Utopia 2: First Day of School

MAY YOUR SKY ALWAYS BE YELLOW
He always wanted to explain things, but no-one cared.
So he drew.
Sometimes he would just draw and it wasn’t anything.
He wanted to carve it in stone or write it in the sky.
He would lie out on the grass and look up in the sky and it would only be the sky and the things inside him that needed saying.

And it was after that that he drew the picture.
It was a beautiful picture. He kept it under his pillow and would let no-one see it.
And he would look at it every night and think about it.
And when it was dark and his eyes were closed he could see it still.
And it was all of him and he loved it.

When he started school he brought it with him.
Not to show anyone, but just to have it with him like a friend.

It was funny about school.
He sat in a square brown desk like all the other square brown desks
and he thought it would be red.
And his room was a square brown room, like all the other rooms.
And it was tight and close. And stiff.

He hated to hold the pencil and chalk, with his arm stiff and his feet
flat on the floor, stiff, with the teacher watching and watching.

The teacher came and spoke to him.
She told him to wear a tie like all the other boys.
He said he didn’t like them and she it didn’t matter.
After that they drew. And he drew all yellow and it was the way he felt about
morning. And it was beautiful.

The teacher came and smiled at him. What’s this? She said.
“Why don’t you draw something like Ken’s drawing?
Isn’t it beautiful?”
After that his mother bought him a tie and he always drew airplanes
and rocket ships like everyone else.

And he threw the old picture away.

And when he lay out alone looking at the sky, it was big and blue;
and all of everything, but he wasn’t anymore.

He was square and brown inside and his hands were stiff.
And he was like everyone else. All the things inside him that needed
saying didn’t need it anymore.

It had stopped pushing. It was crushed.
Stiff.
Like everything else.

[Turned in to a high school English teacher 2 weeks prior to author’s suicide.]

First Day of School

Jack entered the class room with over an hour to spare. The room had remained empty for the long summer break and he wanted to make sure it was in order before his students’ arrival. He also had a special project to start off the year and it was going to take some preparation. The room was as he had left it at the end of last year. He slowly circled the room looking for anything that was out of place.

Various mementos of the last 8 years he had spent with his students were scattered about the room. Nothing was amiss but one piece caught Jack’s attention. A Clovis spear sat on the wide sill in the straw bale room. Jack picked it up as he strolled by it and paused for a moment, caught up in momentary nostalgia.

He had pains-takingly learned to knap the spear himself. That was one of his first endeavors. He was in the 3rd year with his class. He was just getting to know them well. He had started to teach them history that year and of course he had to start at the beginning.

The school had a garden that it used to teach gardening and to supplement its lunch program. Every year one of the fields was allowed to remain fallow to rest the soil. Jack had begged to have the run of that field. He had buried many “artifacts” in the field before the field was planted with nitrogen rich clover. The clover was a foot high when the school year began.

The year was spent unearthing the artifacts in traditional archeological fashion and discussing, with some help from their teacher, what the artifacts meant. Piecing together what the artifact was, what it was used for and what it meant about the people who used it. How the people ate, slept, played, lived. At the end of the year the children had created a museum and invited their parents to view their exhibits. They set up tour guides to explain each exhibit as the parents went through the museum. The children’s pride at that moment was only exceeded by Jack’s own.

He replaced the spear on the sill and his eyes glided to a sheet of aged paper in a frame on the wall next to the window. It was a peace treaty. Three years after the prehistoric lessons, Jack had been teaching them about the United Nations. The children were still quite young. He had separated the children into groups of 2 or 3. He had asked them to create a nation of their own making. He had been astounded at what they had developed. There was a technologically advanced nation, a nation of elves with incredible art and farming skills. There was a dwarf nation with guarded borders, and mines filled with minerals. Finally a nation of faeries whose diminutive size was compensated for by strong magic and the ability to disappear. Jack chided himself on not making the instructions more clear and thus the nations more realistic. But he let the children’s creativity guide the experiment.

Jack was completely dismayed when at one point Techno Land bombed the Elves with nuclear weapons in an attempt to enslave them. Jack found this violence deeply disturbing. He was tempted to shut the whole experiment down but he was retrained by some of the more experienced teachers and parents who argued against stopping the exercise.

What happened next stunned him further. The Elves sent messages to the other two nations and pleaded for help. They reminded them that a nation that would attack Elves would not hesitate to attack Dwarves or Faeries. The other two nations set up an embargo and sent troops for the war. In a short time, Techno Land found itself without food to feed troop or the metals necessary for their equipment or their weapons. Their war effort collapsed. Their leaders were forced into a United Nations court. The Technos were forced to pay reparations to the Elves leaving them in economic turmoil for the rest of the year. In the end he had discovered that the children had an incredible ability to regulate and teach themselves.

Jack snapped back to the present. He did not have time to waste on nostalgia today. He had gone to great lengths to get permission from the school principal and the pollution control monitor to build a fire. Besides, given his lack of experience with fire he would need all the time he could muster. He moved to the sandy play area outside the windows of his room. He picked an area that was flat and away from any other structure. Then he went to the school garden and began to collect stones in a basket he had brought from home. He returned to his chosen area and made a stone circle about 3 feet across. He then laid sticks and tree trimmings he had collected this fall in the circle with some dry straw for kindling. He then stood up to examine his work. It looked as though it might work.

He took the recently acquired matches out of his pocket and began to strike them on the box. He broke 5 of them before he got the right pressure to light one. He immediately shook that one out in his own excitement and had to light 3 more before he got the match close to the pile of kindling. He lit the straw and blew on it gently as the website he had consulted had illustrated. It immediately went out. This time it only took him two tries to light the straw again. To his satisfaction this did work and when he pushed the straw under the pile of dry sticks one of them took the flame. Jack then added larger and larger scraps of wood until he had a small blaze. This attracted the attention of several of the teaching staff who came to see what he was doing. Jack did not tell them his plan but only smiled and told them that they would hear about his “history lesson” soon enough from the kids. This, undoubtedly, was true and the other teachers drifted off to prepare their own classes.

Marion was the first to arrive and Jack was surveying a small blaze with satisfaction when she showed up. She slowed to a distracted walk as she caught sight of Mr. Randell tending the fire. Fires were an uncommon event in her life as well.

“Good morning Marion. I trust you had a good vacation?”

She beamed at him, “The best. Our family went to Europe! I brought pictures.”

“Great. Did you get a chance to do your assignment then?”

Jack had e-mailed all of the students to remind them that their first assignment was to write a 3 page description of something they did on their summer break. E-mail assignments were common place and the children had learned to expect one on the first day of school. He had stated in the e-mail that the assignment must be turned in on actual paper this time. This was not common place, since paper was at a premium and only art assignments were turned in on paper these days. It had been years since any of the children had had to print out an assignment. Marion reached into her pack and produced 3 sheets of light blue paper which she handed to him.

“No, no. Not yet. Hold on to your assignment. We will get to that when we are all here. Go inside and get a chair. We are having the first part of our day out here by the fire.”

She looked at him curiously but did as he told her. She put her back pack under her desk and took a chair from her desk and carried it outside.

Rupa was next. She was good friends with Marion and she brought her chair out to sit next to Marion. They immediately began a spirited conversation. Farid was the first boy to arrive. He lounged in his chair opposite the girls who were chatting and giggling. The children were just getting to the age where their interest in the opposite sex was more than curiosity but it was still awkward. Farid, who was fairly shy anyway, sat observing the girls with a look of fascination intermingled with disgust at the giggly conversation. Tinashe, Renae, and Svana arrived together and took seats next to each other. They were from the same neighborhood and frequently took the same shuttle. They began to compete with Marion and Rupa for the giggliest conversation.

Farid started to look worried until Geraldo and Will showed up. They high-fived Farid and took up seats next to him. They started to talk about the most recent vote in Congress. Andy came by himself and sat near the rest of the boys. Immediately the conversation changed. The boys shifted their comfortable positions so that they could free both their hands. Their conversation became punctuated by hand movements.

As Jack waited for the last member of the class to arrive he watched the boys converse. His mind floated back to his first days with them. Jack had found out that Andy would be in his class about eight months prior to his graduation from the Sacramento University of Education. He had already been hired by the Corning Educational Cooperative. Ms. Grant, the school principal, had paid him a visit at the college, personally, to ask a special favor of him. She wanted to put a very special child in his class, Andrew. Andy it seemed had had cochlear implants but they had not worked well for him. He could distinguish that there was sound in the room. He could listen to music. He could not distinguish words. He was still reliant on American Sign Language in order to communicate.

Ms. Grant came to ask Jack to learn sign language and agree to teach his class with sign. At the time this had made Jack very uncomfortable. He was a new teacher and already nervous about starting his career. This was added responsibility and pressure. He had tried to talk her into giving Andy to a more experienced teacher but the other teacher that year was newly pregnant and would need to leave the class for a year or more half way through their first year. And the principal had come to him personally. How could he say no? She was a very persuasive woman. She had promised him that because he would take on this difficult task, he would be excused from the other noneducational duties of an Educator for the first two years so that he could concentrate on perfecting his signing and learn techniques to teach lip reading to Andrew. In the end he had taken on the added responsibility.

At first it had been difficult. He would often forget and Andy would raise his hand and ask for clarification. This annoyed Jack. But Jack soon realized that he was annoyed by his own forgetfulness and not the boy’s will to learn. The boy was certainly eager to learn. Jack found himself caught off guard by the leaps and bounds all the children made, but Andy was one of the quickest to make connections. Jack began to feel a certain fondness for the boy, although he knew that he shouldn’t. He was supposed to love all of his children equally.

Soon Jack’s hands began to move on their own as he spoke. In fact they moved when he spoke to the hearing as well. The children were only 5 years old when Jack started with them. All of the children were taught German and Spanish in school. In Jack’s class they began to learn American Sign spontaneously. To Jack’s surprise, and without his coaching, they began to include Andy in their conversations. They even translated for Andy on the play ground. Andy, who had been in a play group, had not done well previously. Only his family had learned to sign. The other children in the play group had often ignored Andy. For the first time Andy was being included by his peers. Andy blossomed from a painfully shy child, to a class clown and a popular kid. Now he frequently used his powers of observation and his uncanny ability to make connections to lead class discussions. Especially in history. This was another reason Jack had a special place in his heart for Andy. Jack’s favorite subject was history.

As the clock struck 9:30 am Jack took a mental roll call. All the children were present with the exception of Tanner. Tanner was flighty and frequently late. It was not that Tanner did not enjoy school. Quite the contrary. He did well in school and with little apparent effort. But he was very introverted and seemed to live in his own world at times. When he did speak he came out with great insights. Tanner was quite obviously talented at both math and art. He created realistic works of people out of the primitive clay they had at the school. He had a wonderful sense of form and composed painting that were masterful and full of emotion. He immediately understood mathematical concepts far ahead of even Andy. Jack knew that Tanner would be a famous physicist or artist some day. Some profession where time and appointments were not an issue. In the meantime, Tanner had to be reminded not to disrupt the class any more than necessary. The first day of school almost always resulted in a private conversation with Tanner.

“Welcome back everyone. Did you all get my e-mail?” Although Andy was an expert at lip reading by now, Jack’s hands moved reflexively as he spoke. There were several murmurs of ascension and several papers were produced. “Good. Then we will start our first lesson in history.

“Previously we have looked at world history and our own nation’s history. This year we are going to examine the history that most closely shaped our current time. As you all know this time in history is called the Great Catastrophe. It is a violent and unpleasant part of our history that we will be studying. When things are calm and orderly, historians are able to give us many views of the past. We can see our past through many pairs of eyes.

“However, when things are not so calm and society is breaking down and rebuilding itself, sometimes it is harder to see history as clearly. Today we will see an example of how history sometimes does not serve us as well as we would like.”

Jack produced a jar with small scraps of paper in it. “Each of you will draw from this jar one piece of paper and read it aloud. Then you will do what the instructions of the piece of paper say.”

Jack held the jar out and Tinashe took the first slip out of the jar.

“Your home and all of your belongings were destroyed when your house burned down in the wild fires of the early 21st century.” she read “You had only minutes to evacuate your home and took very little with you. None of your personal papers survived. Throw your homework into the fire.” Her head snapped up to look at Jack in disbelief. “Your not going to grade my homework? Your not even going to read it?”

“No. I don’t get to see what you wrote.” Jack told her gently. “That is an unfortunate loss for me. I will never know what happened to you this summer.” Jack nodded toward the flame.

She hesitated with the paper in her hand staring into the flame. Farid chuckled at her behind his hand. She looked up at him and with determination threw the paper in the fire. Then she thrust the jar at Farid. He smiled at her as he took the jar. She turned back to the flames consuming her paper and watched, despondent, as it burned.

“I’m sorry Tinashe.” Jack began to feel regret at choosing this exercise, “Your history has not been saved for future generations.”

Farid took a scrap of paper our of the jar and opened it. He read, “You were imprisoned for speaking out against your government. Your home was ransacked by government agents. They took all of your personal writings and both your possessions and you were never seen again. Put your homework in the fire.” Farid also looked up stunned, but he lifted the paper out of her lap and threw it in the fire without complaint.

“Do they all say that?”, he asked.

“No they are all different.”

“No I mean do they all make us burn our work?”

“No” Jack said flatly.

Just then Tanner arrived.

“Tanner. Go get a seat and come and join us.” Jack said in an even tone of voice. Tanner hurried off as Renae learned that she too did not survive the ravages of time. Tanner came out of the room to see Renae throw her paper into the fire. He paused with his chair in his hand on the way to the fire and then Jack held out the jar and told him to take a slip and follow the instructions. Tanner sat his chair next to Andy’s and did as he was told. He read, “You were walking home from school and came upon a street demonstration. You walked a while with the mob of people because it was exciting and you wanted to know why they were so angry. Then the police came and a fight broke out. You were hit in the head by a stray rock and died before you could write anything of value. Put your homework in the fire.” He looked up and grinned.

“Go ahead, Tanner. Put your paper in the fire.”

Tanner blushed and mumbled, “I’m sorry Mr. Randell. I forgot to do the assignment.”

Jack let a sigh escape him. “See me after class Tanner.” No effort was ever made to shame him in front of his peers. Discipline was never conducted in front of other students. Class community was to be maintained at all cost as a disruption in a child’s sense of community at such a young age would disrupt their sense of community in adulthood. Half of the work of the school was to establish a sense of community in each citizen.

Tanner nodded and looked down at his shoes. Despite the seeming lack of discipline Tanner was devastated not to have pleased his educator, whom he dearly loved.

Next was Miriam. She looked at the jar with genuine apprehension and finally took a piece of paper out of it. She looked at the slip and let out a squeal of delight. Aloud she read, “Your diary was found by your grand daughter several years after your death and given to a prestigious museum. Keep your paper and present it to the class when everyone has had their turn.” Miriam bounced in her chair clinging tightly to the slip that granted her paper reprieve.

One by one the rest of the class put their papers into the fire and watched them burn.

When the last paper was in flames Jack asked Miriam to read her report.

Miriam stood. Standing was optional but she was very excited. She reached in her back pack and brought out her computer. It was a small, flat square about 5 inches across. She unfolded it twice to a 10 inch paper thin square. She laid it on the ground and pressed a button. Pictures began to float above the square.

She then read from her paper. “We went to Europe over the break with my Dad on business. This is us on the transcontinental train. And there we are getting on the plane…”

The train did not inspire any excitement, because most of the children had been on a train at some point in their lives. But planes were a very rare source of transportation. The children of course had seen pictures of planes before but they had never known anyone who traveled on one. With oil being more difficult to come by and the pollution tax on such fuels increasing every year, this sort of travel was abandoned for cyber travel in most situations. Only rarely did businessmen travel physically between continents. Leisure travel was also at a high premium.

Unlike times gone by, there were only a handful of transcontinental airports. The idea was to get people out of the air as quickly as possible to save fuel and spare the carbon penalties as much as possible. The airports were on the edges of the continents. Trains took passengers to their final destinations. With train speeds increased to 350 mph over land they rivaled the jet speeds anyway and were an infinitely more comfortable way to travel as Miriam was now showing the class. She had a picture of the interior of the plane. She was explaining how the passengers were belted in and not allowed to walk about for all 16 hours of the travel time except to go to the bathroom and there was no room to sleep on the plane. The class was duly impressed by the stamina air travel took.

“There we are landing in Portugal….”

Miriam showed them a picture of her family as they arrived in Portugal. They did indeed look bedraggled. They immediately got on another train to France where Miriam’s father apparently had such pressing business that he had to attend in person. After a week in Paris her father rejoined the family and they spent a second week sight-seeing Europe. Since the business had spent so much to fly them there, the family had decided to make good use of the time and got vacation time after the business part of the trip was done.

With most goods being used locally due to the transportation costs each destination had started to develop their own food and customs once again. Such diversity was not lost on Miriam and she shared her experience with the class. Most of the children had only traveled within the local few states radius. Very few, if any, had crossed the Great American Desert to the East Coast. Even the difference between the accent and customs of the East and West coast of the United States was becoming more pronounced again.

“So now this is our account of the history of summer vacations. That is what will represent our group for generations to come. What do you think?” Jack asked as Miriam took her seat again.

“Well its not at all like summer most of the time.” Farid put in. “I mean no one else went to Europe any other summer including Miriam. People will think that we all jetted around and had a grand time in the summer. I had a job. I did a lot of hard work. No one will see that.”

“Yeah. No one else I know got to go to France.” Will confirmed.

“We worked on the house and the community garden all summer.” Svana said wistfully looking at Miriam.

“I got to go to the Regional Congress and that was a big deal. And now people are going to think that is nothing.” bemoaned Rupa. Miriam beamed at that comment.

“So are you saying that Miriam is being dishonest with her version of history?” Jack asked.

Miriam wheeled around with denial all over her face but Jack held up his hand to her and instead pointed to Andy who had started to sign a response.

“I think Mimi is telling the truth.” he signed. He still could not speak clearly and was embarrassed about his speech. “It’s just that she doesn’t have all of the truth. So when we study history we are getting truth but not the whole truth. History is like that. It is made up of a series of partial truths.”

“Do you think that who gets to speak in history is as random as this?” Jack inquired.

“No.” Farid chimed in. “It was like the slips of paper said. If you didn’t agree with your government or you lived somewhere that a disaster was likely or there was a lot of chaos, then you had less of a chance of getting to speak.”

Jack decided it was time for a break. “Very good class. Nice discussion.” The class put their chairs back in the class and Jack sent them to their music/dance lessons.

The children filed to out and Jack set to cleaning the room for the day. There were no janitors at the school or for that matter anywhere. Tasks that were considered menial were split up and recombined with more meaningful work so that no group of people was given work that was too mind numbing. All people in a society had to have work that stimulated the mind so that they would be sharp enough to contribute to governance. So part of Jack’s day was spent cleaning. He would also spend time cooking and gardening in the school garden. Now that his class was older they joined him in the garden and kitchen so that they could learn these vital skills. In fact after he straightened and swept the room he would join his class in the school kitchen where they would prepare the meal for themselves and the younger children. Later today they would plan the menu for this months meals as it was their turn to do so.©

The Concepts Behind the Fiction:

1.) Warning: You May Become Uncomfortable with this Week’s Content

When I started this site the objective was not to give you a bunch of links with an overwhelming amount of information but to give you concepts and ideas to spur your imagination; to give you something to consider and converse about. To that end, not all of the concepts discussed here have hard cold evidence behind them. Some of them are more challenging to conceptualize and more opinion driven. Today’s episode is going to be one of those chapters. The views and opinions expressed here are going to be new material to most readers and so I can only provide the briefest introduction. These concepts and opinions may make many readers uncomfortable. To which I reply “good”. It is when we are uncomfortable that we learn and grow the most.

2.) Truth is Stranger than Fiction. Who knew?

First let me say that my entire family is involved in education to some degree or another. ( I am the black sheep of the family.) What follows is NOT an attack on teachers. Teachers are dedicated people who do an impossible job for a pittance. This is a discussion of an American institution that teachers singly or en masse do not have the power to control. Control of such an institution must come from all of us.

You might feel that a teacher would never spend the kind of time necessary to bury “artifacts”, or that children would not be nearly smart enough or creative enough to come up with a Techno Nation bombing an Elven Nation and a United Nations intervention. You would be wrong. This part of the story I actually did not create. Truth, it appears, is actually stranger than fiction. These experiences occurred at my daughter’s remarkable school. The school was taught by teachers who were not certified in anything. It was taught with multiple ages and levels in the same straw bale room. The room had a paper mache tree in the center and the ceiling was painted with leaves. Half of the room had desks. The other half had pillows and couches. The teacher brought her dog to class every day.

There was also a traditional state run school in our town. The school district hated the “hippie” school, as my daughter and her friends dubbed it, because it took students away from the traditional school and therefore less tax money was available for their school. They argued that the teachers were not certified and therefore were not qualified to teach. They were finally successful in destroying the school through a series of legal and financial challenges. I can not tell you the tears I shed for the hippie school. Since then, I am happy to report the hippie school has been restarted with a class of 5-7 year old children. The school district in incensed.

When the hippie school collapsed, the children were assimilated into the traditional school. They immediately complained that they were bored. The traditional school, after some resistance, moved most of them forward a grade. They are now graduating from high school. Most of them are in the upper quarter of their class. The valedictorian is from the hippie school. Most of them have scholarships to college.

When my daughter went to the hippie school she was never late. She went when she did not feel well and was tired. She loved school and could not wait to get there. When she went to traditional school her interest in school stopped. She is frequently late. Always bored. And considers it full of busy work and not much else. On and off through the years we have discussed home schooling or taking her GED and going directly to college without finishing traditional high school. We have decided not to do this because there is a social component to school as well, that she would miss if she left traditional school. My daughter’s current rank in school in 23/287. She has a merit scholarship to college. It is clear to me that the hippie school is to thank for this and not the traditional school. This is why some of my mother’s friends tell me they prefer to homeschool their children with Sight Word Worksheets and other great online teaching resources they can find. Apparently, it better facilitates the intellectual growth of their children because they can better tailor education to their level and needs.

My daughter also has a boyfriend who scored in the 99% on the SAT test and scored 100% on the math portion. He did not go to the hippie school, he is just smart. Unfortunately he is in danger of failing to graduate high school because he can not contain his boredom long enough to attend his classes! Without the diploma he can not enter college or get scholarships. He is considering getting a GED and going to community college. I see this as such a waste.

3.) Education or Indoctrination:

   If you obsess about conspiracy, what you’ll fail to see is that we are held fast by a form of highly abstract thinking fully concretized in human institutions which has grown beyond the power of the managers of these institutions to control. If there is a way out of the trap we’re in, it won’t be by removing some bad guys and replacing them with good guys.

   John Taylor Gatto

Believe it or not, our public education system was created for all of the wrong reasons. It was felt that immigrants were not sufficiently Americanized to know their place in America. People in this era were outrageously open about their racism and made no effort made to conceal their reason for compulsory school. Forced public education was started to indoctrinate the poor and immigrant children in order to make a future rebellion less likely. This had the additional benefit of imposing a fixed culture on these children that made them easier to control and employ.

OK…not our proudest moment, but that was a long time ago. Surely the purpose of public education, which is no longer compulsory, has changed. Not according to John Taylor Gatto. He sees public education as needlessly boring so that children get used to a life of rote menial tasks with no control of their situation.

   Kids at New York’s Abraham Lincoln High School told me their teachers are so dull students fall asleep in class. ABC News

This prepares them to be part of the working class. A few students will excel despite the boredom and these students will go to college and become part of the coordinator (managerial) class. The elite class need not worry about high school or college as they are guaranteed to succeed without education (i.e. George Bush’s SAT scores: verbal: 566; math: 640. John McCain graduated 894th in a class of 899 at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.). Thus education is kept needlessly repetitive and stifling.

   School became jail-time to escape if you could, arenas of meaningless pressure as with the omnipresent “standardized” exams, which study after study concluded were measuring nothing real.

   For instance, take the case of Bill Bradley. . .

   and George W. Bush, two of the four finalists in the 2000 presidential race. Bradley had a horrifying 480 on the verbal part of his own SATs, yet graduated from Princeton, won a Rhodes Scholarship, and became a senator; Bush graduated from Yale, became governor of Texas, and president of the United States-with a mediocre 566.

   If you can become governor, senator, and president with mediocre SAT scores, what exactly do the tests measure? John Taylor Gatto

I felt that I and the other parents whose children went to the hippie school were alone in our thoughts about the direction public schooling was heading until I heard John Taylor Gatto on www.unwelcomeguests.org. Had I not seen any other type of education I might have dismissed Gatto as an angry nut case. Given what happened to the hippie school, and the children who went there, I have to say he might be right.

   Human resource children are to be molded and shaped for something called “The Workplace,” even though for most of American history American children were reared to expect to create their own workplaces.

   In the new workplace, most Americans were slated to work for large corporations or large government agencies, if they worked at all.

   This revolution in the composition of the American dream produced some unpleasant byproducts. Since systematic forms of employment demand that employees specialize their efforts in one or another function of systematic production, then clear thinking warns us that incomplete people make the best corporate and government employees.

   Earlier Americans like Madison and Jefferson were well aware of this paradox, which our own time has forgotten. And if that is so, mutilation in the interests of later social efficiency has to be one of the biggest tasks assigned to forced schooling. John Taylor Gatto

   Once the best children are broken to such a system, they disintegrate morally, becoming dependent on group approval. A National Merit Scholar in my own family once wrote that her dream was to be “a small part in a great machine.” It broke my heart. What kids dumbed down by schooling can’t do is to think for themselves or ever be at rest for very long without feeling crazy; stupefied boys and girls reveal dependence in many ways easily exploitable by their knowledgeable elders. John Taylor Gatto

Judge for yourself: His initial book can be downloaded at An Underground History of American Education. If that is too much for you, Lyn Garry will read it to you like a bedtime story at www.unwelcomeguests.orgArchived Episodes #340-372.

Gatto is not the only one to feel that schooling is a serious problem for us. I was watching the TED conferences when I ran across a humorous and fascinating Brit discussing the issue:

   Something strikes you when you travel around the world: Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. It doesn’t matter where you go. You’d think it would be otherwise, but it isn’t. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts–everywhere on Earth. And in pretty much every system, too, there is a hierarchy within the arts. Music and art are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics.

   Why not? I think math is very important, but so is dance. Children dance all the time, if they’re allowed to. What happens is that as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. Then we focus on their heads, and slightly to one side.

   If you were an alien from another planet visiting Earth and you asked yourself what public education here is for, you’d have to conclude, if you look at the output — who really succeeds, who does everything that they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the winners — that its whole purpose, throughout the world, is to produce university professors.

   I like university professors, but we shouldn’t hold them up as the exemplars of all human achievement. They’re just a form of life. But they’re rather curious, and I say this out of affection for them. Typically, they live in their heads. They live up there, and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied, in a kind of literal way. They look on their body as a form of transport for their heads. It’s a way of getting their head to meetings.

   If you want real evidence of out-of-body experiences, by the way, get yourself along to a conference of senior academics and pop into the nightclub on the final night. And there you’ll see it: grown men and women writhing uncontrollably, off the beat, waiting for it to end so they can go home and write a paper about it.

   So our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. And there’s a reason for that. The whole system came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So you were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid, things you liked, on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that. Don’t do music; you’re not going to be a musician. Don’t do art; you won’t be an artist. Then: benign advice. Now: profoundly mistaken.

   Academic ability has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. The consequence is that many highly talented, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at was not valued in school, or was actually stigmatized……..

   We know three things about intelligence. First, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically, we think in abstract terms, we think in movement and in many other ways, too.

   Second, intelligence is dynamic. Look at the working processes of the human brain: Intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into unrelated compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

   And the third thing about intelligence is that it’s distinct. I’m doing a new book at the moment called Epiphany, which is based on a series of interviews with people about how they discovered their talent.

   Sir Ken Robinson is an international leader in creativity, innovation, and educational reform and author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative. This article is based on a talk he gave at the 2006 TED conference.

For more information:

John Taylor Gatto in Classrooms of the Heart 1991

John Taylor Gatto interviewed by Lennart Mogren

Speech by Sir Ken Robinson

Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity and Business

Sir Ken Robinson in Parent’s Choice Magazine

Sir Ken Robinson on Education and the Economy

The Parent’s Choice Movement

Education Reform

Monty Neil on KPFA’s Against the Grain

4.) Are we getting Our Money’s Worth?

   Incredibly, for a century and a half, there has been little substantive change in public education. In America’s public classrooms, the classic approach remains essentially that same as it was years ago: one-size-fits-all with a core curriculum of subjects presented to all students in largely the same manner. Students are divided by age and taught according to this curriculum. And they are promoted based on their perceived mastery of subjects. Or worse, they are advanced as part of a tacit social promotion system that serves no one-particularly no the children themselves.

   Today, traditional public education is failing far too many of America’s children. Yes, there are great public schools and even greater public school teachers. But the reality of really having nearly one half of kids who enter high schools dropping out suggests that meaningful change must take place. Kevin Chavous

The “hippie school” was built by the parents that educated their children there. It was also run by them. I attended a monthly meeting with the teacher and all the other parents talking about the curriculum. I also went to quarterly meetings talking about fund raising and paying the light bill. The building was actually built be previous students as a lesson. It was maintained by my daughter and her classmates as a lesson. (She learned to plaster cracks in the walls of the aging straw bale building.) The place ran on a shoestring. And yet it was the best education my daughter could have ever hoped for.

   And while many people say, “We need to spend more money on our schools,” there actually isn’t a link between spending and student achievement.

   Jay Greene, author of “Education Myths,” points out that “If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved … We’ve doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years, and yet schools aren’t better.”ABC News

   [I just want to note that I am not condoning under paying teachers.]

The U. S. spends on the high end per student for primary education. Yet we seem to be dropping further and further behind the rest of the world.

   At age 10, American students take an international test and score well above the international average. But by age 15, when students from 40 countries are tested, the Americans place 25th. ABC News

   Only six percent of America’s high school students study calculus. In Germany, that figure is forty percent. In Japan, 90 percent! Kevin Chavous

The problem, of course does not stop with primary education. In my local paper, on the day I am writing this as a draft, is an AP article by Justin Pope that states that the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education did a study to see how well higher education is serving the public. Of the 50 states, 49 flunked the study. The price of higher education was too high for the average person to afford. Only California scrimped by with a C because it does have affordable junior colleges although I can tell you from experience its’ university system is far from affordable. The cost of going to college has gone up as far as 55% of the income of the lower 5% of wage earners, placing it far out of reach for lower and middle income people. On the other hand if your income is in the top 5% then you need only commit 9% of your income to educating your children. If you take out a loan to pay for college you had better make sure that you can get a job with the education and that this job will pay enough for you to repay the loan. Thus starting your life as a debt slave.

5.) Yes but is it a conspiracy or just poor management?

   “The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values.”

   – Zbigniew Brzeninski, National Security Adviser to Jimmy Carter and President Bush as co-chairman of the Bush National Security Advisery Task Force; executive director of the Trilateral Commission

I really thought Gatto was pretty paranoid until I read a report recommended to me by Noam Chompsy written for the Trilateral Commission in 1975; The Crisis of Democracy. Unbelievably, the “crisis” is that there is too much democracy and that the people began to demand things of their rulers that are inconvenient. From the report:

   The democratic surge of the 1960s raised once again in dramatic fashion the issue of whether the pendulum had swung too far in one direction….

   Crisis of Democracy

   The vitality of democracy in the United States in the 1960s produced a

   substantial increase in governmental activity and a substantial

   decrease in governmental authority. By the early 1970s

   Americans were progressively demanding and receiving more

   benefits from their government and yet having less

   confidence in their government than they had a decade

   earlier.

   III. THE DECLINE IN GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORITY

   1. The Democratic Challenge to Authority

   The essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a

   general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and

   private. In one form or another, this challenge manifested

   itself in the family, the university, business, public and

   private associations, politics, the governmental bureaucracy,

   and the military services. People no longer felt the same

   compulsion to obey those whom they had previously

   considered – superior to themselves in age, rank, status,

   expertise, character, or talents. Within most organizations,

   discipline eased and differences in status became blurred.

   Each group claimed its right to participate equally-and

   perhaps more than equally-in the decisions which affected

   itself. More precisely, in American society, authority had

   been commonly based on: organizational position, economic

   wealth, specialized expertise, legal competence, or electoral

   representativeness. Authority based on hierarchy, expertise,

   and wealth all, obviously, ran counter to the democratic and

   egalitarian temper of the times, and during the 1960s, all three

   came under heavy attack. In the university, students who

   lacked expertise, came to participate in the decision-making

   process on many important issues. In the government,

   organizational hierarchy weakened, and organizational subordinates

   more readily acted to ignore, to criticize, or to

   defeat the wishes of their organizational superiors. In politics

   generally, the authority of wealth was challenged and

   successful efforts made to introduce reforms to expose and

   to limit its influence. Authority derived from legal and

   electoral sources did not necessarily run counter to the spirit

   of the times, but when it did, it too was challenged and

   restricted.

   During the 1960s the balance of power between

   government and opposition shifted significantly. The central

   governing institution in the political system, the presidency,

   declined in power; institutions playing opposition roles in the

   system, most notably the national media and Congress,

   significantly increased their power.

   To the extent that the United States was governed

   by anyone during the decades after World War II, it was

   governed by the president acting with the support and

   cooperation of key individuals and groups in the Executive

   Office, the federal bureaucracy, Congress, and the more

   important businesses, banks, law firms, foundations, and

   media, which constitute the private establishment. In the

   twentieth century, when the American political system has

   moved systematically with respect to public policy, the

   direction and the initiative have come from the White House.

   When the president is unable to exercise authority, when he

   is unable to command the cooperation of key decision makers

   elsewhere in society and government, no one else has

   been able to supply comparable purpose and initiative. To

   the extent that the United States has been governed on a

   national basis, it has been governed by the president. During

   the 1960s and early 1970s, however, the authority of the

   president declined significantly, and the governing coalition

   which had, in effect, helped the president to run the country

   from the early 1940s down to the early 1960s began to

   disintegrate…..

   Second, the effective operation of a democratic political

   system usually requires some measure of apathy and

   noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.

   In the past, every democratic society has had a marginal

   population, of greater or lesser size, which has not actively

   participated in politics. In itself, this marginality on the part

   of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has also

   been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to

   function effectively. Marginal social groups, as in the case of

   the blacks, are now becoming full participants in the political

   system. Yet the danger of overloading the political system

   with demands which extend its functions and undermine its

   authority still remains. Less marginality on the part of some

   groups thus needs to be replaced by more self-restraint on the

   part of all groups.

So what is it that caused such a social upheaval and unreasonable demands? The masses it seems became too educated. Again from the report:

   The single most important status variable affecting

   political participation and attitudes is education. For several

   decades the level of education in the United States has been

   rising rapidly. In 1940, less than 40 percent of the population

   was educated beyond elementary school; in 1972,75 percent

   of the population had been either to high school (40

   percent) or to college (35 percent). The more educated a person

   is, the, more likely he is to participate in politics, to have

   a more consistent and more ideological outlook on political

   issues, and to hold more “enlightened” or “liberal” or

   “change oriented” views on social, cultural, and foreign

   policy issues. Consequently the democratic surge could be

   simply the reflection of a more highly educated populace.

So what is the solution? Again the Trilateral Commission Report:

   5. Reexamination of the Cost and the

   Functions of Higher Education

   The 1960s saw a tremendous expansion in higher

   education throughout the Trilateral societies. This expansion

   was the product of increasing affluence, a demographic bulge

   in the college-age group, and the increasingly widespread

   assumption that the types of higher education open formerly

   in most societies (with the notable exception of the United

   States) only to a small elite group should “by right” be made

   available generally. The result of this expansion, however, can

   be the overproduction of people with university education in

   relation to the jobs available for them, the expenditure of

   substantial sums of scarce public monies and the imposition

   on the lower classes of taxes to pay for the free public

   education of the children of the middle and upper classes.

   The expansion of higher education can create frustrations

   and psychological hardships among university graduates who

   are unable to secure the types of jobs to which they believe

   their education entitles them, and it can also create

   frustrations and material hardships for nongraduates who are

   unable to secure jobs which were previously open to them.

   In the United States, some retrenchment in higher

   education is already underway as a result of slower growth in

   enrollments and new ceilings on resources. What seems

   needed, however, is to relate educational planning to

   economic and political goals. Should a college education be

   provided generally because of its contribution to the overall

   cultural level of the populace and its possible relation to the

   constructive discharge of the responsibilities of citizenship? If

   this question is answered in the affirmative, a program is then

   necessary to lower the job expectations of those who receive

   a college education. If the question is answered in the

   negative, then higher educational institutions should be

   induced to redesign their programs so as to be geared to the

   patterns of economic development and future job

   opportunities.

   Up to now the dominant social democratic or even liberal

   schools of thought have focused on proposals for industrial

   democracy modeled on patterns of political democracy. They

   have rarely succeeded, and when they did the proposals did

   not appear very effective, basically because they were

   running against the industrial culture and the constraints of

   business organization. This movement has found a new

   impetus, especially in Western Europe, with strong popular

   pressure for self-management and the rediscovery by the left

   of nationalization as a key argument in the political arena.

   New thinking and experimentation has occurred, which should be

   widely encouraged and subsidized. Industry should be given

   all possible incentives to move ahead and implement

   gradually new modes of organization. This is the only way

   now to alleviate the new tensions that tend to mark

   post-industrial society in this area and which otherwise

   nourish irresponsible blackmailing tactics and new inflationary

   pressures. At the same time this is a necessary step to

   restore the status and dignity of manual work and therefore

   help solve the more and more acute problem of the immigrant

   workers in Western Europe, which might otherwise

   become equivalent to the racial problems of the United

   States.

Ok. So let me paraphrase. In the 1960’s we had too much democracy and it interfered with the authority of the President and the government. This was bad for business. There were several things that were thought to cause this but among them was a press that was too free and a population that was too educated. The solution was to make people more apathetic by controlling the media and limiting their education to conform to the needs of industry. Lower job expectations. Oh and by the way make manual labor glamorous again. This way you control the demands (“blackmail”) on the government made by “marginal groups” (minorities) so the government can do its real job; helping big business. Hmm…..well the media sources have definitely been tamed. Given my experience with my daughter, I am inclined to say the educational institutions have also been undone.

The Trilateral Commission’s Own Site

Crisis of Democracy

The Trilateral Commission and Globalization

The Trilateral Commission and Carter

More on the TLC

6.) Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

I have a confession to make. The history lesson given by Jack in this piece is not my own invention. I heard about it from a friend who read it in a book; The Fifth Life of the Catwoman by Kathleen Dexter. After I wrote this I came across the novel in a used book store, and so I recently read it. It is a terrific story. In fact I liked it so much, I made it the Fictional Selection for this week.

Further Reading:

Audio/Video Selection:

Science Fiction Selection:

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  1. I’ve been beaten by Dharma.  I have tried for three days to publish this with the Pix and Links and it will publish the preview no prob.   But then when I try to publish the actual piece all of the links and html drop out.

    I give up.  I tried talking to admin and tried redoing it every way I know how.  

    So here it is without links and pix.  If you want the links go to my blog.  That is all I can do.

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