Monday, February 10, 2014

Pulling Back the Curtain: Why Thinking Is So Much Better than Not Thinking

Leave it to Toto to be the one pulling back the curtain. 
Having recently finished reading and grading a stack of over 40 essays on various fairy tales, I am weighed down by the realization that just under half of them sought merely to investigate the superficially conveyed and received moral of the tales. This after much critical discussion of said tales in class.

Jeanne Marie de Beaumont's "Beauty and the Beast" is about how we should not judge a book by its cover (oh, yes? Well, why can we judge Beauty by her cover - she is after all the most beautiful girl in town, hence her name - and not the Beast? And why must the Beast get a "beautiful" girl to love him? Why wouldn't a good old plain Jane do?). "Little Red Riding Hood" is about how we shouldn't talk to strangers (Uh huh. Isn't the Wolf in Perrault's version "old neighbor wolf"? Now what?). The moral of "Little Snow White" is that beauty kills (Perhaps, but Snow White is, after all, saved by the Huntsman because she is beautiful. And the necrophilic dwarves and Prince want to keep her in a glass coffin so they can stare at her dead body all day because she is so pretty. Thank goodness, because Snow White's life is saved when the Prince's clumsy servants accidentally drop her casket and the apple chunk pops out of that pretty throat. So, for Snow White, her beauty is actually an asset that helps her to live).

The thing that bothers me about such work is the desire to adhere strictly to the received moral of these stories. The denial. Yes, these stories purport the morals briefly intoned above. But there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. Students, I want you to look behind the curtain. I want you to see the false bravado of the great and powerful Oz and the real men and women working the controls. I want you to look beyond the smoke and mirrors and see the mechanisms that make those enticing gadgets work so wonderfully. The desire to adhere to received messages isn't just about resisting the critical thinking I'm asking you to do in this classroom and at your computer late late at night so you can do well in this particular course. It's about life. The desire to adhere to received messages is, on the whole, dangerous. This is why you must refuse to accept the narrative someone else has constructed for you. Dig deeper. Look beyond the superficial. Think, in the end, for yourself. You may come to the same conclusions as those others. But at least you have fought for them.

It is easier to receive than to resist. This much is true. But learning to dispel the magic while realizing what makes the very thing so magical, that is magical in itself.

So, here's my song for today, on the Beatles 50th: Students, Dear students, open up your eyes. ... Students, Dear students, won't you open up your eyes?  .... Look around round round round round. Look around round round round. (P.S. Many of them will. I am not discouraged. That's why I love my job. Because the awakening, when it happens, well, it's like the sun peeking over the horizon. It's a glorious thing). A/J


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