Emotional Education

By Rob Patterson

Now that the term liberal has been sullied as an epithet by the right wing, I like to refer to myself more as a leftist or progressive (but I’ve also at the same time made a point of asserting my socialist leanings since it’s become such a dirty word with the tea party crowd). Nonetheless, I continue to strive to be truly liberal in my thinking, so much so that I’m happy when I find a time when I am in agreement with a conservative.

And such was the case when I read a column by David Brooks late last November. Brooks is one of the conservative voices in the largely liberal editorial pages of the New York Times, which is to say that compared with Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck he is at the very rabid left fringe of today’s conservatism. But we can’t, as real leftists, forget that some conservative thinking has its merits, such as the notion (if maybe not the practice, if it even exists) of fiscal conservatism. It is not a bad idea to have government be as fiscally prudent as possible (though I am still waiting for fiscal conservatism to be applied to defense spending).

Brooks was writing about how he attended a Bruce Springsteen concert with his 15-year-old daughter, and how there is an importance to the emotional education such an event provides that is in its own way as vital and important as the formal education of schooling. Sure, there’s a certain irony of a conservative being a fan of the left-leaning Springsteen, as if perhaps he might be missing something of the artist’s old-school Democratic populism and common and working man solidarity that threads through the artist’s work, Hey, he was there, and maybe some of it will seep into his consciousness. And he took his offspring.

To me, Brooks’ “emotional education” is just a highfalutin’ way of saying entertainment. Of course he was talking about one of the finest storytellers in song of our time as well as a synthesizer of some of the best threads of postwar 20th-century popular music and not, say, Mötley Crüe, or, God forbid, The Pussycat Dolls. But Brooks does have a good and highly valid point when he says that society pays too much attention to formal education and not enough to emotional education.

The importance and value of entertainment is why I offer my thoughts here among all the rest of the news and opining most every fortnight. And Brooks does hit a nail square on the head when he calls it emotional education.

There are those — and certainly many of them on Brooks’ side of the political spectrum as well the other — who might argue that entertainment works against schooling, even hurts it. Then again, maybe if American education weren’t such a disaster, such a claim might be harder to make.

And Brooks is right when he says that the way we view education stresses the intellectual over the emotional, and to be healthy and balanced beings we need to be educated in both. And entertainment — certainly music, film, television and the other forms of entertainment and maybe even, yes, professional wrestling and NASCAR inform us on the stories, cultural ways and means and feelings that make up who and what we are as much as our rational, logical, deductive, analytical and rational thinking.

I’d even argue that sometimes even the most crude and base entertainment — we all, or at least most of us who aren’t prigs and sticks in the mud, have our guilty pleasures and sheer escapism — has its value. Hey, cotton candy is mostly air and has dubious nutritional value, but it’s a treat that can be enjoyed as long as one doesn’t make a habit or regular diet of it. And sometimes it’s just plain good for the soul to get away from the serious shit and enjoy and escape, again, as long as one doesn’t ...

Brooks is right, however, when he notes that all sides of the human psyche and soul need to be addressed in how we educate younger souls and emptier vessels into the fullness of our contemporary humanity and culture. Entertainment and formal education can both be stultifying when they verge too much into the Freudian superego, just as entertainment and even misdirected education can feed the id in dangerous ways. But to build that balanced human ego, yes, we need both.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@io.com.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2010


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