25 June 2008

Ideology in a horoscope

What do you give the person who has everything? If you really care you will try to arrange for them to experience what it is like to have nothing. But what if you are a benign universe trying to help a Cancerian who feels overwhelmed by options? How about a challenge to which they cannot rise: or the experience of being powerless in a crucial situation. What you are being obliged to learn is precious beyond measure.
(from Jonathan Cainer’s horoscopes,
Daily Mail 21 June 2008.)

This extract from a horoscope expresses a prevalent tendency in the official and widely understood psychological system of the Oppressive Society.

When I was 13 you could say that I had ‘everything’. I was fully functional and on a high energy level. An equally perfect life lay ahead of me, indefinitely into the future, so long as I got on with taking degrees and other qualifications as fast as I could. My past life lay behind me, dull and regrettable.

But, I thought, I should not blame myself for not having realised how to live. It was just an existential fact that I had not known enough about the world and about the exam system in particular. Don’t look back, I said to myself, just get on with it now.

I had not reckoned on the obstructions. As my aunt put it, decades later, I was ‘too happy’. There were too many people who wanted me to ‘experience what it was like to have nothing’, to be placed in positions in which I could not be motivated, faced with ‘challenges to which I could not rise’, and ‘powerless in a crucial situation’. And so in the end I would be thrown out destitute, to experience permanently ‘what it is like to have nothing’.

Nowadays it is argued that children being educated at home may miss out on the ‘failures that might be thought essential rites of passage’ which a school is supposed to provide. (Financial Times Magazine 21/22 June 2008, article ‘A class apart’ by Rob Blackhurst.)

According to Margaret Sutherland of Glasgow University, gifted pupils are not being allowed to fail, and this has emotional consequences. ‘To be constantly told that you have done well means these children are not being challenged.’ (BBC News, 9 August 2005.)

On a website called Gifted Exchange, there is another example of this way of thinking.

Charles Murray [in an article called ‘Aztecs vs. Greeks’] calls for the gifted to be given a challenging, classical education. He further states that we need to encourage gifted kids not to become just smart but wise. ‘The encouragement of wisdom requires a special kind of education. It requires first of all recognition of one’s own intellectual limits and fallibilities — in a word, humility. This is perhaps the most conspicuously missing part of today’s education of the gifted. Many high-IQ students, especially those who avoid serious science and math, go from kindergarten through an advanced degree without ever having a teacher who is dissatisfied with their best work and without ever taking a course that forces them to say to themselves, “I can’t do this.” Humility requires that the gifted learn what it feels like to hit an intellectual wall just as all of their less talented peers do, and that can come only from a curriculum and pedagogy designed especially for them.’

Observe that both Margaret Sutherland and Charles Murray are relying on a teacher-pupil relationship to place the victim in the position of being unable to satisfy a mentor, when this may be unnecessary or actually damaging to working directly for the exam. I was perfectly well able to take exams without teachers and needed only sample papers and textbooks. But I was constantly forced into positions of supervised ‘preparation’ in which I was doing work which I could not be motivated to do in order (as I knew) that the teacher/tutor could have the opportunity to make me feel inadequate.

The editor of the Gifted Exchange site, Laura Vanderkam, agrees with Charles Murray and says:

If anyone reads Aztecs vs. Greeks and decides to push for education that holds gifted kids’ feet to the fire, intellectually, then I’ll be happy.

This is just an incitement to those who are running the lives of gifted children to humiliate and frustrate them. Educators and other people in a position of power over children do not need any incitement.

Once the link of direct payment by an individual has been broken, there is nothing to prevent something being provided which is quite different from what he might have paid for. Probably most parents would be unlikely to pay for an ‘education’ which was explicitly aimed at making their child fail. Nor can the situation be remedied by verbal rationalisations. Whatever statements of intention are made for PR purposes, the motivation of those in power will determine what happens, and what reason is there to think that the motivation of educators is benevolent? No solution is possible that involves telling people with the power to run other people’s lives what their attitudes should be. The only possible remedy is to abolish state-financed schools and universities.

’We appeal for £2m as initial funding for a social science department in our unrecognised and unsupported independent university. This would enable it to publish analyses of the unexamined assumptions underlying current discussion of the philosophy of education.’ Charles McCreery, DPhil