered, by any student, in any school at all? Or more pointedly:
- Q: Can the purpose of such questions and answers, be educational?
- A:No, IMHO, they cannot.
What using expensive textbooks, curriculums, and standardized tests, to install ‘key facts’ into an entire class of students, rather than developing individual student’s understanding of what is real and true, is the visible track marks of a metaphysics and epistemology that purposefully does not lead students into paths of thoughtfulness (and couldn’t even if it tried). What our students gain with their diplomas, is the false sense of knowing something that they do not in fact have knowledge and understanding of, and that misplaced sense of ‘knowing the answers’, is what our schools are teaching our students to ‘learn’, and the habit of fetching & accepting someone else’s answers to questions that they haven’t explored or understood themselves, is the means by which that lesson is being taught in nearly all of our schools, by example after example, day in, and day out, month after month, year after year.
How you question your answers, matters
The traditional Western approach that began with Socrates, and which Plato and Aristotle and Aquinas perfected, involved a methodical approach to questioning and understanding and verifying that what you know, conforms to what is real and true, a sense that’s now called ‘Epistemic Adequacy’, essentially meaning how to know that “‘it,’ is what it is”, which is the beating heart of the West.
Our founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence which Thomas Jefferson intended to be “… an expression of the American mind…” were drawn from “… the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c…“, which were deeply concerned with, and rooted in, what was understood to be true, and with how you, their reader, could know it. For ‘We The People‘ to be capable of enjoying Liberty and Justice for all under a Rule of Law, we must care about what is real and true, and we must understand how we know if something is objectively true, and to care about how that integrates with the rest of what we’re able to know is real and true.
In contrast to the Western standard of ‘epistemic adequacy’, the pro-regressive ‘Progressive’ and the ‘Woke’ are less concerned with what is real and true, than with what their group desires others to accept as ‘true’, a view that naturally gravitates towards using power to transform ‘their truth‘ from wishes into demands, which others will be forced to accept, in line with the age-old standard of ‘Might makes Right‘. Those who dare to point out that ‘their truth‘ is demonstrably untrue, will be hit with the accusation of ‘epistemic oppression!‘, because your expectation that their words should conform to what is real and true, interferes with their desire to impose ‘their truth‘ upon you, and they’ll berate you at the top of their lungs, for interfering with their desire to abuse you as they please.
For all of their load mouthed bravado, what the bullies and tyrants of Wokeness detest and fear the most, is the Western method of asking questions that expect to find a correspondence between what is real and what is true. That fear is as real to them today as it was 2,500 years ago when their forefathers put Socrates to death for refusing to stop practicing and teaching his method; the same method that Pontius Pilot hurriedly washed his hands of.
The West in general would not, and could not, have grown, prospered, and persisted without an understanding of the importance of asking good questions and then pursuing the answers that follow from them, and America in particular, cannot long endure if our educational system is permitted to systemically muddy or even sever our ability to identify and acknowledge what is objectively true.
The issue with our schools isn’t that they need to improve their student’s grades & test scores, or that we have to somehow get schools ‘back to basics’; the issue is that we need to break free of the narrative of lies that we’ve enmeshed ourselves in, through the lessons they’ve been teaching us. If being an American doesn’t imply a familiarity with and understanding of the ideas of those ‘public books of right‘ that Jefferson spoke of, then being an American can mean little more in the minds of those living in America, than a checkmark on a legal form, or a geo tag reference on their phone, and if that becomes the case, then neither Liberty nor Justice for any, can long endure within the geographic area legally known as the United States.
Ironically, the modern field of Epistemology was itself first formally created (its methods were implied or contained within classical metaphysics, but it wasn’t made into a field of its own, until the assault of modernity began) by the German idealists (Kant, Fichte, Hegel) for the express purpose of breaking us away from the Western habit of rooting our understanding in what you know to be real and true, demanding that you dispense with what can be known (Metaphysics), and dialectically refocusing instead on how we know ‘it’ (Epistemology) – you might hear the echo of Progressive Education’s mantra “Don’t teach what to think, teach how to think!“.
The clownish complexity of their Rube-Goldberg contraptions of convoluted and equivocal language that these idealists have crafted for their assault, evokes the showiness of the stage magician waving his left hand to distract the audience from what the right hand is doing, and, and what that wacademic abracadabra has culminated in, is the lethal epistemological variant of ‘Social Epistemology’, as described in the Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology:
“…Breaking with an ancient philosophical tradition, social epistemology adopts a social perspective upon knowledge, construing it as a phenomenon of the public sphere rather than as an individual, or even private or “mental”, possession. Knowledge is generated by, and attributed to, not only individuals but also collective entities such as groups, businesses, public institutions and entire societies….”
That perfectly describes the active process of severing the minds of the unsuspecting, from the traditional understanding that wisdom depends upon their knowing, and knowing what is true, and it is key to what has delivered us up to Cancel Culture of today. For us to recognize and effectively combat that, we, you, need to have at least a grasp of how it has progressed through the questions we ask – or ignore – into our everyday assumptions and considerations, and what I’ll be going into in the next few posts, will, I think, give you the basis for doing that, or at least a functional starting point for it. Those who don’t bother with even trying to understand how that process works, are – whether willfully or negligently – leaving themselves and their children at the mercy of those who are eager to use their ignorance as a means of gaining more power over them both.
If your own education neglected to inform you of such matters, you have my sympathy – mine didn’t either, and it’s been a struggle to learn about it on my own. If doing so yourself doesn’t appeal to you, again, you have my sympathy, but – and I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise – our feelings about that don’t matter. If you don’t put in the effort to at least familiarize yourself with these matters that are threatening to destroy your children’s future and our nation, then both will be consumed by it.
Sorry, way it is. Your choice. And your choice will have consequences.
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