Sunday, January 4, 2009

Books in Brief: Tony Benn (Various Texts)

Take-aways: The various writings and speeches of British democratic socialist Tony Benn provide a compelling argument for Democratic Socialism based on the teachings of Jesus.

Tony Benn decries market-based capitalism for its failure to serve the needs of the human person, placing instead (monetary) profit ahead of the needs of human beings. To paraphrase one of his many aphorisms, he shames capitalist ideology for being concerned with the price of everything and the value of nothing. "Price" in this context equates to the Aristotelian concept of exchange-value; "value" thereby signifying the Aristotelian understanding of use-value (see Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" Book V.v).

In a portion of an interview included in the Michael Moore film "Sicko," Tony Benn offers a simple formula for how persons in a group context can be controlled and manipulated to do what those in power want them to do. (This formula is applicable to any context with a hierarchy of differential power amongst a group of persons.) To paraphrase, Tony Benn states that people are most easily manipulated when they have no hope. Hope is diminished or removed by 1) instilling fear and 2) demoralizing / dehumanizing people. Fearful, demoralized / dehumanized people will have a reduced sense of hope and positive outlook for the future, thereby making them more willing to just do whatever those in power desire them to do.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Books in Brief: "Teaching as a Subversive Activity" by Postman & Weingartner

Take-Aways: While decades old, this text still offers relevant suggestions that are applicable to both the K-12 and the college/university classroom.

One particularly applicable concept is that of a "questions-driven curriculum," building off of the concerns and questions that students have as a result of their lives in order to create meaningful learning experiences.

Also discussed is an application of Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase, "the medium is the message". The text explores how the traditional classroom setting functions as the "medium" of the educational experience that has a strong influence on the types of "messages" (e.g. content) that can be taught and how those "messages" will be received/understood/interpreted/made meaningful by the learners. In other words, the relationship between the learning context (i.e. "medium") and the learning content (i.e. "message") is an area that is ripe for examination in order to try and achieve an harmonious balance between content and context.