Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cry of the Principals

I loved The Baffler, deeply and passionately. Loved it.

If you internalized The Baffler's particular style of cultural critique, however, you can't really stomach a lot of of LeaderTalk. For example, read "Why Johnny Can't Dissent" by Thomas Frank and then re-read Greg Farr's post "Effective Principals: Rebels with a Cause." Not that Farr doesn't accurately capture the zeitgeist, and I like the way he focuses on how the pace of reform is inhibited by the pace of the introduction of consecutive reform initiatives.

Anyhow, here's a quote from Frank:

Today that beautiful countercultural idea, endorsed now by everyone from the surviving Beats to shampoo manufacturers, is more the official doctrine of corporate America than it is a program of resistance. What we understand as "dissent" does not subvert, does not challenge, does not even question the cultural faiths of Western business. What David Rieff wrote of the revolutionary pretensions of multiculturalism is equally true of the countercultural idea: "The more one reads in academic multiculturalist journals and in business publications, and the more one contrasts the speeches of CEOs and the speeches of noted multiculturalist academics, the more one is struck by the similarities in the way they view the world." What's happened is not co-optation or appropriation, but a simple and direct confluence of interest.

The problem with cultural dissent in America isn't that it's been co-opted, absorbed, or ripped-off. Of course it's been all of these things. But it has proven so hopelessly susceptible to such assaults for the same reason it has become so harmless in the first place, so toothless even before Mr. Geffen's boys discover it angsting away in some bar in Lawrence, Kansas: It is no longer any different from the official culture it's supposed to be subverting. The basic impulses of the countercultural idea, as descended from the holy Beats, are about as threatening to the new breed of antinomian businessmen as Anthony Robbins, selling success & how to achieve it on a late-night infomercial.

Also amusing, incidentally, is this line, for the way finds equivalence in Vicki Davis's and my personal histories:

Henry Rollins is no more a threat to established power in America than was Dale Carnegie.

This is a pretty good piece by Frank on Tom Friedman from 1999:

When future students of the 1990s seek to categorise his book they will be tempted to understand it as a contribution to that popular genre of business writing known as "futurism," a literature marked by its wonder-filled talk about the ever-increasing rate of "change"; its ranks of neologisms; its homegrown "metanarratives" destined to replace archaic or pitiful categories like social class; and its telltale charts, purporting to explain geopolitics or management strategies or consumer enthusiasm according to some calculus of pop-psychology categories.

But what Friedman has actually written is a veritable dictionary of the shibboleths of our time, awesome in its inclusiveness. They are all there : enthusiasm for the "rebranding" of Britain, casual badmouthing of France for its efforts to retain its welfare state, facile equating of Great Society America with the Soviet Union.Each of them is monstrous, foolish, and preposterous in its own way, but thrown together here they make a truly dispiriting impression.

Also fitting with this theme is Stephen's characterization today of Bridging Differences:

Education Week has ventured into the world of blogs, including this column featuring a conversation between Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch. The issue is the usual set of questions around testing in schools - the usual fare for mainstream media.

I for one think Deborah Meier's vision of progressive, democratic public education continues to be the truly subversive one, and it is a shame that Stephen has presented her insightful blog as bland mainstream fare.

2 comments:

Jim said...

I agree about The Baffler and Thomas Frank. Too bad he himself eventually got caught up and dragged into the D.C. establishment. Happens to the best...

As to Deborah Meier, her ideas may be subversive and rebellious in relation to the current educational state-of-affairs. But that doesn't mean schools themselves will ever embrace non-conformity (whatever kind of educational philosophy they operate under). I can't ever imagine a time in the future where I'll be able to walk thru the halls of a public school and say "whoa, this place exudes non-conformity". It will never happen. Sorry to say it, but public schools embody conformity.

Your post did take me back in time, back to when I stood in line at punk rock shows as a teen, being dismayed at the uber-conformity around me. Everyone around us looked the same: face piercings, spiked hair, torn clothes, etc.! You apparently couldn't be authentically rebellious without conforming to the "rebelliousness code". The lesson was clear: non-conformity is all relative.

Tom Hoffman said...

There certainly are public schools that exude non-conformity, and there have been since the 70's. They're just kept out at the margins.