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The Thing In Itself

November 2018

Semester Slump: The Thing In Itself It has been several years since my Dear Daughter was working mightily to finish her under-graduate Classics degree; and thus proceed onward to tackle her Master’s degree, so as to not only appear — but be — more intelligent than the recipients of the paper-mills of BA’s. It has been even more years since my Dear Son was parrying and thrusting through his Senior Engineer Project, a group-activity that he must have genetically come to dislike and disdain. In each instance, with each young young adult, I commended them for liking: The Thing In Itself.

What precisely is The Thing In itself? It’s the subject matter in particular, the meat on the bones of the topic. It’s the innate pleasure of knowing the essence of a subject. Some people naturally possess this exhilarating desire to understand what-the-thing-is. I possess it in spades. During my formalized student days, that type of learning was not nascent among the majority of us-students of yore. Within my more recent experience, that type of learning still did not form the plurality of the students of now. Maybe that ascertaining of life, that grasping of reality, no matter what the subject is — it may be absent from the world of formalized education. The rituals of the past have been done in by the rage for overturning the past, to the point where there’s not much of a present present.

The dominant motive in the mind of the learner now is WHAT learning the subject will get for him or her. It’s a sad state of student affairs. Bribery-inculcation is not the same as the drive-to-go that is propelled by the desire to learn. Learning is a reward in itself. Learning is the thing-in-itself. That precept has been a principle and a principle pleasure for me as a student, and as a teacher. Where did things go so wrong in the world of education?

Maybe it was when Arithmetic became Mathematics — because Arithmetic is really a branch of Mathematics. Maybe it was when Essays were mandated on Standardized Exams without the basics of sentence structure having being taught. Or, maybe it was when every Student got so full of himself and his “self-esteem” that he believed he was so smart: he did not have to learn much at all! Until that Genius-tyke got to the end of the school year and he had to take the Standardized Test and he flunked it. Then the Moral Paragon-Teachers in the School System falsified enough test scores that yet another scandal erupted in the Classroom.

The Failure of Modern Education: Books are written on this topic, vast symposiums convened to discuss the plight of Modern Academia, and yet even more taxes gathered to goose the gory situation of children who aren’t learning whatever the adults want them to learn. Whatever the Adults want the Students to learn: Perhaps that condition is the crux of the condition, the Thing In Itself that so very few adults in academia wish to learn or know or even approach. What the children want to learn are subjects that the adults need to know. The teacher has yet to be schooled by the vibrant minds of children in the essential, The Thing-in-Itself.

I am not advocating the commanding of curriculum by children, but I am indicating that whoever put the Adults in charge of whatever is being taught does not have a clue about learning in general, and learning the Thing In Itself in particular. Student-paced learning is a lost concept, and student-initiated learning is almost unheard-of among the Educrats. The California Exit Exam for high school students began as a joke and it got no funnier from there. Whenever an individual leaves a company, an Exit Interview often takes place. I do not know of this experience first-hand because I never stuck around long enough for the imposition of that employment tradition. I’d already made it pretty clear to all concerned why I was leaving and my opinion of the lousy work environment.

The CAHSEE — like Casey at the Bat — was the Educrat version of this touchy-feeling farce to extract information from the angry employee leaving the horrible job. In a way, the students did not even get the say that the exiting employee got. My Dear Son was able to opt out of CAHSEE the first year of its enforcement because it was already being LITIGATED. My younger Dear Daughter was not so lucky to escape the clutches of the educrats.

As a Home-Schooling Mom, I dutifully drove her to the designated Testing Facility — a Baptist Church, of all places! I do find it interesting that the religious bigots in Education-Land often use churches for their nefarious means whenever it helps them. I car-picked up my Home-Schooling Daughter 3 hours later (after I used that huge chunk of time for Spring Cleaning). She quietly entered the vehicle. I paused for a few moments, and then I somewhat hesitatingly asked: “What is that odd odor?” It turns out that one testing guinea pig of eighteen years of age was so worried sick about the English exam that she threw up even before the test began. The bodily fluid partially landed on the shoes of my daughter.

I’ve no idea how the poor girl did the next day during the Math Portion of the exit exam. But when a healthy, motivated child, an adolescent who has yet to truly enter the world, gets sick to her stomach to the point of vomiting on the test room floor, and the Proctors have only paper towels to deal with The Situation, then everyone is woefully unprepared for Reality: This tormented student-soul lost her breakfast while the World of Public Education lost The Thing In Itself — learning. Where the Educrats find Reality and The Thing In Itself, I do not know. They might try asking the Student Body, those who have not up-chucked over the Science Test.

The next time a funding package comes with all kinds of strings attached to it, and with hoops for the Teachers to jump through, for even more funding, maybe an Adult with Principles, certainly not the Principal, can stand up and say: Enough is enough. Let’s try Reading, Writing, and — not Mathematics — but Arithmetic! The classroom floor will be left a lot cleaner that way.


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