Remembering ‘The Professor’

Russell Johnson, who died this week at 89, played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. The_Professor_(Gilligan's_Island) The Professor could build anything from coconut and bamboo, except a patch for the boat, writes the Los Angeles Times.”He used bamboo, the ship’s horn and radio batteries to create a lie detector; he made a battery recharger from a coconut shell and a helium balloon made from raincoats sealed with tree sap.”

The Professor was a high school science teacher with a PhD, not a university professor, writes Jon Marcus on the Hechinger Report. Long before a chemistry teacher became TV’s finest meth cook, a science teacher showed the power of knowledge,

“At a time when science became mistrusted for having brought not better lives, but pollution and the fear of nuclear annihilation, he was a rock of reason, patience, and precision, level-headed and respected,” writes Marcus.

Also he was good looking.

In recent years, TV has rediscovered smart people, writes Marcus.

There has been a television series called Eureka, about a town populated by geniuses, where the whiz kids pick on the jocks. Smart people also star or have starred in Fringe, The Mentalist, Alphas, Bones, Touch, Breaking Bad, The Big-Bang Theory, and other hits. They’re newly hot (and very, very rich) in real life, too: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg.

These people, real or imaginary, represent the promise of science and the constancy of truth.

Does popular culture value science, truth and intelligence?

Reading list is diverse, inclusive and useless

California’s new recommended reading list of books for English, science and socials studies teachers is so inclusive and “relevant” that it’s useless writes Mark Bauerlein on Core Knowledge Blog.

Recommended Literature: Pre-Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve will help students meet Common Core Standards, claims the state education department. Bauerlein disagrees.

. . . the list is too long and too indiscriminate. It contains 7,800 titles—2,500 for grades 9 – 12 alone—and it sets dozens of classics among thousands of contemporary, topical titles without distinction. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is followed by Macho, a 1991 tale of an illegal immigrant who becomes a field worker. Little Women makes the list, but the description of it says nothing about its historical status. Every work gets the same treatment, a one-sentence statement of content. The field is overwhelmingly wide and it has only one level, ranking Leaves of GrassHuck Finn, etc. equal to pop culture publications.

Common Core Standards call for students to “demonstrate knowledge” of the ‘foundational works of American literature,” such as Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery and Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Bauerlein writes. The California list buries the classics in a pile of pop lit.  The Iliad is on the list. So is Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven and a sequel to The Da Vinci Code

Students who’ve read trendy modern books won’t be prepared for college, Bauerlein writes.

When professors in U.S. history, sociology, or political science mention the American ideal of self-reliance, those who have read Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, and Washington have a decided advantage over those who haven’t. . . . Many contemporary works are superb, of course, but they do not provide the background learning that goes with Gulliver’s Travels, Jane Eyre, and 1984. And few of them, too, contain the exquisite sentences of Gatsby, the piercing metaphors of Blake, the characters of Flannery O’Connor . . .

. . . How much of our understanding of the Depression comes from The Grapes of Wrath, of the American South circa 1930 from William Faulkner, of old New England from Hawthorne?

“A more culturally relevant curriculum” gives students ” a thin and haphazard version of the culture they inhabit,” Bauerlein concludes.

A pop education

After reading From Monty Python to Mother Mary: Nine Weird Classes Offered at ASU This Fall, Darren finds only one Arizona State class that’s “absolutely worthless.”

WST 394, Desperate Housewives: Gender, Family & Pop Culture
A women’s studies class that examines the fictional lives of the wealthy homemakers of Wisteria Lane …

I’m dubious about Harry Potter: Gender, Race & Class, also in Women’s Studies.

And, as a former English major, I wonder about this upper-level English class:

ENG 375: FOX Network, Atlantic Records, Independent Record Labels
Explores leading CEOs and corporations from a humanities perspective.

As Darren writes, taking one offbeat class isn’t a big deal. But you’d think today’s students would be more careful with their tuition dollars — even if largely borrowed — and their time in college.

New Spider-Man awaits Superman

The new alternative Spider-Man, a black-Hispanic youth named Miles Morales, apparently will back education reform, including charter schools, notes Education Intelligence Agency. That’s causing angst for those who see education reform as a plot by the Sinister Syndicate.

In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Joe Quesada, the chief creative officer at Marvel Comics, explained the back story for the new alter ego, who replaces Peter Parker in the Ultimate Spider-Man alternative comic universe. A fan of Geoffrey Canada, who created the Harlem Children’s Zone, Quesada urged colleagues to watch “Waiting For Superman.” Art pages released so far show Morales as a child at a charter school lottery.

Will the new Spider-Man smash teachers’ unions? asks Joe Macaré of In These Times. Peter Parker was a struggling science teacher, he observes.

. . . he’s exactly the kind of person vilified by the steadfastedly anti-union Geoffrey Canada, by Waiting For Superman and by the so-called education reformers for whom the movie is a touchstone.

…Faced with this PR onslaught, vigilance is demanded of those of us who’d like to see popular culture not become further contaminated by anti-union sentiment and the insane belief that the private sector will save us all.

Elana Levin, co-host of the Graphic Policy podcast, thinks “teachers’ unions are like the X-Men,” not the Sinister Six, while “the business interests trying to privatize our education system through money and manipulation are just like the new incarnation of the Hellfire Club (as written by Kieron Gillen in Uncanny X-Men).”

Marvel Comics and Joe Quesada aren’t exactly right-wingers, responds EIA. Of course, that makes it worse.