Posts Tagged ‘ Education ’

Heidegger, Dialectic, & Simba

The Lion King is known for being one of the greatest Disney films of all time. Until last night it had been quite a while since I’ve watched it — and this time I couldn’t help going through some analysis. So as not to ramble, I’ll begin by laying out the basic dialectical structure of the story.

Thesis = Mufasa. The start of Simba’s life is the start of his philosophical growth. In all honesty, there is not a lot we see of Mufasa. He tells Simba about the social structures of their kingdom, he gives a hunting lesson, and he dies. However, in this short time Mufasa makes himself out to be the most Heideggerian character in the movie. Yes, I am allowing the assumption that an anthropomorphic entity can be Dasein given the context of fiction. His whole “Circle of Life” spiel is essentially a leonine articulation of Bewandtnis (which Macquarrie & Robinson translate as “involvement”). Bewandtnis or Bewenden more crucially refer to the fact that the world is turning or that it is bent. All that equipment (for lions: gazelle, grass, weather, etc.) is tangled together. The understood state-of-mind (Befindlichkeit) Mufasa articulates is one of responsibility — the world matters to him. He has concern for it and solicitude for Others. We may also note that Mufasa ignores Zazu when he begins recounting gossip (idle-talk, a clear sign of the they-world). We will return to Mufasa later.

Antithesis = Timon and Pumbaa, the hippies. My sense of Hakuna Matata is a total immersion into the they-world. All is given over to ambiguity. The past is behind you, you merely flit from one grub to the next. Indeed, Timon and Pumbaa’s strong emphasis on eating (which almost gets Pumbaa killed) is a brilliant depiction of lust for the new. Simba learns from them how not to worry about anything. Maybe the lack of red meat in his diet is what causes his voice to be higher-pitched than all of the females in the film.

Synthesis = Rafiki. This half-senile, poo-flinging wizard effectively combines Timon and Pumbaa’s willful covering of the past with Mufasa’s Circle of Life business. Basically, the moral is “The past can hurt… but you can either hide from it or learn from it!” I’m pretty sure Mufasa would not disagree. Actually, I get the sense that Mufasa and Rafiki may not be in total philosophical agreement. When King Hamlet’s ghost… I mean, when Mufasa’s ghost appears to Simba, he tells his son to remember who he is as an individual. I would argue that the conversation between Simba and his ghost-dad represents a call of conscience in the Heideggerian sense. The content of the call is nothing, and it merely comes from Simba to Simba. It is a call from his Self to his Self — it goes over the they-self. Indeed, it pulls him out of the they. Timon and Pumbaa lament that their friend is “doomed” and they are very correct. The call of conscience reveals to us how we have been thrown into the world and the possibility of our Being as Being-towards-death. Because Simba realizes that he has the possibility of having no more possibilities as a Being in-the-world, he is confronted with the question of “What really matters?”

The synthesis, I would argue, is not necessarily what Simba takes. Rafiki’s emphasis on learning from the past doesn’t really have any further importance in the movie. Probably this is because Rafiki has crucially misunderstood what learning is… but that may be another story. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like Rafiki. The philosophical construct of “Asante sana, squash banana, wewe nugu, mimi hapana” is dazzling.

The following clip should exemplify some of the things I’ve been babbling about:

(My issue with Rafiki and learning is that he says, “It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past!” but then expects you to learn from something that doesn’t matter.)


Technology with Utility and Beauty

A recent silliness I have encountered is the insistence on SMART Boards as the tool with which education must happen. Obviously, my Heideggerian sympathies prevent me from accepting this. The problem with SMART Boards is not that they are some kind of technology. The problem is that we have no idea what kind of technology they make us. More and more we become ensnared by screens. If it is through these screens that the sum of education happens, then the only world in which humans will be educated is in that screen-world.

As far as usefulness goes, I’m sure SMART Boards are fine. There are two lingering problems. First, the use of SMART Boards chains teachers ever more tightly to what I shall call the Escalation of Methods. The Escalation of Methods states: Novelty and expense are necessary for children to learn. To begin to integrate SMART Boards into the classroom is to bind yourself to the ready-to-hand equipmental technologies associated that come along with it. The second problem arises in the form of The PowerPoint Delusion. This complex is the irrational belief that PowerPoint (or any comparable screen-based information) works. The use of SMART Boards may avoid this to some extent, but any information presentation technology that involves vanishing information is a part of The PowerPoint Delusion.

What of aesthetics? I won’t address this — I’m taking a class on Heidegger’s Origin of the Work of Art next fall. I will say that other technologies have a greater capacity for beauty than SMART Boards seem to offer:

Linguistic Analysis No. 5 — Learning

Time to write another post. Specifically, a post in which I gripe about edjumucation.

Allow me to share a quote from an edjumucator-in-training. This was his definition of intelligence:

“The ability to understand knowledge in a learning environment enhanced by internal and external factors.”

One might ask, why emphasize “in a learning environment?” A very simple reason. The speaker was talking about schools. Not “learning environments,” but schools. Humans are learning-creatures, we automatically learn. There is no reason environment needs to be factored in if we are approaching intelligence from such a broad perspective. Proximally and for the most part, all environments are learning environments. Yet the linguistic imperative of “learning environment” so often leans towards “school.”

So, I gave this guy’s definition more thought and decided to translate it into common parlance:

“The skill, based on being taught, to recall information in school.”

Notice how edjumucation does not address learning

Good as Gold

I finished Joseph Heller’s book, Good as Gold, last week. Because the book is old and Heller hasn’t written anything for a few years (which will happen when you’re dead), I don’t want to review the book. I will however do two things:

1) I highly recommend this book. The humor is excellent — bleak, but excellent. The joke about Chaim Potok is worth reading the book.

2) A few comments can be made about Heller’s attacks on contemporary culture. Yes, contemporary even though the book is from the 70’s. Again and again Heller shows the absurdity of the mass consumption ideology. More education = more smartness, more smartness = more money, more money = more happiness. We can think of this in the terms Ivan Illich assigns: we are caught up, thinking that “escalation leads to success.” Heller effectively shows that more, while always more, is not essentially better.  The main character, Bruce Gold (a college professor), rages constantly at his family for their stupidity. We see nothing but hatred for them from him, yet he is unable to cast them from his life. Indeed, the closer Gold gets to a government appointment, the more tightly he finds himself bound to his family. He cheats on his wife with several women, but, in every case, he cannot help but to weigh his mistresses against his domestic obligations.

Thus, we get an overall effect that it classic Heller. The things that are really valuable are not the things that the bulk of society tells us are valuable. Military action, government involvement, and money all splinter in comparison to something(s) else.

Sorry NYT, that is not news…

As I went to breakfast this morning, I picked up the New York Times. Just one of my many habits. I scanned the front page as I took a bite of yoghurt. Haiti, check. Blackwater investigation, check. Toyota dying? check. Gays in the military, check. No Child Left Behind being changed by Obama, check — though to be fair, Obama is not really seeking “Sweeping Change” like the headline suggests. And then… “Men With Guns Defend Historic Mandela Site… From Rabbits

Yup. The NYT did a front page article about rabbits. Front page. Front page.

The article included: 1 color photo of a bearded man holding three dead rabbits, 1 black-and-white photo of butchers preparing rabbits to be donated to the poor, and 1 map of Robben Island, the Mandela Site in question.

Yes, we understand that the overpopulation of one species can destroy an ecosystem. Yes, we understand that rabbits are pretty freakin’ annoying. Yes, we understand that Nelson Mandela’s historic sites must be purged of lagomorphs. But seriously, a front page article continued on page A7 about rabbits? Come on NYT! That is not news!

Linguistic Analysis No. 4 — Dictionaries

Wow. I don’t know what to say, exactly. Read this.

Yup. Dictionaries are banned. Because a student “came across” a term deemed inappropriate. BANNED.

I would, humbly, like to suggest some parents take a look at the Bible, specifically Song of Songs. Specifically verses 7-10.


So, we have the sum of education. Children are precious snowflakes who must not experience anything that would soil their pristine little existence.

The ghost of John Dewey, like Gollum, needs to go away and not come back.

Education and Expectation

Rather than launch into a lengthy diatribe about education, I’ll stick to one thing. Skills must be taught. The purpose of education is not to stuff our heads with everything from the first 40 lines of the Caunterbury Tales in Middle English to the reproductive cycle of an apple tree. We can look those things up, calling them when they are needed. This is the purpose of Wikipedia. Education must provide context for the content of the material.

In thinking about why I look something up on Wikipedia, I decided on three reasons. 1) To waste time with quick barrages of facts. 2) To satisfy the desire for knowledge of pop culture items. 3) To gain a broad overview of a thing. These cases illustrate the relation of content and context — No. 1 would not exist without boredom, distraction, etc. No. 2 would not exist without a reference to some pop culture item to lead me to desire further clarification. No. 3 would not exist without the need/desire to have information about a thing.

An important point emerges here. It would seem that context is more important that content, but I argue a different point. I argue that the challenge for students must be to fit content within context. Such is the challenge of an essay — read a book, take facts from it, write an essay about x. The possibilities go far beyond that of a simple essay, certainly. The important matter, I feel, is that skills are learned that facilitate adaptation. Here I do not say that students must be changed, but that they must have the capability to change.

But sometimes there is a right and a wrong way of doing things. Example A (of the wrong way!) is the following Onion article. I think we could replace “Montessori” with “John Dewey’s Progressive Model,” but that gets a bit prolix.