Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interesting Find in a Book

So, I bought The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, online. I received it in the mail today. As always, I flipped through the book looking for artifacts, which I call "clues."

In the back of the near-850 pages was a green pamphlet, folded in two, hamburger style. The document was undated, though bore the following title, in underlined typeset:

WHAT TO EXPECT WITH
APPROACHING DEATH
As I glanced over the document, I realized that its purpose was to "help [families/friends] prepare for the future," seemingly speaking in reference to a future that included the pending, and presumably near, death of a friend of family member.
The more I thought about it, the more interested I became in the juxtaposition of this document and the book in which it was housed, The Bell Curve. It pays to know my reasoning in buying the book in the first place. Published in 1994, the book has been both much praised and much maligned. The Bell Curve, somewhat in the tradition of Samuel George Morton's skull size research, infers that "race" and physiology can be a determinant of intelligence. It lays out the distribution of "intelligence" over a racial framework. Anyway, I see it as being the type of language that lends to the hypothesis that through science, we can discover what Patrick Shannon calls, "the one best method of teaching reading." Beyond literacy education, though, the idea that scientific frameworks and approaches yield unquestionable results has been terribly damaging to the pedagogical paradigm that dominates our schooling.
Basically, I want to read the book to provide me with fodder in the discussion of science's place in education assessment, education methodology, and education reform. This book will make me mad. It represents the opinion whose side on the continuum of ideology is opposite mine. One of my major complaints is that folks whose minds are ensconsed in the universal application of "scientifically-based" reforms tend to dehumanize education. They tend to, in my estimation, lump many children into an amorphous blob of data production. In speaking about the distribution of thousands and even millions of children, it would be virtually impossible to consider in any genuine way the damage to the self-affect of the hundreds and thousands of children and families who make up the bottom percentiles. I see this as problematic.
All that said, I find it interesting that I would discover this pamphlet in this book. Inside a book which perpetuates the mass dehumanization of children, I find a document which is leading a person through an event that reminds us of our frail humanity - death.
Additionally, I am interested to know if this person was actually reading the book as is assumed by me. If so, did the green document serve as a bookmark? At what point in the book did the green paper become the bookmark? If it was there all along, did the third person die before the reader completed the book? If so, was it an issue/reminder/difficulty to continue to serve as the bookmark? Did the bookmark, and thus the book, have any lasting connection to the deceased or the time of her/his expiration? How long after the reader completed the book did they get rid of it? Did the bookmark ever mean anything emotional to the reader? If not, did they feel strange keeping the piece of paper as a bookmark? Will I use the paper for a bookmark? Will it feel strange for me to use a bookmark that could be an artifact from a terribly emotional time? Will I even read the book? Who the hell knows?

2 comments:

veach st. glines said...

Although the thoughts you make about the bookmark are most intriguing, my comment is about the book. I know a little about it, indirectly. Many years ago, I read a book by Steven Jay Gould (I don't recall the name, except that it didn't mention The Bell Curve in the title). In it, Mr Gould was highly critical of The Bell Curve, outlining explicitly the 'bad science' the author used throughout. I've read many books by Gould. I regard his opinions highly when it comes to objectivity in science. Since he said the book was bunk - it's bunk.

conscientizacao said...

Yeah, I must admit I have judged this book pretty harshly before having read a word of it. However, like you, I've found some criticisms from a few folks for whom I have utmost respect.

If I get around to reading it soon, I'll be sure to post some quotes that get me going.