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In this evening’s seminar on Walter Benjamin, Dr. Tracey Potts led a discussion – in a fittingly fragmentary, Benjaminian way – on the thought, methods, and intentions of the late Frankfurt School thinker. While many things are swirling around in my mind regarding Benjamin’s critique of capitalist modernity, things to which hopefully I can return at some later date, at the moment my thoughts are directed toward educational models and practices in the West – primarily the US and UK.

My girlfriend is doing research at the moment on dyslexia and other related “educational disabilities.” One of the primary areas of concentration in her study has been on the question, “Is dyslexia a myth?” Within this paradigm of thought, the general claim is that dyslexia is not a biological, hereditary disorder of the brain. Rather there are phonological and social factors that have led to the appearance of an educational disconnect that we have subsequently labeled “dyslexia.” Simply stated: there are phonological defects imbedded within the English language itself that have caused the difficulties that we identify as dyslexia. Supporters claim that in non-English speaking countries (even in all non-Latin based linguistic models) there are significantly fewer cases of dyslexia and in many cases dyslexia is completely obsolete.

While her research, and thus my secondary knowledge of her research, is still in its infantile stages the above ideas resonate well with thoughts that I have had regarding the “attention-deficient” West as well as with Benjamin’s work on the effects of capitalist modernity, in particular his work on advertising and technological reproduction, on the “masses.” One of his primary contentions is that because of its emphasis on that which is new and on the importance of shock-value capitalist modernity has created a milieu of attention deficiency, which has consequently ruptured any linear model of thought en toto and – more pertinently for this entry – reading in particular. Thus, because we are able to bring to ourselves any aesthetic object at any given time, which we would otherwise only get to experience on rare occasion, we are a people who are overloaded by aestheticism. One of the resultant outcomes is that we are a people who always need to be shocked by that which is new. This in return creates a pathos of anaesthetisation towards that which is familiar, old hat. Therefore, the cycle of needing more shocking commodities is instigated, to which of course capitalist corporations are willing to cater and our insatiable appetites are ever-ready to consume.

In the classroom, or simply at the educational level as such, this attention problem is also clearly seen. Not only has there been a rise in children labeled as ADD, ADHD, Dyslexic, Dyspraxic, etc., but there has also been an increase in placing said children into “special needs” environments that can better serve their “disabilities.” Something that Kim (better to refer to her by her name than in the possessive form :)) has thus been considering in light of her research (on the brain, psychological development, classroom models, and educational theories) is whether our entire educational systems needs massive – and I repeat MASSIVE – reform. If we are to therefore take Benjamin’s critique of capitalist modernity seriously, then perhaps there are some significant descriptive elements in his works that could aid us in such a task.

The main question I’m really driving at is thus: if Benjamin is correct (and of course the lovely Kim) that capitalist modernity has created an attention deficient culture, then what type(s) of educational model(s) will effectively work for persons contained therein? Of corse, there will be some conservatives who will hate the idea of “catering to the masses.” And in one sense, I can sympathize – in a very little sense. However, I also recognize that the existent models of education were developed a posteriori, based on the personae of the people who developed them. Thus, in one sense, our institutions always mimic society. However, is there a sense in which a dialectical model of education could be proposed, one that would both allow the masses to inform its structure and at the same time have a profound respect for the past and its structure, while pursuing a common goal of all educators and thus providing better education for the maximum amount of people? I think it’s possible… now I just have to wait until Kim comes home from class so I can pitch my thoughts to her so SHE can change the world!

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