Sunday round-up: education and the arts edition

Hi, kids–I’m deep into a juicy new book in my field all day today and finishing prep for my seminar tomorrow, but if you’re looking for diversions, I’ve got a few for you:

  • What if Holden Caufield grew up and turned into Howard Zinn?  Hilobrow gives us the hillarious results.  This is the smartest and funniest thing I’ve read all week on the deaths of both historian Zinn and creepy recluse J.D.Salinger on Wednesday.  Via Old is the New New.
  • Dopey Educrat Arne Duncan says about New Orleans:  “we had to destroy the village to save the village.”  Now, all we need are 9,999 more hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes to take out the rest of school districts across the U.S.!  Never mind the loss of life–what about the children?  Hey, “progressives”:  how many of you would be jumping up and down and screaming if Margaret Spellings said “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better,'”  hmmm?  (How long do you think it will be before we start reading the “after a promising fresh start, New Orleans schools have underperformed since being rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina” stories?  Three years?  Five?)
  • Here’s an idea:  how’sabout we find a U.S. Secretary of Education who has spent at least 10 years teaching in an elementary or high school classroom?  After all, the Surgeon General has to be a licensed M.D., the Attorney General has traditionally been a lawyer, and the Secretary of State has to have a U.S. Passport.  What’s with making a former Australian pro basketball player your Secretary of Education?  I see a lot of educratic appointments on that resume, but no evidence of classroom experience.  Why do we permit dilettantes to dabble in education?  Could that be an indication that we don’t take it all that seriously?
  • I know I’m late to this party, but I had some laffs this week over at Zuska’s place reading her posts and threads on “You May Be a Mansplainer If,” and her follow-up mockery, “Men Who Cannot Follow Clear Directions From a Woman.”  While the mansplainers offering mansplanations for why Zuska is a “reverse sexist” and how women are just as irritating and obtuse as men were pretty funny, I have to say that I was appalled by the number of (presumably women) commenters who admitted that their male romantic/domestic partners were mansplainers.  Girlfriends:  what’s fun or sexy about that?  Dump them, without mansplanation. 
  • Today is the last day of January.  Hurray!  The longest month of winter is nearly over.  February is short, and then spring comes again in March! 

17 thoughts on “Sunday round-up: education and the arts edition

  1. Why do we permit dilettantes to dabble in education?

    One reason (among many): reflexive anti-unionism. Duncan’s main qualification for the Chicago gig seems to have been his readiness to follow an aggressive policy toward the teachers’ union there; his purported success in Chicago seems to have been what got him the Cabinet appointment. It’s a thankless task–most kids facing dead-end poverty will not be susceptible to the doctrine of improvement through education. But if you can’t cure intractable poverty, you can score points by blaming teachers, via attacking the provisions of their union contracts. And of course every nickel you chisel out of a teacher’s pay is another nickel for drone aircraft. It’s win-win!


  2. rootlesscosmo: I think you’re exactly correct. Anti-unionism even among so-called “progressives” and Dems means that people with actual classroom experience are never prominent Educrats, because teachers are union members, and the union remains the best way for teachers with admininstrative and leadership skills to take leadership roles in education. But precisely because of their union membership and experience, they’ll never be Educrats.

    Isn’t it an interesting world, in which actual experience in the institutions you’re administering is seen as a poisonous “bias?” I also wonder the extent to which this is a gender thing: the big Educrats are all men with business connections. (The one exception I can think of is Michelle Rhee, who has the business connections but of course zero classroom experience.) Whereas the majority of ed majors and elementary and secondary teachers are women. We loves our gender hierarchies, don’t we? Everyone in their places, so that men (or honorary men like Rhee) with no teaching experience can scold and shame the women teachers doing all the work. Awesome!


  3. I do love me some flood myths (the water, she washed away all that was bad; look at the world reborn! Shiny!). Perhaps Duncan was chosen because sports are the real reasons that educational institutions exist? I’m sure it can all be mansplained away. Part of me enjoyed Zuska’s posts; part of me was [headdesk]; and part of me was simultaneously angry and exhausted. Yay for edging closer to spring; I like the winter, but I’m ready for something new!


  4. I think the other reason that we think people with no experience in education can be in charge is that we all went to school, so it couldn’t be that hard, right? We can all critique our former teachers, so it’s not a profession or anything. There is a lack of respect for teaching as a profession that doesn’t exist with doctors or lawyers.


  5. Exactly–and is that de-skilling/de-professionalization of education due in large part to the XX takeover of education in the 20th Century? According to the linked bio of Duncan, “his late father was a professor at the University of Chicago.” So, although he never studied it or worked as an educator, he gets all kinds of credit via heredity for knowing something about education. (Oh, and “spent afternoons in his mother’s [South-side] tutoring program and also worked there during a year off from college.”) This is all very University of Chicago/settlement house-like: he never studied the problem nor worked as a teacher, but he knows what teachers and schools should be doing.

    Does anyone else find it odd that he mentions his father’s and mother’s experiences in education? (If I have a child, can ze get a tenure-track job or a medical license with just a B.A. because ze’d be the child of people who went to grad school or med school?) Seems to me if he had any real experience of his own, he’d highlight that and not his mommy’s and daddy’s work.

    I guess the ruling class knows what’s best for us, even when they don’t know anything at all!


  6. Thanks for the link to the discussion of “mansplaining.” What is it that is fun and sexy about mansplaining? I have no idea.

    I feel fortunate to be paired with a man who is good at explaining things that I’d like explained. But why should he go out of his way to explain something to me that I already know? His time could be better employed in creating great art — or doing the dishes — or anything else, really. What’s the point of an explanation when none is required?

    Ah, but by explaining something to someone who already understands the topic at hand (and is thus very threatening!), the mansplainer has a valuable opportunity to assert his manhood, reaffirm his sense of self, and project his own voice over and above that of the Other. Mansplainers always talk to or *for* the person they are purportedly trying to help, rather than *with.*

    I have enough of that every day in film school. I can’t imagine having to engage with defensive-aggressive posturing when I come home!


  7. Two comments:
    1) Part of the reason that I think education gets looked down upon the way it does is because classroom teaching is a female-dominated profession (especially below the secondary level). After all, an occupation where a majority of the practitioners are women can’t really be a “profession,” can it? Perhaps there is a mansplanation for this.

    2) As a man (but I hope not too often a mansplainer), I can attest to the fact that mansplaining is a phenomenon not entirely limited to interactions between men and women; there can be a definite age/class dimension here as well, especially for those men who see their authority over “dependents” and subordinates as something that includes men and women. I mean, a *real* patriarch can put other men as well as women “in their place.” (To which I can only say: ah, the joys of getting tenure.)


  8. John, I definitely agree that the act of putting another “in their place” through language isn’t limited to interactions between men and women. It seems to me that the tendency to assert oneself through language that claims the authority to speak for another (or to speak of another from a position of superior knowledge) is part of many discourses, from sexism to classism, racism, nationalism, etc.

    “Mansplaining” describes these dialogues when they occur specifically in gendered contexts … and it’s just a simply an awesome word. Somehow, it’s great to be able to name this attitude that permeates the film industry and bleeds into my classes quite often.

    “What’s in a name…?” Ah, so much!

    (Perhaps I’m reading too much into “mansplaining.” However, my experiences have mainly been exchanges in which the mansplainer knows that the woman he’s addressing has a roughly equivalent technical/scholarly background, and yet he never talks in terms of his experience or his opinions, acknowledging his subjective position; rather he tells the woman how she should think, what she will do…in essence, assuming he has the power to speak authoritatively of her situation.)


  9. Oops, forgot to add:

    John, I’ve been wondering whether there’s a difference in the interaction if the person who is being condescended to is also a man. Does it become more of a jockeying-for-power dynamic? I guess I’m thinking about all of the size-related competitions that are our society’s favored mode of representation of one male’s power over other males … whereas since women aren’t even in the running in those size-based competitions, “mansplaining” refers to that implicit assumption that the woman isn’t just subordinate in the race for authority, but that she can’t even take part in the competition?

    And Historiann, I’ve been a long time reader and very excited to join in the discussion on your blog at last! Thanks for the always interesting posts, and I hope you don’t mind me throwing in my $0.02.


  10. @Comrade: I do see your point. And I think that even if one were to broaden the idea of mansplaining to incorporate male-male interactions, I would never suggest that the phenomenon would work exactly the same way as it does in interactions between men and women. But I do still think that there’s a gendered element to these male-male interactions. Or at least, having been on the business end of such monologues, I suspect so. One of the things I have noticed being in the “junior” position is that the “senior” man doesn’t even consider it a contest; his expertise on a particular topic is a given (by virtue of whatever measuring stick there is).

    (It does raise a question, though–is gender “absent” when men are struggling for status, even when it is implicit that women aren’t part of the interaction? I have always assumed that it’s there when you’re talking about men playing the part of the “father” or “boss,” since those roles have such masculinist connotations. But I could be off base here.)

    I can fully grant that mansplaining best explains men treating women in this particular manner. After all, men still have the term “d!ck-s!z!ng” to describe their lamest forms of jockeying for authority.


  11. The term mansplaining is hilarious, and the comments to the post in the link were amazing examples of it. It would be even more hilarious if mansplaining wasn’t a regular and permanent feature of most women’s lives. Don’t you love it when your male students try to mansplain you? That’s my favorite.

    I’ve certainly been given little lectures about my area of historical expertise by older men with absolutely no qualifications except too much time with the history channel.

    And I agree with John S that while mansplaining specifically is about gendered interactions, the phenomenon is attached to power and privilege and therefore reproduces itself in different iterations across the board. (Thus it can be a good lesson for everyone, to check their privilege and think about what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.) I know people of color loved to be told about their experiences from white folks. And the queer community is always relieved when the straights set them um, straight. Etc.


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