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Nonfiction Matters
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"Have I Offered Outstanding Service?"

Monica posted yesterday to put the question of content in the school in the larger context of progressive education. I am sure there is something to that. But to my eyes, the context we need to look at extends beyond educational theory. I believe we are in a a kind of baroque era in which form feels more real to people than content. When you call a help desk, the call-center people walk through a precise script. The script includes polite phrases and nods that mimic a conversation between two people, but, in fact the person you are speaking to cannot wander from the script. You get the form of direct personal contact while having the experience of speaking to a machine.  

The other day, the Democrats held the YouTube debate — great: free, unscripted, questions from all America — how modern, how new-technology, how grass-roots. But, at least in the bit I watched, the candidates responded as they always do: you say X, they say, I’m glad you said that, then respond with Y — the "talking points" their team had pre-prepared for the debate — which in no way answer the question. We have the form of openness, while having the experience of careful planning and management.

See the SLJ site today — the study about young people not being interested in news. They have gotten used to the excitement of form — what is the latest technology for speaking, uploading, filming, burning — and are out of touch with the claims of content — what are the issues, the concerns, the ideas they need to know.  Which brings me back to the social studies crisis and the schools that focus on skills and skip content: they are confirming young people’s sense that what you say does not matter, it is how you say it. Of course teenagers will be self-preoccupied, that comes with the territory. Modern media make it easier for them to swim in self-preoccupation but then it is up to us to have the confidence to break into that world, and give them a sense of what is important. We need to give them a taste of the charms of content, of meaning, of truth — against the stiffling clouds of form.