What’s Wrong with this Commercial? By Patrick J. Deneen - March 11, 2010 23 Reading Time: < 1 Facebook Twitter Email Print RELATED ARTICLESMORE FROM AUTHOR Region & Place Fitting into the Bigger Picture Short Hidden Wound, Living Bridges, and Local Food Processors The Stump Not Throwing Away My Shot: Alexander Hamilton and the Militarization of the American Police Education & Liberal Learning The College and the Community: A Strange Saga in Tallahassee The Nightstand The Man Who Saw the Bear Culture, High & Low Brass Spittoon: Ken Myers on Three Decades (almost) of Mars Hill Audio 23 COMMENTS In the new classroom, Chinese students will have classes at night. I was recently at an event where middle school students teleconferenced with kids in Peru. It was held on Saturday. I agree that’s probably not what’s happening in this video, but we also probably shouldn’t be thinking about it that much either. Well, so far, no one has noted that “Ellen Page” laments that in her day (apparently not THAT long ago) “we would just go to the farm.” Meanwhile, it turns out that the “field trip” that the kids are taking consists of sitting in a classroom with a television screen. “Ellen” actually goes on a “field trip” and experiences something truly different from the inside of a classroom – a field, for instance – yet the commercial denigrates this experience as something quaint and vaguely laughable. In a nutshell, this commercial encapsulates contemporary educational norms of contempt for the land, and its replacement with “virtual” experiences purporting to make us into “global” citizens. The very aspiration to cosmopolitanism is deeply connected to a contempt for the local and the very sources of our sustenance. Note her reaction to the cow; nature is something to be avoided. My son’s school would provide a good model for the classroom of the alternative future. In third grade, they take a trip to a local sheep farm, where they get to help shear a sheep. They bring the wool back to the classroom and card, clean and dye it and spin it into yarn. Then they knit toy animals for younger children, who will do the same in turn when they come to third grade. There are a whole lot of valuable lessons packed into that. Mark, Now, if they were teleconferencing with Koreans about the spot price of wool on the NYMEX, then they’d be doing something useful… This is a Jedi mind trick. We are not meant to think too deeply about the implications of their proposal. We’re meant to give blessing by association. Little kids=good things. Perky celebrity Ellen Page=good things. Field trips=good things. Farms=good things. China visiting=good things… CISCO=good things. Leave your rational brain at home for this party, it’s just a buzz kill. Minor quibble, John: A farm is not nature. Judging from the view out the window (and the quaint classroom, suspiciously lacking in books, btw) these students are at a rural school. Lesson: Learning about the global world=good. Learning about your backyard=provincial and uncool. I wonder how many of these kids will grow up thinking milk and beef come from the supermarket. An aside, what flags are on top of the television? One of them is a Canadian flag. What is the other one? Are these students in America? Are they anywhere? Judging from the other commercials in the series, this is Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, a gorgeous, historically important, very small town with a declining population. Technology will, no doubt, solve all of its problems. Looking at the video a second time, I actually did see books in this classroom. But what’s interesting is that they’re behind what looks like a glass case, almost like old museum artifacts – not to be read, just ornament the room. But perhaps I’m reading too much into this… Lucas, Good call. After a quick web search (technology working *for* us) that is indeed a Nova Scotian flag above the television. Apparently Ellen Page is from Halifax. What Lucas said. Aaand, if you’ve suffered through umpteen zillion FedEx (or was it UPS? I can’t recall, but the chubby kid is always in trouble) commercials watching Rachel Maddow online, this Nova Scotia series is sheer bliss. Well, the kid recoiling from the cow was humorous but I don’t know, I aint seen a class where every single student was smiling and so enthused to respond to questions. The only time I ever saw this much schoolroom excitement was when the teacher had to leave for a moment to attend to something out of the classroom and left everyone to their own devices. But then, as is well-established, I have a bad attitude. Ellen Page is in it? And why are there cows at “the firm”? It’s weird that the ad begins with an establishing shot of the village, though, one that makes it look quaint but (or and) attractive. Your analysis is certainly correct, but at the same time, the claim that we’re not supposed to think about the ad too deeply is probably also correct. Of course we’re not supposed to think about it; that’s how advertising works, bypassing thought through images to establish associations in our subconscious mind. The thinking comes in when you care to know what sort of manipulation the ad is trying to work on you. In this case, the charming old-fashioned village and schoolhouse is apparently supposed to set us up to be wowed that the miracles of communications technology can work their transformative magic anywhere: even in this quaint little town you can communicate with China, and so not be so confined to your quaint little town’s peculiar quaintness. This will prepare you to be a glamorous expatriate like Ellen Page. I’m not sure we are choosing our battles wisely here. It is quite possible that many of these comments are overeactions or just misplaced rage at, what Mr. Berry calls “The Unsettling of America.” I don’t, however, think that is what’s going on in this particular commercial. In this classroom students are encouraged to think globally via a resource that was not available previously. Another example of this sort of thing might be a blog that discusses the value of place. A phenomenon that never could have happened decades ago, but promotes a vibrant and valuable discourse. I believe that the main source of anger here is that there is a tendency to suscribe to a false dichotomy between global and local perspectives. Instead of lauding one and demonizing the other, i.e. condemning the virtual classroom and idolizing the profound simplicity of the farm, perhaps we should make it our focus to live locally, but think globally. We should not turn our backs on where we are from or the organic structures that sustain us, but neither should we hide our heads in the sand and pretend that we don’t live in a global society. Just like on a farm, where ignorance of ecology can have drastic and unintended effects, it behooves us to be aware of our roles in all the human networks we are a part of, local and global. Grammar, although we can wonder if Mr. Wendell Berry would concede any positive points in that techno-triumphalist advertisement, you may not conscript him into “thinking globally” – a nostrum he repeatedly disgorges. [Interviewer]: What’s wrong with “thinking globally”? [Wendell Berry]: You can’t think globally. You can only think in detail. “Global thinking” is a distraction from thinking. * From “Toward a healthy community: an interview with Wendell Berry, Christian Century, Oct 15, 1997”, Available online (search Google). Mr. Nelson, I did not mean to imply in my reference to Berry’s work that I was speaking for him. My reference to Berry was to acknowledge his role in defending the virtue of localism and his pervasive influence on others who value localism as way of viewing the world. My point was that, in my opinion, not Berry’s, these paradigms, local and global, are not mutually exclusive. They’ve ignored the actual definition of “field trip”? I don’t understand why the teacher is so thrilled that her children are all excitedly yelling at a screen showing another classroom of children excitedly yelling. It’s hardly something, on a class-by-class level, which will assist learning. What happened to pen pals? What I saw first – Cisco makes not bones about this tech being for the privileged. The school is a palace, there’s one Latin looking kid in a field of Caucasians. They stick a celeb in for no discernible reason. Comments are closed.