schools as simulacra

All schools are simulacra. Faculty, staff and students live in the simulacrum. The foremost cause of this is that teachers, professors and administrators live in their own rhetoric. They function best in rhetoric. Rhetoric is their reality. They live in words. They teach in words. They believe that words have real powers. They often do. Most often in exalted circumstances. But in the day to day, words are less effective. When I was a teacher and administrator this was most apparent in faculty meetings. Faculty gets very involved in faculty meetings because they are constituted in their favorite medium, words. They are eager to discuss and debate. Unfortunately, at the end of faculty meetings the faculty often feel they have solved a problem because they have talked about it. If rhetoric is reality, if one lives inside rhetoric, then the mistaking of rhetoric for reality is understandable.

A school does not necessarily need to exist in reality. Its funding is often beyond its own doing. Teachers are generally beyond fiscal reality. (Public schools are most vulnerable for this reason). Self-delusion is rampant in public schools. On the positive side, schools can actually function as a simulacrum. The classroom does not need to function in reality. The classroom can be divorced from reality. It can be its own simulacrum and achieve results for the students. Whether those results are what one wants or intended is open for discussion. But as a totality, a school cannot succeed as a simulacrum. It deceives itself if it tries. A school that lives in its own simulacrum is delusional. If that delusion is carried into the classroom what it teaches their will be harmful. Math can elude this harm most easily. Basic math has an inner reality that sheds the simulacrum. The methods of teaching math however, can be influenced by a mistaken simulacrum. Science also has some immunity, but mainly in the lab. Science as a curriculum is equally vulnerable to the false simulacrum. All other disciplines are fully vulnerable to the contagion of a false simulacrum.

As defined in an earlier post, a simulacrum is a construct. That construct is a hypothesis. That hypothesis has a justifying rhetoric. It looks good. Its flaw is that while it looks like it is rooted in reality, it is not. It is a copy that then allows it to be wholly mutable without consequence. A corporation that has become a simulacrum, is still beholden to outside checks and balances. It can lose customers; it can lose money. This forces course corrections. A school does not suffer these realities. Schools, by the very definition of school, can and do exist beyond the checks and balances of reality. They live inside their rhetoric. They hire inside that rhetoric. They raise money inside that rhetoric. They measure their success inside that rhetoric. Changing the “corporate culture”, i.e., its rhetoric is nearly impossible. Fire a principal, a headmaster, a chancellor, a president and the likelihood is that the institution will hire someone with the same bias the school has always had. The simulacrum reigns.

Free speech, free thinking, open inquiry are the ideals of academia. Constructing simulacra is therefore easy. Those constructs exist at almost every level. Education is almost always in the “theory” mode. Even when it becomes incumbent, it is always an educational theory. “Early Childhood Education” is a theoretical world that is always a simulacrum of some sort. It may change, evolve or be replaced, but the change or replacement is always still a simulacrum. Middle School teaching has always been thought to be one of the most difficult ages to reach. There are myriad theories on the best approach. Whenever a school takes on one of these theories, it has accepted a simulacrum. High School education has its own profile. It is more vast. It includes so many more dimensions. Being more mature, the students’ own social lives permeate the institution more aggressively. There is more variety in the curriculum. Sports takes on a life of its own. Post high school takes on more relevance. Thus high school has a slight tilt toward external reality. College, though supposedly career oriented (choose a major), is a giant step backward into the simulacrum. Choosing a major, thinking career, has almost entirely disappeared from the undergraduate divisions of colleges. Almost all undergraduate programs have been taken over by the progressive simulacrum. The professors live in and teach a simulacrum that they wish was reality but it isn’t. Depending upon your political views this fact draws heated argument. This post is not here now for that purpose. But I will aver again that almost all undergraduate programs in almost all colleges today live and teach the progressive, Marxian simulacrum. Some graduate programs and most professional post graduate work do shake off some or all of the progressive simulacrum.

So, the entire educational spectrum, from pre-school to graduate school is a simulacrum. Those simulacra are prone to fashion and trend but if changed or replaced, they are still simulacra. That is the inherent dilemma of administering to schools. That is the molasses that drags upon change. That is why the subtext of simulacra is authenticity. A simulacra by definition is not authentic. Being educated inside a simulacrum cannot be authentic. Being authentic requires at least one foot in reality. Remember though, the definition of a simulacrum is that it looks like reality. It is a perfect copy of an imputed reality. Where is the source of this desired “authenticity”?

It comes in the form of the Authentic Teacher! How does one become an authentic teacher? Where do I find the authentic teacher? This is the teacher beyond cant or rhetoric. The Authentic Teacher is the Authentic Person. How does one achieve authenticity? That process is too long for inclusion in a post, but it is available in my book: AM I IN YOUR PLAY OR ARE YOU IN MINE, “the scripts of life”, and THE SEARCH FOR AN AUTHENTIC SELF. (all one title)

A teacher, reading that book, and in the process, shedding all the components of inauthenticity, all the simulacra that have been heaped upon them, begins to find their own inner authenticity. And in achieving that, in whole or in part, will allow the breath of authenticity to enter the classroom. And as any of us know who have been in the classroom, you can’t fool the children. If they sense the least amount of falsity in you, you are raw meat and they are carnivores. Whether in kindergarten, high school or college the children will instantly see and respond to authenticity. The intuit it. They smell it. The respond to it. The obey it. They embrace it. There are very few successful and outstanding teachers, but I guarantee you that if and when you find them they consist of just that. They are authentic and the classroom responds to them. The subject matter doesn’t matter. The size or look of the teacher doesn’t matter. The gender of the teacher doesn’t matter. No one particular style matters. All that matters is the authenticity. You don’t have to project it. You don’t have to act it. You just have to be it. The kids will see it, sense it. They will walk all the way to Jordan for you. Of course, once you achieve this bond, you have to deliver the goods. You have to know your subject. You have to love your subject. The children will sense that as well. Once you have those two pillars in place, authenticity and excellence you are golden.

You will not need the simulacrum. You will not create the simulacrum. Once you have shed all the false components of the simulacrum, you will teach and function in a school that with others like you will end the cant and the simulacrum. Authenticity is the antidote to the simulacrum and all its falsity. Your young students arrive at the school already authentic. They have not yet been corrupted. Pushing back against the many fingers of that corruption by the simulacra of life, is the ongoing duty of an authentic school. Authenticity requires a minimum of cant and rhetoric. The guiding principles of such a school are minimal. I think on another day I will explore the minimal principles of the Authentic School. But there is much to digest in this post. Let us leave it here for fermentation for awhile. Cheers!



One thought on “schools as simulacra

  1. It is indeed difficult to find a teacher of these qualities, but we have hopefully all come across a few and they have made lasting impressions on our lives. They have been as important as parents and I’m sure to some even more so. Your observation is very true and interesting; because these kids are not yet full of so many scripts they serve as an authenticity barometer for the adults!
    Perhaps even more adults aside from teachers should be observant of this in their search for authenticity.


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