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you gotta know you(‘)r(e) crazy

July 29th, 2012 by slewfoot

Music: Indian Wells: Night Drops (2012)

What a difference an apostrophe makes, as Freud might say, like “a running figure with his head conjured away . . . .”

I overheard a “journalist” describe James Holmes, the 24-year-old who killed twelve and injured 58 in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th, as a “psychopath” this morning. Days earlier I heard another journalist describe Holmes as a “sociopath.” Clearly journalists are murky about what these terms mean and, frankly, so am I. That’s perhaps because they’re not used by the psychiatric and psychological community in the United States in clinical settings: these terms are intended to describe psychical structures in popular parlance, and in the U.S. the diagnostic terms are defined behaviorally. Both what journalists (and in some jurisdictions, lawyers) would dub psychopathic or sociopathic fall under the rubric of “antisocial personality disorder” in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association.

The confusion between “psychopath” and “sociopath” unquestionably has to do with their interchangeable use (common definitions in dictionary use the one or the other term tautologically), and I’m not clear where one might locate the origin. The terms have become so popular that some countries use the term in legal proceedings (apparently including the US, although I plead ignorance here—I’ve gleaned some uses on the InterTubes). [ENTREATY: if any of my lawyer buddies reading this know how the terms are used in legal proceedings, please explain in the comments!] The term “psychopath” does have some footing in psychology because of a fairly well-known inventory that is used to predict criminal behavior (the PCL-R), however, this and related inventories are usually used in the US to diagnose (confusingly) antisocial personality disorder. Adding to the confusion, the popular use of “sociopath” and “psychopath” would use the former for individuals who violate the assumed rights of others in a given culture with the possibility of guilt and the latter not so much, however, the psychopath may not exhibit anything that the psychiatric community would recognize as “psychotic.” The upshot of all of this is that, it seems to me, “sociopath” and “psychopath” are terms that are dispensed in the mainstream media to mean, simply, “crazy,” where “crazy” refers to failure to recognize the rights or well-being of others and the possibility of the lack of guilt. (For example, a free-market capitalist.)

I started to recognize the problem of such terms recently when I referred to Holmes as “psychotic” here on Rosechron and on Facebook “status updates.” Folks seemed to recognize “psychopath” or “sociopath” in my remarks, when I meant neither. When I use the term “psychotic,” I confess I’m referencing the psychoanalytic tradition, and none of those terms used in the medical community today. In the nineteenth century, as Dylan Evans explains, “psychosis” was used as a synonym for “mental illness in general.” Gradually it was distinguished from “neurosis,” which referenced “less serious disorders.” Freud relied on this distinction and it gradually became increasingly refined.

Lacan developed the distinction further: most of us are “neurotic” to some degree, while less of us are “psychotic” (and “phobic,” and “perverse”). He insisted on “psychical structures,” not behaviors (as all of us are capable of having neurotic, psychotic, phobic, and perverse behaviors). Adjective and noun, I guess.

Psychoanalysis is only useful for the neurotic, in general. The psychotic is generally believed out of reach (although not necessarily a lost cause) for “talking cures,” or those that rely on symbolic inducement and working-through. I won’t go into any detail here, but in the Lacanian psychoanalytic tradition, a psychotic has not fully accepted negation or “the no” (castration if you want), and thus is not beholden to the symbolic (say, law or rights or moral norms and what not) that structure the rest of us in some fundamental way (that’s why the “talking cure” is sorta lost on them). So, when I say Holmes was psychotic, I simply mean to say he does not function in the same moral/normative universe as the rest of us—you cannot help him improve by pushing on the symbolic weak-spots. This is stronger than saying what he did was psychotic—because everyone is capable of psychotic behavior. It’s possible he had a “one time” break, however, today it was reported he was seeing a shrink for mental issues for some time . . . .

I admit I’m drawn to the Lacanian categories for their elegance; these, however, are not the same categories our psychiatric/psychological system operate on. Like it or lump it, whether you identify Holmes as behaving psychotically or as a “sociopath” or “psychopath,” the proper designation for the system we live in is antisocial personality disorder, which is among the second or “B cluster” of personality disorders listed in the DSM. The detail is extensive, but a key characteristic is a lack of empathy and persistent anti-social behavioral pattern. More specifically (since the DSM is sitting in front of me), here’s the lowdown:

A. There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for a violation of the rights of others occurring since the age of 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:


  1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
  2. deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  3. impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
  4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
  5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another


B. The individual is at least 18 years.

C. There is evidence of Conduct Disorder [repeated violation of the rights of others] with the onset before age 15 years.

D. The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of Schizophrenia or a Manic Episode.

What is striking about such a definition (at least to the student of rhetoric) of antisocial personality disorder is basically it is anti-state behavior, premised as it is on “rights.” What is antisocial in one culture is defined, here, as potentially appropriate in another. I’ve never read the entry for ASPD before tonight; I’m struck by how it is a behavioral definition guided by statist assumptions. Huh.

Incidentally, I’ve been totally obsessed with reading Star Wars comics over the past month. The Rebels and the Jedi Order are plagued by antisocial personality disorder. As are the Joker and Batman, alike.

Perhaps the reason I find psychoanalytic explanations of “psychotic behavior” compelling has something to do with the way in which they locate them in both affect and enduring structures—it’s “essentialism without essentialism,” as Zizek might say. Regardless, the more I follow the “news” of the Aurora massacre the more and more I find the terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” odious terms: they signify only one thing. They signify “not me” or “not like us.” And I find that terribly problematic. There is an imperative here, a moral imperative, perhaps best intoned by Cibo Mato allegorically:

it’s synth-pop-from-aus-vegas friday!

July 27th, 2012 by slewfoot

on james holmes in graduate school

July 26th, 2012 by slewfoot

Music: Erykah Badu: Bag Lady (2000)

Today a Colorado judge put a halt to a FOIA request by the AP for the emails of James Holmes, the suspect who killed twelve and injured another 58 in an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre last Friday. A federal law prohibits the release of grade- and performance-related information in any case, but not email correspondence. The judge presumably stopped the request because it would interfere with an ongoing investigation, which is the legal exception.

The request indexes two issues for me. First, it represents the symbiotic relationship between secrecy and publicity Jodi Dean has detailed brilliantly in her 2002 study, Publicity’s Secret: contemporary modes of publicity function in regard to a logic of revelation based on a perceived public’s “right to know.” So powerful is the mediated desire to unearth the previously unknown or forbidden, Dean suggests, that truth or verifiable facts have given way to the latest nugget of now, even if it only has the whiff of possible truth (this is related, by and by, to the desire to publish one’s innermost secrets on social networking sites; as Eldrich once sang, “I don’t exist if you don’t see me”). I would extend that to a rhetorical observation about media framing: whatever glint of “fact” or “detail” that dribbles out about Holmes’ private or personal life is whipped up until it has stiff peaks in a preformatted fantasy or cultural narrative—in this case, variations of the “youth in crisis” fantasy. One variation is “death by texting,” you know. Here is another: genius gone unreckoned. And more deeply, that genius is related to madness. And by extension, genius excuses bad/immoral behavior.

For example, the first frame for reporting was the “young genius” whose unrecognized brilliance put him over the edge. A couple of days ago this narrative began to fall apart with the reports of fellow students and teachers that he was not all that (it’s probably a little of column A and column B: smart, but not emotionally or socially so). So it remains to be seen what details will be crammed into the next ready-made frame, so that there is something to report, as “news.”

Incidentally, I just saw “Dr. Drew” doing a special on schizophrenic children as a way to address Aurora. I’m glad to see mental illness getting attention, but (a) there’s no evidence Holmes was schizophrenic; and (b) I’m ambivalent about swinging the pendulum from moral responsibility to biological pathology. You and I both know it’s probably somewhere in the middle—as psychosis often is, a “both/and” . . . perhaps the mental health angle is so troublesome to journalists because it is not like Western biological medicine, collapsing into a neat binary? (insert rant here about the stigma against Eastern medicine.)

Regardless, and aside from the obvious desire we all have to have “answers” to the existential questions, this particular case is especially noteworthy because there is not a lot of information to go on. It’s intriguing, and often disgusting, to see how our contemporary publicity machine spins out content, or fantasy, in the guise of news. I ask you, reading friend, to keep track of the different ways this story gets framed over the weeks this case continues to unfold. I suppose the only surprising element is that someone has not suggested he was a practicing Satanist or “goth” or what have you.

Closely related to my issue with media framing is the rather odd avoidance of discussing the mythos of the Dark Knight, a decidedly perverse shift in the Batman comic that portrays the hero as mentally unstable—the meta-move being that there is little difference between Batman and his villains except means (money). Holmes reportedly told police he was “the Joker,” a telling betrayal of reality-as-fantasy . . . .

The second issue, however, does hit rather close to home. The AP request for academic emails from this student does beg a question that bears on what I (and most of you reading) do for a living: were there warning signs, and if so, why didn’t someone say something? In other words, higher education is implicated at the center of this massacre. We say undergraduate education is in loco parentis, but graduate school is a bit murkier in terms of its paternal function, since the mentoring relationship is supposed to metamorphose to an advising one, the intimacy assumed a bit removed (e.g., because graduate students are more “adult”). Anyone who works in education knows, this popular fantasy is the inverse of what happens at the research university: with ugrads we are more hands-off, but with grads we tend to be more mentorish—more, uh, parental. I know that’s a can of worms, so Imma gonna drop it like a potato on the Sterno. Still, there are questions: Were Holmes’ graduate professors responsible for assessing his mental health? Should they have noticed signs? After all, the news has been reported that he mailed a notebook detailing his massacre plans to a professor of psychiatry (whether he knew Holmes is not yet known).

Now, there’s not much more to say regarding Holmes specifically. There is not enough information, as badly as the MSM would like it (as badly as we would like it, as I would like it). I do actually have faith that very smart and well-intentioned people in Colorado are on the case and we will have more considered and accurate information once the legal system works itself through. What we can discuss is the issue of mental health in higher education: what do we, as educators, do about students we perceive are mentally unstable, or whom we think needs help? How do we recognize “warning signs,” if that is possible? And then, who has the power to recognize warning signs, and what is appropriate, and to whom does one say something to if she has concerns? I’ve been a professor at public institutions for ten years now, and I tell ya: I don’t know the answers to these kinds of questions.

As a professor, I have personally engaged three students whom I believed posed a physical risk to my person. I reported these individuals to my immediate supervisors and in two cases to the police. In each case, legal issues took precedent over mental health. In one case the person was legitimately a danger to him/herself and others, and even then mental health issues took a back seat to legal and then moral issues. The person had to be cited for a “violation of the student code of conduct”—that is, s/he had to be punished—before any mental health services could be rendered (and even then, it was only an “option” and not compulsory for him/her to stay in school). Before this incident, in the wake of a previous (my third) with an unstable student, I contacted behavioral services and asked if there were workshops or training sessions to help faculty recognize and manage mental health issues with students. Nope. My query, in fact, was regarded as strange (perhaps I was identified as an unstable person for inquiring? I certainly felt that way on the phone).

I realize there is a morass of legal issues involved here, and offering to help this or that student can implicate a school in legal problems. There is also the rather strict rules about medical health information disclosure that closely guard a student’s mental health records for all sorts of legitimate reasons (e.g., discrimination).

Even so, I do think we gotta get over this ideological stigma of having issues with one’s mental health as somehow a moral shortcoming or failing. (Heck, just living in Seattle in February can get ya down!) The widespread hatred of psychiatry and psychoanalysis among academics is a good example of such an ideology: if you are bipolar, or suffer from depression, on up to the less functional issues of schizophrenia or even personality disorders, somehow it is “your fault.” Some volitional acts may be—there is certainly a moral culpability for what Holmes did, and there’s no question he’ll be asked to reckon with it (for not, for example, seeking help). But is there something preventative that could have been done? If so, I am pretty sure the reason it wasn’t has to do with the systemic discouragement of doing something about a graduate student who exhibits problems.

Educators are encouraged, systemically, to pass the buck.

I have seen “unstable” graduates come and go. I’ve seen very disturbed graduate students “ignored” because getting involved meant possible legal trouble or entanglement (or more to the point: trying to do something means one will meet a metaphorical brick wall). I’ve also seen very abusive and mentally unstable professors go ignored or “contained” in some way too (another can o’ worms).

Of course, educational institutions all have “student behavioral services” or some euphemistically named office to deal with concerns and problems, however, in my experience these offices are often an extension of legal services. Their well-trained and well-meaning counselors often have their hands tied.

We simply do not have the infrastructure to deal with mental health issues. Educators don’t have the training. Those who have the training don’t have the power to do something. And then, if something is done, there’s always the question of eccentricity: most of us in this line of work are not “normal,” because—and this is a common joke—who would chose to be a teacher in his or her right mind, given the increasingly politicized hardship of education as a profession? It’s a problem. And frankly, I don’t know what we, what I, can do about it. Holmes is admittedly an aberration—the odd (psychotic) break out. Even so, it’s one odd break too many. What can we do? What do we do?

aurora

July 23rd, 2012 by slewfoot

Music: Robert Earl Keen: Gravitational Forces (2003)

Sitting in an airport bar, Holmes’ badly dyed red head bobs periodically as he endures a preliminary hearing. A harried attorney with long hair—its subtle, unkempt character the signature of “harried”—sits with him in the jury box as his primary public defender navigates the inevitable ten paces away. His head bobs, at times his eyelids shut; he seems sedated.

While I was in Colorado Springs at a conference just an hour’s drive away, Holmes massacred twelve and wounded another 58 in a packed movie theatre with assault weapons. I write these details not to inform, but chronicle, mostly for myself. (Insert aside here about the death of the blog and its retreat to journaling for the self, as it began.)

CNN has been looping images of the dazed and confused killer in court, which I watched live this morning with my hosts, who live close to Aurora. Shortly after I arrived to visit them, Bernadette reported she and her partner Josh were deliberating seeing the midnight showing of the new Batman movie. “That’s the theatre we go to,” she said. She explained they liked to attend the midnight screenings of new releases in the past. “This thing hits a little too close to home.”

It was strange to be so close to the crime scene by mere happenstance, having traveled to share scholarship and to spend time with friends, and then have the latest excuse for a mass mediated apocalyptic frenzy explode Onto The Screens the first fitful night. I have trouble enough spinning down the hard drive in strange bedrooms. Mediated atrocity demands sleep aids.

By any account, this morning Holmes didn’t appear completely aware of the situation (or perhaps he was faking, it’s impossible to tell). He appeared to be drugged, or physically exhausted, or simply “crazy.” Owing to the horror of the pre-planned slaughter, the seemingly “blank” emotional reactions of the killer provide an enticing projection screen, and certainly at some level Holmes knows this: he lived-out a kind of fan-fiction, in a movie theatre, with a mythos about the glory of psychosis (in the Dark Knight comic series, Batman is far from a hero to be praised . . . nor is Bale as an actor, I should add, which might say something about Nolan’s casting decisions). Why hasn’t the film this guy used as a context for murder not been more widely discussed? This seems important. You know this guy is thinking about nothing else right now.

Projection is a powerful concept in the psychoanalytic literature. Originally theorized by Freud as the attribution of feelings, fantasies, and so forth that one harbors onto others as a means of “defense,” projection has subsequently been absorbed into general parlance as a common thing we all do. In film studies it was taken up in apparatus theory, melding the ideological function of cinema, technology, and the psychoanalytic concept to explain how the cinematic experience “sutures” us to the celluloid. I’ve been wondering over the past couple of days, in the context of the carnage in Aurora: was Freud thinking about cinema when he introduced “projection” as a defense mechanism? I don’t know, and a quick run through my reference books didn’t yield a fast answer. He does reference photography from time to time . . . but this is a tangential wonder (still: was Freud thinking about cinema? Probably not, but from a sort of zeitgeist context it seems overdetermined just a tad). Film theory gear heads had a field day with projection, regardless. Whatever the concept’s cultural moorings may be, this particular massacre demands “projection” as a concept for thinking-through: the metaphorical theatre of violence collapsed all sorts of “projections” into a deadly event. The irony of the media coverage of the massacre is the “blindness” of journalists to the symbolic gesture of projection at its dead-center. It would seem, given the film and the place Holmes chose to anchor his “acting-out,” that projection is key, which implicates displacement as the shadow of violence.

And displacement is what we are all watching on our screens now.

Popular discourse immediately collapsed onto “gun control,” which is an easy and well-trod recourse, a sort of “filler” for the vacuum that the existential “why?” seems to suck us (them, the MSM) into. But is this not the sort of rent that implicates the role of (cinematic) fantasy violence in “real life,” the tired but nevertheless important worry we have about the influence of cinematic violence on youth? It’s a projection of my own, of course, but it would seem Holmes’ choice of spectacular violence is a deliberate sort of mirror-work. Reportedly, he told the police he was “the Joker.” Commentators were speculating that his courtroom appearance as “drugged” today was feigned.

Coming up for air: on the day of the carnage, I was frustrated with the news coverage drinking my morning coffee. As David Beard and I wrote about in our essay “On the Apocalyptic Columbine” over a decade ago, once television news made the move to continuous “real time” coverage of “tragic” or atrocious events, the challenge was to keep viewers glued to the screen when there was little to no new information—that is, news. Our argument then was that the solution initially developed was one in which viewers vicariously experience, and re-experience, atrocity through looped footage and reenactments. Little has changed in today’s coverage, except that the maudlin machines now get to retrospective sentimentality almost immediately. I laughed aloud when I saw NBC has brought Ann Curry “back” to reporting to ask stupid, manipulative, and insulting questions to survivors of the massacre. Covering Columbine amounted to a continuous reenactment of the killing. The difference now is the almost immediate fashioning of trauma into sentimental nationalism/commercialism. Ann Curry back from the banished realm is the displacement.

Our projection is to misread this violence as the act of a “monster,” displacing the larger, structural problems this kind of “wake up” horror points us to: a larger ideology that fashions “mental health” as individual problem, often a moral shortcoming. Although I totally get this tendency—what this kid did was evil—I feel dirty writing the massacre off as the result of a single nut. When Stanley Kubrick made Full Metal Jacket, he was tapping into a larger, cultural psychosis that echoes in this latest horror in Aurora. Holmes will be tried and killed. Projection and scapegoating are the Oreo of public “justice.” What will be deferred is a reckoning with our own responsibility in this, as a people and a culture: mirror work. He’ll be killed and put away just like he killed and put away the faceless others of his video-game world, two-dimensional and utterly absent of compassion. That he’s a white kid just makes it a little harder to execute the script.

it’s i-have-no-clue-what-to-call-it friday!

July 20th, 2012 by slewfoot

it’s dave-has-a-new-band friday!

July 13th, 2012 by slewfoot

Soulsavers – Take Me Back Home (music video) from High5Collective on Vimeo.

scientological publicity and symbolic decline

July 10th, 2012 by slewfoot

Music: Peter Murphy: Deep (1985)

CNN “journalist” Piers Morgan hosted a former member of the Church of Scientology recently on his show. They were discussing the separation and divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in relationship to the so-called religion of Scientology. Because of their various techniques of brainwashing and the strange culture particular to Scientology, the former church member suggested the divorce would be particularly traumatic.

From the very beginning of their marriage (which some argued was “arranged” by the church), journalists, critics, and various sundry MSM windbags have suggested there is a deep, religion-based tension between Cruise and Holmes (as was apparently the case with Kidman). Holmes and Suri were apparently “public members” of Scientology, which apparently is some sort of face-saving non-committed membership or something like this, whereas Tom Cruise is the church’s most popular, public spokesperson. Unquestionably differences between Tom and Katie about Scientology had something do to with the divorce, if only because Cruise believes in Scientology so strongly (indeed, it has structured his entire inner-life).

Of course, I think the real reason for the split is Cruise’s psychotic tendencies, which of course , have fascinated me for many years. One of these days I am going to write the essay (now currently an undergraduate lecture) titled “Celebrity Crazy,” in which I try to tease out the strange and increasingly ubiquitous relationship between publicity and psychosis.

For the moment, however, I think it’s very interesting to watch how the Church of Scientology is responding to the stories that are starting to circulate about this high-profile divorce. For the next two weeks, I predict more and more mediated discussions about Scientology and Cruise’s role in the church (incidentally, the best expose I’ve come across is Janet Reitman’s briskly written and smart expose). What’s absolutely fascinating is that Scientology meets almost every principled definition of a “cult” that you can locate (pyramid structure, esotericism, elitism, enforced estrangement from outsiders, and so on), and yet, MSM talking heads seem fearful from saying the word; Scientology’s legal department is mighty, we’re told. What’s even more fascinating is the rhetoric of their public statements, which reads more like a Donald Trump attention-grabbing maneuver than an earnest and professional rebuttal of criticism:

With respect to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divorce, the Church has no comment. Please direct any questions to their representatives. This is and always was a private family matter and the Church will continue to respect their privacy.


With respect to your other questions, the Church regrets that excommunicated self-serving apostates are sadly exploiting private family matters to further their hate-filled agendas against their former faith. Having left the Church many years ago, these sources have no current knowledge about the Church and their recollections are distorted by their animosity.


Every religion has its detractors and these stories come at a time of tremendous Church growth. Anyone desiring correct information about the Church can find it on the Church’s website,www.scientology.org, which contains thousands of pages of information and hundreds of videos involving all aspects of Scientology.


Very truly yours,


Karin Pouw

Media Relations

Church of Scientology International

The phrase “excommunicated self-serving apostates” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and just look at all those “devil” terms: “exploiting,” “hate-filled agendas,” “distorted,” “animosity.” It reads like the sound of my cat’s vocalizations when I try to give her a bath.

The comparison to Trump is apt because of the hyperbole, but notably this kind of rhetoric reeks of Fox News and Tea Party discourse as well. Which, in a backward way, gives us a clue into why the Scientological enterprise is seeing “tremendous” growth: as Jodi Dean might say, it’s another attempt to respond to the decline of symbolic efficiency. On the one hand, characterize truth and fact as belief or mere opinion. On the other hand, promise to have the way through an esoteric system of belief. To wit: draw on the widespread fear of the suspended Big Other while, nevertheless, offering access to the Big Other. This tends to be true of most religions, of course, but Scientology is especially unique because of its reliance on a rather massive publicity machine and it’s active courtship of actors and beloved public figures—which is to say, Scientology is unique because of its contemporary star system, a model abandoned by Hollywood in the 1950s and just now being dismantled in politics (e.g., note the erosion or decline of the political star). Scientology may be a folk psychology on the inside, but that’s only half of it. The other half consists of publicists—the evangelicalism of postmodernity.

it’s synth-pop friday!

July 6th, 2012 by slewfoot

no hots for teacher

July 2nd, 2012 by slewfoot

Music: The Invisibles: Rispah (2012)

A number of friends have poked me, mostly virtually, over the official platform adopted recently by the Texas Republican Party. The 2012 platform (which you can find in its entirety here) has a statement listed under “Knowledge-Based Education” that reads as follows:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

This is a rather baffling statement, insofar as “HOTS” refers to Bloom’s Taxonomy, an elegant and highly influential model for thinking about education and curricula that was developed in the late 1940s and 1950s. Named somewhat erroneously after the editor of the book that advanced the taxonomy (which was, in turn, developed by a group of folks meeting at conferences over many years), the scheme identifies education as addressing cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains (all three are addressed in the very early grades, for example, where hand-eye coordination and sharing crayons is just as important as counting). The RePube platform addresses the more cognitively complex levels of the “cognitive” domain, which consists of the following: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The last three, “analysis, synthesis, and evaluation”—derived from that Mac-Daddy of thought, Plato—are the so-called “higher order thinking skills” that the Texas politicians seem to oppose.


Of course, my job description is to teach precisely these skills: I am to get students to break things down into their many parts, put them back together to see how they work, and then assess the whole shebang. For example: what are the elements of this movie? what are its constituent parts? Can you reassemble these parts into alternative plots and narratives? If so, how would it change the meaning? The impact on the senses? What do you think of that? These are basic questions critical thinking is designed to inspire. Why a political party would oppose this as somehow counter to their interests is strange.


Of course, the sign something is amiss is the parenthetical “values clarification,” which apparently has something do to with higher order thinking skills. Prima facie, it simply appears that whomever penned this particular sentence was referring to some priming document that suggests that the teaching of higher order thinking is actually a calibration of values. Contacted by numerous folks, the TRP responded that the wording of the platform was in error. “I think the intent is that the Republican Party is opposed to the values clarification method that serves the purpose of challenging students beliefs and undermine parental authority,” said a spokesman.

The clarification, of course, only makes it worse. Alongside the plank, the clarification only amplifies the battle cry of the newest battle of the Republican-sponsored culture wars: pedagogy itself is ideologically suspect. That is to say, even Bloom’s Taxonomy is a disguised, “liberal” ideology . . . . This is akin to saying something like higher fuel-economy vehicles like the Ford Focus or Prius or whatever are responsible for higher gas prices. Oh, dudes: who would want to identify themselves with a political party that promotes stupidity? Yikes this is bad.

I’ve said it many times here and elsewhere, but, these folks are determined to politicize educational policy. At first blush I thought it was insane that a political party would oppose the teaching of critical thinking. But in their clarification of “intent,” I see it’s precisely that. And “they” hold up signs accusing Obama of “socialism.” As Orwell might observe: socialism is neoliberalism; conservatism is fascism; doubleplusgood.