Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Us: Designed Obsolescence?

In plumbing the depths of my past academic submissions for nuggets on which to expound here, I found and have begun tearing apart my "brief" philosophy of education, which I titled "Within His Reach," after a line in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile. As it turns out, "plumbing" is a fairly apt word to describe the place shit travels. In groveling to that high-school-standardized-essay idol of pouring the first paragraph through an initially wide funnel into the thesis statement, I discovered that yes, I committed that hubristic sin of opening with something horrifically, glacially broad, in my case: "Since the days when the first humans lived in caves..." In its defense, however, I remind myself that Plato's Republic served on the panel of texts for that paper's course; is a cave reference in an education treatise so out of place?

Dwelling so on the housing and other living conditions of our cousins-so-many-times-removed, the opening paragraph mused about those aging hunters in the tribe who recognized their impending mortality. They would need to sum up everything they'd learned and transmit it, mostly orally, before they died. In roughly thirty to forty years, if they were lucky. If you've ever read about the Lascaux paintings and what the caves were like before they were excavated for study, you can appreciate the inaccessible rarity of permanence in the mass media of the day. What opposite times we now occupy, where the whole of human knowledge (and a fair amount of other sludge) slowly creeps toward a singularity of storage and access; and where our industrially-prolonged physical existences challenge the immediacy of passing anything along. We live longer and need to instruct less -- in effect, carving out a smaller role for ourselves as elders of a tribe with a diminishing need for our cerebrally-stored expertise.

What then, do we do with this extra time? And do we abdicate entirely our role as "elders" in the tribe? When we succeed in getting everything onto Wikipedia, and everyone onto their own blog, what then? Has it been a generations-long conspiracy to return to adolescence, only with golf clubs? Or is it a deliberate and noble pursuit to free up the additional decades it will require us as teachers and our offspring as students just to sift through all that "knowledge?"

What does the imminent collapse of our economy and the likely demise of the social safety net as WE ("we," the kids who watched The Day After, who saw Yeltsin dissolve the Soviet Union in a bath of vodka, who saw The Wall and then saw it crumble) knew it growing up mean about our own old age? Will we have nothing to do, or everything? Will we have to look up the symptoms of Alzheimer's on the Wiki and self-diagnose?

1 comment:

  1. Not that it's all that improbable, but I just noticed my GK Chesterton gadget quote of today:

    "Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another."