Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Search for Truth

Truth will out.

There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths.

Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.

If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain

These are just a few of the hundreds of quotes about truth. My favorite is perhaps one with many attributions – my version: There is no truth; just perceptions of the “truth.” Mark Twains is the one I’m planning to write about today.

If you don’t read a newspaper, news on the Internet, listen to television news or interviews, you will remain uninformed; but if you do all of those things, you are very apt to be misinformed. I have found that it takes real work to come close to being informed. It’s ironic that if you can watch only one-half hour of television in search of the truth about what’s going on in the world today, your best bet is Jon Stewart, who professes to be a only a comedian, but whose sense of irony probably gets you closest to the truth.

Rush Limbaugh’s recent diatribe about President Obama’s authorization for using whatever force necessary to secure the safe release of the sea captain hostage of the pirates off the coast of Somalia is a perfect example. “Now we’re killing children!” Prior to the release, of course, his invectives against the President included, “Why isn’t he doing something?” One has to know that another scenario of an unhappier outcome would have led to a tirade about this liberal anti-military President being soft on terrorism. A no-win situation! No truth anywhere to be found, yet this man speaks for many in our country – and they believe his words to be true

Countdown with Keith Olbermann or The Rachel Maddow show are a shade better, but then that’s probably because of my liberal point of view. You still have to do a bit of sorting and weighing to come near the truth. I even listen closely to the interviews of Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers, although I am addicted to both.

Recently I watched Bill Moyers interview with Arne Duncan, President Obama’s new Secretary of Education, and found myself quite impressed with the choice. His merit-pay and incentive based learning ideas sounded really good – at first blush – but then I got to wondering just how they plan to go about judging the “merit.” Thus far measuring student’s learning has tended to be ephemeral, with teachers teaching to the test, cramming stuff into kids’ heads – mostly forgotten even days later. How much of what you memorized in high school do you remember now? Better measures of student learning would have to include evaluation of portfolios, exhibits, presentations, etc. to give credibility. A standardized test is only an abstract slice of the pie. And that doesn’t even bring up the subject of how political merit pay could become.

High school has become, in many communities – especially in the inner cities – more about controlling teens and teaching to the test, not opening minds and stimulating excitement about learning. Universities have to remedy that, and it takes time and effort. And it doesn't always work. This is a huge distraction, eating up a lot of resources, as well as undermining the value of a four-year degree. We all agree we really need to fix our K-12 system.

As a part of that “controlling teens”, according to a recent article by Andy Kroll in the Tom Dispatch, is a big part of Duncan’s Chicago school system, “…the most militarized in the country, boasts five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Office Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs…. Nearly all are located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers, as well.

I’m reminded of the day I read of the graduation of one of my former students from Davis's Independent Studies Program. Extremely dyslexic twin brothers, had been referred by their DSIS advisor when they were just twelve years old. Their mother, who had recently died of breast cancer, had been homeschooling them for several years, even taking them to a special reading program in the Bay Area, but they had yet to learn to read even on a consistent first grade level. In fact, perhaps because of emotional turmoil during their mother's last illness and death, they had probably regressed.

We had worked diligently with a program I had just learned about, as well as with Lindamood-Bell techniques, and within the year, I had them reading at a level DSIS thought would give them some success at a modified program in junior high in Woodland, where they lived.

One of the boys had a degree of success, but the other, thoroughly miserable and the victim of cruel junior high harassing, asked to be returned to my tutoring room for independent studies. We worked for three hours every day for the remainder of that year and through the summer on social studies, math, and writing, eventually achieving a reading level that would permit him to work independently the next year with some support from a neighbor.

Some time later, I was elated to read of his graduation from high school. I immediately called to congratulate him, asking of his future plans. He told me he planned to go to Yolo Community College for one year and then join the Marines. When I asked him what had brought him to that decision, he replied, “The Marines are an elite corps…and I want to be elite.”

Although the words came from his mouth, I knew they were not his words. He had been recruited. I wept. Recruiters prey on just this type of young man – one without the grades to get into a four-year college, one who would probably struggle with even a City College. This boy, who had worked so tirelessly and with remarkable motivation to be the best that he could be, would eventually join up and become Iraq fodder. This from the militarization of our public schools as they now are!

According to the article I just read about Arne Duncan’s Chicago charter school/military academies; this is what he may have in mind for cities across the country. This did not come out in the interview with Bill Moyers. There had been no mention of militarization, although he had praised the Charter Schools of Chicago.

Higher education offers its challenges, too, as it becomes more expensive each year. Does every student – even the prepared ones - need four years of study at facilities that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct, run, and maintain to learn the curriculum of a course of study that could be accomplished via methodical independent study. Tests could be offered that would confer the equivalent of a college degree.

Educators and parents urge their children to get a college degree, but can you take a four-year degree and go teach? No, I’m afraid not. You have not learned what you need to know. You have to now get a teaching certificate and preferable a Master’s.

How about Business College? Are you ready to open a business? I think you would find there is a steep learning curve, and that your business education at the University of California didn’t prepare you for it.

What about a degree in English? Could you earn a living writing? Not likely. If you’re lucky, you will find an internship or entry-level job somewhere on one of the few remaining newspapers that haven’t yet folded at a salary less than you could earn asking, “Ya want fries with that?” If you want the skills of a pro, you won’t find them in a four year college. You’ve got to practice, practice, practice…or you can write a blog.

I wish Secretary Duncan well, but I’ll be keeping an eye on him and his ideas. I’m looking forward to learning more. And it will take reading Truthout, Huffington Post, TomDispatch, as well as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, listening to Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers Interviews, Jim Lehrer’s News, and Jon Stewart, plus reading many of the non-fiction books recommended…and still, I’m guessing, there is no truth, only perceptions of the truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wait a second...I just came from Funny The World, where I saw an entry that mentioned you. I thought, "Noooo..." Then I remembered Tariqa's memoir...and here I am, not sure if you remember me from back in the day.