Archive for the ‘The Future of Work’ Category

What Happened to the Narrative Method of Teaching History?

January 14, 2018

Most students do not find history an interesting subject before graduating from high school (unless they have an exceptional teacher, of course).  Most students see no point to studying history, or what relevance most of it has to their lives now.

Sadly, most history classes at the high school level involve memorizing lists of military or political events, and names of leaders.  But all this is meaningless to most students.

When I was a child in elementary school, I recall my father telling me, “History is like a big, long story.  That makes it easy to learn and easy to remember.”

Yet the history lessons I had in school, and even in University classes, were nothing like this.  Since 1960 or before, most history is now presented in Social Studies “Units,” or in disjointed tidbits mixed into lessons on geography or the arts.  What is missing, however, is any sense of cause and effect, or how any of these periods tie together or transitioned from one change to another.  Thus, history has become, for most, memorizing random facts with no meaning, in order to pass a test.

HOW OUR SOCIETAL VIEWS OF TIME CAUSED THIS SITUATION:

We must look briefly at the three methods of viewing time.

CHAOTIC TIME is how time is viewed by a small child.  Events follow each other randomly, and it is hopeless to try to impute any meaning to these events.

CYCLICAL TIME arose with the very first societies.   Natural cycles of planetary events began to be linked with human activities such as planting, harvesting, hunting, and feasting.  Lengths of days, and times of year, were measured by watching the stars or other natural phenomena.  Cyclical belief systems and practices arose in early societies all around the world.  Examples of some cyclical systems include astrology, the Cult of Osiris, Feng Shui, or the Aztec Calendar.   Through repetition, cyclical time was able to conquer chaotic time.

Most early societies believed in a cyclical view of time, in which patience, ritual, and the healing power of time-from-nature were valued.  The ability to divine nature’s energy and use it was highly valued (Strauss, 11).   One advantage of belief in cyclical time is that when societies have horrible wars, or fall apart, these times are seen as temporary, as being a “winter season” from which the spring and a renewal will eventually come.

Things changed with the arrival of monotheism, especially Christianity.  From its earliest days, Christianity tried to stamp out the cyclical view of time.   They denounced it as “calendrical paganism” and did their best to stamp out non-linear thought-systems such as astrology (Strauss, 10).   Yet, they were never able to stamp it out completely.  When modernity, and especially the Enlightenment arrived, the Western World switched to a LINEAR VIEW OF TIME.

The greatest achievement of LINEAR TIME has been to give all mankind the sense that we are improving ourselves, that we are MAKING PROGRESS TOWARD A BETTER END.  We now “prize the ability to defy nature’s energy and overcome it,”  (Strauss, 11).

By the sixteenth century, printed copies of the Christian Bible were now circulating, and there was a new urgency in European society, as people now began speculating about Christ’s second (and final) coming.  Early English settlements transported this linearism of religious purpose in building utopias to America, where it greatly influenced future American society.  Waves of immigrants saw themselves as the builders of new utopias–Calvinists, Puritans, and others transported ideas of “building a New Jerusalem, as defenders of ‘God’s Chosen Country,’ and pioneers in the service of a Manifest Destiny.”  (Strauss, 10)

Linear societies define EXPLICIT GOALS (whether moral or material), and set out to deliberately attain them.  When these goals are reached, people feel triumphant.  This leads us to view life as SELF-DIRECTED, and our personal lives as SELF-MADE.  These ideas instilled in Western societies the idea of LINEAR PROGRESS toward an EVER-BETTER MATERIAL and societal future.  These were the ages of belief in technological progress solving all problems, of Manifest Destiny in America.

In America, the HAPPY ENDING is truly our NATIONAL BELIEF  (Strauss, 11).

THE BIG CATASTROPHIC CHANGE:

This view held until World War I.  The entire Western World was affected.  Suddenly, we were NO LONGER SURE of the idea of continual progress.  Now, we had the fear that our linear path may, in fact, be DOWNWARD.

Despair and dystopian ideas took hold.  (The optimism following World War II created a reprive from these ideas for a time; however, they returned in the 1960s.)  Progress doesn’t look as positive as it did in the past; the fear of nuclear winter (or planetary destruction), robotic technology replacing human jobs, and the new fear that HISTORY IS RANDOM AND DIRECTIONLESS has replaced Manifest Destiny and Belief in Continual Positive ProgressThe FEELING of CHAOTIC TIME has returned, as if events follow each other randomly, without purpose or reason.

THE CHANGE IN HISTORY TEACHING:

Dramatic changes in history teaching methods during the twentieth century were caused by changes in our societal view of time.

When the narrative method was used to teach history, the glue which held it together was that it was a teleological view.  This view means that history had a beginning and was headed toward a particular end.  In more religious times (and among those who currently believe “End Times” are coming) this would mean the time of the last Judgement, or the times of Revelation, or the End of the World, or the Second Coming of Christ.  In America’s past, the idea of Manifest Destiny came out of this teleological view.

Among the less religious, a secular teleological view was substituted, that of continual progress toward the self-betterment of mankind (Strauss, 11).

The teleological, linear, narrative view essentially taught (in religious times) that the victors of history were part of the God-approved progression of history toward an eventual religious triumph and religious conclusion:  including the rise and fall of societies; the conquest of societies and peoples; the people in positions of authority having the approval of God to be there, etc.    Events such as the genocide and/or enslavement of  Native Americans were viewed in the past as replacement of inferior societies and worldviews with morally-correct and improved peoples and world-views.  Today’s ways of looking at events was not even considered, since the teleological view implied God’s approval.

Generally speaking, science eschews teleology.  Teleologically-based “grand narratives” are now frowned upon in post-modern society.  However, in America, the belief in scientific progress leading mankind toward a Utopian end has persisted until recently.

For example, the television  series Star Trek was so popular precisely because it supported the idea of hope and progress being able to solve all future social problems of hunger, poverty, wise government through democratic institutions.  Furthermore, they go throughout the universe spreading hope, light, and progress by means of the morally upstanding Federation (seeming to represent the ideas of the United States after WWII) against the Klingon Empire of Darkness (seeming to represent the Western ideas of communist empires of evil and darkness).

WHAT WE ARE LEFT WITH TODAY:

History classes in schools and in text books (where they are even still used) tend to be very light on examining the time periods between major catastrophic or important events.  This is partly due to time constraints, but it is also due to the fact that so many people and societal groups DISAGREE on the causes.

Text books took to leaving out anything controversial decades ago so that they can sell one or two versions of their books across most state lines.  Books and history courses that offend no one are now the order of the day.  When causes are taught, they are taught in isolation from other events.

Here is one example.  Hardly anyone knows why World War I was fought.  Students are taught, “The cause was the shooting of the archduke.  Then everyone began fighting.”  In fact, the real causes are found in the larger, global events of the previous one-to-two centuries leading up to the war, in the expansion of the British Empire, particularly in India, and the Great Game played between Russia and Britain, and alliances which took place in Europe, concerned with balance-of-power politics.  Students learn little to nothing about any of these things, and learn nothing of how the basic geography of certain countries drives their foreign policy.  Once these things are studied, World War I doesn’t seem so mysterious.  (See references below if interested in pursuing these topics further.)

For years, as a teacher, I wondered both WHEN and WHY the teaching of history changed, and I am finally glad to at least understand what happened.  I wish I had solutions toward improving it in modern society.  But when every group seems to be pushing their own agenda, and with no one really in charge, I have no idea how to do that.  Any thoughts would be welcome in discussion below.

REFERENCE, AND RECOMMENDED READING:

Strauss, William, and Neil Howe. The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub., 1997.

OTHER SUGGESTED READING:

Tharoor, Shashi.  An Era of Darkness:  The British Empire in India.  Aleph Book Company, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter.  The Silk Roads:  A New History of the World.  Bloomsbury Publishing, PLC, 2015.

Education Inflation and the Future of Jobs

March 14, 2015

Education Inflation These days, the only jobs not requiring a college degree, or some kind of post-high school training or certificate course are in manual labor, or the very lowest rung of service positions.  These include fast food, waitressing, and retail sales and stocking.  The lucky few who are both hard workers and happen to get noticed, can still work their way up into management from the inside, but the percentage of people able to do this is fairly low, compared to the number of workers.

Yet, a college education is no guarantee of a job, and becoming even less so as more people become college educated.  Furthermore, 73 percent of college graduates in the United States now end up working in a different field from what they studied.

Many of the jobs now requiring college degrees used to require only high school degrees in the 1950s.  Why, then, are college degrees required now for jobs such as insurance adjuster, salesperson of insurance or office equipment, higher-levels of office assistants, and most office jobs, even though many of these jobs pay relatively low white-collar salaries? Why are employers requiring college degrees, without caring too much what subject the future employee has a degree in?  The reason is that they feel it is indicative of the person’s quality.  It’s proof to an employer that they will hire someone with sufficient reading, writing, and critical thinking ability.  It weeds out the people who can’t make it through college because of weak reading/writing abilities.  Good reading/writing abilities are a good indication of good thinking abilities and adequate arithmetic skills for use in everyday life business situations.

In the 1950s, a high school degree was indicative of the good skills which a college degree indicates today.  Now that most people graduate from high school, many people seem to have that piece of paper, but still haven’t mastered basic arithmetic in order to be able to do business math, and cannot read, write, think, or speak, at the level employers require in a white-collar office setting. Before I had a college degree, I worked as an executive secretary (and had taken courses in a secretarial school to be able to do so).  Later, when I was in a management position in a bank, and was hiring an executive assistant, I asked for a typing speed of 70 words per minute as one of the hiring qualifications.  Why?  It was not because we had a lot of things to type; it was because excellent typing skills are the best indicator that a potential assistant really has good skills in all areas. Similarly, a college degree is the best current indicator to an employer that they are hiring someone who has the general  reading, writing, critical thinking, intelligence, and public presentation abilities that they want.  Now a graduate degree is usually required to get a higher-paying job in a specialized field.  The one exception to this might be in any type of engineering.

What we are really fighting today is the process of technology advancing to take over higher-and-higher level jobs.  First we saw low-wage manual labor taken over by robots.  Next we saw most former middle-class jobs outsourced to third-world countries as their workers became educated–for example, our lower-level legal research formerly performed by new lawyers, now being outsourced to India.  Accounting work, such as tax returns, are now being outsourced over the internet to trained accountants in India.  In both cases, their foreign salaries are far less than would have been paid in America.  Now there is talk of replacing fast-food service workers and restaurant service workers with robotic solutions.  Some of these are already being tried out in Asia.

A computer-scientist friend of mine from Silicon Valley claims very convincingly that it is only a matter of time before all jobs are taken over by computers.  He claims that it is only a matter of time before computers will be able to repair themselves and no longer require humans to do so.  He further claims that even scientific research no longer need humans, as the way to solve a problem is to throw a lot of research at one area, trying many things until a solution is found.   He points out that computers are far more efficient at doing this than humans.  I always imagined that Hal, the computer, in 2001:  A Space Odyssey, could never be a reality, but my friend insists this is not nearly as far off as people think. If my friend is right, then we can look forward to a world without work, where all work is done by machines.

Unfortunately,in a capitalist world, this might be an unattractive future for many people, as how will they live, or get money to live?  The European socialist model might work better in a world without work, as machines produce, and the benefits from that are divided among all.  Different countries, capitalist or socialist, might take different paths toward dealing with the future problem of a world without work.  This is a frightening prospect, indeed. Will some countries of the world divide ever further, in a world without work, between haves and have-nots, while others create socialist utopias?  Or will the countries of the world divide between those who can afford computers and robots to do work, while those without robots employ humans as the lowest-wage slave labor?

–Lynne Diligent