EDUCATION

On Frozen Dinners

Steve Chisnell

5 January 2018

Smart Ones frozen meals were on sale at $2.00 each this week. And if I bought 7 (really, seven?) I got an extra $1.50 in savings. Why, that was . . . How much?  I calculated and recalculated in my head, paring the cost per calorie vs. the likelihood of my eating one. But the name of the meal–Smart Ones–told me all I needed to know: if I bought one, I was smart.  I was healthier, thriftier, and more efficient (cooks in two minutes!).

I liked being called smart.  Who doesn’t?  And, so long as I didn’t have to think too hard about my purchase, I would be a Smart One. Cool.

It’s a disturbing trend in a post-truth literacy-leery country, I sense. We are being sold the concept of intelligence without actually being intelligent. In fact, the sale works precisely because I accept the label without thinking, kind of a reverse of what the scam artist Wizard of Oz offers the Scarecrow.

Mmmm.  And who can resist a meal that is . . . something less than $2.00?

In the movie, the Wizard gives the travelers what they already have, simply by pretending to award them the trait. The Lion finds his bravery, the Tin Man his heart, and the Scarecrow his brain for–after being given a diploma–he immediately recites some differential calculus. It’s all a crock, of course. He remains a hollow man, “headpiece filled with straw.”  And while the theme of the Wiz was for us to recognize our own potentials, the question I have is whether the education I agent is actually an education or a label for one.

To be sure, I think a great deal of my profession.  That is to say, I think about teaching and I also admire what it is to have a career like mine. But am I a little more than a topaz swindler dolling out TV dinners?

Does the signifier of intelligence equate to a signified intelligence?

Ironically, I am writing this Montaigne-style essay as a model for my students on thinking, on discovering connections from seemingly disparate ideas and experiences, a kind of bricolage or pastiche of cognition. So I suspect that the kind of pedagogical meal I’m serving here isn’t what the mass produce (let alone the frozen food) monster had in mind.

Or am I dumb in offering it?

The educational equivalent of the frozen dinner may be an SAT or a GPA, and the Smart Ones are those who score highly there, perhaps not those of a critical, creative or entrepreneurial “dis”course. If we are unwary consumers of our frozen store/story, we give the rules-followers praise and scholarship where they might graduate to even greater courses in the same dystopian spirit which unifies a fast-frozen Oceania.

In the meantime, we seek provocation, idea, query, bricolage–signifiers that might point to authentic and guileless thinking.

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