In honor of my return to normal blogging, I am republishing a post written 10 (Yes 10) years ago. It was a jeremiad against the infantile coverage by news media of the political scene and the dumbing down of communication. We are now inundated with mispronounced words and misspelled video crawls and that doesn’t even begin to touch on gossip masquerading as information. So enjoy Willie and his cohorts who once taught children there were bigger and better things in the world and they could actually learn about them all at the Saturday cartoons.
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 commentary has been on a ten-year old murder case and a captured polygamist, and most of that has been in breathless, gushing one syllable 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 twirled or Senor Wences 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.