Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stubborn Ignorance or Dishonesty?, cont.

On another site, a commenter left me this remark regarding the original post:

Putting together a car engine will never be as distinguished as reading Plato. In any society. One is physical. One is mental. One the body. One the mind. One is active. One is reflective. One animal. One transcendent.

I’ll have to disagree that this would be the case in any society and suggest that this statement itself reflects the bias of a Platonic worldview in which some things are prioritized over other things. Mind over body. The supposedly eternal over the changing and the ephemereal. The purely theoretical over the practical. The list could go on. If you’re a Platonist in your philosophical outlook, it’s easy to see why you would view this as a necessary fact of any society. But not everybody is a Platonist, and it is possible to imagine a society where being a skilled car mechanic is just as valued as being a professor of philosophy.

My response:
I think that’s a good point. I considered for a moment – maybe I should have spent more. And it is ironic that I used Plato as an example!

I guess to just back up a bit, there is abstract/complicated work and there is physical/simple work. Realize I’m being incredibly general here to try and establish a spectrum. There is plenty of physical labor that requires an enormous amount of not only finesse but contextual understanding, just as there are plenty of college graduates who’s work requires very little skill or thought at all.

But at the macro-level, societies tend to devalue working-class labor, and value upper-class labor, which is generally defined as limited manual labor and maximum intellectual skill. I’m the first to agree that this evaluation has much less to do with actual value than other socio-economic and cultural factors. And this is where the real roots of class resentment come in.

In theory, you could have an egalitarian society in which the lowly worker was valued just as much as the pencil-pusher. That was the whole point of communism (ironic, in today’s climate of working-class conservatism). But it’s just so damn complicated to untangle it all!

As a teacher, my greatest philosophical quibble is always the notion that “every child should go to college”. Even allowing the conceit that this might include a quality trade school, there is still the problem that our current economic structure simply couldn’t exist within that egalitarian framework. To put it simply: someone has to clean the toilets!

Of course, the teacher’s goal is always to have every child succeed, any teacher in a poor neighborhood sees that not only does this not happen, but there are numerous social factors at play in actively maintaining inequity. To use another simple phrase: shit rolls downhill.

Now, I think we’re making progress. I’m really excited about all the data piling up on what goes in to creating a robust and successful citizen – and just as importantly, what actively prohibits it. I’m confident that in time, the evidence will eventually reach the larger social consensus required to find the right social structure. Europe is obviously way ahead of America, beholden as we are to primitive religio-economic mysticism.

I think we can eventually offer each citizen a guaranteed baseline level of education and life experiences: a sort of “man is born free + 18 years” that public education was always supposed to promise. But it’s going to take a lot more than simply giving every kid 1/30th of a teacher, 6 hours a day, 180 days out of a year.
Publish Post

Maybe one day the idea of a Plato-reading toilet cleaner able to support a happy family in a nice neighborhood won’t seem so far-fetched.

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