31 August 2006

The Whale Sang Opera

This past week has been an amazing example of what may be wrong with the country. The news has gone from Iraq to Jonbenet to Warren Jeffs to Rumsfeld to fascism to the President. The majority of the comentary has been on a ten year old murder case and a captured polygamist, and most of that has been in breathless, gushing one sylable words. The President rattled off a group of talking points almost all of which were then echoed or shown on every TV "news" program with the implication that you would either support or oppose those statements with little or no real analysis or critical thinking - simply a knee jerk reaction from whichever side of the political spectrum you call your own. Little of the news or entertainment requires a functioning brain. You simply parrot whatever you are spoon fed by your side of the political spectrum to then be regurgitated to your friends and compatriots.

A great deal of teaching in today's classrooms amounts to "teaching to the test", simply informing children of the information they will need to parrot on being examined. There really is nothing wrong with teaching children information by rote. What is missing is the encouragement of curiosity and exposure to bigger ideas, different worlds, and thoughtful commentary. When I was in what amounted to an AP class many, many years ago, the teacher gave "open book" tests because it was more important to know how to find information than it was to "know" it. Even for the average student, the idea was to rise to the level of instruction not bring instruction down to the understandable level of the child. Many years ago Marva Collins proved that even the least advantaged child will achieve if that is what is rewarded by their parents and their cohorts.

In the upper left hand corner is Willie the Whale. He is a Disney cartoon. He sang Figaro, Pagliacci, and Faust along with Mama's Little Baby Loves Shortnin' Bread, and children of that era loved him along with Night on Bald Mountain, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and Peter and the Wolf. On TV we had Ed Sullivan and for every plate twirler or Senor Winscles with his hand puppet saying, "All right" there were live scenes from Broadway plays and opera singers. News was Uncle Walter with real "News" not some blond newsreader who cannot pronounce many of the words on the copy in their hands ... my latest bugaboo one who says o-ree-on rather than o-rye-un.

Frank Sinatra sang "The House I Live In" with its multi racial cast and it won an Oscar. Listen to the dialogue of movies from the 30s through 60s and hear multiple syllable words, Marx Brothers double entendres, and Cole Porter lyrics. Even among the least educated, the exposure through movies and TV to the unfamiliar was constant. For those who couldn't make their way through a whole novel, there was the Readers Digest version. Part of the problem is cable TV that allows you to run away from something you don't understand. When there were three networks, you took what you could get. For all the advantages of multiple channels, it is also possible to only hang out where you are comfortable or where your prejudices are reinforced. Sure there were injustices and prejudices in materials forty years ago. There are cartoons you can't show on TV today because of those images, but there were also more ways to escape what your were raised with at home. If nothing else, Fred Astaire dancing in a tux said there was a different world out there.

We have become a nation that swallows things whole without investigation. We are a nation that distrusts "other" ideas. We no longer seek out alternate experiences or events. Virtually every magazine or TV show has some sensational tabloid feature. Many motion pictures are aimed at the lowest common denominator. Once an adult, you can get through life without reading anything other than misspelled email and the material necessary to do your job. For the majority of people, there is little to no encouragement to seek out books, discussions, debates, or public group experiences with other adults. Lives have become insular: work/home with little time left over for anything else. Even the children are programmed with their mothers known as Soccer Moms. Society has come down to the level of the child rather than insisting that the child come up to the level of adults.

Let's bring back Willie.


colorado bob said...

Jamie.....The word : Feckless keeps coming to mind

Here's something that might get us in trouble, but just tell them your using my card.

Our library offers access to genealogy data bases,


Log in : RMN1234

Password : TX79401

These are the ones that charge a fee, I haven't looked at it yet so I don't know what's there.

Jamie said...

It is probably the Ancestry system. My local library has free usage as well, but I'm considering getting the home edition. It's about $200 a year but would be even more convenient.

For anyone with ancestors in Scotland, there is a wonderful paid index of all civil registration and available census at Scotlandspeople. It's about $15 to search for two days. You can rack up a lot of births, deaths, and marriages in that length of time.

eProf2 said...

Standardized testing is so obviously a ruse to not only dumb down the public schools but to give an excuse for more home schooling to be called legitimate. Thomas Jefferson must be rolling over in his grave if he could see what's happening to our public schools.

P.S. It's copyright. And, thanks for posting the entire KO commentary. I saved a copy of it to my word documents for posterity.

Jamie said...

Rat! I didn't catch that (fingers working faster than brain). Thank you for the correction. The current state of schools absolutely terrifys me. We are already importing well educated people under the H1B system because there aren't enough higher degree people in certain professions to fill the jobs.

Our manufacturing and intensive labor jobs are being outsourced so there is no where for the uneducated to work.

If you watch a child watching television, it is frightening. There is a hypnotic quality that just takes in the content rather than the active brain pattern or reading that requires you to create pictures on your own.

colorado bob said...

Jamie....The little computer on the Halo comments page is a photo hosting site, Run your cursor over the red http's on the last three posts I made at my site. Put a picture on your desk top in jpg and click the computer follow the info then after it spits out the code paste it in the comments amd it's live.

AlanBoss said...


You make a great many valid points in this post and your central thesis is spot on. “Teaching the test” is one of my hot buttons and the dumbing down of news, another. If you haven’t read “1984” lately, do so. The events leading up to Big Brother’s reign are chillingly familiar.

So rather than go on about all that I agree with, I would like to touch on a point that I am a bit uncomfortable with.

It is fashionable for us “anti-neocons” to dismiss news stories such as Jon Benet or Warren Jeffs as nothing more than distractions from the real news. I used to believe that and, still believe that those stories are used for that purpose. But, almost exactly one year ago, my perspective changed. It was at the height of the Natalie Halloway story. Like the rest of you, I had gotten pretty darned sick of hearing about it.

Then, through my work, I met Beth Twitty, Natalie Halloway’s mother. I spent about an hour with her that day and I have spent time with her on several occasions since. I have held her hand and cried with her. I have a son about Natalie’s age. So now, when I hear a story about Natalie, my ears perk up, hoping for good news.

Similarly, (I told Jamie a more detailed version of this story last week. You all get the “Reader’s Digest version.”) two years ago, through the same job, I became aquatinted with several teenagers that had recently escaped from Warren Jeffs’ Colorado City cult. Over the last couple of years, I’ve watched a couple of them grow up. By coincidence, one of the girls and her guardians were scheduled to visit us this past Tuesday. This girl, who I have know since she was fifteen, was the one that told me of Warren Jeffs’ arrest. I felt blessed that I got to share her joy.

My point is... Yes! You should demand more from your news sources. But don’t forget that
those distracting stories involve real people. Real mothers and fathers, real children. Don’t let the sensational aspects of their stories and the media saturation of them rob you of your compassion.

Jamie said...


I never forget that those stories involve real people nor do I lack sympathy for the people involved. Rather, I think the overwhelming coverage of a single story cheapens it in the mind of the public while excluding equally important stories. Murder as an entertainment ploy and ratings device is disgusting. When most feature pretty blond girls, it verges on pornography.

One for instance: At almost the same time as the Jonbenet story, another little girl was murdered in the same city. That "News" received virtually no coverage and the murder is still unsolved ten years later.

Anonymous said...

BRAVO!! Great post....and I agree with you 100%.

Alan...I do think that the story about Warren Jeffs is newsworthy.
But I have to agree with Jamie on the oversaturation of news on young white blondes. Of course each story is a tragedy for those involved....
but how do you think those who's loved ones have been murdered but recieved none of the "splash" of Natalie or JonBenet feel? I bet they're outraged...

rebellious renee said...


Jamie...that last post was from me, rebellious renee,....I forgot to choose an identity....

AlanBoss said...

I agree 100% about the saturation, manipulation and lopsided coverage of such stories. My point was merely a caveat that we not forget the real people behind those stories, lest we be perceived as uncompassionate.