08 April 2007

Academic phoneyness - a selection

A quick tour of the UK blogosphere has produced the following gems of academic phoneyness reported by other people:

1) History, but not as we knew it
(reported by ThunderDragon on his History Journal)

Oxford Professor of History Lyndal Roper with the idea that culture in the sixteenth century allegedly revolved around the male sexual organ:

Sixteenth-century culture can clearly be defined as a phallic culture, though we are still far from knowing what the term might mean. This was a culture where, after all, the symbol of the central Christian mystery of the Incarnation was the Infant Jesus’ naked penis. It was a culture whose carnival world was peopled with walking penises, and phalluses on sticks ... Though not always expressed as fear of castration, the fear of the theft of manhood ... was a common cultural theme.
This passage, apart from striking me as the sort of tosh that a second-rate undergraduate might write in a dodgy tutorial essay, displays a number of standard mediocratic themes: obsession with sex/physiology, reductionism, blurring of concepts, boggling ("we are still far from knowing what the term might mean"), masculinity-as-threat, physicalism, (gender) politicisation, phoney radicalism, and vacuity.

2) Algebra, but not as we knew it

(reported by rightwingnation via Freeborn John)

This is about a guidebook for teachers entitled Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom by Thomas Armstrong, with a preface by Howard Gardner.
To get a feel for unknowns in basic algebra (Armstrong advises), spatially endowed students in junior high school can draw a version of "x" as a masked outlaw. Students with musical intelligence can chant "x is a mystery" and "accompany their chanting with any available percussion instruments." To get a feel for Boyle's Law, high school chemistry students can become "molecules" of gas in a "container" (a clearly defined corner of the classroom). They move at a constant rate (temperature) and cannot leave the container (constant mass).
I cannot believe this inane approach, of dancing around chanting and banging drums, would help anyone to understand the concept of an unknown variable, or the molecular theory of gases.

This example is from the US, but it's inspired by Gardner's concept of multiple intelligences which has had worldwide influence among educators, even if not among academics. (If academics don't like the specific theory, perhaps it's because it is too clear, or because it still invokes a certain degree of innateness. The fact is that they, like Gardner, tend to be critical of IQ in its simplest form i.e. the g-factor.)

PS What induces educators to subscribe to this nonsense, supposedly "child-centred" (here's phoney "individualism" again) but more likely to drive children round the bend with mindlessness? (And of course this stuff has a long history by now; in the 60s it was the similar concept of Nuffield science which was all the rage.) Do the people concerned really believe children are like this? It's more plausible that they believe children ought to be like this, because they find it ideologically preferable to the reality.


Mister Anonymous said...

"Lyndal Roper"

This person is a professor. Why?

Doesn't even know what a phallus is. A phallus is a fertility, vitality, and creativity symbol. I think it would be bad thing to lose your vitality don't you think? But Freuds coup de grace to be inflicted on a miserable decentralised victim is to link this phallus to a piece of anatomy and childhood incest. Thus frightening the victim out of ever reclaiming a centralised psychology.

After all, If you can't be Leonardo Da Vinci, pronounce him a masturbatory pervert. (Sour Grapes)

I can't imagine why Freud is so popular with Marxists and Feminists..

Paul said...

"Sixteenth-century culture can clearly be defined as a phallic culture, though we are still far from knowing what the term might mean."

That's just fantastic! Can anyone able of penning a sentence be an Oxford Prof, nowadays? Hey, let's have a go...

"The universal joint on my rusting van can clearly be defined as a vaginocentric backlash, though we are still far from knowing what the term might mean."

"The green stuff I scooped out of the pond this morning can clearly be defined as academic brilliance, though we are still far from knowing what the term might mean."

Are you sure it's for real? It didn't pop up on April 1st, did it?

"...draw a version of "x" as a masked outlaw. ...chant "x is a mystery" and "accompany their chanting with any available percussion instruments."

Again, one imagines this must be a joke. The insult to kids' intelligence aside, just how long would maths lessons have to be? If introducing the basic concept of an unknown variable would require the production of pictures and a soundtrack, what about algebraic addition or multiplication? Or completing the square?!

But maybe it's not important how much they learn: maybe it's just the quality of the experience of learning. Has anyone thought of that before? No? Where can I apply for a research grant?

ThunderDragon said...

It is an actual paragraph from one of her books (Oedipus and the Devil). It does make a little more sense in the context of the article, but not a huge amount more!

Fabian Tassano said...

Thanks for confirming TD.

Roper wasn't Professor at Oxford when she wrote this, but I imagine she got her appointment partly on the strength of this kind of stuff.