How many people got into teaching because they want
to leave things a little better? This afternoon I want to talk about good
and evil and I want to do that in a context that uses stories, history,
a mix of political theology and economy, philosophy and martial arts, and
education for social justice. Let me begin with a story--
1. Brer Rabbit (a) Rabbit eats the Butter
What do you think of Brer Rabbit here. What kind of animal/personification is this? Should we act like this? Should we grab that little pat of butter, and then maybe the whole thing?
2. Rabbit raises the question that seems to be posed to us every day of late, more so than I have ever noticed before, and that is the question , "What is Good and Evil and Who decides that and What happens when that decision is made. Columbine teenage racist terrorists are evil, we hear. Milosevich is evil, we hear. Hussein is evil, we hear. School Reform is good, we hear. Making war on evil nations is good, we hear. Evil, today, is a commodity to be packaged and sold, like bad breath, a commodity that has little or nothing to do with us--and the farther we are away from it the better off we are--unless we can purchase something to ward it off, Lysterine or Cruise missiles. That makes me uneasy.
So I went back and did some thinking about good and evil and I went to my friends Michael and Wayne who were more focused on all of this in their youth, and they sent me off to start in the Old Testament, where evil is all about, in the sea, in the darkness, something in conflict with a God, but always under Gods control. Evil is a continuing presence, but not embodied in anything. Then, in the New Testament, evil appears as a being in conflict with god, a competing god, and while there are roots for this personification of evil in the Old Testament, the Devil's appearance in the New Testament goes well beyond the snake in the garden of Eden, charming Eve to take that first bite--and opening her eyes to the world and the nakedness of the flesh--a double edged sword of sorts. The Devil is not deeds nor an external world full of hardship and travail, but a counter-image to the deity, both alive only in the mists, in faith, and verifiable only via faith.
I want to take the biblical reading a little further today, because I think what we face now really is a choice between good and evil, and just as the bible makes a transition from one vision of evil to another, I think our social circumstances require us to think of good and evil in more personal and active ways--as something that has social roots that each of us creates and recreates--factors of life that we can recognize, verify, and act on.
I think the choice between good and evil is a social choice, rooted in the social, political and economic realities of a given time. To over-easily sum up our times, this is a period of true abundance contradicted by gross inequality--and more of it every day, it is a time of incredible social and economic unity, when our systems of production and exchange unite the world as never before, but also a time when the same system, capitalism, is based upon fear and greed, and irrationalism: like nationalism, racism, and the fear of sexuality. The tension between this growing collective, which could be democratic and egalitarian, and the powerful few who own, who exert control through rewards ---and force-- and false divisions- and ideas--authoritarianism, that grinding contradiction means we all face a choice--whose side are we on? Good or Evil?
I think there are some transcendent things that anchor good and evil for me, things that are wrapped up in some folk sayings over time: for example, the greatest good to the greatest number (or, from each according his or her commitment to each according to her need) or An Injury to one only precedes an Injury to all (do to others what you would want done to you), or, to quote from the close of an Early song of the IWW of the US labor movement, No more the Drudge and Idler, ten that toil while one reposes, but a sharing of life's glories, bread and roses, bread and roses! There are stories of people who have stood for something persistently good through history, like Spartacus, Sojourner Truth, Mother Jones, John Brown, Hopalong Cassidy, Ho Chi Minh perhaps, and Ai Su Chih--people who have known what is good and tried to do it.
Good and evil are ideas and social practices that are made by people and involve all the contradictions that exist within societies which people create through their ideas and through their labors. In other words, few of us are saints, most of us are mixed beings of good and evil, made up of all of the contradictions around us---but from time to time we define ourselves and make decisions from which there is no return --and sometimes those decisions are relatively innocuous-----and in other times, we can go far beyond ourselves and rely on others to demonstrate that we can be better than we had ever imagined.
3. So we have had a little storytelling and a little political theology and now let us look at the other side through history. Let's look at Henry Ford and the Rouge Plant. Ford, I am going to argue, was more evil than good, but the history of the Rouge and the plant named after it is a worthy parable. It travels the course of the industrial USA.
Rouge River one of three rivers in Detroit
Ford built the plant during WWI
largest industrial plant in the world--100,000 workers
glass plant, 12 largest steel manufacturer,
everything that went into a car
Fordism --taylorism--born there
just in time work practices
Right wing multiculturalism by segregating workforce by nation, language, pay, sex race
Ford was a fascist, influenced and supported Hitler.
Goon Squad and harry Bennet--Battle of Overpass
Plant was organized
Ford started building international small cars before gas crisis in 1971
Ford opened and owned schools
Union declared partnership with the boss
9000 workers in the plant now---many working for Jap iron company
Rouge blew up---6 killed---packaged on TV as a Tragedy for Ford
First Ford plant opening as a charter school --many standardized tests and lots of quick response memorization
Environmentalists tried to clean the Rouge--ordered out as it was too dirty
Henry shriveled up and died.
Ford was evil, and profited from evil, and his prime legacy is evil,
but at the same time he contributed to he technological and social relations
that today make it possible to consider living without any Henry Fords
again, and the Rouge is still running , across all borders.
Which Brings Me to Philosophy and Martial Arts--or Budo and the art of facing evil--the pathways to change and making things a little better.
Part of evil, I think, is the focus on the self, selfishness, seeking gain at the cost of others. Of course, that is just how capitalism works, and it would seem to be ingrained in everyone of us who lives in the midst of it. Still, because capital requires, must live on, the exploitation of cooperation, taking the fruits of the work of the many to benefit the few, there are counter tendencies--good ones--neighbors supporting neighbors, workers sticking up for one another, etc. but, at issue in part is how people who want a just and equitable and democratic world can fight effectively against a ruthless enemy and not carry their own ruthlessness into the future world. For teachers, this becomes, too, "How can I keep my ideals and still teach?" These are questions which have propelled the conversation in the Rouge Forum for a year.
I think there are answers to that in the martial arts--the budo--or pathway--by which we go out and engage the world in very physical ways in order to better understand ourselves, and finally to go beyond ourselves, to destroy the ego and to not flee from a potential enemy, but to gather them in close and to change their minds--where that act comes naturally, without thinking, where the body is so steeped in its practice that the mind simply does what needs to be done. This is the discovery of the self, and the erasure of the self, through the disappearance of the body--achieved through the unity of thought and action. The destruction of the ego, in our times influenced by New Age escapism, by soft music drugging the horrors of office drudgery, may sound mystical. It is not. It is rational and reasonable, reflecting the humbling process of examining the relationship of the internal and external world, recognizing their unity and the discord built into daily life under capitalism.
Of course, this is the same thing that happens in real action research, or study. What you are studying, physics or phys ed, is really also the study of yourself, and if you can be sufficiently courageous and meditative and honest, then you can take what you're learning and challenge and change yourself if you find yourself at odds with what you believe is good.
To teach well, or to research well, or to do martial arts well, requires a stillness of mind, rather like that achieved by people in auto accidents, that feeling that tho you are really crashing a sixty miles an hour in two seconds, you feel as though you are slipping slowly into a long crunch, that takes a couple of minutes. That stillness of mind can be consciously achieved, and it is by athletes, martial artists, good teachers, researchers---to still the mind and thus control the body, in the midst of hyperaction and confusion--that is the crux of considered teaching and social change. You transform yourself, the internal, by fully engaging the external, overcoming the brittle ego and merging with a partner, a subject, or an enemy.
This then leads me to simple pathways of teaching that I think can help anyone interested in social justice and teaching for change. Here I draw mostly from Sun Tzu and Sifu Robert Brown, a teacher of the budo, pathways, of Kung Fu.
Three Foundations and Seven Pathways for the Educational Artists
1. Know yourself, to the point where yourself doesn't matter much
2. Know your students
3. Know your terrain, your community
3. Practice Hard
4. Practice exactly what you want to perform
6. Create your dojo, your place where people can take risks and use honesty to gain and test knowledge.
7. Find a teacher for yourself
Remember the good do-be's and bad don't be's from first grade. Well here are four do's for teachers
Beginning teachers wonder, What do I do
Then they think, Hell, just do it, do something
Over time, they often do it well
Few, however, think back and say, What have I done and Why did I do that>
Too many teachers never get beyond the How do I do this to the Why--in
other words, few teachers are taught to be critical thinkers, then they
plan to teach critical thinking to children, which often is teaching "how
to think like me".
But that is about education in General and I want to talk about education as a martial art for social justice, for that is what I think it is and that is why we need to deal with education situated, like good and evil, within the social context, the political, economic, intellectual, and sensual situation that school sits in.
4. Let me first say that everything originates in Detroit. The depression started in Detroit. Mass pharmaceuticals started in Detroit. Mass production came from Detroit-out of the combination of drug manufacture and the iron stove industry.. Robert MacNamara was from Detroit, as was the fellow who exposed the Pentagon papers. SDS started in Detroit. The Communist party started in Detroit. Fluoride started in Detroit. The social safety net was a model in Detroit, from 1930 to 1955 every child in Michigan got free medical care and free dental care, thanks to the Couzens foundation, a group that rose out of early investments in Ford, and sympathy for the people which was born in the fear of people's rebellions.
So, when the rich seize the schools in Detroit, it is time to figure that what happens in Detroit will happen to others, a little later. The rich did take over the schools--and swept away the parliamentary institutions and voting rights of the people in Detroit, just as they moved to open casinos here. They did it about the same time the bombing started in Yugoslavia. Both efforts lay bare what lies behind the respectable resumes, the nice suits and dresses, the rules of decorum, that these people present--what is behind all of that is sheer force and violence--the bombs or the billy clubs and mace used against citizens at board meetings.
Look at the Seven Member School board essentially appointed by the governor after he, by fiat, abolished the elected school board. The seven members of the board are:
Frank Fountain, the head of the lobbying wing of Daimler Chrysler. He does not live in Detroit and never had kids in DPS. His main allegiance is to a German auto business, and you remember Chrysler, the auto company that demanded a billion dollar bailout from the people of Michigan and the federal government (the same day they issued the bailout they cut welfare checks by 12%)--and screamed Buy American for years--then sold themselves to the Germans., which means that most of tanks made in the USA are owned and designed by Germans--whew....
Pam Aguirre, the daughter of the Tiger lefty who owns a low-wage plant in Detroit. She has never lived in Detroit, grew up in private Catholic schools, her kids attend private schools in the richest suburb in the US, where the teachers do not know her, and she attends the DPS board meetings by cell phone where you can hear her giving instructions to her maid. .
Marvis Cofield, the fellow the others call "the citizen", lives and has kids in DPS, and is the only person on the board who does
Freeman Hendrix, the mayors mouthpiece who wants to make a reputation by guaranteeing social peace to ensure the survival of the casinos, lives in the city and sends his kids to Catholic schools.
Bill Beckham, the head of New Detroit, the organization of the banks, the auto companies, and the Ford Foundation, the real estate interests, and JL Hudson, in other words the very groups that sucked Detroit dry to begin with. New Detroit was started in the midst of the rebellion of 1967, to halt future rebellions. Beckham is also the key player in the Annenberg, Schools for the 21st century grant operation, a divide and conquer scam of a private foundation reaching into public education which is busy in Detroit these days too.
Ms Price, the head of a private catholic college on the west side who has been in Detroit for about 1 year--and is the boss of the most stultified organization of structured irrationalism in the world.
Mark Murphy, the number two boss of the Michigan treasury, who was in Detroit for the first time two weeks ago. Showed up at Kettering High so full of fear he required a security squad to walk in the door.
The CEO of the board is David Adamany, former WSU president, whose claim to educational fame is to open the WSU charter school, by any measure that he uses, like standardized tests, the worst school in the state of Michigan. Adamany says his two main projects, besides repairing schools, will be to arrest parents of truant kids, and to promote teaching by rote memorization and to standardized tests.
So, the new board is made up of people who at once are the personifications and representatives of the rich people who ruined the city in the first place, who took profits from making this the most racially segregated city in the USA, and who themselves want to make further gains at the expense of the mass of people, masking this all in language of the public good. These people and the people who prop them up, like the violent cops who have assaulted citizens at the last board meetings on the direction of Freeman Hendrix, these people are simply evil. They are grabbing the biggest pat of butter they can get their hands on. Their broader social goal is a citizenry which cannot recognize inequality, which thinks authoritarianism is the natural state of things, people who do not believe that what they do counts, who do not know how to comprehend their surroundings and who do not think they can effect change--and these personifications of capital, the bosses on the board, know they will live better if they accomplish that. And That flies in the face of everything good teaching is about. The board bosses have made it clear that they support privatization of the schools, deeper segregation, tracking, standardized tests, and the militarization of schools, and they are running at that full tilt.
But there are many seemingly innocuous decisions being made by many people who seem to think they can grab a piece of an evil pie. For example, the leadership of the AFT, the teachers union, has supported this seizure, because they believe they too can live better if some others live worse, and they want to collect dues---and some church leaders who think they will be able to open private vouchered church schools. All of their chickens will someday come home to roots. You do reap what you sew, and there is a huge social debt growing that will someday be called in.
The board knows nothing about real school reform, and they care nothing
about it. They are no different from the previous board, which was making
plans to arrest parents of truant kids--as if the total economic collapse
of Detroit was caused by truancy.
There is a great deal of School reform research. None of it is being followed by the takeover board.
1. School makes a free informed choice to select the design, based on faculty and school worker consensus, often demonstrated by a ballot, sometimes a secret ballot
2. Faculty members who do not support the design can transfer with dignity--and no financial loss.
3. The principal provides strong, organizing based- leadership
4. The design is clear to everyone and everyone has a chance to state what is not going well and why, as well as to state what is going well
5. Money and time are available for professional development, collaboration, planning, and reflection--for the entire staff
6. The design team provides long term collegial assistance and action research
7. A designated collective in the school, drawing from all ranks, is seen as responsible for the reform effort The collective must include parents, from all economic and racial groups, as well as students.
8. The reform effort moves into not merely the formal structures of the school, but also the informal cultures which allow most schools to work--like the outside relationships of teachers, custodians, librarians, bus drivers, etc.
9. The school collaborates with other schools for common support and critique
10. The district has stable leadership, deep administrative-educator trust, and schools are provided some autonomy over budget choices, and hiring and professional development.
11. But school reform does not work if the economic and social class structure in which the school sits is not also reformed--like washing one side of a screen door. And this is why every school reform effort has failed and will continue to fail.
It is clear that top down reform is not reform as instituted by this board , but in fact is a form of fascism, and that their reform will fail. But at the same time they are failing teachers are going to have to be in their classrooms meeting children who arrive, at least in the early grades, curious, eager and full of hope, and who over time learn that school is not about anything important--or if it is--then it is important to not speak truth to it.
We can learn from Brer Rabbit--how to meet the powerful with humility, without the ego, and to prevail.
As I said, this is a time when we are each called to question for what we are and what we stand for. There comes a time when a system becomes so foul, so poisonous, that to fail to at least press ones body in opposition to that system is to promote it, but to collectively organize many people for change and the common good, well, that can win. These apparently powerful folks are just lions waiting to get tied up.
.So what can we generalize from all of this, from stories to history to political theology and economics?
We can learn that what we do counts. That we can teach well and we can learn successfully, whether we are in a cave or at Harvard. We can learn that we can and must understand and transform out world. We can learn that an injury to one really is an injury to all--and that we must root our schools in a profound sense of equality, or we are poisoning our own wells.
We can fight for honest and good reforms, like small and inclusive classes, a more just tax system, the freedom for students, teachers and parents and community people to jointly decide the curriculum. We can fight as did the Ontario teachers last year, in the largest strike in North America in the last five years. Students and teachers can boycott the MEAP and other efforts to replace the minds of teachers with the minds of the rich, and students can take the lead in the fights. We can picket the opening of the casinos, the lowest representation of the few making huge gains off the false hopes and vile temptations of the many--who will suffer immeasurably from the cultural attack that casinos represent. The people who will be hurt first will be, surprise, children and women--and the entire area will pay the price.
But reforms are not enough. The evil that was built into the promise of capitalism, a promise that offered revolutionary ideas in production and technology--and human organization and disorganization, the evil in capitalism is now the main thing about capitalism--and I think that evil can be summed up in three phrases:
1. Economic Inequality,
2. authoritarianism or anti-democracy (the few making decisions for the many--against their interests) and
3. irrationalism: racism, nationalism sexism, abledism, etc. Alienated ideas and practices which have no basis in the world, other than the interests of elites to divide people, and which turn back and bite most of the people who engage them.
These forces are at work not only between the haves and have-nots, but also in the ranks of both groups, a process which propels a system which is beyond human control, which cares nothing about who runs it, a system which is absolutely fickle and will abandon its embodiment in one area for its personification in another, like a vampire in search of a host.
There is no way to reform capitalism, and organizations which are dedicated to reform sooner or later simply become organizations which are dedicated to preserving capitalism. In this group, for example, I include every trade union in the U.S.--like the Detroit based UAW< which lost 3/4 million members, most of whom will never get good jobs again, and did NOTHING--because the leaders openly said they want to preserve capital, even at the expense of their members. The AFT and the NEA, combined which are three times the size of the next largest union in the US, take the same path. In this instance, the AFT has abandoned the interests of its members and the citizens and supported the fascist reform board. Even so, it may be that many teachers, maybe even most, will be so mesmerized by the possibility of grabbing their extra chunk of butter, that they will become participants in the construction of evil themselves, and briefly they may do well--may get to savor that butter. But in the long run they will lose--as did those who opposed John Brown not that long ago.
I think those union leaders are evil, living well off the work of others.
What is needed to meet the global and local economic and social and political crisis of today, a period in which schools and not industry are the centripetal points of life nearly everywhere, what is needed are organizations like the WSC and Rouge Forum which involve people across all boundaries, across communities and jobs and sex and race and age and ability, and which stand for something that people must know in order to build a better world--and without which people are only offered meaningless jobs, war, racism, spectacles, the notion that someone else will translate what is true for you--and how to understand truth-----
which stand for what people have come to know from social practice
over all time--not just things to memorize that have been handed down from
the sky, but things to take into our bodies like blood because they make
sense and provide the ethical framework to initiate and judge social action
from each according to their ability or commitment to each according to their--an injury to one is only an injury to all--no more "me first"
No more the drudge and idler,,,, ten that toil where one reposes,
but a sharing of life glories, bread and roses, bread and roses... Real
Solidarity forever, for Equality makes us strong.