Literacy, Politics and the Pedagogy of Failure

Our politics, our brand of democracy, as well as Democracy itself in its beginnings, all these are rooted in literacy, the advancement of the written word, and the transformation of both individual psychology and general mentality that literacy had brought about in antiquity; however, political leaders have been, are, and will remain hostile to the presence of the literary, contemptuous of any literacy that is anything more than perfunctory, mainly because they must be antagonistic to the freeing agency of literacy if their power or the consolidation of that power despotically is the aim of any and all politicking.

Literacy, theater and democracy together had a collateral rise in BCE Athens.Advanced literacy is a solitary adventure, a confrontation with one’s mortality, the ability to die in peace, at rest, and how to deal with one’s inescapable isolation; it is everything contrary to the mass-man, the great en-masse, a collective more easily controlled by the agents of state if they remain semi-literate, which they invariably will, as here in America we see year by year, November after November.

Semi-literate is semi-free.

It was true and remains an is true that however enamored we are with the notion that a text can be other than what is literary, that it can be not only anything written, but can also be film, photography, drawing, painting, sculpture, a song, an audio recording, any form of communication or expression, including dance and mime and gesture–my middle finger up at the state is also a text.

Yes, however enamored we are by this idea of text, it has been the literary that has advanced the cause of freedom more than any other; in the category of the literary I include the “Constitution of the United States,” “The Bill of Rights,” “the Declaration of Independence,” “The Gettysburg Address,” “I Have a Dream,” “A Vindication of the Rights of Women,” and The Federalist Papers,  just as examples of the kind and yes the level of literacy that has championed freedom.

Now even if power is shared, or perhaps even more specifically, if it is an oligarchic power, then the pedantic, the myopic, or whatever else humans have by way of narrowing the mind that reads and writes, placing one form of state endorsed stricture on thinking after another until the vice of state control or moderation is felt and its existence is grown accustomed to–these will be the only efforts in literacy endorsed by the state; note well how still, fifty per cent of New York City High School graduates leave their final four years of state education reading below grade.  Still a full 20% of all in-coming freshman will not make graduation

However, not much more than eighth grade is needed to fulfill the tasks the state sponsors; the governing body of state has determined “functional literacy” is enough.  A person is fully and functionally literate if he reads at the eighth grade, which means far below my seventh grader, perhaps with no more psychological maturity than a burgeoning adolescent, and we continue to wonder about our politics, our elections, our governing choices.It is we who have shared in the onslaught against literacy, and literacy is under attack from a popular culture barely semi-literate; it is we who have undermined the teaching of literacy with one pedagogy of failure after another in public school systems across America, but most surely here in New York City, leaving the bulk of graduates still reading and writing far below grade level. 

Check how many in-coming Freshman to CUNY still need remediation, and that’s with having made the writing assessment test not only easier in its requirements, but easier to achieve a passing score.  I had taught Freshman Composition for nearly fifteen years in CUNY colleges.  You will find the bulk of us who teach retreating back into our caves of self-delusion, preferring the shadows of our opinions to any truth or truths in the light of day. In our presidential elections, we continue to pick a winner as you would in Lotto or at the Race Track; voting booth as betting window. 

We thus support the status quo; and in this we ensure that things as they are will continue to operate as is regardless of promises of change–which every politician promises.  We have agreed to nothing changing by not changing anything about how we vote.   

State administrators will never maintain a faith in literacy that would guarantee good writing or anything remotely akin to good theatrical wrighting (there is an intrinsic relationship between organic theater and democracy). Nothing above the perfunctory will be tolerated in any state design for the improvement of education.  This is an anomaly to my understanding of what advancing through stages of literacy could mean, or what achieving advanced literacy should subsume, because I had aligned myself with a traditional, historically verifiable level of advanced literacy as the only hope for people to be free. It has astounded me that many from those who call themselves the academic or educated liberal elite have either opposed Free speech or others of the four freedoms in the First Amendment, or support a worldview, an anti metaphysical metaphysics, that leaves them opened to the reduction of freedom. 

How many of George Bush’s American liberal opponents will see their view of the world, or their theories of knowledge (what is knowable), particularly at their challenged level of literacy, as part of our problem. The left cannot see itself as ever being part of the problem anymore than the right.  I have heard and seen as much if not more hypocrisy from the American left than from our right; which is not a rebuttal for the left’s opposition to the right, nor is it an endorsement of American conservative politics as it has been played over the last thirty years, since Reagan, and it has been three decades, so with our degraded literacy and pathetic sense of history, we remain blissfully or not so blissfully ignorant of the politics that are strangling us.

The American liberal political establishment has supported the kind of pedagogy that has ultimately undermined education in America, leaving us with the idea that students in schools and colleges are patrons to be appeased and not instructed or taught or expected to achieve.  It’s as if your gym teacher said do five push-ups every day in gym class and that’s enough, you’ll be fit. Our notions of what is teachable and what can be learned and what expectations we should hold for students has also lead to  a debased ability to read and write. 

Democracy and freedom require students to be able to achieve at higher stages of literacy than we seem capable of en masse.  Is this the point managed by power elites; divide and conquer Machiavelli had said.  But even among our elites literacy is waning.  This might serve our vanity; feel good all around; gold stars for everybody, principally for showing up to class. We sought to empower by not asking anyone to achieve.  By no longer demanding anyone to rise along a hierarchical  vertical axis, we hope to encourage everyone to feel better about not failing until such point when we simply ask less of ourselves and start passing those students who would never have passed in the past. 

All this runs hand in hand with an attack against thought itself, what thought is, what are its limits, where and when we can know it has taken place; all these questions run parallel to one another in any epistemology, whereby the limits of knowledge are drawn, and we begin to articulate or debate just what the limits of knowledge are, just what in itself is knowable. 

Not many would see how American liberal mis-steps have left us opened to the kind of politicians we have had these last forty years, and the politics we suffer today.  We still play a political ping-pong in America. Playing hop-scotch with Truth is another past time we adore.

How is it that we expect other than George Bush or Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter or any of the pathetic mayoral candidates this year (2013) when we read as awfully as we do. We have been the victims of a liberal elite sponsored pedagogy bent on under educating to ensure its own intellectual hegemony. We have also been victimized by an economic hegemony from those who have been weaned on so much pervasive doubt and uncertainty as a form of wisdom that the only outcome could be an ever pervasive greed, a nihilistically solipsistic hedonism.

When doubt and unknowing are the only certainty, what did we think was going to fill the void.  When debased literacy is all too many can aspire, what defense against these obsessions do we have?  What a man or woman thinks, better said feels, nowadays, is the only verifiable reality in our world, the world in our minds and only in our minds.  Subjectivity will always succumb to passions, always be inundated by materialism.


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