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کتاب: سلاح های آموزش جمعی / درس 7

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6_The Camino de Santiago


Let me confess from the start I’m on the board of advisors of an organization called TV-Free America. As a schoolteacher, I found that the kids who drove me crazy were always big TV watchers. Their behavioral profile wasn’t pretty. TV-addicted kids were irresponsible, childish, dishonest, malicious to one another; above all else they seemed to lack any sustaining purpose of their own, as if by consuming too many made-up stories, modeling themselves after too many men and women who were pretending to be somebody else, listening to too many talking hamburgers and too many explanations of the way things are (sponsored by oil companies and dairy councils) they had lost the power to behave with integrity - to grow up.

It was almost as if by stealing time children needed to write their own stories, television-like school itself - had dwarfed their spirits. When computers came along, I saw they often made the problem worse. Potentially, they were a better deal, because of the capacity to offer interactivity, but a majority of users I saw wallowed in porno, games spent playing against programs, not other people, and many spectator pursuits which required only consumption, not actively committed behavior.

Even with the Internet I saw how easy it was to cross the line into a passive state unless good discipline was exercised, and I knew from experience how hard that was to come by.

Casting about for a working hypothesis with which to fashion antidotes to the damage, I quickly abandoned preaching as a solution.

Whatever could be said against TV; games, the Internet, and all the rest, had been said to these kids so many times their minds refused to hear the words anymore. Relief would have to come from a different quarter; if these things were truly bad as I believed, if they diminished the intellect and corrupted the character as I felt, a solution would have to be found in the natural proclivity of the young to move around physically, not sit, before we suppress that urge with confinement to seats in school and with commercial blandishments to watch performers rather than to perform oneself

The master mechanism at work to cause harm was a suppression of natural feedback circuits which allow us to learn from our mistakes. Somebody trying to learn to sail alone in a small boat will inevitably tack too far left and too far right when sailing into a wind, when the destination is straight ahead, but practice will correct that beginner’s error because feedback will instruct the sailor’s reaction and judgment. In the area of mastering speech, with all its complex rhythms of syntax, and myriad notes and tones of diction, the most crucial variable is time spent in practice. And in both instances the more challenging the situation, the quicker that competence is reached.

The principal reason bureaucracies are so stupid is that they cannot respond efficiently to feedback. Think of school management, compelled by law to follow rules made long ago and far away - as if human situations are so formulaic they can be codified. Management resents feedback from parents, teachers, students, or outside criticism because its internal cohesion depends upon rules, not give and take.

The absolute necessity for feedback from everywhere in taking an education, (even from one’s enemies), forced me to look closely at how rigidly students were ordered about - in a way which made little use of their innate abilities to grow through feedback. My guess was that by restoring this natural biological circuitry, the hideous displays of media-sickened behavior among my students would decline. And the guess proved right.

Now you have the information you need to understand what made my Guerrilla Curriculum different from garden-variety “alternative” approaches - its target was inactivity (and even activity which didn’t significantly call feedback into play). Sufficient activity, all by itself and aimed in any direction, would cause the kids to voluntarily cut back on time spend staring at lighted boxes. My strong hunch was that the childish expressions of children had little to do with the content of media programming, and everything to do with a fatal calculus in which real experience is subtracted from young lives, and simulated experience added in its place.

I set out to shock my students into discovering that face to face engagement with reality was more interesting and rewarding than watching the pre-packaged world of media screens, my target was helping them jettison the lives of spectators which had been assigned to them, so they could become players. I couldn’t tell anyone in the school universe what I was doing, but I made strenuous efforts to enlist parents as active participants.Just as Shen Wentong broke many laws to bring the Phoenix steel plant to Shanghai three times faster than German engineers thought it could be done, I broke many to put this Guerrilla Curriculum into effect. From the first it delivered heartening results.

Plunging kids into the nerve-wracking, but exhilarating waters of real life - sending them on expeditions across the state, opening the court systems to their lawsuits, and the economy to their businesses, filling public forums with their speeches and political action - made them realize, without lectures, how much of their time was customarily wasted sitting in the dark. And as that realization took hold, their dependence on the electronic doll houses diminished.

######The Camino de Santiago

An important inspiration for this transformational curriculum came from a medieval pilgrimage road across northern Spain called the Camino de Santiago. Every year thousands of well educated, often accomplished people from all over the world, walk hundreds of miles along the way to the burial place of the Apostle James in Santiago de Compostela, a city in northwestern Spain. The custom began long ago, but in the modern era it has increasingly been adopted by people not religious in the usual sense, modern people estranged by the pressures of contemporary life. They make the pilgrimage to build a new relationship with themselves, to feel self-reliant, to be close to nature, to enjoy history and culture and give them time to reflect on things.

My assumption was that ifTV and computers had estranged my kids from themselves, their families, and nature, perhaps a similar pilgrimage could help them find a way to come back. Acting in conspiracy with parents who were as desperate as I was, I sent my 13-year-old students to journey alone on foot through the five boroughs of New York City.

Some walked the circumference of Manhattan, a distance of about 30 miles; others walked through different neighborhoods, comparing them, constructing profiles of the people and businesses in each from the clues ·of dress, speech, architecture, window displays - integrating these first-hand observations with interviews and library research (much of which can be Googled today).

Some kids mapped Central Park in its different aspects, some mapped great university campuses, business districts, churches, museums - some invaded such government departments as the board of education or police headquarters, but not on school trips. Individually. They described and analyzed what they saw there, wrote up guide pamphlets for others, attempted to master the character and utility of these places.

Nobody was forced into doing an expedition alone although that produced the maximum value, but all school year long a standing offer was available that anybody could get a day or two (or ten, although that required more cunning to get past the bureaucracy) away from school to explore something - as long as he or she was willing to walk alone and undertake some useful field of study.

######A Visitor’s Key to Iceland

Because my son-in-law was an Icelander, I was motivated to learn as much about that remote culture as I could. And in the act of doing private research I came upon another rich source of inspiration for the curriculum I was making up as I went along. Iceland has a weird and wonderful guidebook which someone lent me a copy of, A Visitor’s Key to Iceland. This unique book follows every road in that country, step by step, bringing the land itself and all its built environment fully alive: two chests of silver are believed hidden in this hill. Here a collapsing bridge allowed a murderer to escape - and proved his innocence! In this hot spring a famous outlaw boiled his meat. Over there is a farm whose occupants refused a pregnant woman shelter - they were buried alive by a landslide that same night.

Here is history at its best, animating everything, bringing the abstract lines on a map or the words in a history book to vivid life. With that model as my example, my kids produced visitor’s keys to the safest spots in Manhattan to hide out while playing hooky, to the great pizza parlors of Manhattan (and the rotten ones, too), to the architecture of brownstone apartment buildings in a ten block radius of the school, to the neighborhood swimming pools of the five boroughs (few and far between, but enough for a wonderful comparative guide, complete with sociological analyses of their cultural contexts and clientele). Many experiments involved extracting the hidden knowledge and points of view of old men and women, those confined to homes, and those who spent their time sitting on the benches in Riverside or Central Park.

Once this production-oriented transformation was underway, the glow of radiant screens lost some of its allure; it isn’t nearly as rewarding to watch actors as to be in action yourself. Reality, when tied to compelling intellectual work, causes feedback circuits in a majority of the young to produce substantial growth, so much so that I came to expect that the moral and behavioral cripples who walked through my classroom door in September would be well on their way to becoming interesting and productive young people by the following April. I don’t want to take credit for what must have been discovered when we lived in caves - accepting hard challenges head-on is a sine qua non of self-mastery and competence. It isn’t rocket science.

The biggest surprise for me was how easy this was to accomplish, it took neither talent nor money; anyone could duplicate my results. I won’t deny its hard work to try to pull off the trick with 130 kids a year, but a lot of effort is wasted in finding ways to circumvent the dead hand of school administration. In a system more congenial to learning (and less to social control) the thrill of doing the labor would more than outweigh the effort required. And, of course, if everyone in the society were on the same page about the necessity of developing intellect and character in the young (not weighting them down with chains), the work would be… child’s play.

Over the years my students launched so many useful projects and earned so many plaudits and prizes that I found myself showered with awards from the school establishment which had no idea how I got such results. When I tried to explain to the awards committees how little I had to do with the achievements, I suspect it was discounted as obligatory modesty, but these days when I have nothing more to prove to myself about who I am, I sincerely hope you’ll believe me.

Take your boot off the downtrodden necks of your children, study their needs not your own, don’t be intimidated by experts, re-connect your kids to primary experience, give off the game of winners and losers for a while, and you’ll get the same results I did. Maybe better.

Some inner clock is ticking in every life, warning us we have appointments to keep with reality: real work to do, real skills to learn, real battles to fight, real risks to take, real ideas to wrestle with. And a desperate need to keep death present in your imagination, to never forget how short and inevitable is the arc of your life.

For many years a variety of outside influences - television, computers and government schooling chief among them - have conspired to wean children away from their urgent need to be out and about. The end result has been a nation of angry, frightened, uncompassionate and incomplete boys and girls in place of men and women.

People sentenced to be incomplete, incompetent, and fearful will find ways to take vengeance on their neighbors while they continue to die by inches in front of an electronic screen. Restore what has been stolen and the problems of child-development warned about by experts will recede, as childhood itself vanishes into the sick Teutonic minds which spawned it.

Since the advent of schoolrooms and electronic screens, many of us never grow up. Too much of our precious trial and error period is wasted sitting in the dark. Being a mature being means living with a purpose, your own purpose: it’s about welcoming responsibility as the nourishment a big life needs; it’s about behaving as a good citizen - finding ways to add value to the community in which you live; it’s about wrestling with your weaknesses and developing heart, mind, and spirit - none of them properties of the spectator crowd.

Hitching the body and mind to screens reduces the attention span to quick takes arranged by strangers; it creates a craving for constant stimulation which reality can’t satisfy. Violence of one sort or another is the easiest way to still the gnawing hunger for stimulation that the undead feel. And that violence includes the violence of bizarre sex - the most important psychological product vended on the Internet.

Russian emigre Pitirim Sorokin, founder of Harvard’s sociology department, identified cultures of violence, such as our own, with its insatiable craving for war, as late stages of civilizations in terminal decline.

In all failing societies, respect for obligation and family declines along with compassion for one’s fellows - to be replaced by a preoccupation with amusement, diversion, and predation. Despite a carefully calculated propaganda barrage about steadily declining crime rates in recent years, we have four times the rate of violent crime in I999 than we did in I959. Four times the number of citizens in jail.

These remarkable increases in crime immediately followed the penetration of television into our culture.

As deeply as we seemed mired in these anti-life addictions - being wedded to machinery - ending them is, physically at least, as simple as pulling the plug. Show a TV-addicted young person that life is more interesting than its television substitute and nature will do the rest in time - but the operant term is to “show’; not to “tell’:

Many of my reservations about television apply to computer screens as well. How to avoid becoming an incompletely human extension of this technology while still enjoying its transcendental power to connect us in many new ways, independent of institutional intervention, is the greatest challenge of the 21st century.

If we threw away two of the four high school years and used the money to send everyone walking their own Camino de Santiago, it would help enormously to meet that challenge. It doesn’t have to be as spectacular a walk as George Meghan, the third-grade dropout, took when he walked alone from Tierra del Fuego to Point Barrow, Alaska in the 1970S, it needn’t be as spectacular a sail as high school dropout Tania Aebi took in the 1980s when she sailed around the world in a 26 foot boat, but there’s absolutely no reason every boy and girl in America shouldn’t have a significant personal Camino as part of schooling.

If the government won’t do that for you, you must do it for yourself.

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