Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Just a few thoughts on the unthinkable

I was sitting here on the couch, thinking about the unthinkable, and I figured, 'What the heck, misery loves company', why not spread the wealth around.

Over the last few days, I’ve been looking at Questions that no one ever questions, looking at the blatant and casual willingness towards self-contradiction of a man employed to THINK for the President of the United States of America; at the deliberate (at best) refusal to think, on the part of one of our Senator from Missouri seizing on the concrete form of an off-hand comment, at the expense of refusing to acknowledge or understand a fellow person’s meaning, simply because it was disagreeable to this powerful Senator; and at the ever reforming business of 'education reform' which entirely ignores the question of what Form a true Education should take.

People are so willing to accept questions such as “Is it better to be feared than to be loved” at face value, and seemingly without a moment’s reflection upon what answering such a question commits you to denying and to not thinking of at all. These are truly important considerations, important to your mind and your heart and your soul… and people don't question it.

Similarly people don't bother to bat an eye when someone who is employed to think and advise the most powerful man on earth is un-bothered, and possibly even unaware, that he contradicts himself, even contradicting his own statements within a single paragraph of his own posts. On top of that we have at least one entire half of our body politic that has rendered themselves incapable of engaging and allowing imaginative thought, and at the root of it all we have schools who teach what isn't worth teaching, from materials not worth reading, to kids who are painfully aware of that fact, for a society which is concerned not with their children having received an Education (quick, ask yourself 'what is an Education', I rest your case), but with saving money in delivering those materials, doing it more efficiently, and verifying that 'all the important facts' have been received - more like a UPS Delivery Receipt, than a Diploma.

What of those important thoughts that should have been given serious consideration during their 'education'? "Sorry, addressee no longer resides at this address - Return To Sender".

There is a profound paucity of imagination involved here, the sort of poverty that doesn't come about by accident, but results only from deliberate plans - no, not conspiracies, but involving plans just as intricately laid, and entirely inadequate to what they sought to achieve. The type of culture wide poverty such as we are experiencing, doesn't come about from never having earned wealth, but from having had it and thrown it away.

There is a lot that is so easily lost in this and far too much that is a common thread through it all, from the tendency to think of our Rights as being nothing more than a set of perks, to the impolitic state of our state of politics and on around to the transformation of our educational system into one that accomplishes only dis-education... I could dig forty pages into this before batting an eye or breaking a sweat - but you wouldn't, so I'll spare you my long-windedness... for now (you're welcome ;-).

Looking Back to our Future
A friend reminded me this evening of something Ben Franklin did 258 years ago, when faced with 13 colonies who thought they could go it alone. He thought about how he could quickly communicate the problem he saw in this, the peril it held to not just one, but to all of the colonies, and he thought of a solution. The solution, strangely enough, didn’t involve a listing of facts or citing of references or a feat of mathematical calculation. It was a solution that didn't seek dry fact, quite the opposite, what it involved was a supremely appropriate exercise in imagination, humor, and trust in the intelligence of his fellows to grasp what they did not yet realize.

Today, no doubt, rival politicians would take Ben Franklin’s ‘cartoon’ of a snake chopped into 13 chunks as an affront to Animal Rights and a violent hatred of reptiles. Thankfully, our Founder’s generation – not simply the great men and women who were once household names, but the vast majority of those people who lived in the households across the eastern seaboard of North America, they possessed an Education that sought something more than skills and test scores – no matter how efficiently delivered, those people understood that an Education was something which involved more, much more, than mere skillfulness.

After all, mere skills could be acquired by anyone who already knew how to think - that's what apprenticeships were for.

What Franklin's fellow British Americans possessed were Educations formed upon the stirring poetry of imaginative literature, from histories written by some of the finest minds to have ever lived and helped in forming the histories they wrote to be 'Treasures for all time'; they benefited from respecting a religion which charged them with seeking to perfect their soul, and possessed minds tuned to seek and recognize what was Good and Beautiful and True, and capable of understanding, discussing and explaining the same – as well as being deeply interested in discovering and rooting out error and folly. Not to pass a test, but to improve their ability to live their lives.

In short, the education which our Founder’s generation had the benefit of, was one which taught a person to understand themselves and become self-governing individuals admidst a society of fellows who had also become habituated to behaving virtuously and morally and so sought to be fit for living a life in Liberty with their fellow man.

They didn't always succeed - they were no different than you an I - they failed and fell short, right and left. But they didn't fail to realize that they should strive towards what was worthwhile, and as the line from George Washington's favorite play, "Cato" put it -
"’Tis not in mortals to command success, But we’ll do more, Sempronius; we’ll deserve it."
Such a people would cringe at the thought that multiple choice or true false questions could tell themselves, or their teachers ANYTHING about their state of education. Such a people as they were, were a people capable of understanding and appreciating the gift of liberty, and the responsibility of respecting and demanding respect of others for the Law.

Such a people took one look at Ben Franklins cartoon, and they didn’t see anything as asinine as a threat to snakes, but through it's imaginative depiction, they comprehended the real threat to their liberty and happiness that was posed by each person of each colony thinking that they could go it alone – Franklin's message, imaginatively portrayed, communicated to them all the importance of unity in the face of adversity.

But there was something even more important about Ben Franklin's little cartoon, the first one ever published in America - it wasn't forgotten. It taught a lesson that was worth remembering and applying, both then, and in the near, and distant future. For you see, he didn't, as you might think, draw his little cartoon for the American Revolution, but decades earlier, in 1754, during the French and Indian War. And there was a specific practical purpose he also hoped to further with it, which failed, his proposed 'Albany Congress',
" It came to be published in "virtually every newspaper on the continent"; reasons for its widespread currency include its demagogic reference to an Indian threat as well as its basis in the popular superstition that a dead snake would come back to life if the pieces were placed next to each other [6]. Franklin's snake is significant in the development of cartooning because it became an icon that could be displayed in differing variations throughout the existing visual media of the day-- like the "Don't Tread on Me" battle flag-- but would always be associated with the singular causes of colonial unity and the Revolutionary spirit. In the same way that Biblical stories are an element of shared culture, "Join or Die" became a symbol to which all Americans could respond. Even though the Albany Congress was a failure, Franklin's snake had established a connection between a drawing and a specific political idea in the American imagination."
, but his cartoon did succeed in his larger purpose - it helped stir the imagination of his fellows, and it taught a lesson that would pay off big time over the coming years.

Back to the 'Future'
258 years later, what progress have we made? What understanding do we have that would be worthy of the term as Franklin would see it? What our Presidential advisers, Senator’s and ‘eductional reformers’ might seen in the wise old man’s cartoon today… I don’t care to imagine.

There's a lot here, and it's is going to take a while for me to cover… a new set of posts I suppose, to be taken on as soon as possible.

For now, just look at Franklin's cartoon, and keep in mind that what Franklin sought to teach his fellows, is something that you will not find in any textbook in the land, even - and especially - those who require their students to answer what year Franklin published his cartoon, and what the shape of it signified, and what the parts represented.

What Franklin sought to teach with his cartoon, will not be found there in those silly factoids, and that, my friends, is why its lesson is not, and will not, be learned by our children who we send to our schools to receive such lessons, and who take such lessons into business, and politics... and into teaching the next generation.
For want of a nail - rhyme
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.


mushroom said...

What Franklin's fellow British Americans possessed were Educations formed upon the stirring poetry of imaginative literature, ... respecting a religion which charged them with seeking to perfect their soul, ... minds tuned to seek and recognize what was Good and Beautiful and True, ... Not to pass a test, but to improve their ability to live their lives.

Well said, and, sadly, necessary to say. There is nothing wrong with learning a productive and useful skill to earn a living. I don't meet many educated people any more.

One of the most glaring evidences of the lack of education is the vapid, self-absorbed content of most literature and movies. Everything is small-scale soap-opera unless it is taken from a comic book.

Attorney in Florida said...

Love this statement...
"It isn't for us to guarantee success, but we can do better, we can deserve it!"

Van Harvey said...

It is, isn't it? Thanks for bringing it up, because that was my rusty memory's stab at remembering the quote off the top of my head while writing; I meant to come back to it with the actual wording and link it with the actual quote, which I'll do now.

"’Tis not in mortals to command success, But we’ll do more, Sempronius; we’ll deserve it."

Washington had good taste.