Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The True Business Of People

"We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living." ~Buckminster Fuller

There's a book I read to the children by the author Leo Leonni entitled Frederick. I'm sure many of my preschool teacher colleagues read this to their kids; Leonni is a popular, brilliant author and his paper collage illustrations are charming. In this story, Frederick the mouse avoids physical labor as the other mice prepare for winter, at first evocative of The Little Red Hen. When the others ask him, "reproachfully," why he isn't working, Frederick replies "I gather sun rays for the cold, dark winter days," "I gather colors, for winter is gray," and "I'm gathering words, for the winter days are long and many."

I've long on these pages bemoaned our society's habit of equating education with the acquisition of job skills. Indeed, I don't believe I've ever heard a political leader from any party speak of schools without directly linking them to the fantastical "jobs of tomorrow." The entire corporate eduction "reform" movement with it's emphasis on high stakes testing, standardized curricula, and privatization is largely a plan to finish the job of converting our public schools into institutions of vocational training. Right across the country, arts, music, physical education, social studies, drama, and civics are being dropped from our children's school days, and even such bedrock subjects as science, history, and the rest of the humanities have been minimized in order to make more room for math and literacy, the only things, apparently, that really matter.

What a sad thing that is. When guys like Bill Gates talk about "unleashing powerful market forces" on our schools, I envision them being unleashed upon our children and it strikes me, at best, as a narrowing of life, and at worst a harsh cruelty. Listen, I'm aware that we're all, at some level, economic beings, and that's not a bad thing, but that's certainly not all we are. What about unleashing powerful artistic forces on our schools? Or powerful civic forces? Or powerful physical or scientific or musical or historical or philosophical forces? Those aspects of a well-rounded life are at least as important as the drudgery that most of us ultimately face when compelled to expend the better part of our days, during the better part of our years, bringing home that damned bacon.

We're told that capitalism, and particularly the free market brand we've been experimenting with since 1980, is as good as it gets, warts and all, but talk about one hell of an inefficient system if it requires pretty much all of its able bodied citizens working most of their daylight hours in order to function properly, as if we exist to serve the economy instead of the other way around. Civilization must be about more than earning a greasy buck, but the economists are in charge and they're "reproachful" of the rest of us who understand that if it's going to be worth anything someone must gather sun rays.

I don't want to live in a world in which my existence is justified by how many dollars I can extract from it. What I do with my life is far more vital than that. I am a father, husband, son, brother, and friend. I am a teacher. I am a man of spirit and philosophy. I am an artist. I am a citizen. I am a politician. I am a writer. I am a cyclist. I am a community organizer. I play these and many more roles in the world, each at least as important as the other, and none of them can be measured on a standardized test like reading and ciphering. I think that's what blinders the corporate "reformers": if they can't reduce it to numbers, if they can't hold someone accountable, if it can't be standardized under shrink-wrapped packaging, it doesn't exist. And that describes most of what makes life worth living.

As a teacher I'm always torn between preparing children for the world as it is and the world of my ideals. I generally come down on the side of my ideals because I simply can't bring myself to prepare these young children for a meager make-work future of inspectors inspecting inspectors with their tools designed solely for inspecting. That's not why most of us are here: we're here to sing, to invent, to discover, to explore, and to gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days. That's the true business of people and trying to measure that is like trying to measure the height of love or the circumference of god.

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carol said...


Becky said...

Love it!!! So right! If you haven't discovered it yet, you would really like the book Miss Rumphius, by, I think, Jane Yolen. One of her life's goals is to make the world a more beautiful place. It fits this post very well.

Barbara Zaborowski said...

Permission to copy for the parents of my class and to my blog?

Anonymous said...

A new favorite post! This was beautifully written.

Teacher Tom said...

Of course, Barbara!