Ben Carson & the Shifting Sands of Educational Discourse

Ben Carson & the Shifting Sands of Educational Discourse

Ben Carson, onetime neurosurgeon and 2016 presidential candidate, believes the Egyptian pyramids were built by Joseph to store grain.  “My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” he said in a 1998 speech.  He followed this up in November 2015 with a defense of his theory, “I think [Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Grain Silo is] a plausible explanation to how they got built…I happen to believe a lot of things that you might not believe because I believe in the Bible.”

According to pretty much every expert on Egyptian archaeology, Dr. Carson is wrong.  This is, save an incredibly fringe element, not something society questions.  And Dr. Carson’s incorrect take on the Pyramids is fully in line with his incorrect takes on everything he has had to say about policy and what it means to run a government.  According to PolitiFact, the best Ben Carson has done on the campaign trail is offer a handful of half-truths.  Facts, data and generally agreed-upon science has no place in the Carson campaign.  Yet he is pushing public opinion and shaping discourse because of his platform and its presentation, no matter how absurd, in the media circus.

Important note – as of this writing (November 6, 2015), Dr. Carson is the Republican front-runner for the Presidential nomination.

Today this has me thinking about how we frame some questions in education/professional development.  I was asked, “What does innovation mean to you?”  I understand the purpose of this conversation starter (get people associating a term with their perspective), but to be honest, starting a conversation at what a term means to me is of no help and likely is going to hurt the process.

This is not saying that we all need to adhere to one True definition.  I’m a postmodernist; I struggle with Truth and prefer truth as localized and shaped by environment.  The modernist poet Laura Riding had a grand idea for a dictionary as universal…one word = one definition.  As you probably have not heard of Laura Riding, you can imagine the level of her success on this.  There is great beauty and humanity in our negotiation of language and definition and terms and conditions.  Kate Bowles has a great paragraph about this in a recent post on Twitter moving from stars to hearts where she looks at meaning as purported by early Hollywood studio execs circa 1945 whose ideas of image as ahistorical/apolitical is false.

In 1945, this vision of everyone everywhere coming to a common understanding carried weight. But Hays had built his lobbying framework much earlier, and had spoken and written consistently on this question of the universality of Hollywood’s take on things, just as Twitter is doing today. Across all sorts of changing political circumstances, Hays smoothly reminded the industry and its critics that Hollywood was above politics, and above the economy, because of the universal language of pictures in which it spoke to the world—and with which it expanded its market share.

Negotiation of meaning, what Papert et al would call the construction of knowledge, does not fly in the face of facts, histories and theory.  Papert’s kitchen math does not mean 1+1=3 but that how we construct the manner in which people relate to and then create knowledge can be different.  How we understand the history of the pyramids and how we share that is where the uniqueness can be — not inventing a discredited history for their creation.

What does innovation mean to me?  What does pedagogy mean to me?  What does critical thinking mean to me?  These are too often the questions at the foundation of our conversations.  The result of which makes our definitions malleable, shifting at the whim of dominant narratives, leaving us all too often to be the naysayers shouting from our porches about disruptive innovators who keep stomping all over our grass.  Shouldn’t we instead be saying, “Here is what innovation means as seen by popular news media.  Here’s the take from educational trades.  Here’s a pushback from Horace Deidu.  With this in mind, how do we negotiate what our field sees as innovation with the outside push?”  It seems simple, but I don’t see this.  I see a lot of conversations we see as novel but instead are well behind the tide and times.

Posted on: November 6, 2015admin

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