I asked Terry Eagleton what he thought the difference between modernism and post-modernism might be. He suggested that in modernism God was not quite out of the picture, he was just around the corner. In the post-modern, however, God had gone, He was never there.
What on earth would a post-modern classroom be like?
Lyotard refers to the post modern collapse of the grand narratives – the stories that kept us going, that told us of our world had been found to be untrue, all that is left is scrambling around on a rubbish heap. He wrote:
Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward meta-narratives.
Unwilling or unable to believe, the teacher in the post-modern classroom would want his charges to be equally incredulous. This post-modernism would be a disaster for a classroom. Reading stories would become difficult: ‘This morning’s grand narrative is where the self identified ‘wild thing’ ‘Max’ – a name chosen for him by his oppressive mother who sent him to ‘his’ bedroom without supper – but who gave her this power? A hegemonic power that merely rests on birth order… like Alice in Wonderland another escapist fantasy fiction in which a dream-like stupor is an excuse for creating multiple fictions, factions, here the, whom I label as a boy, and who am I to label him? Merely a teller of this story. The writer of which is a dead white male, which renders this whole narrative problematic…’
is postmodernity the pastime of an old man who scrounges in the garbage-heap of finality looking for leftovers, who brandishes unconsciousnesses, lapses, limits, confines, goulags, parataxes, non-senses, or paradoxes, and who turns this into the glory of his novelty, into his promise of change? (Lyotard asks)
We all make mischief of one kind or another.
From a Marxist perspective the Post-Modern shift was one that signified a change in the relationship between the person and the economic system. As jobs change, as the grand narratives of ‘class’ become more splintered and continue to do so due to mechanisation people identify less with what they do and more with what they buy.
I shop, therefore I am
Still related to the economic system but less as producers and more as consumers – identity becomes all important. I buy my identity through clothes, other paraphernalia, cultural goods become my domain. I am what I decide to say I am.
Instead of a revolutionary class, we have battles for ‘power’ waged in the cultural arena. Fashion and identity politics, inextricably linked with desperate attempts to create new narratives before they become unfashionable and collapse under the weight of their own incredulity. For a cultural relativism in which everything has equal ‘truth’ to everything else is constantly under threat. If my truth is to hate you for what you are and your truth is to be what you are at what point do I stop from murdering you? What grand-narrative is there to stop me?
Freely being what we want – all diverse – equally accepted – our utopia – no place – is actually a very dangerous place indeed. We have no argument in this place against the forces who believe in darker grand narratives, all we can say is – hey we believe you have a right to believe what you want to believe, but we don’t actually because, well… If the material, natural and spiritual are merely stories then these stories can’t half jolt us out of our complacency.
If fashion and change are fetishised, if one day I think this, am this, but today I’m not… if we all scrabble around on rubbish heaps picking up on ideas and it’s just cultural shifts, like turtles, all the way down then what world are we passing on to our children? Meaningless.
A child needs grand narratives. Needs something to hold onto. Needs stability. Needs stories, fictions, factions. Identity needs moments of fixedness, routines and rituals. We all do. A classroom that deliberately sets out to unfix and disorientate the child is one where a child’s unhappiness is of no concern.
And in order to alleviate meaningless we give kids loads of stuff. Products to consume. We replace the void with the a-void. Avoid all the important ‘truthful’ things, because they don’t exist, instead all is the same… day to day gimmickry to keep the market going.
If we take away universal truths, if these aren’t even waiting patiently around the corner to be ‘found’, we cease to care about the things that truly matter. We are buffeted by the present and never have time to contemplate.
Children are born, unable to survive. We have to care for them, love them, feed them, protect them. We have to show them a world not of fear around every corner, or tell them just before they sleep that the sun may not rise in the morning and your father might die in the night they need to know that things will be mainly the same. Instead of trying to make them adapt to uncertainty and change, where everything is relative, by taking away the necessary narratives by which we can grow strong, we need grand stories. Taking them away won’t make our children strong, it will make them paranoid.
Thank goodness it doesn’t exist, (not forgetting it can’t exist because the classroom is, itself, a grand narrative) for the post-modern classroom would be a sad place. At one point we might feel emancipated and free but this would soon descend into rootlessness and a desire to return home – to that grand narrative of the nest – where our supper its waiting for us, and it’s still warm.