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July 8, 2009

Our move from blogspot caused all posts to be authored by ‘drewbiedoo’, when in reality, Christopher wrote “And yet…“, “America of 51 Flags“, “Intelligence and Multiple Intelligences” and “Family

And yet…

July 6, 2009

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America of 51 flags

July 6, 2009

Somewhere, someone wrote about Europe of a thousand flags. Cannot, for the life of me, track down where such a phrase came from. The point is immaterial, the reason I bring it up is in reference to D’s last post. The phrase refers to the past, when local dukedoms, free towns, monarchies, democratic villages, and city-states were the general tone of Europe. Before the monarchies and (later) republics began to amalgamate such self-ruling localities into dependent provinces.

In response to D’s exit question: so long as the populace is complacent in accepting the “glitz and glam” of D.C. and ignoring the “pettiness” of their state government (to say nothing of their county and city), then no, such Senators are immune. If, however, we can revive that wonderful and peculiar love of a specific place (e.g. your neighborhood), then perhaps such senators would be under a popular recall so fast, they would get whiplash from the plane trip home.

Perhaps the way forward is rekindle the pride and love of local places. Our European ancestors often took surnames based on their ancestral village. Our American forefathers were adamant about being first Virginians and only then Americans. The reason is because Virginia, or better yet, Richmond, is real. That is, a man can look around and build up Virginia, if only by building up his home, his business or trade, his neighborhood, and city. If a horde of West Virginians were to suddenly march against Richmond (a la Napoleon of Notting Hill), Richmond is defensible. America is a castle in the sky.

America, in this regards, is a hazy abstraction and a collection. Until we realize that what is real in our everyday lives (keeping our eyes, for the moment, on the immanent side of things) is that which we can touch, see, and effect. America, as such, is well represented by the fireworks many of us witnessed this weekend. It is a grand show: written across the sky in brilliant colors and thunderous claps. But what is real is the people we witness the pyrotechnics with, the field in which we sit, the family and friends we love, and the city (be it a village of 100 or a city of 100,000) around us.

America is a hypothesis. It is a grand experiment, for sure, and I do not denigrate it as such. What I mean to point out is, quite simply what matters in our everyday lives is the local scene where we spend 95% of our time. In that regards, why do not we as a citizenry begin to demand our local government (primarily the State, as cities and counties derive their authority from there) to take up responsibility and shrug off the behemoth of the national government, except where it is needed? In that same light, when do we as a citizenry (emphatically NOT consumers) begin to support our local businesses over and above the corpulent corporations?

California is real. If it accepts a federal bail-out, then it will lose any remaining truth and pretense of being governed by Californians. It will fall to the degraded status as a mere province of D.C.

I entitled this post America of 51 flags (Porto Rico- run!). Perhaps what I really meant was America of 3192 flags.

There have been a few times in my life when I realized that everything I knew was wrong. Like when I realized that the Republican party isn’t the answer to every political problem. Or when it hit me that God wouldn’t push me into my vocation since the greatness of a vocation is my free will choosing God’s will. That not all nuns line up in the spirit of the convent from the Sound of Music. Each of these instances, though mournful at the loss of simplicity, broadened my view of reality.

And the United States Government cannot continue to operate as a host for 50 state-sized parasites.

These roles have been proposed by Washington and accepted by states over many years through the passing of funds from one to the other. Shorthand: In a state-run America, how is it that the universal drinking age is 21 years? Within 50 different state governments, one would expect at least one outlier – unless a universal system has been put in place by a larger entity (see: Federal Government) through strings attached to highway funding.

Through these deals the Congressmen and Senators in Washington circumvent the local governments that they represent and have traded the potentially difficult path of legitimate legislation for the easy path of state manipulation. A state government is comprised of elected representatives to make laws, but a Senator in Washington can vote for legislation that effectively undercuts the entire elected system of the state. Far fringe rumblings are continually concerned about the creation of a North American Union (Canexica, MexAmeriDa… whatever), but is the state/Federal Government relationship being being strongarmed into a further microcosm of such a union?

I never thought that Star Wars would scare me. I used to just see sci-fi… now it’s Pelosi, Reid, Biden, Clinton, et al:

Exit Question: If a Senator proposes legislation that cuts his own state government out of the issue at hand, should he be a viable candidate for reelection?

Did I mention I’m a teacher too? Here’s my first foray into educational theory, practice, and politics.

One of the defining characteristics of my education courses was the concept of multiple intelligences (wiki page on M.I.). In brief, this theory purports there are at least 8 different categories of intelligence: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal (there is thought about 9th: spiritual). Each learner has some innate aptitude towards 1-3 of these and can most easily learn by utilizing these.
Consequently, a student who can comprehend complex mathematical (logical-mathematical) ideas is not necessarily more intelligent than a student who can articulate a deep understanding of literature (verbal-linguistic). OK. But the theory goes further. A student who can correctly interpret a map and relate that to geo-politics (visual-spatial), is not necessarily any more intelligent than a student who can relate really well with anyone in the room (interpersonal).

This is bread & butter in probably every single education department in the country. Christopher Ferguson, in “Not every child is secretly a genius,” published at the Chronicle Review, takes issue with this theory. I think Mr. Ferguson hits a huge flaw with M.I.: the quantitative data (numbers-based) is lacking in the research (I wish he had backed up this claim with references). Ferguson claims that like the natural-philosophers, the ancestor of the natural-scientists, multiple intelligence theory is based on philosophy, not empirical studies.
Why? Because M.I. is politically correct, and philosophically sound with modern education (which is resoundingly constructivist*). Further, he argues, a classroom steeped M.I. theory fails to teach students the necessary skills to succeed in advanced studies, complex processes, or acknowledge that not every student has the intelligence (the older concept of ‘g’, a measure of overall intelligence) to become a rocket scientist; and it conflates intelligence with interests and motivations.

I am split on this.
Pro-M.I.:

  • Utilizing the theory of multiple intelligences challenges the education to use a diverse array of pedagogical tools and methods. Its prevented me from falling into a rut of using the same techniques over and over. It creates a more interesting classroom environment, in a phrase.
  • Maybe our society would be more healthy if it were not obsessed with logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic. A greater utilization and appreciation of each intelligence might help build a more culturally complex society (read: end of cable television and video games; resurgence of art and local culture).
  • Different age groups utilize difference intelligences. In my experience, the average junior high boy is much more comfortable learning with kinesthetic modes than the average junior high girl, who is able to utilize more traditional modes of education: primarily verbal-linguistic**.

Con-M.I.:

  • In the professional world, employers need people who can maintain focus, achieve a goal, and work in the situation. Whether or not that is one’s preferred intelligence, is laregly irrelevant to the task at hand (unless you work at Gallup…)
  • Some students do show a greater aptitude for learning (i.e., may have a higher intelligence) than others. Is being strong interpersonally (e.g., precociously social) the same as being able to master math tools? It is not. While social skills are pivotal in many regards, they do not seem to be categorically identifiable with the ability to learn new concepts.
  • Thus, an M.I. infused classroom can fail to impart on students the importance of standard modes of transferring ideas: language. If you cannot learn from reading and listening, your options are severely hampered.
  • I agree with Ferguson’s insight that some of the intelligences are not seperate from one another, or may be better categorized together. “Cognitive performance on skills related to verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, and visual-spatial tasks, as well as many memory tasks, tends to be highly related. In other words, it goes back to ‘g.’ [intelligence]”
  • Further, as the author points out naturalist and music (two of my strengths in M.I.) seem to be more along the line of interests than intelligence. And intra- and inter-personal might better be “described as personality traits.”
  • A successful person is one who can utilize many of these traits, integrated together.

A part of the problem I am wrestling with is the reality that during my studies for my masters of education, not a moment was spent critically examining the theories that under-girded the department. That is, even when I attempted to examine Piaget’s theory of learning (a foundational element to M.I.), my professors refused to lead the class into such a misty quagmire of thought and research.

Am I likely to continue to utilize M.I. in my classroom? Yes, I will, primarily because it diversifies my instruction. Am I likely to really accept this eight-way division of intelligence without empirical data to back it up? No. It is frosting on the cake of teaching, but its root assumption, that all children are wonderful and equally endowed with powerful intelligences of some sort, seems contrary to experience***.

Ferguson’s article points out an extreme flaw: the lack of empirical data to justify the continued use of multiple intelligences as a foundational element in teacher formation. However, given the current politically-correct culture, it seems unlikely that M.I. will vanish from the scene: it is nice, and that is what counts, it seems. And to end my rambling (thank you for bearing with me thus far), I find it well worth it pause on what Uncle Gilbert (Chesterton, that is) once opined: that it is a strange thing when students (in this case, teachers) are taught by theories that are younger than they are.

*(A question for another day is whether constructivism is even compatible with an epistemology within a Catholic worldview?)
**(This difference is especially fascinating. Given that we now say education is ‘female-orientated,’ when in the past these traditional methods seemed to perpetuate a ‘male-dominated’ intelligentsia… I’m just saying, its curious)
***(NOT that this means anything toward the root human dignity of any of my past or future students or how they- or classes of people- should be treated. As Henri Nouwen points out in his writings, sometimes it is those with severe mental handicaps and disabilities that can teach most poignantly about human dignity, compassion, and faith).