In Defense of the Selfie

I read an article recently entitled, “Selfies Aren’t Empowering. They’re a Cry for Help.” After laughing for a minute, I realized that as a self-declared Queen of Selfies, I felt mildly attacked. Channeling my inner Yoda, I took a breath, and read on. In the article, Ms. Erin Gloria Ryan disputes the claim made by some, that selfies are a “small pulse of girl pride or a shout out to the self,” and asserts that they are rather, a cry for help and indicative of a painful striving for approval and attention, whose impetus is a culture within which it’s almost impossible to feel worthwhile without superficial beauty. She provides a short list of certain circumstances within which taking a selfie would be deemed acceptable – such as documenting a graduation, getting into law school, or accomplishing a long term goal. I finished the article and decided that although I agree with a lot  – even most of what she said, I just can’t swallow the pill that says, across the bar, selfies are bad. I find shirtless or suggestive bathroom mirror selfies as annoying as you do, I just think that declarative statements such as this are counterproductive.

Although she is correct in predicting a striving for approval and self-worth in a certain percentage of individuals taking selfies, and is completely justified in her outrage over the way our culture teaches women that our most important feature is physical attractiveness, the article was lacking. Any real discussion of whether or not selfies are “good” or “bad” for women or people in general, has to encompass an array of interdisciplinary theory including psychology, sociology, feminism, and philosophy. It ought also to include a broad range of individual experiences, exploring an individual’s self-understanding of their intentions and inclinations to selfie or not to selfie.  Neither of these was present in any substantive manner. More importantly Ms. Ryan’s admonishment does those individuals who are, as she says, “crying for help,” no good. Making sweeping, declarative statements such as this is detrimental to her cause, which I’m assuming is to better the plight of women.  The more pressing issue, as I see it, is not whether people do or do not take self administered photos of themselves as a result of an admittedly fucked up culture, but rather that the author, writing on a feminist website, doesn’t recognize she is creating yet another source of judgment by which to exert pressure on women regarding their decisions and behavior.

Every form of judgment, whether it’s from fashion mags pushing the thin and beautiful ideal, or a feminist site warning us not to be too self-promoting lest we be deemed narcissistic and in need of help, is equally disempowering, and detrimental. Likewise, it’s counterproductive to third wave feminism.  The selfie is far too complex a phenomenon to deem right or wrong or good for women or bad for women or men or anyone.

I personally find it endearing that girls and women who are not rail thin and don’t remotely resemble the women in fashion mags are taking pictures of themselves they think are cute or beautiful and are confident enough to post them. It’s my motto and I say it a lot but, the goal, I feel, should always be less judgment, more open-mindedness and acceptance for the variability of the individual and their intention. Of course some women and men taking selfies are trying to gain acceptance and a sense of self worth from an outside source. That’s unfortunate. But the same is true of some girls pining over their 4.0’s or obtaining a certain degree to flaunt and impress others. And, intention also varies within the individual.  One day, a girl feels like shit and having 15 friends and family members “like” a silly photo might elicit a small sense of joy. Another day, she feels on top of the world for killing an important interview and captures a confident smile to post. Either way, it’s cool. The issue is not the selfie, it’s the intention and, more specifically, the magnitude of the intention.

Feminism is to me, in it’s purest form, the striving for self realization and the elimination of external rules placed upon women about what it means to be a woman or what it means to be empowered. Third wave feminism empowers those of us who like to wear push-up bras and leopard heels to class and the grocery store to do so while simultaneously demanding respect for our ideas. In the same way, I think it bestows its blessing on any person – male or female who’s intent when taking a selfie is that of their own self expression.

And with that, I leave you with my latest cry for help… BLAMMO!!! Naomi Wolf should be proud.

Image

 

Characteristics and Implications of Education within the Western, Capitalist System: Contradictions to Human Potential

The current structure and culture of our educational system is a function of the economic circumstances of the industrial revolution. Today, as a result of this increasingly archaic underpinning, the manner in which knowledge and education are structured within western, capitalist culture has profound effects on our educational system and subsequently on how students identify themselves, not only as learners within the school system, but also as individuals within society. The characteristics and subsequent implications of this model, which are contradictory to holistic human development, are systematically alienating scores of children by siphoning their creativity and preventing many of them from discovering and embracing their true potential. As global cultural and economic paradigms shift away from a dependence upon traditional labor/market relations, so must the system within which we educate those leading us into this unknown.

THE SYSTEM, HISTORICALLY

Historically, there have been a wide variety of human institutions, be they religious, political or otherwise that have existed to serve the political or economic elite. Neo-Marxist educational theorists hold that the educational system within the United States is one such institution, whose role is to culturally reproduce the dominant capitalist culture (Sarup, 2013).  This role is fulfilled in two ways. First and rather explicitly, studies suggest it is promulgated via the content of the curriculum provided to students via inaccurate or biased information within text books (e.g., Ashley & Jarratt-Ziemski, 1999).  Additionally, and in a much more insidious manner, elite political and economic structures are being supported and advanced within our educational system through what Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis refer to as the correspondence theory. According to this theory, the dynamics present within work environments are being replicated via the atmosphere and culture of schools and are subsequently teaching societal roles and the submissive characteristics deemed attractive to employers in addition to the curriculum (Bowles & Gintis, 2002).  Personality traits desired by employers and promulgated via the cultures of our schools include consistency, a willingness to follow orders, and the ability to delay gratification (Bowls & Gintis, 2002). Children move from class to class at the prompting of ringing bells and are batched according to age, as if this is the most important common factor. Students earn external rewards (grades) for their work rather than being intrinsically motivated and have very little, if any, say regarding what they are learning mimicking the capitalist workplace in the way workers are motivated by a paycheck and are alienated from the product of their labor (Bowles & Gintis, 2002).

HUMANS ARE DIVERSE, THE SYSTEM IS NOT

There are three principles upon which human life and progress flourish, each of them being contradicted by the culture of education in this country (Robinson, 2009). First,  humans are naturally diverse. We each have different interests, different talents and different ways of doing the same thing. Despite the absolute certainty of this human characteristic, education today is based on uniformity and conformity rather than on diversity (Vidal, 2013). Knowledge and education are compartmentalized. Because our educational system was birthed to meet the demands of industrialism, there exists a narrow, hierarchical focus on science and math over disciplines of art, physical education and music. There isn’t a school on earth where art is taught as often and as systematically to children as math is. Expertise is an ever narrowing endeavor. The further one climbs up the educational ladder, the more acute her focus becomes. This narrowing and compartmentalization had a practical purpose at one time but with it has come a lack of ability to see the bigger picture – to see the interdisciplinary and interconnectedness of subjects, thoughts, and ideas (Vidal, 2012). This byproduct of our educational paradigm is dangerous and counterproductive to creating empowered, creative, and thoroughly intelligent citizens. Math and science are essential but they are nowhere near sufficient. We must give equal weight to art, physical education, and music, each of which speaks to parts of a child’s being that may otherwise lie untouched.

HUMANS ARE CURIOUS, THE SYSTEM IS NOT

Humans are naturally curious. When engaged in something of great interest to them, an individual gains a sense that time is passing rapidly (Conti, 2011). This is the engine of achievement and if we can tap into something a child enjoys or finds interesting, they will learn almost on their own (Vidal, 2012). However, knowledge and instruction within our culture have been commoditized thus squelching any chance of entertaining curiosity. The international shift within the past thirty years towards standardized testing and, most recently, the invention of value-added measures are evidence of business models and paradigms being implemented within the educational system (Bowles & Gintis, 2002). Testing has its place but once again, has adverse consequences. The concept of being able to quantify the value of knowledge has led to a pedagogical approach within which teachers are the depositors or “subjects” of knowledge and education while students are merely “objects” or bystanders in their own educational journey (Freire, 2000). This is the reality of our educational system today and was coined “banking education” by Paulo Freire in his classic piece, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. As a result, we have a culture of compliance rather than curiosity or imagination. We need to attribute great worth to the high art that is teaching and expect that instruction will be comprised of provoking, engaging and stimulating students to be active participants in the learning process.

WE ARE CREATIVE, THE SYSTEM DOESN’T ALLOW IT

Finally, humans are inherently creative. A longitudinal study was done within which 1600 kindergarten children were administered an assessment of divergent thinking, a fundamental aspect of the creative process (Land & Jarman, 1998).  Divergent thinking often involves thinking in analogies or in metaphors, thinking matrically, and being able to see many patterns of possibility (Vidal, 2013). The study aimed additionally to look at the effects of the educational system on a child’s capacity for divergent thinking over time, with increased exposure to the system. Upon first administration, 98% of the children obtained scores high enough to be classified creative genius. Five years later, at ages 8-10, 32% scored at the genius level. At final administration, ages 13-15, only 10% scored at this level. Given the same assessment, only 2% of 200,000 adults (all over 25) scored high enough to be classified creative genius. The outcome of this study implies two things. First, we are all born with immense creativity. And second, as we grow and become educated via our current system, this creativity leaves us (Land & Jarman, 1998).  “Small children are creative actors. The socialization process in modern societies does not enhance and develop their creativity. On the contrary, their creativity is discouraged in many ways” (Vidal, 2012).

IN THE END

During the 2009-2010 school year, 3.4 % of all high school students in the U.S. educational system dropped out (U.S. Department of Education). 511,468 kids felt disengaged and alienated enough to permanently removing themselves from the system. This of course, does not account for the unknown number of students who feel a similar apathy and don’t drop out – the scores of individuals sitting in class, uninterested and dispassionate who are simply existing, going through the motions, in an effort to ensure a prosperous future for themselves. However, the global cultural and economic paradigm shifts that have occurred within the past twenty years mean that graduating from our educational system no longer translates into  being absorbed into the labor market in the manner that it used to.  In 2011, according to  the Economic Policy Institute , there were 4.4 job seekers for every open job (Economic Policy Institute, 2011). These numbers and the general malaise with which generations of individuals are encountering their lives suggest that we are in a crisis.

The United States spends more money than most on education. We have smaller class sizes than most and each year hundreds of initiatives are authored whose aims are to help improve the education of our children. These efforts have proven inefficient as the problem is larger than can be remedied by an improvement in the current system. The problem is such that we need a revolution – a complete shift of paradigm to match those that are occurring within the global cultural and economic context. We need divergent thinkers. We need to view and embrace a purpose of education that encompasses more than the production of competent citizens that are able to contribute to a shifting cultural and economic system. We are in need of a system that is able to individualize instruction – fostering and encouraging any part of themselves an individual is drawn to discover and develop. We need to attribute a much higher status to the art of the teaching profession and we need a system that is able to devolve responsibility to the school level, as this is where learning occurs. Education today ought to engage and value a learner’s entire being and encourage the development of each individual’s strengths and abilities, not mine a subcomponent based upon what is deemed a worthy contributor to increasingly archaic cultural and economic paradigms.

THE FUTURE

“The one continuing purpose of education, since ancient times, has been to bring people to as full a realization as possible of what it is to be a human being. Other statements of educational purpose have been widely accepted: to develop the intellect, to serve social needs, to contribute to the economy, to prepare students for a job or career, to promote a particular social or political system. These purposes offered are undesirably limited in scope, and in some instances they conflict with the broad purpose I have indicated; they imply a distorted human existence. The broader humanistic purpose includes all of them, and goes beyond them, for it seeks to encompass all the dimensions of human experience.”

-Arthur W. Foshay, “The Curriculum Matrix: Transcendence and Mathematics,” Journal of Curriculum and Supervision,

“Every child is born an artist. The problem is to remain one once they grow up.”

-Pablo Picasso

 

Sandy Hook Shooting

This is not about gun control. Or passing more laws – or having more control over society. It is so much more incredibly broad than that. And it’s so much more incredibly personal than that. It’s about the fact that there has been a qualitative break down in the structure of our society. It’s about the compromised mental health of generations of people as a result of a dysfunctional environment that we have all had a hand in creating. It’s about the deep isolation an individual experiences growing up and existing in a culture that values money, appearance, talent,  performance, output, and material possessions so much more than the human being. It’s about the fact that some children spend more time with their televisions and phones than in their father’s arms and hear more music through their i-pods than instruction and love from their mother’s voice. It’s about the fact that children watch movies and play games littered with immensely violent and sexual content rather than learning to interact with their peers in positive ways that uplift and affirm. It’s about the fact that although we are more “connected” to others via technology, we haven’t a clue who our neighbors are. And subsequently, who we are.

How can we expect our children, ourselves or others to be happy, healthy members of society when at every turn our culture is making us sick? The media encourages us to live at a surface level – think more about what you’re wearing or the shit you own than about your impact on others, the earth or future generations. We are steeped in denial about the effects the characteristics of our culture have had on ourselves, our behavior and our children. Please, don’t get me wrong – when I say ‘culture’ – I mean us. When I say ‘media’ – I mean us. We created this mess. Also, don’t think I mean that it’s all bad because of course, it isn’t.

We have become one of the world’s most creative social entities through our ever-advancing contributions to the sciences, technology, humanities, the arts and virtually every aspect of life and thought. Unfortunately, we have also created some of the most socially accepted forms of discrimination, isolation and destruction that have ever existed. The bullying – the rates of suicide, depression, and anxiety among children and adolescents. The unprecedented low self-esteem of our youth and the general malaise and existential angst being “experienced” by an entire generation trying desperately to ignore it. We keep our minds occupied with sports, politics, religion, work, alcohol, our differences, music – anything.  With all that we have experienced, learned and attained, our culture has lost, in an unimaginable way, the ability to recognize the social ills being perpetuated by our outrageous individualism, our capitalistic greed, and our collective narcissism – all veiled in the socially appropriate packaging of independence, self-reliance and determination. Because each of these are so engrained in and valued by our society, they seem more ‘natural’ than they are. These are not normal, healthy processes of human beings in the twenty-first century – at least not to the extent to which we’ve embraced them.

We are better than this. We are valuing all the wrong things and it is beginning to take its toll. One of the only things in this world worthy of trying to idolize and unabashedly value is the wonder of the individual. The true worth of a human being – that part in each of us capable of immense creativity, connection, strength, love, forgiveness and healing is by far the most profoundly beautiful, misunderstood and untapped resource the world has ever seen. Once we begin to realize this and to understand the deeply engrained weaknesses created by the faulty idols we’ve created, our collective future will be much freer. We’ll like ourselves more. There will be less road rage and more kindness. Less judgment and more understanding. Our children will feel more empowered – more optimistic.  They’ll be less anxious and less depressed. Less likely to need Xanax before they enter the first grade. They will be safer – both emotionally and physically – so will we. And, tragedies such as this will be much fewer.

It isn’t guns or more laws – it’s a culture within which it has become increasingly difficult to exist as simply as one can, and still feel worth, love and acceptance. We must demand more from ourselves and from each other. Put down your god damn phones and sit next to another human being. Look into their eyes and converse. Volunteer instead of going out on a Friday night. Read a book that changes the way you see the world. Start with ‘Mans Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl. Challenge yourself. Challenge each other. Let’s all expect more. Let’s all do more. Let’s be more engaged and invested in the lives of those around us – the children around us. Let’s give a damn about the “troubled youth” – let’s care enough about their struggle to live in this incredibly difficult age to do something about it. This is where effective change lies. Valuing others. Putting people before product. Before profit. Before your prejudices and your judgments. Before yourself. What needs to change for unspeakable tragedies like this to stop taking place? Not laws. It’s us. We need to change.

Sending all the love I can to the families affected by this horror.