استنلی چاق و لنکستر امیش

کتاب: سلاح های آموزش جمعی / درس 4

استنلی چاق و لنکستر امیش

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3_Fat Stanley and the Lancaster Amish

I Don’t Take Criticism Well

Separate schooling and education into compartments and useful distinctions jump out at you: schooling is a matter of habit and attitude training. It takes place from the outside in. Education is a matter of self-mastery, first; then self-enlargement, even self-transcendence -as all possibilities of the human spirit open themselves into zones for exploration and understanding.

There are points where the two conditions inform one another, but in schooling, somebody else’s agenda is always uppermost. This mind control aspect is what makes it so unpleasant, even pornographic to some, although not to the lost souls already broken to the game of pleasing others. You can easily compensate for a lack of schooling - the human record is full of stories of those who have done so in the past and those who continue to do so in the present - but without education you will stumble through life, a sitting duck for exploitation and failure, no matter how much money you make.

Mary Shelley wrote the story of Frankenstein at the age of 18, nearly 200 years ago. Today, it’s studied in college courses as a profound work of literature. That famous Stratford nobody, William Shakespeare, had little seat time in a classroom, and owned no books, apparently, yet four centuries after his death he remains an icon of global civilization. The list is a long one. Large accomplishments; little schooling. It’s quite rare for an inventive person in any field to trace success to school training.

Education must be largely self-initiated, a tapestry woven out of broad experience, constant introspection, ability to concentrate on one’s purpose in spite of distractions, a combination of curiosity, patience, and intense watchfUlness, and it requires substantial trial and error risk-taking, along with a considerable ability to take feedback from the environment - to learn from mistakes.

I once heard someone in my own family, who I once loved very much, say, “I don’t take criticism well;’ as if it were a boast, and I knew at that instant there was no way at all for her to grow in mind or character with that self-destructive attitude.

Let me tell you a little about fat Stanley, whose path crossed mine when he was thirteen. Stanley only came to class one or two days a month, and I knew that sooner or later he would be caught in the truancy net and prosecuted. I liked Stanley, not least because he never whined when other kids bothered him because he was fat -he simply punched them so hard in the head nobody ever bothered Stanley a second time.

I hoped to spare him the grim experience of becoming a social service case. So I asked him one day what he did on all those absences:” What he said changed my life. I never saw school the same way after Stanley spoke.

It seems Stanley had five aunts and uncles, all in business for themselves before the age of 21. His aim was to follow in their footsteps.

Even at 13, he had been made aware of time’s winged chariot hurrying near, that he had only eight years to make the miracle of an independent livelihood. One of the relatives was a florist, one a builder of unfinished furniture, one a deli owner, one had a little restaurant, one owned a delivery service.

Stanley cut school to work without pay for each these relatives, bartering labor in exchange for learning the businesses - and a whole lot more - working in the company of men and women who cared for him much more than any professional stranger would have.

It was a better educational package than whatever he missed cutting school, hands down. As he put it to me, man to man: “This way I get a chance to see how the different businesses work. You tell me what books I have to read and I’ll read them. But I don’t have time to waste in school unless I want to end up like you - working for somebody else:’ When I heard that, I couldn’t keep him locked up in good conscience. Besides, his mother agreed with Stanley. So I began to cover for him, logging him present when he was making floral bouquets or building furniture.

None of his other teachers ever asked; I think they were glad to be rid of him. To illustrate the powerful energies at work under his fat, deceptively cheerful exterior, Stanley crossed his “t”s with a pointed spear formation, not a simple line.

Right then and there I adopted his “t” cross as my own, to remind me what I learned from a truant that day.

A big secret of bulk-process schooling is that it doesn’t teach the way children learn; a bigger secret is that it isn’t supposed to teach self-direction at all. Stanley-style is verboten. School is about learning to wait your turn, however long it takes to come, if ever. And how to submit with a show of enthusiasm to the judgment of strangers, even if they are wrong; even if your enthusiasm is phony.

School is the first impression we get of organized society and its relentless need to rank everyone on a scale of winners and losers; like most first imp~essions, the real things school teaches about your place in the social order last a lifetime for most of us.

Work in classrooms isn’t important work. It fails to speak to real needs pressing on the young. It doesn’t answer burning questions which day-to-day experience forces upon young minds. Problems encountered outside school walls are treated as peripheral when in truth they are always central. The net effect of making work abstract - “subject”-centered - external to individual longings, fears, experiences, and questions, is to render students of this enforced irrelevance listless and indifferent.

The causes of sluggishness in the young have been well understood for a long time. 1’s tempted to say forever. Growth and self-mastery are reserved for those who vigorously self-direct, like Stanley: planning, doing, creating, reflecting, freely associating, taking chances, punching the lights out on your tormentors.

But this is precisely the agenda school is set up to prevent. Think of school as a conditioning laboratory, drilling naturally unique, one-of-a-kind individuals to respond as a mass, to accept continual ennui, envy and limited competence as only natural parts of the human condition. The official economy we have constructed demands constantly renewed supplies of leveled, spiritless, passive, anxious, friendless, family-less people who can be scrapped and replaced endlessly, and who will perform at maximum efficiency until their own time comes to be scrap; people who think the difference between Coke and Pepsi, or round hamburgers versus square ones, are subjects worthy of argument.

As I wrote those words in February of 2008, I had just finished listening to a commercial for high-style telephones on TV. It made fun of the unfortunate fools whose telephone styling was “soooo yesterday;’ as a pretty girl put it in the advertisement. It had never before occurred to me that among various inescapable worries like cancer, homelessness, unemployment, blindness, aging, poverty, crippling accidents and the like, there might actually be people so shallow the look of their telephone was an item of concern. Try to picture the”I.’ student who came up with that idea, and pray for his contemptible soul.

The Old Order Amish

I tried to imagine the Lancaster Amish or any of the Old Order Amish scattered around the world, worrying whether their telephones were in fashion. The small business, small farm economy of the Amish requires different qualities from the oncoming generations than we do: they ask for broad competence and a spirit of self-reliance, for dependability, honesty, neighborliness, compassion, piety, and commitment to the common good. Were we to adopt Amish values wholesale, our economy would nosedive.

As our economy has been shaped by its architects, it relies upon encouraging frenzy for novelty, for fashion is more than clothing, all the way to telephones. It’s an attitude which induces nonstop consumption in a heady atmosphere of “out with the old, in with the new;” to escape from shame, an addiction to the spirit of the Cole Porter song, Anything Goes. That’s the job the incessant bells perform in our schools: they teach a Monty Pythonesque relief at escape from responsibility, as they say in bell language, “And now for something completely different:’ Of course, you have to have deep experience with shame to fear it. But schools are an advanced workshop in that, too. The first day I taught, an old-timer told me how to control my classes. “Humiliation;’ she said. “That’s the only thing they fear. Shaine them. Encourage other kids to shame them, too:’

One famous insider of modern schooling back in the post-WWI days (when the model was hardening) called government schooling “the perfect organization of the hive:’ That was H. H. Goddard, chairman of psychology at Princeton. Goddard believed standardized test scores used as a signal for privileged treatment would cause the lower classes to come face-to-face with their own biological inferiority. It would be like wearing a public dunce cap. Exactly the function “special education” delivers today.

The pain of endless daily humiliation would discourage reproduction among the inferior, Goddard thought. Charles Darwin had implied this gently, but his first cousin, Francis Galton had virtually demanded it of responsible politicians on both sides of the Atlantic in his own writings.

In 1930, the Department of Superintendence of the National Education Association, a group then basking in reflected glory from the lessons of schooling in the new Soviet Union, declared the main purpose of schooling should be “effective use of capital;’ that valuable stuff through which “our unprecedented wealth-producing power has been gained:’ Now how do you suppose that idea got into circulation among the folks at a presumably left-wing organization? Talk about a house of mirrors! For the curious, you might want to buy Anthony Sutton’s Wall Street and the Rise of the Soviet Union.

Think for a second how “capital” can become “more effective:’

Surely it happens when the stuff capital allows to be produced is actually purchased by eager consumers, and when projects financed by capital receive little public resistance. Capital operates most efficiently in climates without public opposition, where critical thinking among ordinary people is in a primitive state, so the public becomes an inept opponent.

And is it so difficult to conceive of a plan which could be managed through the very institution - schooling - charged with development of the intellect? It isn’t by accident the symbol of Fabian socialism is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or that Fabians were from the comfortable classes of England, not from its marginalized dregs (as was often true of revolutionary socialists). This is a matter of some significance, though never held up to scrutiny in schoolbook histories. Where industrial management was content to kill the masses with brutal treatment, Fabians, led by Beatrice Webb, aimed to kill them with kindness. Hence we got the Welfare State.

But whatever the methods, aims were identical.

If school is to serve capital, then it must be a production line where children as raw material are shaped and fashioned like nails. To make capital more efficient would require capital accumulations be concentrated into fewer hands, not spread so widely among the populace. Even that the middle-class basis of American society give way a little, too. Or eventually, give way a lot.

Sixty-six years after this weirdly indiscreet slip by the NEA:s Department of Superintendence, Johns Hopkins University Press, in 1996, published a book, Fat and Mean, with surprising news about our by now well-schooled society. The book reported that while the American economy had grown massively through the 196os, real spendable working class wages hadn’t grown at all for 30 years. During the booms of the 1980s and 1990S, purchasing power had risen steeply for 20 percent of the population, but it actually declined for all the rest by 13 percent. After inflation was factored in, purchasing power of a working couple in 1995 was only 8 percent greater than for a single working man in 1905.

The steep decline in common prosperity over 90 years of intense forced schooling drove both parents from the home to work, depositing their children in the management systems of daycare and extended schooling. Despite a century-long harangue that schooling is the cure for unevenly spread wealth, exactly the reverse occurred.

Wealth was 250 percent more concentrated at century’s end than at its beginnings.

The Old Order Amish took a different road. Today a group of about 150,000 people - quite prosperous although virtually unschooled - a group held together by religion and common culture which came to the US with little more than the clothes on their backs. In his book, Amish Enterprise, published in 1995, author Donald Kraybill, a specialist in Amish life and a Johns Hopkins University academic, said the Amish challenge a lot of conventional assumptions about what it takes to enter business. They don’t have high school educations; they don’t have specialized training; they don’t use computers; they don’t use electricity or automobiles; they don’t have training in how to create a marketing plan.

But the resources they transfer over from the farm are an entrepreneurial spirit; a willingness to take risks; innovativeness; a strong work ethic; a cheap family labor pool; and high standards of craftsmanship. They don’t want their shops and industries to get large. This spreads entrepreneurship widely across the whole settlement.

More. The Amish are legendary good neighbors, first to volunteer in times of need in the larger non-Amish community. They open their farms to ghetto children and frequently rear handicapped children from the non-Amish world whom nobody else wants. They farm so well and so profitably without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, without tractors and other complex machinery, that Canada, Russia, France, Mexico, and Uruguay have hired them to help raise agricultural productivity outside the United States.

In Yoder v. Wisconsin (1976), the Amish did battle with the government of Wisconsin to preserve their way of doing things against bureaucratic assault. And although the decision looks like a compromise in which both parties won a little, a closer look will leave no doubt of which was the real winner.

Sick of Amish rejection of its schools, Wisconsin sought to compel Amish compliance with its secular school laws through its police power. The Amish resisted on these grounds: they said government schooling was built on the principle of the mechanical milk separator. It whirled the young mind about until both the social structure of the Amish community and the structure of private family life, were fragmented beyond repair. Schooling demanded separation of people from daily life, it divided the world into disciplines, courses, classes, grades and teachers who would remain strangers to the children in all but name. Even religion, separated from family and daily life, was just another subject for critical analysis and testing.

And the constant competition was destructive, leaving a multitude of losers, humiliated and self-hating, a far cry from the universal commitment Amish community life requires. The Amish wanted no part of these things. As a part of any compromise with Wisconsin, community leaders demanded the following:

I. Schools within walking distance of home;

  1. No school to be so large that pupils had to be sorted into different compartments and assigned different teachers every year; 3. The school year would be no longer than eight months;

  2. Important decisions would be under parental control, not that of bureaucrats;

  3. Teachers hired were to be knowledgeable in, and sympathetic to, Amish values and rural ways; 6. Children were to be taught that wisdom and academic knowledge were two different things.

  4. Every student would have practical internships and apprenticeships supervised by parents.

What can be learned from Stanley and the Amish? One thing, to discard any belief that the concept of mass man actually describes something real. We need to realize what our fingerprints and our intuition actually proclaimed long before DNA: no two people are alike, all”averages” are lies, and nobody can be accurately contained by numbers and graphs. The use of these against those too weak to resist is the bed of Procrustes brought into modern life. We need to abandon the notion - and punish those who retain it - that ordinary people are too stupid, irresponsible, and childish to look out for themselves.

We need to honor our founding documents and founding ideas, to accept that each one of us has the right to live as he or she deems wise, and if the way chosen would mean disaster for global corporations - as the way of the Amish and the Stanleys among us surely would - then that decision must be honored still.

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