por Alexis Morales Cales

Una maestra me dice con tristeza: “En la escuela soy víctima de bullyng por parte de otros maestros”. Le pregunto en qué consiste el bullyng. “Que me dicen alcahueta porque me paso ayudando a hacer todo lo que hace falta para mejorar la escuela. Pinto, arreglo cosas. lavo ventanas y todo lo que me digan que hace falta hacer” Le digo: “Está mal lo del bullyng, pero eres alcahueta”

Esa es la plaza que el DE avanza a nombrar junto con la del maestro conserje. Maestros que hacen todo y anteponen todo por encima de su labor obligada que es la enseñanza. Y se sienten orgullosos de su plaza de maestro alcahuete cuando la prensa visita las escuelas. Les gusta que les tomen videos y fotos realizando su alcahuetería. Sin importar el daño que hacen.

Hacen daño porque crean la impresión de que eso es obligación del maestro. Y que los maestros que no son alcahuetes no son buenos maestros. Al salir en fotos y videos en esa faena, le restan respeto a la imagen de los educadores y hacen que las yales sientan que son sus jefas.

Hacen daño sobre todo porque justifican la congelación de plazas de conserje y hasta de plazas en OMEP, quitándole el sueldo a otros pero sin cobrarlo ellos.

Y se hacen daño a sí mismos. Porque la plaza de maestro alcahuete no está cubierta por el Fondo del Seguro del Estado. Cualquier lesión o enfermedad como consecuencia de la alcahuetería tendrá que costearla por sí mismo y si no puede volver a trabajar, lo mandarán a que disfrute su incapacidad sin pensión en su hogar, recordando con nostalgia sus años de maestro alcahuete.Room_JayFo_5702272625239031658_n

Doomed to Fail: The Built-In Defects of American Education

Doomed to Fail: The Built-In Defects of American Education
by Paul A. Zoch

As reviewed by Diane Ravitch

Paul Zoch manages to achieve what some might have thought impossible in the opening words of his new book, Doomed to Fail: he criticizes the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (Chester E. Finn Jr.) and the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (Linda Darling-Hammond) for committing the same error. Although these two institutions are usually seen as antagonists, both, he says, blame teachers when students do not learn. Zoch lumps together the Fordham Foundation report “Better Teachers, Better Schools” and the National Commission’s “What Matters Most” as reports that assume a direct causal relationship between a teacher’s actions and the students’ learning. Zoch contends that they are both wrong. Students are responsible for their learning, he writes. If they make sufficient effort, pay attention, do their homework, and exercise self-discipline, they will learn.

A high school teacher of the classics for nearly 20 years, Zoch has written a stunning critique of American education. He shows how reform after reform has gone forward with the same assumptions: that students are passive recipients of instruction, that teachers are all-powerful molders of inert student clay, and that students have no responsibility for their own academic success.

Ultimately, Zoch maintains, all education is self-education. The secret of academic success is no different from success in other fields of endeavor, and it involves hard work, the will to succeed, and practice, practice, practice. Yet when students fail or become bored, critics insist that it is the teacher’s fault. Zoch shows persuasively and in great detail that progressives derided instruction but never held students accountable for their own learning; it is always the teacher who is to blame if the children aren’t motivated. Consequently, students have come to expect that their teachers must entertain them. As one of Zoch’s students said to him one day, “Maybe if you’d sing and dance, we’d learn this stuff.”

Most of the book is a brilliant recapitulation of the history of American education, written from Zoch’s perspective as a seasoned classroom teacher. He demonstrates convincingly that American education has been deeply influenced by seemingly inconsistent philosophies. His own personal lodestar is William James, the great Harvard psychologist, who understood that the key to individual success is effort: the student who strives and persists in the face of challenge will succeed. James’s message of personal responsibility and willpower, Zoch hastens to point out, is now considered Victorian, old-fashioned, obsolete. Yet he also notes that the students who “live in accordance with old-fashioned principles of effort and will to succeed are the stars of our public schools, the usually unsung heroes who in the future will provide the great brainpower of our country. Such students are actively working to create their own reality and destiny.” Sadly, he observes, students who live by these values learn them at home, not at school, for our public schools today are founded on an ideology diametrically opposed to James’s beliefs.

The current philosophy that dominates American education, Zoch demonstrates, is a strange concoction that has produced our current woeful situation. Behaviorists (James B. Watson, Edward L. Thorndike, and B. F. Skinner) encouraged the view that students were simple, passive, and easily manipulated. According to behaviorist principles, it is no longer “incumbent upon the student to do what is necessary to succeed,” for it is the responsibility of the teacher “to find the right stimulus that will cause a student to respond as desired.” In the behaviorist worldview, the environment is all, and the student is passive and as helpless as an infant.

Along come John Dewey, William Heard Kilpatrick, Colonel Francis Parker, G. Stanley Hall, and other progressives, whose philosophies relieved students of responsibility to make the necessary effort to learn unless they wanted to. Like the behaviorists, Dewey saw the classroom environment (created by the teacher) as ultimately determinative of whether students learn. Kilpatrick and other leading progressives thought that if teachers could discover children’s natural interests, then learning would be easy and fun. Hall worried that studying hard was actually dangerous to children’s health. The possibility that a student might “struggle and strain” to learn something not of his own choosing was foreign to progressive theorists. Indeed, they emphasized the importance of joy, not effort. Zoch shows that progressive dogmas about natural learning are clearly in conflict with the Jamesian philosophy of effort and insists that parents and teachers teach “the will to succeed” by setting clear expectations and demanding effort, not accepting laziness.

Zoch argues that the progressive philosophy, like behaviorism, puts the onus on the teacher to be perfect, imaginative, ingenious, and all-powerful. Both philosophies assume that the teacher can and must create exactly the right environment or the student will not learn. Furthermore, if the teacher follows progressivist dictates, she will never exercise authority in the classroom but will appeal instead to the children’s needs and interests. The teacher must be not only entertaining but also able to individualize instruction for each child, who is expected to learn at his or her own pace and in accordance with his or her individual learning style. The problem, Zoch says, is that teachers are expected to work hard to motivate kids, but kids aren’t expected to do anything other than wait for the teacher to motivate them.

As a classroom teacher in Texas, Zoch spices his narrative with a few of his own bitter experiences. This book may have been inspired on the day he attended a professional development session and received a document headed “Student Learning Occurs When . . .” Every succeeding statement described what the teacher must do: 1. A teacher is skilled in teaching techniques; 2. A teacher is skilled in identifying student needs, etc. But not a single statement described what the student must do. What most irritated Zoch was that the verb “occurs” is intransitive, implying that the student has no responsibility to do anything to make learning occur.

Zoch takes a few solid pokes at the much-ballyhooed cognitive revolution, brain-based learning, multiple intelligences, learning styles, and other faddish approaches. All of them, he holds, have the same effect, which is to absolve the students of any responsibility for their achievement. Either they are just wired that way genetically or their teachers have failed to individualize instruction enough or make it joyful enough.

The paradox that Zoch highlights is that the American public wants orderly classrooms with high standards, but American parents don’t mean it when it comes to their own child. Zoch sagely warns: “Students must learn to create their own success and to succeed despite inimical circumstances, for the simple reason that the circumstances of life will never be optimal.” If we cannot expect students to achieve until every child has a perfect teacher, Zoch warns, we will wait a long time indeed, because the number of such paragons will always be small. We would do students a favor, he says, if we taught them that their success depends on what they do, not on what someone else does for them.

Strange that American education should have evolved according to a philosophy that is fundamentally at odds with the self-reliance that has always been a strong element in American society. It is as though entire communities were to decide that they could improve their football teams by spending millions on professional development for coaches. Zoch’s engaging book, if widely read, will introduce an important element that has been missing from most of the talk about school reform: student effort.

-Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a member of the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

James Groff says:
10/31/2013 at 7:52 pm

The central argument of Zoch’s book is mocked in Lawrence Cremin’s 1961 history, “Progressivism in American Education”:

“There is currently afoot a simple story of the rise of progressive education, one that has fed mercilessly on the fears of anxious parents and the hostilities of suspicous conservatives. In it John Dewey…awakes one night with a new vision of the Amencan school: the vision is progressive education. Over the years, with the help of a dedicated group of crafty professional lieutenants at Teachers College, Columbia Umvers1ry, he was able to foist the vision on an unsuspecting American people. The story usually ends with a plea for the exorcising of this devil from our midst and a retum to.the ways of the fathers. This kind of morality play has always been an influential brand of American political rhetoric, used by reformers and conservauves alike. But it should never be confused with history!” (p. vii)



By Robert J. Samuelson
Monday, September 6, 2010

As 56 million children return to the nation’s 133,000 elementary and secondary schools, the promise of “reform” is again in the air. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced $4 billion in “Race to the Top” grants to states whose proposals demonstrate, according to Duncan, “a bold commitment to education reform” and “creativity and innovation [that are] breathtaking.” What they really show is that few subjects inspire more intellectual dishonesty and political puffery than “school reform.”

Since the 1960s, waves of “reform” haven’t produced meaningful achievement gains. The most reliable tests are given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The reading and math tests, graded on a 0-500 scale, measure 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds. In 1971, the initial year for the reading test, the average score for 17-year-olds was 285; in 2008, the average score was 286. The math test started in 1973, when 17-year-olds averaged 304; in 2008, the average was 306.

To be sure, some improvements have occurred in elementary schools. But what good are they if they’re erased by high school? There has also been a modest narrowing in the high school achievement gaps among whites, blacks and Hispanics; unfortunately, the narrowing generally stopped in the late 1980s. (Average test scores have remained stable because, although the scores of blacks and Hispanics have risen slightly, the size of these minority groups also expanded. This means that their still-low scores exert a bigger drag on the average. The two factors offset each other.)

Standard theories don’t explain this meager progress. Too few teachers? Not really. From 1970 to 2008, the student population increased 8 percent and the number of teachers rose 61 percent. The student-teacher ratio has fallen sharply, from 27-to-1 in 1955 to 15-to-1 in 2007. Are teachers paid too little? Perhaps, but that’s not obvious. In 2008, the average teacher earned $53,230; two full-time teachers married to each other and making average pay would belong in the richest 20 percent of households (2008 qualifying income: $100,240). Maybe more preschool would help. Yet, the share of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool has rocketed from 11 percent in 1965 to 53 percent in 2008.

“Reforms” have disappointed for two reasons. First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) “scalable” — easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains. Efforts in New York and the District to raise educational standards involve contentious and precarious school-by-school campaigns to purge “ineffective” teachers and principals. Charter schools might break this pattern, though there are grounds for skepticism. In 2009, the 4,700 charter schools enrolled about 3 percent of students and did not uniformly show achievement gains.

The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail.

Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a “good” college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school “reform” is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out, compared with about 25 percent today) and adolescent culture has strengthened, the authority of teachers and schools has eroded. That applies more to high schools than to elementary schools, helping explain why early achievement gains evaporate.

Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited “student apathy.” The goal of expanding “access” — giving more students more years of schooling — tends to lower educational standards. Michael Kirst, an emeritus education professor at Stanford, estimates that 60 percent of incoming community college students and 30 percent of freshmen at four-year colleges need remedial reading and math courses.

Against these realities, school “reform” rhetoric is blissfully evasive. It is often an exercise in extravagant expectations. Even if George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program had been phenomenally successful (it wasn’t), many thousands of children would have been left behind. Now Duncan routinely urges “a great teacher” in every classroom. That would be about 3.7 million “great” teachers — a feat akin to having every college football team composed of all-Americans. With this sort of intellectual rigor, what school “reform” promises is more disillusion.


“It’s the Students, Stupid!”

Will Fitzhugh – The Concord Review
Nonpartisan Education Review / Essays, Volume 9, Number 2

The billionaires’ club, with their long retinue of pundits, researchers, and other hangers-on, are giving their attention, some of the time, to education. But they are not paying attention to the academic work of students, or to their responsibility for their own education.

Mr. Gates spent nearly two hundred million dollars recently on a program for teacher assessment, but does he realize that in almost every class there are students as well, and that they have a lot to say about what the teacher can accomplish?

One pundit came to speak in Boston. When told that lots of good teachers were being driven out of the profession by the absence of discipline among students, he said, “They need better classroom management skills.” I don’t think he had ever “managed” a classroom, but I told him this story:

When Theodore Roosevelt was President, he had a guest one day in the oval office, and his daughter Alice came roaring through the room disturbing everything. The guest said, “Can’t you control Alice?” And Roosevelt said, “I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice, but not both.”

Lots and lots of teachers have students in their classes who have not been taught by KIPP, to “Work Hard, Be Nice.” Their inability to control themselves and behave with courtesy and respect for their teacher and their fellow students frequently degrades and can even disintegrate the academic integrity of the class, which damages not only their own chance to learn, but prevents all their classmates from learning as well.

In 2004, Paul A. Zoch, a teacher from Texas, wrote in Doomed to Fail (p. 150) that: “Let there be no doubt about it: the United States looks to its teachers and their efforts, but not to its students and their efforts, for success in education.” Nine years later that remains the problem with the Edupundits and their funders.

Of course, one problem for the edureformers is that you can fire teachers but you can’t fire students. If students fail, largely through their own poor attendance, inattention and destructive behavior in class, we can’t blame them. Only the teachers can be held to account. This is beyond stupid, verging on willful blindness.

Indiana University, in its most recent Survey of High School Student Engagement, interviewed 143,052 U.S. high school students and found that 42.5% of them spend an hour or less each week on homework and 82.7% spend five hours or less each week on their homework. The average Korean student spends fifteen hours a week on homework, and that does not include evening hagwon sessions of two or three hours. Can anyone see a difference here? And, by the way, American students spend 53 hours a week playing video games and using other sorts of electronic entertainment.

While they play, and consume expensive products of the technology companies, students in other countries are studying hard, behaving in class, and taking their educational opportunities seriously so they can eat our lunch, which they are starting to do.

But let’s blame the teachers in the United States and ignore what their students are doing, in class and after class. That will work, won’t it?

Of course what teachers and all the other employees of our school systems do is important. But ignoring students and their work, and blaming teachers for poor student academic performance, would be like blaming a trainer if his boxer gets knocked out in the ring, while not noticing that the boxer stands in front of his opponent with his hands at his sides all the time.

We need high academic achievement, but we will not get it by blaming teachers and driving them out of the profession, while not noticing that students have an important, and even crucial, responsibility for their own learning.

Ignoring the role of our students in their own education, which at the “highest” levels of funded programs we do, is not only dumb, it will virtually consign all the other efforts to failure. Think about it…



March 6, 2011 by Joanne Jacobs

We’re obsessing about teacher quality and ignoring what really matters, writes Will Fitzhugh on School Information System. It’s the students, stupid. If they do the work, they’ll learn. If they wait for teachers to pour knowledge (or skills) in their heads, they won’t.

As in the old story about the drunk searching under the lamppost for his keys, those who control funds for education believe that as long as all their money goes to paying attention to what teachers are doing, who they are, how they are trained, and so on, they can’t see the point of looking in the darkness at those who have the complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be — namely the students.

Roger Sweeny says:
March 6, 2011 at 7:56 am

Fitzhugh is right. Robert Samuelson, the Washington Post’s economics columnist, said pretty much the same thing last September.

However, this focus on teachers is inevitable given the way we’ve marketed schools. “Give us money,” say the school systems and teacher’s unions and ed schools. “We are experts–professionals!–with specialized knowledge and skills regarding learning We can teach anyone anything.”

In that case, when kids don’t learn, the fault has to be the teachers’.

We could have said, “Look, we can give kids an opportunity for an education, but they have to use that opportunity. Most of them won’t use anywhere near all of it.” Then, hardly anyone would be blaming us teachers. But we wouldn’t be paid nearly as well either.

Sean Mays says:
March 6, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Who will point out that the Emperor has no clothes? School districts across the nation have implemented various “no fail” policies …

Teachers are pressured to promote students. Fail too many and you find your self having to write a professional development plan as to WHY you’re failing too many students. I believe it was Dallas ISD that considered putting teachers who failed more than 20% on improvement plans. My students asked me what I’d do if I taught there (about 30% were failing). I said well, either I’d bite the bullet and write my plan, or I’d curve the grade so only 19.9% of you fail. They figured I’d go for the 2nd option – it amounted to a high stakes game of chicken for them.

Whatever else you may think, can we believe that busting unions will allow teachers greater freedom to tell it like it is? How many teachers would have the moral fiber to buck management and fail large numbers of students and serve the wake up call?

I’ve had parents tell me that Johnnie or Janey needs an A in math to get a scholarship in college. My counter argument that even IF I did that, they’d wind up in remedial math and LOSE said scholarship and likely not graduate fell on deaf ears.

Over a third of college bound kids in my state wind up in remedial ed – at enormous cost to themselves and society. A great majority will never graduate, but nobody wanted to bear the consequences before college.

“La verdadera historia de Oscar López Rivera” por: Lcdo. Alfredo Ocasio


15 julio, 2015

La verdadera historia de Oscar López Rivera

Por: Lcdo. Alfredo Ocasio

Desde hace varios años, medios de comunicación y personeros del separatismo llevan a cabo una campaña mediática, tipo “Paz para Vieques” para la liberación de un supuesto “preso político” llamado Oscar López Rivera. La campaña se basa en que esta persona fue hallada culpable por asociación de sedición por su supuesta relación con las Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN).

Ciertamente, esta campaña se basa en el supuesto de que los puertorriqueños tenemos memoria corta; no leemos ni tenemos la capacidad de hacer una investigación sobre las cosas. Dado a que los eventos criminales en que se vio involucrado el señor López, ocurrieron hace 40 años, es necesario refrescar la memoria de muchos, inclusive al actual presidente del PNP que endosa la liberación del señor López.

El señor López es presentado por el periódico El Nuevo Día como un abuelito tierno quien desde la cárcel le escribe cartitas a su nietecita y que está preso solo por ser independentista ya que nunca estuvo involucrado en ningún hecho de sangre ni le causó daño a nadie. Tal afirmación es totalmente falsa.

En el 1999, la administración Clinton, buscando congraciarse con el congresista Luis Gutiérrez de Chicago (la FALN estaba basada en Chicago), le ofreció al señor López clemencia ejecutiva, la cual el señor López rechazó, urdiendo la mentira, que ahora se repite en esta campaña, como justificación para el ofrecimiento.

Debido al cambio de la administración Clinton sobre la política contra el terrorismo (lo que eventualmente llevó a los hechos del 11 de septiembre de 2001), la Cámara de Representantes del Congreso de los Estados Unidos realizó una investigación y a continuación les doy un resumen de los hallazgos contenidos en el informe 106-488, de fecha 10 de diciembre de 1999, la cual desmintió totalmente a la administración Clinton.

La FALN, era un grupo terrorista del cual el señor Oscar López Rivera era uno de sus líderes principales. El señor López fue convicto, luego de celebrársele un juicio, de delitos que envolvían hechos de sangre que provocaron daño físico a personas. Cumple con una condena de sobre 70 años de prisión por los delitos cometidos. El señor López fabricó bombas, fue parte principal de una organización terrorista dirigida al derrocamiento del gobierno de los Estados Unidos y los crímenes que cometió justifican su sentencia.

El informe concluye que Oscar López Rivera es una persona violenta; es un terrorista.

La razón por la cual el señor López rechazó la clemencia que le fuera ofrecida por el Presidente Clinton fue esta contenía como condición que el señor López renunciara a cometer actos de violencia en el futuro. El señor López se negó a cumplir con dicha condición.

Además de los crímenes que cometió como miembro y líder del grupo terrorista FALN, el señor López urdió dos intentos de fuga de la cárcel federal donde se encontraba. En uno de dichos intentos, y de acuerdo al testimonio de testigos y grabaciones de sus propias declaraciones, el señor López pretendía, como parte de su plan, volar la cárcel en donde se encontraba utilizando los explosivos plásticos más poderosos conocidos militarmente, acribillar a balazos con armas automáticas a los guardias penales en las torres de vigilancia y lanzar granadas a aquellos guardias que lo persiguieran en su fuga.

Para acometer su plan, Oscar López Rivera conspiró para asesinar a varios confinados que amenazaron a su cómplice Richard Cobb; conspiró para asesinar al confinado George Lebosky después que sospechaba que éste pudiera delatarlo; y, conspiró para asesinar al traficante de armas Michael Neece con el propósito de obtener las armas que necesitaba para llevar a cabo su plan.

El señor López puso en ejecución un plan para obtener para su intento de escape lo siguiente: granadas de fragmentación, granadas de humo, granadas de fósforo, ocho rifles M-16, dos silenciadores, 50 libras de explosivos plásticos C-4, ocho chalecos anti-balas, 10 detonadores para usar con explosivos plásticos y 100 peines con 30 balas, cada uno, para uso con armas automáticas.

En su evaluación, el oficial probatorio de Oscar López Rivera concluyó que el remordimiento por los actos cometidos, la rehabilitación y la conducta positiva en él, era mínima o inexistente; que él ha demostrado un sostenido y consistente compromiso con el uso de la violencia y las armas; que está dispuesto a utilizar cualquier medio para obtener su libertad con el propósito de derrocar los principios del gobierno de los Estados Unidos; y que para el señor López Rivera la vida humana no tiene valor alguno con tal de lograr su propósito.

Oscar López Rivera era parte de la espina dorsal de una organización terrorista que asesinó a un número de personas, plantó sobre 130 bombas y es testigo de asesinatos que no se han esclarecido por su negativa a cooperar y ofrecer testimonio para sus esclarecimientos.

Oscar López Rivera, junto a la FALN, estuvo envuelto en 72 atentados terroristas con bombas, 40 ataques incendiarios, ocho tentativas de actos terroristas con bombas, 10 amenazas de bombas, cinco asesinatos, causó heridas a 83 personas y pérdidas a la propiedad de sobre $3 millones.

Oscar López Rivera estuvo directa y personalmente envuelto en estos ataques con bombas y ataques incendiarios desde temprano en la década de los ’70 del siglo pasado; era un reclutador de terroristas, entrenador en la fabricación y uso de bombas, sabotaje y otras técnicas de la guerra de guerrillas.

Estableció a través de la nación guaridas y fábricas de bombas en donde escondió cientos de libras de explosivos, detonadores, aparatos de detonación retardada, armas, municiones, silenciadores, escopetas recortadas, disfraces, documentos de identidad robados y alterados, al igual que dinero producto de robos, así como vehículos de motor hurtados.

Como vemos, el señor Oscar López Rivera no es ningún preso político. Es un criminal violento y desalmado. Es un terrorista de la misma calaña que los que perpetraron los eventos del 11 de septiembre de 2001 y el bombazo de Boston.

Decir que el señor López Rivera es culpable por asociación, como expone esa campaña mediática, es el equivalente a exculpar a Osama Bin Laden de responsabilidad por el asesinato de gente inocente porque él no estaba allí o no guiaba uno de los aviones que se estrellaron contra las Torres Gemelas.

Le pido a todo aquel amante de la paz y del reino de la ley y el orden que no respalden esa campaña mediática basada en la mentira y el engaño. Especialmente le pido al Comisionado Residente Pedro Pierluisi a que de inmediato retire su apoyo a la liberación de este criminal.

El Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), como institución, tiene que oponerse a esa campaña de falsedades y mentiras. Nadie que se respete a sí mismo en el PNP puede apoyar esa causa y me sorprende que ninguno de esos líderes haya hecho lo que yo hice: simplemente buscar la información y publicarla.


Nota: El licenciado Alfredo Ocasio es abogado y analista radial en la emisora Notiuno.

Psychopaths, Aesthetes, and Gourmands: What Hannibal Has to Teach Us about Consuming Art

Psychopaths, Aesthetes, and Gourmands: What Hannibal Has to Teach Us about Consuming Art


by John McAteer

Hannibal Lecter once killed a flautist from the Baltimore Philharmonic Orchestra. He then fed the victim’s pancreas to the Philharmonic’s board of directors at a dinner party he was hosting. The flautist, Benjamin Raspail, had been one of Dr. Lecter’s psychiatric patients.  In the novel The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal tells Clarice Starling that he killed Raspail for “whining” too much during therapy (p. 54). In the 2002 film version of Red Dragon it is implied that Hannibal killed Raspail for being a bad musician.
The interpretation of Hannibal’s motive has evolved as the story has been told and re-told. Every version of the story agrees that Hannibal is a gourmet cook, well known for his culinary connoisseurship. He made an amuse-bouche from Raspail’s pancreas—what chefs call the “sweetbreads.” But is Hannibal a psychopath who kills people simply for being annoying? Or an extreme aesthete so committed to high culture and good manners that he kills those who fail to live up to his exacting standards? And which would be worse?

Homicidal Art
When novelist Thomas Harris invented Hannibal Lecter, he based his character on real-life serial killers he had become aware of during his career as a crime journalist. But criminologists like to point out that real life serial killers do not act like Hannibal. For example, one recent academic article concluded that real-life serial killers tend to have lower verbal IQ scores, in contrast to the highly intelligent and hyper-verbal Dr. Lecter.[ Delisi, M., Vaughn, M. G., Beaver, K. M., & Wright, J. P. (2010). The Hannibal Lecter myth: Psychopathy and verbal intelligence in the MacArthur violence risk assessment study. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 32(2), 169-177. ]
One of the most obvious ways fictional serial killers differ from real ones is their method of killing and disposing of bodies. In the world of Thomas Harris’s novels, serial killers treat their murders like art. For example, the Tooth Fairy calls his murders “My Work. My Becoming. My Art.” (Red Dragon, p.173). He opens the eyes of his dead victims so they can “watch” him like an “audience” at a “performance” (Red Dragon, p. 29). In the TV series Hannibal, the idea of homicidal art is pushed even further.  One killer cuts his victims’ throats and plays their vocal chords like a cello (Episode 1.8). Another builds a totem pole from human heads (Episode 1.9). And, in perhaps the most striking “artwork,” one killer creates an enormous three-dimensional “mural” using dead bodies of varying skin colors (Episode 2.1).
In real life there have been cases of cannibalism and killers who kept body parts as “trophies”. Perhaps the most famous case was Ed Gein, the inspiration for several of Hollywood’s most memorable murders, including Norman Bates in Psycho, Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. According to one especially vivid account of Gein,
On moonlit evenings, he would prance around his farm wearing a real female mask, a vest of skin complete with female breasts, and women’s panties filled with vaginas in an attempt to recreate the form and presence of his dead mother.[ James Alan Fox and Jack Levin. Extreme Killing, Third ed. (Sage, 2015), p. 4]
There is an element of performance here, but this is a long way from homicidal art. Gein was motivated by psychological drives, not artistic ones.
Thomas Harris’s original homicidal artist on the other hand, is interested in the aesthetic dimension of his murders. The Tooth Fairy films his murders and watches them again and again at home, partly for sexual gratification but also in order to critique his performance. Watching the film, he judges his performance harshly:
Even at the height of his pleasure he was sorry to see that in the film’s ensuing scene he lost all his grace and elegance of motion, rooting piglike with his bottom turned carelessly to the camera. There were no dramatic pauses, no sense of pace or climax, just brutish frenzy. (p. 83)
The Tooth Fairy aspires to the kind of cultivation attained by Hannibal Lecter whose “pulse never got over eighty-five” while murdering a nurse, “even when he tore out her tongue” (p. 67). Though there are many homicidal artists in the world Thomas Harris imagines, Hannibal remains unique. He is more intelligent, more cultured, than others. While the Tooth Fairy or Buffalo Bill might have some sort of twisted aesthetic predilection, Hannibal Lecter actually seems to have good taste. He has a genuine appreciation for Bach and Italian architecture and fine wine. He is a classic “aesthete.”
Like his aesthetically refined hero, the Toothy Fairy loves fine art—he listens to Handel (p. 97) and finds inspiration in the paintings of William Blake (p. 81)—but the act of murder reduces him to the frenzy of an uncultured brute. He aspired to more: “with experience, he hoped he could maintain some aesthetic distance even in the most intimate moments” (p. 83).

Going the Distance
Aesthetic distance is a concept first introduced by psychologist Edward Bullough in the early twentieth century. Bullough points out that the same object can be experienced differently, depending on the psychological attitude we bring to it. For example, in ordinary circumstances—say, while traveling—foggy weather produces annoyance, anxiety, or even fear. If you just want to get on with the business of practical affairs, fog can get in your way. But if you are able to set aside any practical goals you have and just look at the fog itself, it can be seen as beautiful. He uses the metaphor of taking up a critical “distance” from the object.
Thus, in the fog, the transformation by Distance is produced in the first instance by putting the phenomenon, so to speak, out of gear with our practical, actual self; by allowing it to stand outside the context of our personal needs and ends—in short, by looking at it “objectively,” as it has often been called, by permitting only such reactions on our part as emphasize the “objective” features of the experience.[ Edward Bullough, “‘Psychical Distance’ as a Factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle,” British Journal of Psychology 5, no. 2 (1912): 89.]
Bullough argues that to properly experience an artwork we must find the right balance between the objective and subjective experience of the artwork. We must be neither over-distanced nor under-distanced.
Horror films like Hannibal provide a good example of how this works. If we are unable to distance ourselves from the image of Hannibal cutting open a still-living person’s skull and then feeding the victim his own brain (sautéed with black truffles, of course), then we will be so horrified and disgusted that we will be unable to continue watching the film. If, on the other hand, we over-distance ourselves from the scene, we may be too objective, too cold, and not experience the horror at all. We might be thinking about whether it is physiologically possible to feed someone his own brain, or about how the filmmakers were able to achieve the special effect. The key to the appropriate aesthetic experience is to get caught up enough in the film to feel the horror without being sent running from the theater.

Empathy Disorders
Arguably, one element of aesthetic distance is empathy. If a viewer or reader is to appreciate the horror of Hannibal’s murders, he or she must empathize with the victims. Someone who doesn’t have feelings of concern for the suffering of the victims won’t be able to have the appropriate aesthetic response. For this reason, it is tempting to think that psychopaths are incapable of aesthetic experience insofar as they lack empathy for others.
Indeed, there is some evidence that real life psychopaths tend to have an underdeveloped aesthetic sensitivity. For example in one of the first clinical studies of psychopathy, psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley discussed a patient who was unmoved by art.
It is impossible for him to take even a slight interest in the tragedy or joy of the striving of humanity as presented in serious literature or art. He is also indifferent to all these matters in life itself. Beauty and ugliness, except in a very superficial sense, goodness, evil, love, horror, and humor have no actual meaning, no power to move him.[ Cleckley, Hervey. The Mask of Sanity, Fifth ed. (private printing, 1988), p. 40. ]
Cleckley’s patient fits the clinical definition of a psychopath. The terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” are used somewhat interchangeably in the mass media. The technical psychiatric term for this condition is Antisocial Personality Disorder. According to the DSM-V (a standard classification system used by mental health professionals), the diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder include a lack of empathy which manifests as callousness: “Lack of concern for feelings or problems of others; lack of guilt or remorse about the negative or harmful effects of one’s actions on others.”
It is important to notice here that lack of empathy only means the psychopath lacks concern for others, not that they can’t understand their feelings. This fits with Thomas Harris’s portrayal of Hannibal Lecter. In Red Dragon, Frederick Chilton says Hannibal is a “pure sociopath” (p. 67). Will Graham disagrees. Will says psychologists only call Hannibal a sociopath “because they don’t know what else to call him” (p. 62). Will does point out that Hannibal “has no remorse or guilt at all,” but adds that “he’s not insensitive.” In other words, Hannibal has empathy but not a conscience.
Far from lacking empathy, Hannibal is quite sensitive to the feelings and perspectives of others. This is one reason he is attracted to Will Graham. “The reason you caught me is that we’re just alike,” he tells Will in the novel Red Dragon (p. 73). In the 2001 movie version he specifies: Will and Hannibal are alike because they both have a talent for “imagination,” an uncanny ability to get inside other people’s heads. Hannibal understands what others are thinking and feeling—he simply doesn’t care. Likewise a survey of real life psychological case studies reveals that, instead of an empathy deficit, the true mark of a psychopath seems to be their “inability to take an interest in anything that does not serve, directly or indirectly, to satisfy some desire.”[ Heidi Maibom and James Harold. “Without Taste: Psychopaths and the Appreciation of Art,” La Nouvelle Revue Française d’Esthétique 6 (2010): 71-84]

Can Psychopaths Have Aesthetic Experiences?
Philosophers Heidi Maibom and James Harold hypothesize that the psychopath’s pathological egocentrism would yield an inability to achieve aesthetic distance. Remember Bullough’s theory that we must set aside our “personal needs and ends” and attend to the “objective features” of the artwork. In other words, aesthetic distance means engaging with the art object as an end in itself, not as a means to satisfy your own subjective desires. If you only value an artwork because it is worth a lot of money or depicts a sexually arousing figure, then you are not appreciating the work aesthetically. You are treating the object as a means to achieving an external good (money or sexual gratification).
Maibom and Harold assume that psychopaths treat everything as a means to external goods, and so can engage neither persons nor artworks as ends in themselves. Remember the clinical definition of a psychopath involves a lack of empathetic concern for others. The DSM-V links this to “egocentrism” and “self-esteem derived from personal gain, power, or pleasure” as well as “manipulativeness” and the desire to “control others.” This is certainly true of Hannibal Lecter who is fond of discussing the “power” that God feels when he “kills” people through natural disasters. Hannibal clearly takes great pleasure not only in killing but in toying with people. In the TV series, Hannibal, Will Graham says Hannibal wound him up like a top and set him spinning “to see what I would do” (Episode 1.13). In Maibom and Harold’s terms, Hannibal treats Will as a mere means to Hannibal’s egocentric pleasure.
There is something right about this interpretation. Perhaps it explains why most psychopaths can’t achieve aesthetic distance. For example, the Tooth Fairy is too caught up in his own egocentric sexual and homicidal desires to create objective beauty. But Hannibal doesn’t seem to fit this explanation. If it is impossible for a psychopath to appreciate art, then Hannibal shouldn’t be able to appreciate Bach and Italian architecture.
What this hypothesis fails to take into account is that it is compatible with aesthetic distance for a viewer to engage with an artwork instrumentally as a means to her own aesthetic pleasure. Sure, for it to be genuinely aesthetic pleasure, such instrumental aesthetic engagement would require a certain kind of psychic distancing (setting aside such practical interests as desire for money, sex, or other goods external to the art object), but aesthetic distancing does not require setting aside the desire for the pleasure that can result from the contemplation of art itself. The whole point of aesthetic distance is to enable us to achieve just that sort of pleasure!
Therefore, since the psychopath doesn’t necessarily lack any cognitive skill, and since aesthetic distancing doesn’t necessarily require abstracting from egoistic desire, then the psychopath should, in principle, be capable of aesthetic appreciation. There is no reason Hannibal Lecter could not exist in real life.

From Consuming Art to Consuming People
On the other hand, this account does entail that psychopaths are incapable of experiencing the value of an object for its own sake. While they can be sensitive to the object’s aesthetic properties, they cannot judge that it is good for the object to exist apart from their own experience of it. They wouldn’t care if anyone else ever got to experience the object—unless, of course, the psychopath somehow got pleasure from other people’s aesthetic experience, as for example if sharing an artwork with someone led them to praise the psychopath’s good aesthetic taste. But in that case the psychopath is still treating the artwork—indeed, the other person, too—as a means to his own pleasure.
This explains why psychopaths would lack ethical sensitivity, since ethics does require non-instrumental valuing of persons. Furthermore, this account means that psychopaths treat art like food—something to be consumed for pleasure—which in turn suggests that if a psychopath took an aesthetic interest in people, he would treat them, too, as objects to be consumed for pleasure. “Hannibal the Cannibal” is simply the logical extreme of this line of thought.

The Death of Aestheticism
Our discussion has revealed something interesting about the relationship between art and ethics. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said that “Aesthetics and ethics are one.”[ Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Notebooks, 1914-1916, 2nd ed., translated by G.E.M. Anscombe (University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 77] But this chapter has shown that to be false. Someone could be good at one but not the other. But it also implies that they are not entirely unrelated, either. The tradition of aestheticism argued that morality was entirely irrelevant to art. For example arch-aestheticist Oscar Wilde once wrote, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”[ Wild, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Dover, 1993), p. vii.] According to this view, all that matters to art appreciation is beauty of form. The logical extreme of aestheticism turns out to be homicidal art.
For example, the Muralist from the Hannibal TV series arranges his victims’ bodies into an artwork, using their skin color to create an abstract pattern almost resembling the rose window of a gothic cathedral. With enough aesthetic distance, an objective viewer could see a kind of true beauty in this macabre mural. And if aestheticism is true, then this would be an entirely appropriate way of engaging with this scene. There could be no objection to homicidal art as art. One could certainly object that an artwork made out of dead bodies is immoral, but, from a purely aesthetic point of view, it could still be a rewarding aesthetic experience and hence a great work of art.
Our discussion of artistic distance shows that things are not as simple as aestheticism believes. The aesthetic point of view does not in fact silence all the demands of morality. Sometimes our attempts both to respect an artwork and humanity as ends in themselves genuinely conflict. In those cases morality trumps pure aestheticism. We ought not take up a purely aesthetic point of view toward dead bodies.
In terms of aesthetic distance, we might say that anyone who is able to experience dead bodies as beautiful is necessarily over-distanced. To see why, consider that the Muralist’s artwork is essentially a sculpture made from human bodies, just as other sculptures are made from marble or bronze. From this point of view, we see that the material is not irrelevant to the artwork. Materials are commonly listed on museum and gallery walls, precisely because they are relevant to the interpretation of the work. Thus it would in fact be a mistake to disregard the bodies and appreciate only the form of the work. The materials matter. Anyone whose aesthetic attitude fails to take into account the materials at all is over-distanced from the work.
Ironically, I think Hannibal would agree. For him, the fact that the works (or meals) are made from human bodies is the whole point. And knowing them to be human flesh actually adds to the pleasure of consuming them. But he’s a psychopath. A normal person would be incapable of taking aesthetic pleasure in the death of another human being. So we can say that Hannibal’s moral deficit actually does turn out to be an aesthetic deficit in cases of homicidal art. He finds some art beautiful that he ought not enjoy—art that is bad from both a moral and aesthetic point of view.
It might seem perverse to learn how to consume art from a psychotic aesthete. But anyone who advises us to “eat the rude”[ A phrase from the 1999 novel Hannibal (p. 94), used in the 2001 movie Hannibal and the 2013-14 TV series Hannibal.] is bound to have something interesting to say about the relationship between ethics, aesthetics, and gastronomy.


1) Delisi, M., Vaughn, M. G., Beaver, K. M., & Wright, J. P. (2010). The Hannibal Lecter myth: Psychopathy and verbal intelligence in the MacArthur violence risk assessment study. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 32(2), 169-177.

2) James Alan Fox and Jack Levin. Extreme Killing, Third ed. (Sage, 2015), p. 4

3) Edward Bullough, “‘Psychical Distance’ as a Factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle,” British Journal of Psychology 5, no. 2 (1912): 89

4) Cleckley, Hervey. The Mask of Sanity, Fifth ed. (private printing, 1988), p. 40.

5) Heidi Maibom and James Harold. “Without Taste: Psychopaths and the Appreciation of Art,” La Nouvelle Revue Française d’Esthétique 6 (2010): 71-84

6) Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Notebooks, 1914-1916, 2nd ed., translated by G.E.M. Anscombe (University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 77
7) Wild, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Dover, 1993), p. vii.

8) A phrase from the 1999 novel Hannibal (p. 94), used in the 2001 movie Hannibal and the 2013-14 TV series Hannibal.

Violencia Institucional y magisterio

19 de diciembre de 2014

Enrique Toledo/ Especialista en Asuntos de Desarrollo y Director Ejecutivo de la Sociedad Sinergia

Las condiciones de los maestros de Puerto Rico son intolerables. Posiblemente ejercer el magisterio, ahora mismo, significa una violación al derecho a la dignidad o la integridad psíquica, física y social de los maestros. Pensará usted que estoy exagerando. Empero, la información recopilada a través de datos presupuestarios, económicos y testimonios de colegas maestros muestran un cuadro de marcada violencia institucional (o violencia invisible que va degradando y desvalorizando psíquica, económica y socialmente a personas o sectores sociales mediante políticas públicas, acciones y prácticas administrativas, legislaciones y discursos oficiales).

El Departamento de Educación recibe un presupuesto total de $3,409 millones; $2,041 millones (o el 60%) provienen del presupuesto estatal, lo que representa 21% del fondo general; $1,225 millones, o el 36%, provienen de fondos federales. El resto (4%) proviene de otros fondos. Si hiciéramos una matemática sencilla y tomáramos la actual cantidad de maestros en el sistema público, actualmente 29,897, y los dividiéramos por el presupuesto total de la agencia, el sueldo de un maestro sería de $114,024. Pero su sueldo base real anual es de $21,600 (incluyendo aportaciones patronales al seguro médico y retiro fluctuaría en unos $23,600). Ese sueldo representaría entre 18%-21% del gasto total de Educación.

Ese mismo sueldo, el mismo desde hace seis años, se ha visto reducido por una tasa de inflación acumulada de 14.6%. El poder de compra del salario del maestro se ha reducido a $18,447 anuales. Si añadimos las aportaciones a su sistema de retiro (11%) y de salud (10%) su ingreso neto se reduciría a $14,573. Trabajando alrededor de 42 semanas anuales, diariamente recibirían un sueldo de $69.40. Esto significa que su sueldo neto por hora sería de $8.61. Empero, los maestros no solamente no trabajan ocho horas, sino que ahora mismo están trabajando intensamente más.

El Departamento de Educación redujo la población magisterial en un 14.3% cuando la matricula estudiantil bajó solo un 5%. El año pasado un maestro podía tener un máximo de 20 estudiantes por salón. Este año se impuso 30 y el año que viene es 35 estudiantes. Los maestros no solo imparten educación, tienen la responsabilidad de: evaluar a sus estudiantes, llenar informes escritos y electrónicos mandatorios, hacer planes de estudios para sus diferentes salones, dar referidos de estudiantes a trabajadores sociales y consejeros, realizar acomodos razonables, organizar su salón hogar, atender reuniones de casos de estudiantes especiales, rendir planes escritos diarios y semanales a Educación, recibir a padres, ofrecer las Pruebas Puertorriqueñas y, ahora, las del College Board, y, finalmente, cumplir y hacer los nuevos mapas curriculares. Todo bajo un ambiente hostil de diferentes tipos de amenazas, a veces por estudiantes, padres, facilitadores o directores o el miedo al despido.

Esto sin aumento de sueldo por seis años, sin materiales educativos, con más exigencias de Educación, con una baja del 40% de su bono de Navidad, con sectores sociales que degradan su trabajo (llamándolos incompetentes e irresponsables). Pero trabajan, como mínimo, 10 horas, porque un maestro no termina su trabajo en la escuela, sino en su casa, sin cobrar horas extras. Esto significa que su salario neto real por hora promedio, trabajando 10 horas, estaría por debajo del mínimo o $6.94. Y, añadido a esto, muchos maestros tienen trabajos extracurriculares con sus estudiantes sin paga, organizando círculos de arte y ciencia, pintando sus salones de clase, comprando (con su sueldo) materiales educativos, entre otros. El compromiso del maestro con su profesión es invaluable socialmente porque es para toda la sociedad.

Estas condiciones de violencia institucional están desmoralizando al magisterio y disminuyendo dramáticamente su desempeño, afectando a los sectores menos favorecidos socialmente, lo que, a su vez, aumenta la desigualdad, la marginación y el resentimiento social por la degradación de la educación pública. La situación de sobreendeudamiento está aumentando la violencia institucional, empobreciendo a la gente y violentando sus derechos; todo por mantener una burocracia clientelista-rentista y las tasas de ganancias del capital financiero.