Tuesday, December 14, 2010
This idea that males are inherently aggressive is, to be sure, incredibly harmful and silly. But this does not change that this male-dominated culture has waged war against women: their bodies, souls, and minds. Those males who reject this notion of entitlement and actually resist patriarchy are just too few and far between.
The notion that females are inherently nurturing is, in my opinion, more accurate, but I believe that all human beings, regardless of gender, are nurturing outside of this wretched system and both females and males can be aggressive when appropriate, nurturing when appropriate, and everything else when appropriate. Obviously.
That said, everywhere I look in this culture i see aggression winning over nurturing. I see women being shut up. I see men doing the talking, doing the action, and taking control. I see rape and gendered violence. I see an economy being run on the devouring of others, the destruction of the natural world, the penetration of the sacred. This economy is run by men and by women who have internalized these messages of domination over relationship. I see women being beat, raped, and murdered. I see men waging this war against women and against life.
If we want to stop this culture, we can start with patriarchy. If you are a male, look around and see the privileges you have. Look around and see the ways you participate in patriarchy, in the silencing and destruction of women and life and all of the relationships they entail. If you are a male, shut up and let her talk, because she has been told to shut up while being oppressed for too fucking long. If you are a male, find ways to support her before and especially during or after she has been in an abusive situation. Better yet, stop the culture that would allow this abuse to happen. Stop this abusive culture.
We all need to start confronting this wherever we see it. As long as women are silenced and destroyed, the battle against civilization rages on.
Philly's Pissed. Wonderful downloadable readings on supporting survivors of sexual assault, community responses, and combating sexism.
The Witch Burnings. A video on women's spirituality and genocide.
Healing the Earth Radio. A great, two-part interview with survivor-support activists.
Male Ally. A resource for men combating patriarchy, which i started.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Calling all earth-warriors with mad gifts!
I am in the process of compiling writings for a new zine about civilization and mental health. This zine will be put out both in print form and as a downloadable file on the internet. I am trying to put it out by sometime in January.
Here's some basic info.
Project: A new print- and e-zine about civilization and mental health. How civilization effects mental health and how to have the mental health we need to resist civilization. Hoping to provide some clear analysis as well as some mental health tips.
Submissions: I am willing to take anything! It could be poetry, essays, illustrations, pictures, stories, etc. Anything pertaining to the subject.
Deadline: January 7th, 2011
The Icarus Project
Please send all submissions to: kidcutbank [at] riseup [dot] net
Friday, December 3, 2010
As i'm reading, i'm weaving in my own experience of my experience to Laing's theses:
As adults, we have forgotten most of our childhood, not only its contents but its flavor; as men of the world, we hardly know the of the existence of the inner world: we barely remember our dreams, and make little sense of them when we do; as for our bodies, we retain just sufficient proprioceptive sensations to coordinate our movements and to ensure the minimal requirements for biosocial survival——to register fatigue, signals for food, sex, defecation, sleep; beyond that little or nothing. Our capacity to think, except in the service of what we are dangerously deluded into supposing is our self-interest and in conformity with common sense, is pitifully limited: our capacity even to see, hear, touch, taste and smell is so shrouded in veils of mystification than an intensive discipline of unlearning is necessary for anyone before one can begin to experience the world afresh, with innocence, love and truth
I just want to keep the fire, magic, and love in my heart. I want to know and feel what i love and what i hate at all times. I want to make my life a weapon against oppression, against this culture and be effective. I want to be honest and vulnerable and strong. I want to trust myself and resist confusion, denial, apathy, and subservience. I want to speak for the trees, sky, clouds. I want to speak to them and hear them speak to me. I want to resist seduction and embrace education.I want others to feel empowered by me, to feel loved by me and inspired by me. I want them to feel these things with me. I want to let go of control. I want to live in my body. I want to re-join life and re-learn the lessons that have been killed from me. I want my experience back. I will do what it takes to make all of this a reality.
What we call "normal" is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being.
My experience has been trampled on. My experience has been twisted. My experience has been stolen from me and i haven't even been able to face this. My experience has been replaced with images of cruelty, mutilation, emptiness, apathy, and alienation. My experience is "normal". My experience is like my peers' experience, like the drivers on main st.'s experience, like the minimum-wage dishwasher's experience. My experience has been wounded, but it is not obliterated: it can heal and it can live.
Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal.
Unless this culture is stopped, insanity will prevail. Unless we find our experiences again, we will submit to destructive myths that are not our own, continue to be alienated and un-whole. Unless we stand up and assume the responsibilities of human beings, those in power will wreck us all, individually and collectively. Unless we realize reciprocity, the planet will be destroyed and the alienation will be complete.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
What do you identify with? Is it those in power? Your television set? Your credit card or bank account?
Who do you identify with? Is it your family and neighbors? The land you live on? Your body?
These are some questions I’ve been asking lately and I think they may be the most important questions that I can ask myself at this time. I (and too many people I know) have been living our lives identifying with people, systemic powers, and abstract ideas without ever asking ourselves these questions. I have spent years with anxiety and apathy because I was confused about what (or whom) I wanted to identify with and what (or whom) my actions inherently identified me with.
I know now whom (and it is a “whom,” not a “what,” like this objectifying machine culture would like us to believe) I identify with. I identify with the trees outside of my window because I know our lives are intertwined. I identify with the ravens and squirrels playing in those trees and they teach me more than anyone else about love, play, relationship, sorrow, rage, and community. I identify with my neighbors who selflessly offer their wisdom, kindness, and encouragement to me. I identify with the river who I live near, in all of his struggles to survive the murderous poisons he is fed by factories, and more broadly, this culture. I identify with those my best friends because they fill my memories with struggle, support, and knowledge. I identify with the wind because she caresses my face and wisps away the ache in my head with soft whispers. I identify with the people who’s land this is because they spoke the language and sang the songs and lived the life of the land I live on and I must fight for them. I identify with my parents who teach me what it means to nurture. I identify with my dreams who are given to me as vital messages by the spirits and beings of this place. I identify with the earth who knows infinitely more than science could ever try to discover. I identify with the soil because he teaches me about growth and regeneration. I identify with my own experience, my own body, my own reciprocal relationship with this earth. I identify with life and those who fight for it against the insanity and disease brought upon the world by this culture and it’s members. I identify with life because it’s spontaneous and destroys boundaries placed by machines. I identify with life and all of the living because there is no “me” without them.
How is your identity formed?
Here i will post what i recall of a couple of dreams that visited me recently:
1) My parents came to visit me in my new trailer in the woods a state away. They stayed for only a little while and then left to go out for dinner. They were driving down the highway and i was driving a small areoplane around above their car. My parents and i both had walkie-talkies and we were speaking to each other. They told me to be careful. I tried turning to low (i think to get close to them or maybe to just try and show off) and i crashed. i didn't know exactly what happened, but when i came to there was a cop who told me the whole story. Then i was walking back on the road to my home in the woods, completely lost and confused. I was really scared and wanted to find my parents, but knew they were gone down the road.
2) There were raccoons and possums all over the house! They were everywhere! Some were running around, some (particularly the really chubby ones) were laying around on the sides and backs. My neighbor was trying to trap them in a way that i did not like, so i was trying to ask them to go and sometimes picking them up and leading them out so that he didn't get to them first.
(PS: For those who follow this blog, sorry i haven't posted much lately.)
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Nikki Craft, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen are collaborating in this music video about catastrophic climate change, arctic animals, and militant direct action. This ten minute video is a call on activists to discuss and seriously consider militant tactics and direct action in defense of all life on the planet.
Friday, September 17, 2010
We saw many new faces at the Collective. While our events are usually heavily attended by youth, this event saw quite the opposite: Only about 4 youth out of 25 or more people. This especially excited me, because sometimes i feel like we're alone in our "radicalism" and that we have no sympathizers in this ultra-conservative town. Well we had to wait until after the movie to see just how sympathetic these folks really were.
After the wonderful, heart-breaking and renewing 2 hours of the film, we pulled our chairs around for a discussion. It kind of went like this: "So, what are we going to do about this". Some folks talked about personal lifeboats, others talked about strengthening community, and--and this really made my evening--real, political resistance. We talked about a culture of resistance and how we're going to cultivate one. We talked about what people are already doing to resist this culture. We talked about what they are going to do. We talked about youth assuming positions at the front lines as leaders and about everyone else supporting them. We talked honestly and we talked constructively.
Now, i cannot express how happy i was to have this event. This is the FIRST time in my life that i have been able to speak in to a rather large group of people I don't know very well, and talk honestly about bringing down civilization. The responses were more than sympathetic, they were positive, constructive, voices of people whom are on our side, the side of the living. More, these people already knew that this culture was unsustainable and that we needed drastic change; they just thought they were alone.
Maybe this was just one night of awe-inspiring-unbelievable congregation; one night speaking of facing the apocalypse head on with resistance and love. Maybe all this was is discussion and we won't be seeing these folks much more after this. But, this was our first foot-in-the-door for building a culture of resistance. This was an opportunity that we seized and we will continue to seize any in the future. We all know this culture has to be stopped and we intend to get to work; let's hope these folks and more will be joining us in the fight.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Saturday, July 17, 2010
In all actuality, the same white supremacist assholes that are saying these things are immigrants themselves to this country. They have done the worst of deeds to this land; infinitely worse deeds than those they accuse of "wrecking the economy" or "spoiling the country". These hateful people have destroyed this continent and killed off almost all of the original inhabitants just to put in an insane system that replaced their peaceful and natural ways.
So, I was inspired to make this counter-sticker:
The person in the picture is Tecumseh, a prominent leader of the Shawnee clan who was relentless in his waging war against the white settlers who would steal and destroy the land. A real hero, in my opinion.
(Feel free to copy this and use it, however you'd like. I might make buttons with this image in the future.)
Friday, July 16, 2010
You're being suffocated. What do you do?
Do you ask to be let go? Your voice will never be listened to.
Do you wait for the person choking you to realize the wrong that they are doing? If they ever realize it at all it will only be when they have hit rock-bottom. But, abusers never seem to hit rock-bottom. Instead, the abused hit rock-bottom for them.
Do you try and philosophize all the reasons why this is and must be happening; all of the reasons why you deserve this or how it happening is inevitable at some point or another, so why not now?
Do you try to think of ways you can live with this "inconvenience" and then move on with your life, acknowledging that bearing this weight on your back is simply your duty in this world?
No. No. No!
You fight back because you want to live and you want to be free from what's killing you!
(Or, you want the planet to live and you want the planet to be free from what's killing it!)
cartoon by Stephanie McMillan
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
we overlook the landscape scarred and torn with concrete. beauty, awe, perfection--sold away and deformed. It really puts things into perspective looking on it from up here.
a young boy approaches us. he sits. before we know it, he's sobbing. he's suicidal, needs some help. what brought him to this point? why does he want to die? what kind of culture is this that makes everyone so ready to leave this world? he was a reminder that we need to fight for those being trampled over.
migratory birds are dying off. there's only 1% of native prairie grasses left and the birds are suffering because of it. these words i read on some fancy sing explaining the "natural" history of the land. so casually telling a tragedy.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
It has pretty much been going great in terms of what I wanted to accomplish. We almost have a community social space (Candlelight Collective). We have a community garden plot. A couple of us more "radical" folk have made friends with other, more "main-stream" activists in town. I'd say that community is being built.
But, lately I've been thinking about this:
Derrick Jensen has this great quote that goes "dismantle globally, renew locally". This means that we need both an above-ground and under-ground resistance movement. The under-ground do the dirty work of things like tearing down industrial infrastructure and directly confronting power structures, while the above-ground support those doing the under-ground work and simultaneously create a new culture. This is what Derrick calls "A culture of resistance".
In West Bend, there is definitely a new culture springing up, but i would not say it's one of "resistance". At least, it's not one that's resisting the larger cultural machine or one that's effectively creating political change in the area.
My issue with all of this is that I don't know if this is the type of community that I really want to be putting my efforts into creating. I mean, yes i want folks to create good relationships with each other and yes i want for there to be a positive space that nurtures people's creativity and dissent. I especially want for all the kids to befriend and start to learn from all the older folks. I want for all the humans here to start to learn and love the landbase and all it's non-human creatures. I want all of this. BUT, I don't know if i want to work towards creating an "alternative" culture that still exists within the mainstream and isn't doing much to alter the mainstream. I want a culture of resistance.
There's this group called Fertile Ground from Bellingham, WA that really inspires me. They explicitly say that they are "an above-ground arm of a culture of resistance". This means that they do educational work: informing as many people as they can about the destructiveness of this culture, the need to bring down civilization, and how to get involved in "deep green resistance". To me, this is vitally important. I could see myself, an organizer, doing things like that for the rest of my life (or civilization's life, preferably.)
My issue is that while i feel so strongly about protecting the natural world from industrial civilization and communing with the landbase, not many folks in my town are on the same page as me. They are great people and of course i want to keep discussing things like this with them and make it relevant and apparent locally, but it's tiring and sometimes makes me feel ineffective.
The big thing for me is that I know civilization for what it is and i know it's coming down sooner or later. I know in my bones that i want to spend my whole life fighting on the side of the living against this culture. I want to make this my life's legacy. I have already started by the simple act of pitting myself against the lies and alienation that this culture imposes upon me and trying to tear it out of me from it's roots. I no longer want to hold these life-affirming truths to the side as i submerge myself in denial and pretend the situation doesn't really concern me or isn't urgent. Of course I still want to be comfortable and have nice, relaxed friendships and just hang out in town and have fun, but i think my life (and the lives of others, including the whole fucking planet) is worth more than that. I feel a calling in me: i know these things and i need to act on them.
My situation is: i need to find how and where will i be most effective. I guess that's what i'll have to figure out.
(note: When talking about resistance in this post and on this blog, I do not mean participating in illegal activities. I have NEVER and will NEVER participate in any of the under-ground actions of the culture of resistance.)
Friday, June 25, 2010
Me: What projects are you currently active in?
I set up discussion groups to help people examine their lives and make personal changes that will benefit themselves and the environment. One course is called Voluntary Simplicity. I am also writing a novel. It's about a busker who believes he is stopping his parent's from an eco-terrorist activity. Actually, it's a comedy since they were not planting a bomb but rather planting a geocaching "treasure" to educate the CEO of a coal-fired power plant. Aside from writing being a lot of fun, it's a great opportunity for me to be a little didactic about the horrors of coal-fired power plants. Decades ago I went to college on a creative writing scholarship and I have never written anything since then, but I finally have something to say. I am distraught about what humans are doing to the planet—we are fouling our nest in horrible ways.
What’s your general philosophy on education?
People are learning machines. Not only are they learning all the time, they can't stop learning. They take in knowledge constantly from observation and experience. Then, if they use it, it becomes a part of them and it belongs to them. Its purpose makes sense to them. No one really teaches a baby to walk or talk. She just tries different things and then some things work and she keeps on doing that and continually adds more stuff. Pretty soon she's making sentences. Then she's using the past tense correctly, running, skipping and jumping, maybe even skateboarding all completely on her own. But why can she do that? It's because 1. She's relaxed. There's no test, no penalty, no threat if it isn't learned. 2. It's her idea. 3. She observes others doing it. 4. And she's motivated intrinsically by the value of the knowledge to increase her freedom and bring her additional enjoyable experiences. What should the teacher's role be? Resource. Advice giver when requested. Maybe motivator. We should be just like the parent who helps by holding bikes or gets training wheels, but basically lets the kid to figure out on his own. Learning to direct, propel, and balance a moving wheeled object beneath him is a complex task and means he can learn anything! The teacher should get out of the way.
We are all relative geniuses compared to what the society and schools expects from us and what they force us to do. I feel impatience when I see rooms full of exhausted, bored kids having to do tasks that are meaningless to them, taught without emotional content or real reasons for useful knowledge. Most of what kids learn that is truly valuable to them could be taught in two hours a day. Kids learn not to care because it seems as though the adults don't really care that they are running roughshod over the feelings of kids by making them sit still and do ridiculous tasks. That's the horrible hidden curriculum lesson schools teach.
How do schools fail kids by taking up valuable time?
Well, we undo kids' confidence first of all. The little kid knows he gets confidence from trying difficult stuff, but we take that away and supply him with meaningless, too easy tasks. Let me give you an example. I think that substantial vocabulary cannot be acquired in a meaningful manner by using word lists. It's a relatively worthless way to acquire vocabulary compared to the thousands of words you acquire ALL ON YOUR OWN WITHOUT HELP. You would do much better to read something a bit out of your league or hang out with someone intelligent and talk about subjects that interest you both. Your vocabulary will reflect your natural exposure. The surest way to get smart is to hang out with smart people. Over and over in studying how people learn we discover that they are influenced mostly by whom they choose to associate with. You are hanging out with someone in the deepest sense when you read because you are sharing his or her thoughts.
At the highest level of educators, say Rousseau and Dewey etc.--- the real thinkers and philosophers of education---those folk always pushed for using the student's own interest. They wanted teachers just acting as a resource guide or mentor. They were big on teachers providing field trips and being supportive of students doing activities on their own. But does anybody act on that? No, educators just pay lip service to those ideas.
When and why did you decide you were going to become a teacher?
There was one incident, specifically. I was volunteering at a school in Seattle in 1986 where kids were put because they committed crimes. I was assigned to help a kid who had been given a boring book. In the book, there were pages with pictures of objects and then words underneath. For instance there was a page with a picture of a wagon with the word “wagon” under it, etc. Well, the student was probably in about 8th grade but he was given reading material that was at a 2nd grade level, if that. He couldn’t stand how boring the material was and spent his time staring out the window, examining the cars below. So, I went ahead and got different books to read with him. One of them was a story about a car thief. He could relate because car theft was what landed him in that program. I wanted him to have success, so I waited until I got to a part in the story where the exchange was really simple: just a few words or so. I then happened to have gotten something in my eye and I shoved the book towards him. I think that I actually did get something in my eye but also I think things just happen that way, serendipity. I had to stop reading, but he was really into the story. He just started reading: not fluently, but he just went on. He started to get hooked on it. And I got hooked on teaching. Unfortunately, I did my student teaching in a very wealthy school in Bellevue, Washington. I don't think there is even one kid at West Bend half as privileged as the average kid at that school. I had come from a different kind of background, an economically disadvantaged class-conscious background. It was difficult to relate to them.
Yeah, that would be a tough situation. How does that being hindered from interacting with the kids the way you’d like to- as well as trying to create an environment where they can flourish and learn on they’re own- carry on in public schooling. Is it troublesome to have to teach them monotonous material from textbooks?
It doesn’t have to boring, though. A lot of the classic stuff has something about it that can be really interesting. For example, if you have to teach something like, Mark Twain. Mark Twain is really actually good stuff if you can teach it the way it should be taught. But instead, a lot of teachers go on to actually make it boring. I think that the curriculums are usually pretty good its just that you can't teach it the way it should be taught because a lot of the stuff is actually pretty radical and they want you to just slide it by them and sweep it under the carpet. For example, Huck Finn is actually a pretty revolutionary book. It’s about an ordinary kid being way ahead psychologically and emotionally in most situations compared to everybody else. I mean it’s about him being taught that he’ll go to hell for helping out a black person, but then going ahead with it anyway. He's courageous and the book's message is anti-religion.
Yeah, and it’s funny because that’s one of the books that’s on the banned book list that we were fighting here at the library, a couple of months ago. It seems like a lot of the books in the English class curriculum showed up on that list.
Yeah, I think that a great deal of that literature is about things that are actually very revolutionary, but we are always told to steer clear of the ideas being brought up in those books. Everybody’s trying to be objective all the time. See, my real teaching background is in writing and that’s a problem because I’m told that I shouldn’t address the student’s ideas that come up in their writing. I'm supposed to focus on their skills. I think that’s really insulting, though, because when they’re writing something, they usually want to know what you think of what they have to say.
What kinds of things (maybe subjects and skills that actually affect the lives of these kids) are left out from classes and curriculums that you think should be brought up?
Well they have personal development classes. Which you’d think would be teaching kids the same kinds of things that apply to voluntary simplicity. You know, like, teaching kids to step back from the sicker parts of the culture. I think a lot of students would be interested in learning to make better choices for sustainable living. Some would probably love to have survival skills which would give them confidence, knowing they could somehow live if things fall apart. I'd like them to teach true cutting edge technology that has us moving back to the natural. We could be growing buildings, not using resources. Permaculture could be taught. But instead teachers often reward and compliment trivial things like dress or neat penmanship, correct spelling and not substantial ideas. They will say, "I like your shoes." and then they think that's somehow relating.
Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of that. Pretty weird. It seems like mainstream schools have become just another place to advertise major brands and keep up on fads. It’s kind of hard, as a student, to take a teacher seriously when they perpetuate, imitate, and even encourage that sort of silly behavior regarding fashions over ideas. What roles do you think emotion, and its opposite, objectification play in these institutions?
Well, also important to learning is valuing emotion. Just think of your personal experience and how you probably have learned much more by reading library books that are heavy on both content and emotional content. When something is written with passion, it is remembered, Derrick Jensen's work, for instance. That's what you have been led, by the know-nothing establishment, to consider as propaganda—which is just a word for emotion or caring about a subject. Bias is supposed to be bad. Propaganda is supposed to be bad. Yet if you were in an ordinary school you would be expected to read textbooks that are a snooze because they have no---and I mean absolute zippo—emotional content. In that way, schools think they are not propagandizing. Any textbook that doesn't try to use unemotional and therefore anti-thought provoking language in order to seem to be "objective," is considered biased. We all know what "objective" really is. It's the unquestioning of the status quo, which often is later proved to be wrong. In history and government subjects "objectivity" is only the powerful telling the powerless its version of "the truth." Think for how long we thought Christopher Columbus was a hero. Think of how Capitalism is equated with democracy even though they are two very separate things.
Yet if you read a real historian or biographer, you feel their passion. They won't try to be falsely "objective," although they will try to prove they are right. That sort of thing seldom makes it into the classroom. And when it does, it's treated unemotionally. Most children say their first word about something to which they attach emotion. My daughter's was "Hot!" when she burned her hand on a light bulb. She expressed herself and learned to speak language because she felt something emotionally.
Children are deep thinkers when emotion is involved. When we buried our dog, my son was two going on three. A week later, I asked him why he was crying. He said, "I know I won't know myself anymore when I am dead." Sartre couldn't have said it better.
What effects do you think industrial schooling programs have on a young person’s creativity?
Well, um, really it starts right away. Nursery school. Kindergarten. The regimentation begins. This whole idea is pounded into their heads that they’re not special, so they’ll have to be in a classroom with 30 or so other kids and be doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. My daughter was fortunate enough to go to one of the original alternative schools. The kids there provided much of the direction. We could be learning from kids about how to perceive and experience things for example. I’m worried a lot about the fact that our aesthetics are so ruined. For example, we’re taught to think that a dandelion is hideous. A little kid could teach us that that just isn’t true. They’re spraying these chemicals all over to get rid of them. I even have people who pass through the courses of the whole Voluntary Simplicity thing and even after all of that, they’re still obsessed about their lawn. It’s pitiful. But that’s just the sort of thing we could be relearning from kids: that these things we call “weeds” actually have their own beauty and that we need to appreciate them and change ourselves, accordingly.
But instead of making the choice to listen and to love like the children do, they set up systems in order to break the will of these children who in turn forget the beauty of everything that was once so obvious to them. And this is called growing up in our culture. It’s ridiculous.
Yeah, even if they’re not doing something aggressive towards the kids directly, they will eliminate certain things and then praise certain other things. You know, everybody likes to be appreciated or receive praise, especially little kids. So the selective praising is sort of a bribe and it encourages them to join into the big normal world (whatever normal means). It’s very unnatural.
How does that tie into life outside of school?
The problem is everyone wants to keep a job. Because we have to pay for food and shelter, we're doomed. It doesn't have to be that way of course. We spent so much on the Vietnam War that we could have bought every family in the U. S. at that time what would be the equivalent of a 150,000-dollar house today. I think it cost 10,000 or 15,000 back then in 1966. It's unfortunate that teaching is a job and not a calling for so many people. Kids could learn in apprenticeships or else the schools ought to be much more capable of motivating students. Recent studies are showing that animals, even birds, have abilities to do basic arithmetic. Yet in one study Harvard students who had just received PhD’s in math took the identical test 3 months later and all of them failed it. Why is that? Could it be that to keep knowledge we must use what we learn? And if we must use knowledge in order to keep it, why not wait until we have to use it to learn it? Why have students doing tasks to learn what they won't recall a year later? Some people will tell you it's about developing thinking skills. But we are always thinking. Yes, we do build increasingly complex neural paths in our brains when we work hard on a difficult mental task. But we can do that on something we're interested in just as easily as something we really don't care about. In fact, if I have to force myself to do it my mind is probably going to keep drifting away from the task and I will begin developing bad habits alien to concentration and inhibit the growth of those neural pathways.
Sadly, the most important thing is what is valued in our lives outside of school. If you grow up in an environment where books and learning of academic matters are devalued there will be difficulties for you with education. You will have to find a way on your own to learn what you need. It will be a more difficult task for you. We as a society have to find ways to make learning joyous and truly equitable.
What I know about how people learn, I learned in classes at both the University of Washington and at Concordia University. So it is possible to learn things of value in a classroom. However, even though most teachers at least hear about the idea of freedom as relating to learning, they don't apply it. They go right on doing what has been done before even though it doesn't work very well. That, we all know, is the definition of insanity because it's crazy to keep repeating what has been done when the results are dismal.
You were talking about being influenced by something that a horse trainer friend of yours said to you. What was the phrase, again?
He said, “Watch what most people do, and do the opposite”. At first I was taken aback, to be honest. But after a while I started watching the things people were doing. I can’t say that I’ve incorporated that completely into my life but I try to remember it and to look at things and ask what are people doing with their lives? For example, being obsessed with taking care of their lawns. I have a prairie and a permaculture yard in which I grow wildflowers, nut trees, oaks and berries, the opposite of the lawn, the hostas and annuals. My neighbors used to think of my yard as full of “weeds”. I have the birds and butterflies and over the years they have seen it evolve to be more interesting. They are into quick results. I'm willing to wait 50 years for a magnificent slow growing oak. Doing the opposite takes energy, time and spirit. If the average person sends their kids to school for an average of 30 hours or so a week, maybe some people want to think about home schooling. If everybody’s buying their kid an X-box or whatever for Christmas, maybe you want to take your kid to the mountains or something, you know. Just something that will be a good experience.
Yeah, by doing something that they can hold onto and grow from. So, how do you think courses like U.S. History and Economics affect children’s ideas of the world and what it has to offer?
Well, one thing that’s very disturbing about these American schools is that the classes barely mention any other way of life or any other economics system other than capitalism and western culture. Geography and economics are very basic as taught in American schools. They leave out so much. economics should be about the real value and true cost of things, including the profit motive.
Do you think those classes have any affect on the political standpoints students will take later in life?
Well, I don’t really worry about that too much. I don’t doubt that conservative politics surround kids at home, at school and in this community, as conservative as West Bend is. But, I feel that if those kids go to college they will discover that the ones around them that have different answers to more difficult questions, and continue to question the right things, are the type of people that you and I would be able to relate to and probably agree with their position. That makes it easy to change or at least be more open. My husband, for example, who is now very radical in his thinking, was pretty conservative when he was younger. I think that the kids will often make a swing because they realize something’s wrong but they’ve just been listening to the answers of those people who are worried about taxes and things like that. See, nobody in these economic classes ever talks about how back in the 50’s, when people were making over a certain amount of money-I forget what it is, maybe 100,000 a year or so-were being taxed 90 percent. 90 percent! And you always look back to those years like wow! Those were the good years…but they never talk about that.
Yeah, and you know it never seems like they want you to ask those questions. I remember being in certain classes like that in school and asking more “out there” questions and then being completely shut down or ignored by the teacher. It was really frustrating and sort of demeaning. But then I realized why they don’t want to talk about those things and that frustration quickly turned to resentment for this system. Anyways, how do you, as a substitute teacher, teach subjects that you’re encouraged to teach in a selective way or to at least make the system look good, even if it means ignoring the truth.
Well, I really don’t worry about watching what I say anymore. When I’m in long-term sub positions I’ll just come out and say, “well your teacher and the rest of society think this, but I’m gonna tell you what I think”. That sort of covers us both. Whenever I talk about a point of view I try to challenge them and ask them, “have you ever really thought about this, though?” I try to build my case but also give them an idea of different takes and positions on the subject are. For instance, when I taught English and I had to teach Animal Farm I could tell them about Orwell and what he really thought and that he was a socialist. It’s a little more complex that it’s usually presented.
And school never really brings up how catastrophic of a situation we’re all in right now. Sure, there’s an environmental science class or two, but still the teaching is very selective and that same “go green” mentality is perpetuated with all the kids thinking that a shorter shower and new light bulbs will save the planet. They make sure to show An Inconvenient Truth, but, of course, they never talk about how things are so messy and why it shouldn’t be this way.
Yeah and it’s all put into a week or two. They think we can all just go do our little personal environmental stuff and have Earth day and that’s all going to do something big. All of that is confined. The class should devote the entire lesson on teaching the kids, oops! We’ve got this big mess here and we need to get busy. What did we do wrong and what can we do about it? How can we stop doing what we’re doing now? You know, it’s sick, the way that we confine these kinds of ideas to after school meetings of a couple people in some empty classroom. I know some of those teachers and I know that they know what’s going on. They know what kind of work I do, and really, they think it’s great. But sometimes, it seems like they feel it’s not as important because it’s not scientific or objective. I don’t understand that. But unfortunately, the setup for denial is so convenient in this country and a lot of people don’t understand what’s going on. A lot of the middle class or better off probably can’t see the crisis that we have to face. They think these problems just happen far away and they happen because the system hasn’t been fully integrated into those areas yet to start working it’s magic.
How do schools cause a disconnect from our environment?
Schools teach people not to live. First, we take youth and we tell them not to move around too much, "Sit still! Don't leave your desk." That's denying them their bodies' natural desire to be mobile. We do it because we are trying to control them and there are too many people in a classroom. Then we tell them to be quiet and listen. But do we actually listen to them? So we teach them, your thoughts don't matter. Don't speak out. Then when we teach them to write, we don't address their ideas but rather the mode of expression, how they organized it, how they handled mechanics, etc. as if their ideas were of no significance. Then when we have this run down, belittled, non-active person, schools feed them salt, sugar, simple carbohydrates and reconstituted meat full of preservatives that sap all their health. Finally, we make them get up at an ungodly hour even though we know that teenagers cannot concentrate early in the morning. And after all this torture we send them home with meaningless busy work to make sure they don't enjoy themselves.
We sell off any natural areas and pave over other land surrounding the school, leaving only grass playing fields so that the outdoors seems like an empty place where there is nothing to do except play with a ball. And we take these students once a year to a nature center or on a biology field trip and in that way convince them that nature is something to value as a mere once a year activity. That way, they will know that they can go outdoors on their annual vacation when they are working in industry, or for a bank or insurance company. We do show them movies about nature. It's okay to see nature in school as long as it remains two-dimensional and you can't breathe it, eat it, touch it or hear it sing.
What if whenever the society needed someone to study something that no one wanted to learn about, they got paid to do it? What if almost all learning could only be a joyous experience like the first time you rode your bike?
Yeah. Personally, I feel that---if not always, at least now at this point of catastrophe---all of the classes that are taught in schools should be intertwined and based on what will improve the state of the planet and what will make us, as human beings, happy. Anyway, my last question is (and this is kind of a vague one so feel free to answer it as you wish): what kind of world do you want to see and how do you think we can work with education in order to make that world a reality?
Well, I’d like to see a world of community. Community must include creatures and plants and sky and water and soil. I feel that you can begin with family and then move on to your neighbors and start forming networks. I liked what Wendell Berry said which was, “ Go meet the neighbors you can’t stand." It's time to do that hardest thing: Be neighborly, even to jerks. Honestly, I have a hard time with this idea but I know it's right. It's easy to relate to people you like. But my neighbors, the majority of them seem to be obsessed with their SUV’s and snowmobiles and keeping their lawns nice. Some of them are really involved in the churches but don't seem especially kind or happy. Despite that, I think that it’s important to try. Otherwise I'll never be able to say to them, "Hey, have you read Endgame? Do you know what's happening? What is our neighborhood going to do?"
As far as education? Well, there’s a great book called “Summer Hill” by A.S. Neil. He began a completely independent school where the kids were free to come and go and he only asserted himself when the kids had questions. He just stood back and allowed them to learn. I think that it’s a great idea and, again, that we could all learn so much from the kids. If we listen, they will tell us what we could to in order to help each become the best person possible. They already know freedom. But when you have kids all seated in rows, learning to not use their spirit and their energy, they’ll grow up to be the same as everybody else. They’ll grow up to be unhappy and confused and they’ll think that they’re really supposed to not use that spirit and that energy; they’ll think that and internalize that so that it dictates the rest of their lives.