Be Better. Two words that should hang over the door of every American classroom and probably every American home.
These two words are the solution to our educational problems, and could very well be used to solve a whole fucking bunch of our societal ills as well.
They provide the perfect measure for creating real data for testing that can be used in real life in lieu of the current testing data that in all likelihood is only used to keep total nerds and political interns awake at night. Are you doing better is not a question that is easily left behind in the classroom at night. Neither does it suffer greatly from the great debate between technology and the traditional that has the educational establishment feuding like the Hatfields and the McCoys.
The words are the basis of nearly every religious screed in existence. They have scientific backing in that they are also manifested in the workings of our DNA. These two simple words can also be said to summarize the underlying theme of every piece of the great literature ever produced.
Literature states the hero of the story must learn to overcome obstacles in order to transform his/her life for the better. Too often we don't pay attention to how that works and cut to the happily ever after without ever taking notice of the process involved in the change.
It takes courage, bravery and resolution to look at your circumstances and understand that there is not only always need for improvement but also recognize the deeply embedded need inside us all to undergo this adventure that leads toward the fundamental transformation of the self.
In comparison, if we use the current educational models to create literature, the hero would come to a halt at the foot of the first obstacle waiting for some other random travelers so that they could come up with a plan to circumvent the obstacle, either that or form a committee to approach their communal leaders with a petition to address the problem.
That's not really how life works. Talking to other people and sharing wisdom is fine, seeking advice is fine, but it's not going to lead to any great personal spiritual transformation, it's not going to teach us how to cope as individuals, or show us how to fix the personalized traumatic issues that originate inside us all. You can not learn to become a fully healthy functioning individual by deriving your knowledge from another. It is as silly as allowing the navigator of the Titanic to chart your course after he told you not worry about the iceberg ahead because it looms small above the water.
Becoming better provides us each with a personalized North Star that is always just ahead despite of how many times we have failed or how far we have deviated from the straight and narrow. It allows us to get free from all the baggage of our past.
The greatest thing of all, it is as simple as forward step.
I have long argued that the thing that makes our public schools unfixable is the state mandated lack of spirituality and the fact that there are way too many people who express a demented glee over this state of affairs.
I believe that America's educational problems began in 1633 when the Roman Inquisition ordered Galileo to not speak the truth about Heliocentric theory. At that point, Science had no choice but to become a vociferous opponent of religion.
Science has since chased any mention of religion or spiritual matters completely out of the class room and off of school grounds. The irony is that this has been done in the name of religious tolerance. Yet, nobody seems to be very inclined to entertain the question where is the tolerance for those who believe that life has a purpose and meaning that could only be explained in a spiritual way.
The essential argument behind of the conflict between religion and scientific atheism is simply a question of whether life has purpose or not? And while secular education argues correctly that the school is not a good place to entertain sectarian or doctrinal dispute, the absence of any mention of spirituality as being worthy of study, although generally regarded as a being the neutral stance, is in fact inherently biased toward non-belief, or worse toward the idea that life has no real purpose.
Yet science which fails to embrace mankind's spiritual needs, is little more than a map/dictionary of the material world. It's like knowing how to do complicated math equations but lacking the understanding which would allow you to apply those skills to the area where mankind needs them the most, the development of the inner being.
Sophocles wrote about the problem in the story of Oedipus. Oedipus ignorantly acts out his preordained fate by killing off his father and marrying his mother. His lack of knowledge about the true nature of the events signifies that he is trapped in a material world without any spiritual insight.
This lack of self knowledge brings about drought and destruction to the kingdom that he rules. After learning of the horrific nature of his deeds, he blinds himself by poking out his eyes and is thereafter forced to look inside himself and develop the insight needed to possess true wisdom.
Isn't this the very definition of psychology? Modern education only seeks to impart knowledge of how to measure, understand, take apart, put back together, and define the material world. But it also pretends that the spiritual needs of the human race are non-existent.
And Science, for all of its worldly knowledge, doesn't seem to be aware that's there is no longer any need for antagonism against the spiritual aspects of man. There never really was when you consider that Church Triumphant was never actually a spiritual entity. The two claimants to man's full attention were always fighting over turf in the material world.
The knowledge imparted by Quantum Physics should have changed the game. Recent developments in genetic research should have changed the game. The advent of psychology, especially Jungian, should have changed the game. There should have been entreaties for peace negotiations. Yet, science still clings to Newtonian mechanics, the Church to its role as judge and jury, and both only offer up bleak and gloomy Dickensian outlook toward life on Earth.
Could it be vanity? Or could it be that Science having wrested the Big Microphone from the hands of the Pope, is reluctant to give up its claim to being the figurative voice of God?
The irony is that neither Science nor the temporal Church has ever been the true voice of God. The Church lost that internet connection when it started dressing up it's leaders in ermine and jewels, when it started begging for money like the homeless man on a LA street corner, and Science will continue searching the hidden corners of the universe in vain for a thousand years and never coming close to the truth that the voice of God is not being hidden in a laboratory experiment.
I found the following quote in the introduction to Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha. The person who wrote the introduction explains that Hesse was aware of this point. He explains about how Siddhartha, the seeker, tells Buddha that he is going his own way because the quest of enlightenment "must be original -- that is, brought up from deep within the individual, by the individual." The true voice of God is on the inside of us all, purpose and meaning can only come from within. This is the message that needs to be taught in all of our schools.
Psychology knows this and can couch the language in scientific terminology. Literature can explain it in the language of myth which still inhabits a sacred place deep in the bosom of the human race. The teaching of great Literature can do the job without resorting arguments over which religious faith is better, or refuting the findings of science.
It is a pity that the Educational leadership of this country seems to be totally clueless on this issue and seek only to build fences and gate around their schools, not so much to protect their students, but to regiment and order their lives and to prevent them from having to deal with the sticky business of self knowledge.
The Church claiming to possess the voice of God within in its leadership ignores this reality too, and Science adding being the voice of God to it's long list of accomplishments while denying the existence of the "deep within" are both doomed to tilling soil that will produce bountiful material gain up until the waters of the subconscious are completely denied entry into this world. At which point, they will sit like Oedipus on their mountain tops hanging their heads in grief at the vision of the death, drought and destruction their ignorance and vanity has brought about.
In the meanwhile, our schools will continue to produce world class measurers, taker-a-parters, put-er-togetherers, definers, deniers and justifiers. They will produce people who can heal physical wounds and people who can argue law until they are blue in the face and then some. But they will also begin to produce more and more wealth gatherers, drug addicts, dilettantes, gossips, degenerates, zombies, and broken hearted savages who only want the world to pay for the emptiness and the pain they feel that never ceases.
At least, Priests, the Scientists, and Educational Administrators won't have to poke out their own eyes. They are already blind and have been for quite some time.
There is a very good reason that our anus is not located close to our brain. I'm not going to tell you what it is, in fact, I am not sure of the reason myself, but I'm also sure that most people would be able to think about it for a moment and come up with a serviceable reason for the assertion.
If you can't, then maybe you need to check out of this conversation and Google Ideas to Entertain Dumbasses and go from there. I don't mean to be cruel or anything, but you're the one who can't come up with a good reason why your anus is not located right next to your brain.
The reason why I started this essay with such an outlandish statement is twofold. First, to get the reader's attention. Which I did since you are reading this, and secondly, to point out the idea that are a lot of hidden and often ignored relationships between most things that exist in this world. I mean who ever thinks about the reason for the distance between the anus and the brain? Yet, that distance exists, and therefore there must be a reason why it exists. I think Descartes could have explained it in Latin, "Cogito, Ergo, Sum, Yo Booty."
In fact, I think that not ever thinking about this obscure relationship should be more suspect than thinking about it. At least, it certainly displays a remarkable lack of curiosity about your surroundings. What if you were living under a dictatorship that expressly forbade thinking up such things? Would that help create an unquenchable urge to know, say, any more so, than in a free society where anyone who can spell the word anus could Google the information even in the middle of a high school orchestral performance of Mozart's Magic Flute while munching on a maple bar and picking their nose? Don't worry, it's a rhetorical question, and I am asking for a friend.
Have you ever stood out in field with nothing around you for many miles and then notice while you are turning around that the horizon forms a perfect circle, and you inhabit the smack dab middle of the circle, then also notice that the sky forms a dome overhead, and the axis that runs through the middle of the planet up to and through the center of the dome passes directly through you? You haven't? Well, neither have I.
I just stole the idea from the full length The Simpsons Movie where Homer was able to enter into a similar dome by a hole on the very top center. I'm pretty sure the creators of The Simpsons stole the idea from Steven King's horror novel The Dome.
I liked both the movie and the book so much that I came up with argument which Cardinal Bellarmine should have used against Galileo when the great Italian scientist was defending the Heliocentric Theory. Evidently, it was quite a argument presented by Galileo. I heard he had to wipe the sweat off of his head a few times, but that might been because the Church had the power to barbecue his ass and legend has it that the Cardinal had an opened bottle of A-1 sauce on his desk.
Anyway, the story goes that Galileo put on a spirited defense of the theory. I've heard that both the creators of Matlock and Perry Mason used the event many, many years later as the inspiration for their highly successful television series both of which featured that annoying If My Bologna Had a First Name commercial. I mean who the fuck names their bologna? I always felt that the commercial was an allegory for the irrationality of the Church's position on geocentrism.
Back to the point, Galileo went on and on, laid out exhibit A after exhibit A, painted a picture, crossed all the Ts, showed all the fingerprints and blood samples, and connected the dots so thoroughly that a deaf dumb, blind guy in the rear of the room yelled, "Eureka!" But when Galileo was done and collapsed back into his chair, the Cardinal raised his hand, the one with the gold and diamond ring so big it could have passed for a Super Bowl ring, and whispered something in Latin to the translator at his side.
The translator came forward to the podium placed there for his pronouncement. There were no microphones in those days, so people around the podium were holding ear trumpets to their ears with one hand and feathers full of ink with the other.
The translator cleared his throat three distinct times then pronounced, "The Cardinal, he'a cry Bull Shit! He speaka for the Pope, anda the Popa he'a speaka for God, ergo, God cries Bull Shit!"
Needless to say, it was something of a letdown not only for Galileo but other scientists as well who were hoping that he would be able to talk some sense into the Pope and the Pope would then pass it back to God. Alas, it was not to be. Galileo left the room hanging on to his notes with both hands pausing only to knock over the A-1 sauce on the Cardinal's desk. Legend says, on his way out the door, he blew out all the candles out in the room and punched the Cardinal's pet groundhog in the mug causing not only the extension of the Late Middle Ages but six more weeks of winter as well.
We all know what happened next. The Church and the Scientific community divided the Western World between them and went to war like the Jets and the Sharks in The Westside Story only with less music and dancing.
One side would say, " God built the world in seven days!"
The other side would scream, "No, he didn't. We did; and it took 4 million years, by accident, motherfucker!"
Then the Scientists would puff up their chests and say, " E = MC squared! Take that you hillbilly, blood sucking, sheep herders!"
The Church would answer, "HA HA HA! God says that don't mean nothing! He said try creating a woman out of a rib, jackasses!"
And on and on it went for hundreds of years until we have come to a moment in a time where we can not even agree on gender issues or on the ramifications of aborting the unborn.
Now if the good Cardinal had said instead, "Go outside and stand in a wide open field; turn around, and see if you are not in the center of the circle created by the union of the earth and sky. Then look straight up and do you not see that you stand directly beneath the center of the domed sky?"
Galileo would have had to have answered in the affirmative, as he would have to the follow up question.
"Are you not a man?"
After answering yes, Galileo would've had to pause to think this over a bit, and that's when the Cardinal should have followed with,
"There is some common ground between our two positions. When you can explain this to your own satisfaction, come back, and we'll talk. And I'll pass the info back the Pope, and he'll pass it back to the Jefe and maybe then he'll be so proud of his children that he'll quit bragging about the seven day thing."
At the very least, it would have placed the ball firmly back into Science's court and instead of making a lethal enemy, the Church would have come across as an institution that challenged instead of proscribed thought.
Then maybe, just maybe, instead of warring over the centuries, they could have worked together in solving the question of why our anuses are located so far away from our brains, a mystery that has perplexed the human race since the very dawn of time.
Education in this country is over politicized. way too enamored with technology, and generally very confused about what should be taught. In an age where the onslaught of computers threatens our ability to handle the stress caused by the fearsome rapidity of technological change, our educational system increasingly downplays, or even hides, the side effects of such change.
Schools should be forced like our drug companies to list those side effects on their homepages: loss of the ability to read or think deeply, a rise in ADHD and other focus related problems, behavioral issues, online bullying, video game and social media addictions, the loss of social skills, the lack of civility caused by anonymity, and on and on.
Then, Common Core emphasizes standardization at a time in our history where standardization is absolutely the wrong way to go. The decision to emphasize data management and information gathering and at the same time downplay the role of literature will go down in history as one of those "What the hell were they thinking" moments when our descendants are picking through the ruin and rubble to find out what happened and discover that we were training our kids to act like computers, to be cold and dispassionate collectors of data "with minds that magnified the smallest matters."
And imagine their surprise when they find out that, at the same time, we also thought it wise to remove the very guidebooks that would have helped show our students a way into, across, and out of the forest of confusion that real life, not virtual life, actually is while, at the same time, telling them that the guidebooks were obsolete anyway because of the GPS they had on their phones.
To top it all off, we also stripped our schoolyards clean of any spiritual meaning, preferring instead to indoctrinate all into the cult of pretending to be concerned and value signaling.
We have placed the wrong emphasis on telling our elementary school aged children that they must first solve the problems of the entire planet well before they have even begun to understand that they have problems in their own lives that need attention. Any school that chooses to advance an ideology
over doing right by their students should be shuttered.
Why stop at the planet, why not teach them to seek out and solve the problems of the entire universe? I mean if you really want to screw kids up. And don't bother accusing me of not caring about the planet just because I think it's more important for a child to learn to put his or her own house in order before venturing out to save the world. I think they would do a better job of protecting the planet if they first learn to prosper in their own skin.
Human beings don't develop along the lines that group think tells us that we do; they speak of the life of ants or bees. Good humans develop in the solitude of their own suffering. Psychologists know that we need to adjust ourselves to deal with our own demons before we can grow up to become good humans. I'm not saying that we don't learn as we go, both how to be ourselves and a member of a group, but learning to be a group before you learn to know yourself makes both yourself and the group weaker.
There is a reason why the ancients told myths of cultural heroes who mustered up the strength and courage to rise up from the ranks of the discouraged, mediocre thinkers all, to challenge the dragons who, above all, taught their victims to behave and think as victims. The heroes didn't teach their people to count the dead as needed sacrifices to the cause; the hero taught his people to slay the dragons.
Parents are placing their children's future into our hands with the expectations that we teach them how use their wings, so that they might learn to fly upwards and gain a proper perspective and to envision far off horizons. It is criminal for us to turn these nascent angels into flightless Dodo birds in a foredoomed effort to resurrect that extinct species.
It serves us well to remember that the Dodo went extinct because they lacked the natural defense mechanisms that would have helped them deal with the cold, hard realities of life. They couldn't fly. Hiding behind signs that showed how much they cared for the men who killed them wouldn't have helped them all that much, whereas a fully functioning pair of wings might have.
Before my words get twisted, all that I'm trying to say is that people need to to a better job of learning to love themselves before they can really learn to love others. That, and also that schools have only paid lip service to the idea of treating trauma issues by only focusing on the big ticket issues. It is a rare kid who has not been traumatized. Teaching victimhood is not a good strategy to combat the effects of trauma.
I shudder at the thought of our cavemen ancestors teaching their children that they were victims of an unfair ecosystem, or that they had a duty to clean-up the environment before they eliminated the things that made them weak in the face of adversity. Teaching them that the animals who sought to eat them had feelings and emotions of their own would have just led to the unpleasant experience of being converted into dung.
Which, according to many a current way of thinking, perhaps would have been better for the planet after all. Wait a minute, aren't these the same people who took the spiritual matters out of the schools and replaced God with Darwin? I'm confused.
The No Child Left Behind educational reforms came out of the womb deformed by the claim that every child in America would be on grade level by the year 2014. The willingness to embrace that claim doomed the program. It not only revealed that its backer’s most potent weapon was copious amounts of fairy dust; it also made fairly obvious, or should have made fairly obvious, the true motives of the reformers. For the politicians, it was to get elected, it gave the voters absolution for letting the education system get so bad in the first place, and it allowed both aforementioned parties to shift the blame solely upon the teachers and the schools.
The Common Core reforms are just as fundamentally flawed. This time around they have decided to turn the matter over to corporate America and came up with a program that supposedly will provide the business community with highly trained and motivated workers for decades to come.
The idea that we should educate our young with the primary focus being on the needs of the business community is a frightening thought, but not nearly as frightening as the idea that standardization is the best way to go.
The idea seems to be to take America’s hope and future and train them to be cookie cutter worker drones. If indeed this is the desired outcome, why don’t we just wait a few years until the robot factories are in full production mode?
The best evidence that this is not the way to go is the somewhat sinister idea that we have over valued the teaching of literature and need to change our focus to emphasize the importance of business skills and information gathering. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Many psychologists think that the hero quest, stories like The Odyssey or The Hobbit, serve as a model of man’s journey to achieve psychic “wholeness”. Most fiction embraces this concept in someway. The hero/heroine of the story experiences life with all its hazards and frustrations, obstacles emerge, and the hero overcomes and undergoes a transformation after which he or she can return to the community changed for the better. This is the story of life.
Literature teaches us that most people have problems, that failure does not define us, that it is okay to fail as long as you do not give up, and that healthy psychic integration is the most desired goal. Great novels are the most important tools that teachers have to explain life to confused young minds. Literary geniuses like Shakespeare and Tolstoy could and should be enlisted to help our students understand what is going on in the outer world, but, more importantly, in their inner world.
Take literature away, and we leave our kids at the mercy of business people whose sole desire is to exploit their skills, an educational community that is basically clueless about the psychic needs of youth, and a ever more frightening world where everything is cold and meaningless.
If anything, we need to teach our children how extricate themselves from the flood of information that not only destroys their ability to process information but also stunts the growth of both creativity and critical thinking.
Information overload is the real problem of both our educational system and American society in general. We are pretending that the only thing we need to do to deal with it is train our kids how to find more of it and to learn how to organize it in such a way as to be commercially valuable
The truth is that the flood of information has broken down our ability to process it, and has caused us to go to ridiculous extremes to learn how to ignore the fundamental needs of our subconscious self. In the headlong rush toward a technological utopia, we have forgotten that humans above all need to be nurtured and loved.
Our ability to observe tens of thousands of murders both real and fictional with emotional detachment and a minimum of discomfort is just the tip of the iceberg of just how broken our psyches have become. Broken enough to desire a solution to our educational woes that would fit into a microwave.
A frightful amount of America’s children, many mirroring their parents, are wounded. They reveal this everyday in their anti-social behavior, in their fashion choices, their musical tastes, and most importantly in their refusal to buy into their own education. They display it unknowingly in the 20-30 extra pounds they carry around their mid-sections, in their willingness to embrace actions that are clearly detrimental to their own well being, and in their inability to sit still long enough to read important text.
What they need is not more rigor or an increased ability to locate information. Also, they don't need all the bells and whistles that come with the advance of technology. Goethe, Einstein, Tolstoy, Freud, Maya Angelou, Marie Curie, Socrates and many of the greatest thinkers of all time seemed to have learned very well without a digital screen staring back at them. You shine this shit up however much you desire; if you are not teaching what truly needs to be taught, all you will have to show for your efforts is a whole bunch of shiny new shit and a whole bunch of kids becoming experts at Fortnite and Snapchat.
The true problem is the fact that they suffer from the same unmet psychological needs as most of the people in this country. What they really need are the tools to show them how to delay gratification, to feel that their daily struggles in the classroom are relevant, and how to survive the everyday assault on their consciousness by forces of which they are not even aware.
The school I used to teach at has one councilor for over 800 kids. This is probably about normal for the country. When you consider that most people living today could blame the majority of their problems, failures, and bad decisions on hidden forces of unmet psychological needs, it becomes fairly easy to see that this is also a big part of America’s real educational problem.
And the real question is what do we want for our children? Do we want them to learn to become the heroes of their own adventure quests, or to end up being one among millions and millions of worker bees? Do we want them to cut themselves into pieces that fit a puzzle, or do we want them to live meaningful lives?
Finding the correct answers to these questions used to be easy, maybe not so much anymore. After all, Common Core has been around for awhile.
" I looked at the statue of Mary and there was not even a slight trace of a smile, only tiny bits of orange peel on her sad and somber face. Even the crow on the wire chose to reveal its true nature as it started dancing up and down chattering at me."
I wrote the sentences above in a recent short story. It was a rather strange story which started out being a description of an actual fender bender where I was hit from behind at a stop sign, and it morphed into something else, into a very surreal something else.
I was experimenting with a writing technique that I read about in the book The Best Minds of My Generation by the poet Allen Ginsburg. The book is a collection of lectures delivered by Ginsburg about Jack Kerouac and the other writers of the Beat Generation.
Ginsburg described a technique used by Kerouac called sketching wherein the writer writes in the way that an artist would sketch a picture, "Write with an 100 % personal honesty both psychic and social etc. and slap it all down shameless, willy-nilly, rapidly." In a letter to Ginsburg, Kerouac wrote he would some time lose consciousness of his surroundings and write as if he were in a trance, "I feel a little crazy for having written it...I read it and it seems like the confessions of an insane person.....then the next day it reads like great prose."
I was hooked on the idea by the reference to creating psychic prose. Three years before I retired from teaching, I had an epiphany on the way to Fresno.
I was driving north on Highway 43 and somewhere between Hanford and Corcoran, I had a huge flash of intuition where I instantaneously understood the answers to about five different questions that were pressing upon me, including the understanding that most stories were not written about the outer world action, but rather served as vehicles for revealing the inner drama that occurs on the subconscious level of the main character.
The most loved stories are those that speak of the workings of the subconscious. These are the stories about universal themes, for example, falling in love, dealing with self-doubt, dealing with rejection, the lack of hope, dealing with death, feeling regret, etc. They are psychic stories that deal with the concept of human transformation.
This initial intuition led to a further understanding that fiction was nothing more and nothing less than a way to spread the universal truths that were once conveyed in the language of myth and in particular hero quests.
And all terms listed under the elements of fiction were not just mere definitions and words describing plot structures, but were the actual stuff of life itself.
Setting, for example is defined as the time and place that a story takes place. It is also where and when our own lives take place. And climax is not merely the high point of interest in a story, but reference the moment of transformation where real individuals rise to meet the demands placed upon them by their existence in a certain time and place.
It wasn't by any accident that fiction began to emerge about the same time as mythological language was losing its power as the Church Triumphant began to focus less on spiritual matters and more on gaining temporal power and wealth. During the Middle Ages the church tried its best to eliminate all links to a pagan past, and it was only the valiant efforts of Renaissance artists that kept the language of myth alive in Western culture.
Fiction most likely developed as method of conveying the wisdom of the ancients and allowing it to pass by the unknowing eyes of the censors of the church and state.
Anybody who understands this must teach to the wisdom of the ancients. And that wisdom is that men and women are born to rise above the conditions of their time and place, to overcome the obstacles that hold them back from being who they are meant to be, to transform their very nature so this knowledge becomes permanently engraved, and to ultimately arrive at a better place from where they started. By achieving this form of psychic wholeness, the individual raises not only his community but the whole of humanity.
In my story, the narrator is driving to a nearby town. He seeks to make the trip, a mundane event, more special by adding a soundtrack.
In this case the music Pink Floyd and the album The Dark Side of the Moon.
"I blotted out all unnecessary thinking and used the music as a soundtrack to the life outside my car windows. I've always had this slightly insane belief that you could find hidden patterns in life by doing something like that, as if you could coax out these little magical moments where the random happenings of everyday life were brought into alignment with the music."
This serves as an indication that the character is unhappy with his current state, something that is usually true in both fiction and in real life. He seeks something different and is willing to try anything to make life seem more meaningful.
The story then becomes a description of time and place like the way that Kerouac's sketching technique describes. That is until a truck strikes the narrator's car in the rear.
Where do you go after that? Describe the call to the insurance company or the drive to the auto body shop? That would have been realistic but also very, very boring.
Instead, the story takes a surrealistic path. When I was done, I sat back and muttered the words, "Damn where did that all come from?" I was kind of weirded out by the ending and decided to save what was written and get back to it later. When I came back to it the next day, I was surprised that it read well and was somewhat pleased with the results of the experiment.
When I first started teaching about fiction one of my students asked me if great authors simply placed allegory and symbolism down on a page and then wrote around it. I couldn't reply. I did however spend several years searching for the answer.
I think this story marked the first time that a story I had written ever produced any kind of natural allegory and symbolism. For example, the intersection where the accident took place becomes a symbol of the barrier between reality and the subconscious much like the surface of the lake in Natalie Babbitt's young adult novel Tuck Everlasting.
There were a many illustrations in ancient Greece that showed Apollo on one side, Dionysius on the other, and Hermes in between. Some scholars suggest that the pictures speak to the natural order of things with Apollo representing the material plane, Dionysius the subconscious plane, and Hermes as the interface between the two. In Christianity, the Holy Trinity represents somewhat the same idea.
Ian McGilchrist, in his brilliant book The Master and his Emissary, suggests that this also has something to do with the structure of the brain with its two hemispheres and the corpus callosum. The callosum is not just a barrier between the two halves, it is what makes the two hemispheres work together for the good of the whole, you might say, a place where the subconscious and the material world blend.
The accident itself becomes a force that drives the action below the surface much like the rock in The Hobbit that knocked Bilbo Baggins unconscious in the subterranean tunnels beneath the Misty Mountains, an act that signified that the events that transpired afterwards were occurring in Bilbo's subconscious.
Then there are the weird visions of the narrator.
"I asked her about her wreck, and at that moment, I swear I could see, or at least it looked like, the statue of Mary turn its head and smile while the gray clouds over the west horizon opened and the huge thumb of God thrust through the break in the clouds with a thumbs up gesture."
It is the lot of the human race to be unsatisfied. It is this dissatisfaction that drives us forward and allows us as a race to make progress. It is also this dissatisfaction that drives most fictional stories.
The narrator seeks approval for his existence and for a while thinks he has obtained it. However, his bizarre proposal snaps the scene back into the world of flesh and bone, and he has to deal with both the consequences of his action and the fact that the universe seems to have rejected his efforts.
"And there I was on my knees in the muddy dirt looking at both my crushed rear bumper and the fleeing red tail lights of a silver Sentra disappearing. I also saw pieces of torn white paper come out of the driver's side of the car, some hanging in the slight breeze, some floating gently to the road."
I think this passage is what Kerouac meant by saying the sketching technique produces some good prose. I quite like this part and the ending where the narrator is forced to come to grips with reality and rejects the existential approach to life in favor of the spiritual.
"I got back in the car and belted up, then shut the car door. I knew I had to make a decision as they were required at moments like these. In the state that I was in, it only took a second. I reached and turned the volume up on the radio, turned the car around, turned right at the intersection and headed north as the the trampy angels sang."
I don't know how else the story could have ended. I guess I could have had the narrator go to great lengths to amass a great fortune and do great things on behalf of the human race in order to gain God's approbation and Bianca's love, or I suppose I could have had him become crazier and crazier and start stalking the woman in order to gain revenge.
I once attended a staff meeting where a very powerful video dealing with childhood trauma was shown. The video featured several stories involving high-level child abuse. All of the people in the room were visibly moved by the stories.
I too was deeply moved but couldn’t escape the feeling that the video was part of a deeper problem with American education. The stories were all about high-level types of intense trauma such as that caused by sexual molestation, physical, and intense verbal and emotional abuse.
Because of this, the video supported the idea that the main effects of trauma created problems in American schools are related to forms of severe abuse. I believe this is probably not the truth; I think the traumas causing the biggest problems in American schools are more of the garden-variety type. I have come to believe that it is the ordinary, everyday, smaller types of traumatic experience that cause our children to opt out of an educational system that has supposedly been designed to help them become better people.
Along a similar line, psychologist James Hillman, writing in the The Soul’s Code states that the definition of child abuse should include the damage that schools and psychologists do when forcing gifted and talented kids to act against their true desires and self manifestation.
Hillman points out a statistic from the book Cradles of Eminence, a study of the early years of four hundred famous modern personalities, wherein it shows that sixty percent of these famous people had negative feelings toward schooling, though not necessarily toward learning.
Upon reading this alarming statistic, it is impossible not to ask the question: are schools traumatizing our young? Are they not doing enough to offset the effects trauma? Hillman is not the only scholar to suggest that this. Einstein’s famous saying “ Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one has learned in school,” bears a powerful witness to the sentiment.
This in no way denigrates the value of educators, or the importance of school, it does, however, create a mandate that we as a society should at least examine the evidence that seems to imply that a lot of our judgment and priorities are often wrong.
When so many intelligent and highly creative individuals (Gandhi, Edison, Picasso, Einstein, etc.) attest to the belief that schools are better at suffocating genius than developing it, it’s apparent that it might be time for us rethink schools.
Books like Hillman’s and Cradles of Eminence should be required reading for those who develop educational policy. In a more perfect world, that is one less concerned with what's going on with the Kardashians, these books would also be among the required reading for anyone voting on educational issues.
My own perspective on the problem of trauma changed once I read the book The Divine Code of Life by Dr. Kazuo Murakami, a Nobel Prize winning bio geneticist. During this period, I learned a couple of facts that altered the way I looked at life itself. The first was that humans are hard-wired to be the best version of our selves. Dr. Murakami also argues that it is possible to keep the switch on to access our better DNA. This argument has been bolstered by recent discoveries that we are capable of altering our DNA for the better.
Dr. Murakami believes that certain mental and emotional factors can transform our genetic make-up and turn on the genes that are necessary for success and also serve to turn off bad genes. This has led me to believe that this helps to explain the purpose of human existence: we are meant to be the best version of ourselves.
A question immediately arises, if this is the case, why are so many of us not doing this? The answer, strangely enough, came to me while I was sitting in a local Wal-Mart. I had gone there to buy toiletries and left with a whole different outlook on life.
What I saw there was obesity, lots and lots of obesity. It made me remember that one of the first tools that humans develop as a psychic defense is “oral gratification”, and that way too many Americans eat to satiate hungers that will never be satisfied by food.
This in turn led me to believe that most, if not all, people have been traumatized in one-way or another. I immediately grasped this type of trauma as being a smaller trauma, knowing even then that no trauma is actually small. I later began to use the term everyday trauma instead.
"I immediately grasped this type of trauma as being a smaller trauma, knowing even then that no trauma is actually small."
It only takes one time watching your parents go at it like cats and dogs before you lose the ground beneath your feet. It only takes the death of one loved one, even of a pet, before you must come to grips with how to handle the knowledge of death. It only takes one rejection by a girl, one unkind word by a teacher, or one scolding by an angry parent before someone could start emotionally deviating from the straight and narrow path.
I surmised that if this is probably true about the denizens of a local Wal-Mart that it is also true about many of my students, particularly the ones who seem less than interested about being the best that they could be.
There is a metaphor that I use to explain what I discovered. Let’s say you come home to a 21rst century house. When you walk in the door, you can push a button, and the house transforms: your dinner cooked and served, your clothes are washed, your floors vacuumed, and your walls turn into a television.
It doesn’t make sense to come in sit down and not have anything work the way that it is supposed to because you failed to muster the act of will to push the button that set the whole thing in motion. It is more than foolish to sit there and eat take-out when all you have to do is push a damn button. Without the simple act of will, nothing gets done.
Without will, nothing can ever be learned. We have the wiring. Why don’t we have the will? I have since read many books, articles, and studies that have supported and added to what I had intuited that day at the Wal-Mart.
One study, for example, stated that kids nowadays are being traumatized by modern life. When you think about how fifty years of studies about the negative effects of television have gone virtually unheeded, it doesn’t take much to realize the demands upon our focus required for keeping up with the changes of the digital age have probably greatly exacerbated many of the unresolved issues of the Twentieth Century education.
In addition to the social changes created by the rapid pace of technological change, we have also been dealing with the largely unrecognized effects of secularism resulting from over four hundred years of Newtonian determinism.
I greatly appreciate what science and empirical thinking has done to make life better. I merely refer to the failure of modern educational thinking to accept the deeply seated need to conceive and believe in a larger purpose of life other than simply material gratification.
The hidden effect of emphasizing scientific method and reason with a commensurate lack of understanding of the needs that people have for a greater sense of purpose has undermined the efforts of many a dogged reformer to alleviate the Twentieth Century malaise that settled upon public education after the forced removal of most spiritual values from our schools.
At my own school, for example, we have had many, many discussions about how to get the kids to read, and all of these discussions usually boil down to us stressing how they are going to need reading to land better jobs in the future.
Although well intentioned, the people who think this way are an unwitting part of the problem because of their failure to recognize that by getting rid of every vestige of acknowledging a bigger perspective, you have also removed a purpose for living that goes somewhat beyond eating, having sex, defecating, sleeping, and dying.
Hillman refers to it as the need to instruct students in “the art of seeing,” and points out that overly rationalized minds prefer the view of the chasm to the idea of a bridge that would connect our material reality to our spiritual needs. He further states, “The great task of a life-sustaining culture, then, is to keep the invisibles attached, the gods smiling and pleased: to invite them to remain by propitiations and rituals.”
People desire meaning. As American educator and writer John Taylor Gatto points out in his insightful attack on America’s public schools Dumbing Us Down, “ Meaning, not disconnected facts, is what sane human beings seek. “ He further states that because of the current obsession with facts, data, and details, “the age old human search for meaning lies well concealed.”
Many, will reject this line of reasoning, and refer to it as a bunch of superstitious nonsense, nevertheless, there is a lot of emerging scientific support for the idea, and let’s not forget the many discoveries in quantum physics which have been around a while, and have pretty much called into question the image of the Newtonian butterfly devouring universe.
Psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist has developed a thought provoking argument in his book The Master and His Emissary. McGilchrist argues that as humans become ever more analytical and left-brain dominated, they tend to lose understanding of the big picture, or purpose of things. Ultimately, as many argue, this leads society into becoming more obsessed with facts and data for which they have no longer have a need or purpose.
Those critics who favor a more tangible argument are directed to the multitude of studies showing how the narrowing down of our children’s vision toward ever shrinking digital screens seems to be accompanied by a commensurate loss of their ability to focus on tasks. They understand less, they retain less, and they are losing the ability to feel empathy.
In line with the argument that McGilchrist makes are studies which reveal that our kids are also losing the ability to read longer passages and the related ability to immerse themselves in their reading. The scanning process which has the taken the place of slower, deeper reading reduces comprehension and the ability to see the big picture.
I believe that it is because our kids are not so naïve that they fail to pick up on the big weakness of modern culture as it is currently being sold; it is pointless. If we continue to advance the idea that man is nothing more impotent piece of carbon and water, than we should not be overly surprised by the fact that our kids are often less than excited about what the future has to offer, especially the part that involves reading and math.
There is nothing more revealing of the barren nature of American culture than the 24 hours a day blathering of sport’s programming involving talking heads whose sole function in life is to distract us from the fact that we are all mortal and will one day die. This is equally true of movies that exist only to satisfy our urges to commit vicarious murders, fulfill fantasies of revenge, and to blow stuff up.
And nothing is more indicative of the general lack of knowledge of the American educational establishment than the lackluster curriculums they push that fail to engage our kids even though these programs cross every t and dot every i as laid out by the incompetent lot more commonly known as educational experts.
The bottom line is that we are never going to be successful in our quest to fix the problems of American education if all we do is attach it to the idea of material success, or attach it to meaningless social gestures that often do more harm than good. We have to attach it something larger than wealth creation and jobs; we must use the power of education to help all of our young people to fully become the unique individuals that they were always meant to be.
We have to make our kids buy into the idea that their fundamental purpose in life is finish at a better place than where they started.