Home/Prufrock/The Problem with Authenticity, Why American High School Students Don’t Learn Anything, and Hypersonic Missiles

The Problem with Authenticity, Why American High School Students Don’t Learn Anything, and Hypersonic Missiles

Hypersonic cruise missile, NASA Langley Research Center, VA (May 30, 2002), via Wikimedia Commons

Why do most American high school students learn so little? Blame Differentiated Instruction (DI): “Differentiation aims to ‘meet students where they are,’ adjusting curricula and teaching methods to account for each child’s learning style and perceived needs, in order to set each student up to succeed in the classroom and graduate from high school. Such curricular adjustments are not left to the discretion of teachers in their classrooms, or even to the discretion of school leaders; they are often imposed across school districts and even at the state level. In many states, students no longer need to pass standardized tests in order to graduate high school. To use the jargon of differentiation, states now graduate ‘students not standards,’ adjusting the educational ‘product’ and ‘process’ to the students’ needs.”

Daegan Miller reviews a book on the friendship of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau: “Friendship, for Thoreau, was strenuous, a ‘conjunction of souls,’ a ‘glowing furnace in which all impurities are consumed,’ a process that refined each person into the absolute best version of himself. Such demands are exhausting, of course, and they drove people from Thoreau, which broke his heart: ‘Actually I have no friend. I am very distant from all actual persons — and yet my experience of friendship is so real and engrossing that I sometimes find myself speaking aloud to the ideal friend.’ Nor were the woods, for Thoreau, the antithesis of society; ‘Would not a friend enhance the beauty of the landscape as much as a deer or hare?’ he asks. What Cramer’s layered chronicle suggests, though never explicitly argues, is that a purifying friendship, in which each one of us is the best we can possibly be, is at the root of Thoreau’s environmental and social ethic, not wilderness nor misanthropy nor even individualism. ‘To insure health,’ Thoreau wrote, ‘a man’s relation to Nature must come very near to a personal one; he must be conscious of a friendliness in her; when human friends fail or die, she must stand in the gap.’ Emerson was different, and one of the biggest surprises of Solid Seasons is to discover how much Emerson relied on the younger writer for inspiration.”

James Campbell onThe French Lieutenant’s Woman at 50: “The teller of this kind of tale customarily plays God, he writes; but the author is writing in 1967, not 1867. Fowles – and he insists that the person speaking is the writer whose name is on the cover of the book in your hands, not some detached ‘narrator’ – has barely reached the foot of the first page before opting to describe the Cobb in these terms: ‘Primitive yet complex, elephantine but delicate; as full of subtle curves as a Henry Moore or a Michelangelo; and pure, clean, salt, a paragon of mass. I exaggerate? Perhaps, but I can be put to the test, for the Cobb has changed very little since the year of which I write; though the town of Lyme has …’ ‘How did it start?’ Fowles was asked by another kind of interloper – an interviewer – in 1973; to which he replied: ‘From an obsessive image of a woman with her back turned, looking out to sea. It didn’t begin as a historical novel, and the reason it turned historical may be that I have collected Victorian books all my life. I have a poor academic knowledge of the age, but I do know quite a lot about the byways of Victorian life’. He told his student questioner that a good many details about domestic life, arrangements with servants, fashion and the like, were drawn from Punch.”

Joe Frazier gets his due. “Smokin Joe: The Life of Joe Frazier . . . covers the great boxer’s life from his poor beginnings in South Carolina to his ascension to the championship of the world.”

Memento mori: “Hypersonic missiles are unstoppable, and they’re starting a new global arms race.”

Essay of the Day:

Be yourself? Follow your heart? We are obsessed with authenticity and the idea of a “true self,” but it is a muddy term that has limited value:

“One big problem with authenticity is that there is a lack of consensus among both the general public and among psychologists about what it actually means for someone or something to be authentic. Are you being most authentic when you are being congruent with your physiological states, emotions, and beliefs, whatever they may be? Or are you being most authentic when you are congruent with your consciously chosen beliefs, attitudes, and values? How about when you are being congruent across the various situations and social roles of your life? Which form of “being true to yourself” is the real authenticity: was it the time you really gave that waiter a piece of your mind or that time you didn’t tell the waiter how you really felt about their dismal performance because you value kindness and were true to your higher values?

“Another thorny issue is measurement. Virtually all measures of authenticity involve self-report measures. However, people often do not know what they are really like or why they actually do what they do. So tests that ask people to report how authentic they are is unlikely to be a truly accurate measure of their authenticity.

“Perhaps the thorniest issue of them all though is the entire notion of the ‘real self’. The humanistic psychotherapist Carl Rogers noted that many people who seek psychotherapy are plagued by the question ‘Who am I, really?’ While people spend so much time searching for their real self, the stark reality is that all of the aspects of your mind are part of you. It’s virtually impossible to think of any intentional behavior that does not reflect some genuine part of your psychological make-up, whether it’s your dispositions, attitudes, values, or goals.’

This creates a real problem for the scientific investigation of a concept such as authenticity. As Katrina Jongman-Sereno and Mark Leary conclude in their recent article ‘The Enigma of Being Yourself’, ‘Given the complexity of people’s personalities, two seemingly incompatible actions might both be highly self-congruent. People are simply too complex, multifaceted, and often conflicted for the concept of a unitary true self to be a useful standard for assessing authenticity, either in oneself or in others.’

“So what is this ‘true self’ that people are always talking about? Once you take a closer scientific examination, it seems that what people refer to as their ‘true self’ really is just the aspects of themselves that make them feel the best about themselves.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Strawberry Moon over the Temple of Poseidon

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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