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  • Curriculum and the Dream Paradigm

    - Stephen Schafer

     We have struggled merely to keep up with the hardware, but have tended to avoid dealing with the psychological-sociological dimensions of change.   The traditional parameters of time and space no longer exist for us but in our habits they prevail.  We still play the game by the old rules.  As in a dream, the media affects our psychological lives according to a whole different array of rules.  A steady stream of randomly placed advertisements pulses through our psyche with the rapidity of thought and the non-locality of a mood.  In the incipient media age, we can alter our personal reality, transcend time and space by pushing a button on a phone or computer, participate in the virtual universes of Massive Multiplayer Games, possess the identities of others, and play God games.  Humanity is experiencing what has been called a paradigm shift in our fundamental understanding of reality, but our response to this psychological shift has been casual at best-willfully selfish at worst.  We deal with the media dream in the same way we deal with any dream-we barely notice dreams and understand them not at all.  Of course, a great deal of excellent research has been done on the subject, and the effort is ongoing in academe, industry, and the military.  But all too often media research is imbedded in the obsolete scientific-materialist paradigm and is addressed to the wrong purposes.

    As I will argue, navigating our constantly changing reality is like navigating the realm of dreams, and the trauma associated with such a radical change has Biblical proportions.  By that, I mean that the potentially apocalyptic consequences of such trauma have been portrayed universally in the world's myths.  More recently, the greatest thinkers of the age have warned us of the nature of the problem, and within the media genre of science fiction apocalypse is rampant.  Human thinkers have defined the problems and have provided a great deal of data as to the nature and consequences of this unprecedented shift in the human perspective on reality.  Carl G. Jung, who is recognized as the father of psychiatry, made this observation long before the media age got underway:

    "On the whole, I believe I am not exaggerating when I say that modern man has suffered an almost fatal shock, psychologically speaking, and as a result has fallen into profound uncertainty," (Jung, 1933, p. 200).

    It seems, then, reasonable to hope that an educational curriculum would at least try to prepare students for this radically altered and constantly changing psychological reality.  At least the questions should be addressed proactively instead of reactively.  In this case, proactive action means avoiding mistakes we have made in the past instead of making excuses for them. To this point education feels it has accomplished something by maintaining an archaic status-quo and serving the training function of industry.  It has becomes tedious after a lifetime of activism to continue advocating the obvious.  If five decades of scientific warnings about imminent ecological catastrophe have fallen on dead ears, how much more insensitive will those ears be to pleas regarding an ecology of Psyche?   Issues of natural ecology should be relatively easy to understand, as they exist primarily on a substantive level-the "physical" rung of Jacob's Ladder.  The psychological levels of challenge are much more difficult to understand and to address.  Imagine, in a reality with the dimensions of the dream, the karma of a cultural persona habituated to lies and psychological defense mechanisms.  Add the fact that Americans cling to materialist values in a world of critically diminishing natural resources.  Include the country's pride in its military ascendancy.  Finally, season the mix with a lethal dose of self-righteousness.  Now, contemplate the scope and immediacy of the psychological challenge. 

    I don't think the situation is entirely due to human stupidity.  The willful destruction of our natural world in spite of the vast scope of scientific prescience is stupid, but I think the general non-responsiveness to the media age is more likely due to psychic trauma.  This trauma has resulted in a cultural addiction to psychological defense mechanisms (repression, reaction formation, projection, et al) resulting in neurotic, even psychotic, cultural behavior.

    A relevant case in point is the killing that took place at Columbine High school in Littleton, Colorado.  Presumably due to media influence, two disenfranchised students gunned down their classmates and died in the process. This is just one instance of dealing inappropriately with the challenges of the media age.  In an effort to clarify issues of symbolism, the general influence of the media, and the specific influence of games on youth, Henry Jenkins, Ph.D., Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology addressed testimony to the U. S Senate Commerce Committee.  Prof. Jenkins remarks on an important element of the problem:

    "Many of the others testifying on this panel come from traditions of experimental or quantitative research into ‘media effects.'  I represent a different tradition in media studies which employs more ‘qualitative' methods, including those derived from anthropology, history, and literary analysis.  My research seeks to address the meanings that get attached to cultural symbols and the ways that people in specific social and cultural contexts interact with media," (Jenkins).

    Jenkins makes several important points relative to the influence of the media, but among them, he points out that 1) adults fear adolescents and their popular culture, 2) adults fear new technologies, and 3) youth culture is becoming increasingly visible.  Fear and the use of psychological defense mechanisms to preserve the traumatized persona are fundamental causes of neurotic and psychotic behavior.  It is such fear and defensiveness that obstructs proactive collective efforts on the part of more mature generations to address the problem complex associated with the advent of the dream paradigm.  That there is a degree of discomfort pervading the psychological-emotional persona of my generation is suggested by the President's pandering to "the greatest generation."  In view of the many accomplishments of that generation, it shouldn't require such empty and transparent praises.  At least for awhile, America's cultural response depends on this generation of adults.  We must be the first to grapple with the potentials of the media dream.  We may have trouble understanding the media, but there are many things we do understand that youth, as yet, does not.  Nevertheless, so far we have failed to develop an authentic curriculum.  This failure stems not from any lack of intelligence or ability, but from a nearly enervating fearfulness which generates an endless cycle of excuses, repressions, rationalizations, and a frantic turn to the past for answers.  Fears are entirely natural, but allowing fear to dictate reactive policy is the quintessence of inappropriate behavior.  It tends to all kinds of unhealthy choices leading eventually to mental dis-ease including neurosis, sociopathy, and psychosis.  Dealing with such dis-ease of the American cultural persona should constitute a priority in the development of a new-millennium curriculum.  Again, Prof. Jenkins:

    "We thus need to move beyond our technophobic reactions to unfamiliar media and instead try to develop a more sophisticated understanding of what our children are doing when they go on-line.  Research on young people's relationship to digital technology is still at its early stages and may not yet allow us to make meaningful generalizations, but it seems clear that going on-line liberates children from some of the limitations of their immediate environment, gives them access to an expanded range of ideas and information, encourages a more participatory relationship to their culture and their government, empowers them to ask important questions of adult authorities, and makes it possible to distribute the products of their reactive impulses to a much larger public.  In the long term, such shifts in their perception of themselves and the world around them will have a profound impact on their future roles as citizens, worker, consumers, and parents," (Jenkins).


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