The Strange Theater of the State of the Union

I’ve been thinking more about the State of the Union today.  What I’m about to say has nothing to do with rating what Obama actually said in terms of how good his speech was given the event.   I am just struck by what a strange piece of theater the entire event is.  It’s almost an unreality where everyone is trapped playing rolls that adhere to not only whatever their party is supposed to believe, but also as to what Americans are supposed to believe.

Any president must touch upon fundamental American principles, or if not they will surely be tarred and feathered.  They must make clear that they are not an enemy of business, that they support the military, that God will bless America, etc.  But often these things are brought up in a way that is devoid of substance.  They are often just things to touch upon to communicate some kind of vague patriotism that in and of itself has no meaning.  It’s not really even the president’s fault.  Take Obama for instance.  Remember how much flak he caught because he didn’t wear an American flag pin?  He sure had his flag pin on last night.  He learned the hard way that you have to make certain basic gestures, however meaningless, or the rest of what you say will probably be ignored because of some fake controversy.  A president could go to church every day and if they forgot to say God bless America at the end there would probably be a shit storm.  There is so much emphasis put on the appearance of everything that often substance and reality are ignored.

The whole applause thing is also pretty bizarre.  If the military or the hard working American is brought up in any context, again even one devoid of any kind of deeper meaning, all spectators must applaud for fear of looking Un-American if they don’t.  My point is not any kind of subversive one, that someone that works hard, or that someone that puts there life on the line shouldn’t be acknowledged in some way, but that a lot of this applause by politicians is nothing more than cheap lip service to these people.

Let’s examine the applause for the injured serviceman last night.  I completely sympathize with what happened to him.  That would be a horrible thing to go through.  It was also great to see someone that struggled get some kind of acknowledgment for that struggle.  On the other hand, the people that were applauding him were the very ones that sent him out on his tenth deployment and into a senseless war that lead to his injury.  I’m glad he got applause, but it would have even better if they had pulled him out of that war earlier as it has been a war without an objective for a long time.

You may think I’m being cynical or that I’m nitpicking.  But the problem as I see it as that all of the theater actually does a disservice to us.  It actually takes time and focus away from having a substantive discussion as to what is really going on.  It takes our eye off of the ball.  I think speeches are important.  I believe in words or I would not be writing this blog.  I’m also aware that behind any words in a political speech there needs to be action.  A speech is a good way to motivate people and get the ball rolling, but it is only a beginning.  All in all, given the historical context of the State of the Union, I thought Obama actually did a decent job.  But within that context there are senseless rituals and empty inbuilt rhetoric that do their part in making the truth just a little harder to find.  Everyone always says that they want politicians that are honest, but then we make them take the stage with a script that is part myth.

Teacher as Dictator

This blog is not about me.  It is definitely a list of my thoughts and views.  It is biased and judgmental.  What I mean is that I have no desire to go over my personal life unless I can tie it into some larger theme.  I will occasionally give over to shameless self promotion, but such is the modern order of things.  I can be a very private person at times.  I don’t like people knowing where I am at all times.  When I speak to someone I like it to be for those that I intend it for.  If I’m in a restaurant I prefer the darkly lit quiet ones where the booths are high.  I tend to like to bypass small talk and get right to the heart of matters if possible.  Small talk wears me out.  Although there is a perverse side of me that occasionally likes to make people uncomfortable with my thoughts and ideas, in person I generally like to make people feel comfortable.  I have no desire to impose my thoughts on diners and staff that are not looking for it, and I have no desire to have theirs be imposed upon me.  So I want to have a real conversation with the people to whom I’m talking, but I don’t want to trouble those who aren’t looking for it.  Live and let live if possible.

I say this because I definitely have some of the tendencies of an introvert.  The reason I just talked about myself was so I could jump topics and talk about school.  It seems like college these days, I am going back for my second degree, is more about group work and projects and student speeches than it was the first time around.  Because of my nature and because of my thoughts as a student, this drives me absolutely batshit!

First of all, I am going into ridiculous debt for school.  If I am paying this money I personally want to learn from a really great teacher that can impart their knowledge to me.  It seems often in college classrooms that the blind are leading the blind.  Despite having introvert tendencies I have no fear of giving speeches or being in front of people.  I have spent too much time on stage for that.  But while a speech may teach the person giving the speech something, more times than not it leaves the class bored and uniformed.  Each class is probably costing me at least a couple hundred dollars.  I’d much rather hear the professor talk than other students.  Still, if a class spends one or two periods giving speeches, there is at least the chance for knowledge.

My worst pet peeve is group work.  I can’t tell you how many times, in the few classes I have taken, when the professor tells us to get into groups while they sit up at their desk and work on god knows what.  Usually after about five minutes of working on whatever topic, the group usually descends into, “What are you doing this Friday?”  I don’t necessarily blame the professors.  It seems that education is generally going this way.  More hands-on group learning.

What I am finding is a lack of critical thinking through this kind of learning.  Students will find the quickest, easiest path, to getting something done.  I can’t help but feel that if the class is going to participate, a deep discussion moderated and led by the professor is going to be more informative.  They are the ones that have spent years studying their field.  Usually college professors spent years in a field, not only because they want a job, but because they are passionate about their area of study.  I want a person like that teaching me.  Not someone that is taking the class to satisfy some elective and maybe or maybe not bonged eight beers last night.

Also, because of my personality I would rather observe, unless I had something meaningful and insightful to add to the conversation.  If I don’t feel I have anything smart to say I would rather not speak.  I feel like this form of learning almost forces ignorance to arise.

Everyone learns differently.  There are some that might excel in this kind of learning environment.  I could be wrong.  Maybe the majority of people like this.  I do not.  I can’t help but wish there was at least a little more balance in the classroom.  In the real world I want democracy in which everyone’s voice can be heard.  In the classroom I want a dictator, that is carrying knowledge down to the uniformed masses, from the mountaintop.