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Ideological education

Last week, in an issue that went out of its way to demonize Che Guevara, the Economist ridiculed the recent efforts by the Venezuelan government to reshape its public education system in accordance to Marxist theory.

the aim of the new education plan is “the formation of the new man”.

That phrase was coined by Ernesto “Che” Guevara in the early years of the Cuban revolution. His “new man” would be motivated by moral rather than material incentives. Cuba's communist government has pursued this chimera in vain for decades. Now its Venezuelan ally is embarking on the quest. “The old values of individualism, capitalism and egoism must be demolished,” says the president. “New values must be created, and that can only be done through education.”

All public educational programs are ideological in nature; it's state-sponsored training in how to be the kind of docile citizen it expects. (Hence, phys ed classes.) So there's no sense in criticizing Chavez for making the attempt. But it is strange to see an educational program that seems plausible only as a marginal, oppositional, and subversive pedagogy enacted by fringe radical instructors rolled out as a top-down national initiative. The agenda outlined in the Economist article -- "children will be taught that capitalism is 'a form of world domination' associated with imperialism," " 'a critical attitude towards any attempt at internal or external aggression,' " "the need to replace capitalist with socialist “hegemony”, by taking over those institutions that transmit the values of society" -- are all things that back in the day many of my fellow Freshman Composition teachers used to fantasize about bringing to our classrooms under the innocuous guise of teaching critical thinking. And I wouldn't repudiate any of these goals now. But critical thought is primarily a matter of challenging official doctrines and resisting to whatever degree is possible indoctrination of any sort, including that administered by your leftist literature teachers. When the state dictates some new hegemony, it remains hegemonic; it's still the institutional culture, which itself carries with it the traits that we idealistically hope education will take the edge off of -- conformity, superficiality, suspicion, hierarchical discipline, rigidity, etc. The instinctual response to institutional culture often seems to be skepticism, so it's hard to imagine indoctrination working. Hegemony is never complete enough to eliminate the space for the viewpoints you are trying to eradicate. Indoctrination is much more effective when it operates indirectly, outside of institutional culture, or in what is perceived by participants as interstitial to it -- the talk at the water cooler, what your hippie teacher gets away with saying, the shared jokes between individuals about bureaucratic rules as they carry them out, the things the police condone. True hegemony is achieved when these spaces too are reiterating the dominant culture, as they seem to in capitalist society, where individualism and consumerism are played out as pseudo rebellions rather than conformist posturing, mouthing a party line. Sociologists -- Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefervre -- have theorized this interstitial space as "everyday life," and much is made of how it subverts the official version of how things are that makes it into recorded history -- the speeches of leaders, survey results, economic data, that sort of thing. If the state seeks to leverage everyday life to its advantage, though, it needs to be subtle and circumspect about it, figure out ways to present oppression and restriction as advances in freedom. Platitudes and maxims about the "new man" are probably not enough to create this impression. The best kind of education is that which engenders beliefs that it can't explicitly pursue as goals, education that works despite itself to create students who are curious, self-motivated, and sufficiently critical.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

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Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

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