TPRS and the Rational Mind

Yesterday I heard someone being interviewed on npr and they said the following:

KAPLAN: When we are listening to a story, we’re kind of in a spell. We are more susceptible to ideas and emotions and content than when we are in our more rational times of the day.

(quote from “USC film and pop culture expert Marty Kaplan”)

(Thanks to Debbie Fowler of Delaware OH for coming up with the exact quote)

Then as I read this original, I thought, “There it is, that’s what bugs the traditionalists about tprs and any communicative method; it’s the by-pass of the rational mind.”

I’ve said as much before in posts to listservs but this is a good take-off point to analyze this reaction a bit more. In the exchanges on listservs, it doesn’t take long for discussants to begin invoking Aristotle. The Ancient Greeks are treated as something like the Founding Fathers, despite the clear fact that they belonged to a very different civilization. The Founding Fathers were uneasy about slavery; they saw the contradiction between their pleas for freedom and their denial of liberty to the slaves. I don’t think the Greeks did. If they did, let me know where I can go to see their deliberations on this topic. We won’t even consider the Romans since they thought feeding old ladies to ravenous animals was grand sport.

But the Greeks are invoked to give the impression that we are their direct heirs and what we inherited was something called the rational mind. This rational mind is so valued that anything other than the rational mind is considered the antithesis and a threat. Language must be analyzed as the atoms are analyzed, broken down into formulas and rules, and tight, tight control exercised over speech through the rigorous application of these rules.

But how account for the hysteria evoked when someone suggests that language might be learned in a different way, a somewhat opaque way, less available for control and measured, deliberative responses? Look again at the word control.

Control is at the heart of the traditionalist approach to education in general and language learning in particular. He who knows the rules controls the process and in the transmission model of education, rules are everything. A recent exchange on a listserv focused on punctuality. Even though punctuality is not a common trait in the world, the Industrial Revolution is based on timed responses on the part of manufacturing and delivery systems, so the inculcation of “timeliness” was deemed essential to the industrial process and therefore became central to the socialization process entrusted to the schools. Recent immigrants must learn how to be on time.

This is in no way to disparage being punctual but rather to put it in its context; lots of people don’t need to be on time. They are demand-feed operators, doing what needs to be done as it occurs but not on an arbitrary schedule. Just think of the people who got up at a certain time every day to go to work and in retirement cannot change that.

So why all the need for control? Lack of trust. I cannot trust workers to show up on time so I need to find a control mechanism. Eventually the factory whistles become classroom bells in order to condition future workers to performing on a schedule.

Could trust ever be restored? Sure. Many books are written about highly successful companies which do away with such strictures and the work still gets done b/c everyone has bought in. I read a book once on Japanese management style which contrasted Japanese and American styles thusly: Japanese take FOREVER to make a decision, running it by everyone over and over and over until an American just screams DO IT ALREADY! The Americans make the decision through the Decider, the CEO, usually accompanied by some fist-pounding. The Japanese, once the decision is taken, finally, fall smoothly into line and perform beautifully while the Americans take two years to satisfy and placate all the disgruntled people bypassed in the decision-making process. It pretty much evens out though with less stress in the Japanese model. If WW II in the Pacific had lasted a couple more years, they might have won.

When you fray and break the bonds of trust, you have to control people. That’s what traditional education is about, but by traditional, I mean only the mass education of the Industrial Age starting in the late 1800s.

Those teachers who object to tprs do so b/c the students are absorbing knowledge without first running it through a “rational” filter. What they really object to is that they are not in control of the filter, not in control of what the students are learning. That’s what bothers them.

Just as in Wikipedia, if anyone with more knowledge of the history of ed can chime in, I’d appreciate it.

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