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11.7.11

Michael Bay Is Not Postmodernist

Michael Trinklein attributes several glaring geographical errors in the latest Transformers movie to filmmaker Michael Bay's indoctrination into postmodernism at Crossroads School. I don't know anything about Crossroads, but I do know that the evidence Trinklein cites for their postmodern leanings, and therefore Bay's geographical ignorance, does not support his charge. Trinklein says we won't believe the following allegedly outrageous bullet points from Crossroads' website:

--We believe that the process of learning is more important than the product or "right answer"
--We view students as thinkers with emerging theories about the world rather than as recipients of knowledge from the teacher.
--We believe that students learn from one another and from the world around them rather than solely from the teacher.


Obviously the devil is in the details of how this philosophy is actually implemented at Crossroads. But I see nothing objectionable, and certainly nothing postmodern, in this philosophy. By postmodernism, Trinklein clearly means a form of factual relativism in which you can't say one person's claims about the world are more correct than someone else's -- "And if you think 2+2=5.... that's your right as an empowered person."

Crossroads' statements are an attempt to differentiate the school's approach from an older transfer-of-factual-information model. In the old days, reliable information sources were harder to come by. So it was important for students to memorize a whole bunch of basic factual information (such as which countries border on which others). Today, however, that kind of basic information is trivially easy to look up. Anyone can Google a map of the Middle East from their desk to see if there really is an Egyptian-Lebanese border. So the goal of education has shifted from teaching students information to teaching them how to acquire and use information.

So Crossroads' first point is not that the right answers don't matter, it's that the focus of education should be on teaching students how to look for answers rather than making them memorize a bunch of the answers that have already been determined. That's buttressed by the second point -- Crossroads wants students to think critically and examine their world, rather than just have their heads filled up with authoritative facts. And the final point helps us understand why we can't just upload the teacher's knowledge into a student's head. Students today will need a lot more information over the course of their lives than 12 years of schooling before age 18 can provide.

I think the real explanation of the geographical errors in the Transformers movie is not postmodernism. It's that Michael Bay didn't really care if his movie had factual inaccuracies in it. The movie was supposed to be a mindless few hours of explosions and CGI, not a deep geopolitical commentary. If you pointed out the errors to Bay, I think it's much more likely he'd reply "who cares, it's just an action movie," rather than "who are you and your phallogocentric atlases to impose your truths on me?" You can disagree with his placement of the "don't care" line, but that doesn't make him a postmodernist.

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