Sunday, March 1, 2015

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Title:  East of Eden

Author:  John Steinbeck

Date Published:  1952

Challenges:  The Classics Club; and The Essential Man's Library Reading List

I have been chomping at the bit to write a review of East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, for a week now, but time has been my adversary.   Finally, today I get almost the entire day to unleash. 

First, this was an extremely anticipated novel, though I had no idea what awaited me.  My only experience with Steinbeck has been two short stories: The Pearl and Of Mice and Men, two tragic, heart-rending, broken stories.  (By the way, don’t skip these if you haven’t read them, yet.)

Ok, be forewarned; there may be some spoilers here. 

My immediate feeling was that I was reading an American version of One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, because East of Eden has tiny gleams of fantastical, mystical qualities, with a hint of accounts about two generations of families.  No one would probably ever come up with such a connection, and I know the two are about as wide apart as the Grand Canyon, but that is what happens to me when I read and read and read.  I have outrageous flashbacks. 

Next, the biblical themes are obvious throughout the story.  Steinbeck could not have intended his biblical references about the human condition to be subtle because they jump right out at the reader.


For example, the title refers to the story about the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, lived, until they sinned and were driven out and placed somewhere to the east of the garden.  The setting of this story, Salinas Valley, California, represents that place of struggle, where man (or the characters) wrestle with what is right and what is evil; it is somewhere east of "Paradise."

Paternal Love and Acceptance

Another biblical reference is the desire for parental love or acceptance.   Adam Trask, Samuel Hamilton, and his Asian servant, Lee, read through Genesis 4 where God commands Cain and Abel to make an offering to Him.  God accepts Abel’s animal sacrifice, but does not respect Cain’s offering of vegetation. God is pleased with Abel, which consumed Cain, who later killed his brother in jealousy. 

Adam Trask found it offensive that God rejected Cain but favored Abel over an offering.  What was not discussed was that God did not reject Cain because of his offering; it was due to his disobedience (probably because he did not bring an animal sacrifice as commanded, like Abel did). 

Meanwhile, this paternal favoritism, which piqued Adam, is prevalent throughout the story.  Adam’s father, Cyrus, favored Adam over his brother Charles, and now Adam favored his son Aron over Aron's twin brother, Cal, until the very end.  Lee called it "the symbol story of the human soul" because "The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears." And then that rejection and fear leads to sin and guilt - "and there is the story of mankind."

Good vs. Evil

Then there is the theme of good vs. evil: Steinbeck demonstrates the battle between good and evil has been present since the beginning of civilization.  It rages on to this day, and it will until the end of time.  

Everyone will struggle differently with doing good and avoiding evil.  Some, like Cathy, Adam’s wife and Aron’s and Cal’s mother, will embrace evil and use it to their advantage; others may deny its existence, like Adam and his son, Cal.  They could not recognize wickedness on their own and needed to be shown.  Adam finally grasped the truth, but Cal ran from it because he could not accept it.  And then there are those who recognize their own battle, like Aron did, and admit their own short comings; they are well-grounded and have a better chance in the world.

Free Will

Steinbeck also presented his view of free will.  Free will means that man is not a robot, pre-programmed to live or behave a certain way.  Instead, man is meant to think and choose for himself. Using Genesis 4:7, as Lee did, God tells Cain,
If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it. 
Lee pointed out that the Scriptures used the Hebrew word, “timshel,” which is translated, “thou mayest,” (though my version is translated, “you should,” which is similar because it shows ability). Lee argues that this "makes man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice."  

This is a hopeful prospect for man: while sin is in his nature - if he disobeys God’s commands, sin will overpower him - with free will he may control or is expected to control his behavior, in order that he may not sin and, hence, prosper.  But I think Steinbeck left out the part about obeying God, and that is too bad because that is an important piece of Scripture.  God tells Cain that if he does well to obey His commands, he is already overpowering his desire to sin.  So obeying God is doing good, and disobeying God is sin, which may even lead to doing what is evil. 

This is a benefit to Aron who worried that since his mother Cathy was a wicked woman, he was doomed because he had inherited her evil.  He knew he often did what was wrong or wicked, and he felt terrible (guilt).  But he also struggled with his desire to do what was good and right.  When at the end of the story he received his father's blessing (another biblical aspect), he learned he had the free will to do what was right and a way to overcome evil.  At least, that is what the reader is left with.  But the story never changes, and man’s dilemma forever continues with choosing to do what is good while constantly struggling with a natural desire to sin and disobey God. So actually, Steinbeck, we did inherit that (wicked) nature from our parents.

The World's Story

Finally, the one idea that gave me shivers was this: Steinbeck said, 
A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil?  Have I done well-or ill?
Then he described three men of his own lifetime whose deaths marked the kind of life they had lived. The first two were not loved because the living rejoiced in their deaths.  The third man was greatly loved because the living wondered how they could go on without him.

By the way, who were these men?  Just curious.

Steinbeck said "men want to be good and want to be loved," and "most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love."  I am not sure I totally agree with this because some men are beyond hope.

Then he said,
if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.
There is truth to that, yes.  And that goes back to choosing what is good and right.  But if we really want to choose what is good and right, the right way to do it is to obey God's commands, in which case, to love one's neighbor as you love yourself and to love God with all your heart, soul, body, and mind.  I would just caution living for the world's approval because the world is not always right.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Title:  Persuasion

Author:  Jane Austen

Date Published:  1817

Challenges:  Persuasion Read-Along 2015; Reading England 2015, Dorset, Somerset; and Back to the Classics 2015, classic by a woman author

The first time I read Persuasion in October 2013, it did not penetrate my heart or mind, and I was left feeling somewhat neutral over it.  That bothered me, too, because I knew there was something worth appreciating about it, though I did not know what it was.  When I saw that Heidi @ Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine was hosting a Persuasion Read-Along, I knew it was an opportunity to be re-encouraged.  I was hopeful that I would have a different experience this time. And so I did.  Extremely different.

Immediately, it was as if I were reading under a microscope.  For example, I understood the character relationships and connections more clearly.  So many characters come in and out of Austen's story that I sometimes get lost following who is who and how they connect.  But more importantly, this time I had a deeper awareness of Anne's sentiments, especially towards Captain Wentworth.  

I rather not retell the story, but I must to a degree: Anne had the opportunity to marry a really great guy, Frederick Wentworth, whom she was very much in love; unfortunately, she was "overly-persuaded" not to marry him by someone who cared about her, someone Anne looked to for council.  Eight years later, he reenters her life and is greatly improved from years past - he is a captain in the British Navy.  But he has not forgiven Anne for rejecting him; yet, he is still looking for "an Anne-type girl" to marry.  

Jane Austen stamp, Great Britain

Meanwhile, for the next several weeks or months, Anne is trying to settle her feelings regarding Captain Wentworth: Is she still in love with him? Does he like her or hate the sight of her? Should she just go away?  Could they at least be friends?  

Poor Anne - although she wouldn't think so - is often hard on herself.  But one of her best qualities is that she always puts the needs and feelings of others before herself, even if she must suppress her true desires.  She even thought it acceptable if Frederick would consider her a friend; then she could be content. She didn't ask for anything more.

But that is not how this love story is going to end.  While there is a lot more going on between other characters, Anne's family members, and two other possible love connections for Anne, the one relationship I want to focus on is between Anne and Captain Wentworth.  Back to poor Anne: she has to witness Wentworth begin to develop a potential love interest with an acquaintance, and, yet, she keeps it quietly to herself.  Then suddenly, there is a whirlwind change in the story, and Captain Wentworth is free from this other woman, without regret.  Anne secretly admits:
No, it was not regret which made Anne's heart beat in spite of herself, and brought the colour into her cheeks when she thought of Captain Wentworth unshackled and free. She had some feelings which she was ashamed to investigate.  They were too much like joy, senseless joy!  (Exclamation point mine.)
She soon notices Wentworth's embarrassed encounters with her, his tenderness towards her, and eventually that he resents her no more.  At one point he expressed jealousy of another man.  Jealousy! She is certain that "He must love her."  Yeah, he does!  Fast-forward to the very end, and Wentworth writes one of the most awesome love letters in my literary history that I have ever read, including this famous line:

You pierce my soul.  I am half agony, half hope.

At heart, he still loves her, and he waits for a sign from her that she loves him, too.


That seals it.  It is done.  No one shall ever persuade Anne out of this union ever again.  No long engagement for this happy couple.  They know certainly that they want to be together, and whatever shall be shall be. That's marriage, and there are no guarantees.  Marrying for love may be hasty, but marrying for money and social connections may not be the wiser or more secure.  Guess we'll know in the long run.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Title:  Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson

Author:  Mary Rowlandson

Date Published:  1682

Challenges:  The Classics Club; and The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, Biographies

Mary Rowlandson
Mary Rowlandson, a British native living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, shares her terrifying experience: being forced from her home, witnessing the brutal murders of neighbors and family members, and being separated from her children, save one dying in her arms from a gunshot wound.  

In 1675, American colonists were in the middle of a Native American conflict between several New England tribes and the British and their Indian allies.  King Philip's War, named after Native American Metacomet, began after the alleged murder of an Indian translator and advisor to Metacomet. Three Wampanoag Indians were tried and hanged for this crime. In revenge for the trial and hanging, a number of surprise attacks occurred on colonial towns.  Homes were destroyed and men, women, and children were either murdered or taken captive; Mary Rowlandson was one of those taken captive.

Rowlandson narrates in vivid and terrifying description what it was like on that February morning: Indians came into her town, burning homes, knocking men or women on the head, shooting, stabbing or butchering some to death, stripping bodies naked, or taking others alive. She witnessed the death of one sister and a nephew.  Her husband was not home during the time of the attack when two of their oldest children were taken and a third was wounded.

At first, she thought, "if Indians should come, I should choose rather to be killed by them than taken alive, but when it came to the trial my mind changed..."  And so began her eleven-week ordeal of survival in the daunting wilderness, often on the march and fleeing from the pursuing British, foraging for food to sustain herself, but always clinging to God and His Word.  

Within a week, her wounded six-year old died, but she knew her two older children were alive and in nearby camps.  In her burden and anxiety, she asked God to give her "some sign and hope of relief." Then after a raid on another English colony, an Indian brought her a Bible that he took as loot and had no use, which she accepted willingly and saw as an answer to prayer.

She gained strength from Psalm 27: "Wait on the Lord, Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine Heart, wait I say on the Lord."  And in understanding her loss of family, relations, her home and its comforts, she read from Job: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return: the Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord."  

She was able to comfort her son, when she saw him, with Scripture, such as Psalm 118:17-18: "I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the Lord: the Lord hath chastened me sore yet he hath not given me over to death."  Other times, this verse, Psalm 46:10, was good enough: "Be still, and know that I am God."  Or when she could not worship on the Sabbath and had no where to lay her head, 
I cannot express to man the sorrow that lay upon my spirit; the Lord knows it.  Yet that comfortable Scripture would often come to mind, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee."

The Killing of Jane McCrea
(This painting is often used in captivity stories, and was on the cover of my copy.)
Rowlandson suffered in her heartbreak over the separation from her children and endured humiliation in the midst of her captors - who threatened her, struck her, or were unkind to her, particularly the women.  Sometimes she was "met with favor," but other times unkindness.  She did meet Metacomet (King Philip), and he was very good to her.

To survive, she was forced to look for her own food in the wilderness or to beg for pieces of food from others.  Food included: ground acorns, bear meat, or boiled horse hoof.  Once she sustained herself on molded crumbs of bread that she found in her pocket.  She remarked that "it was very hard to get down their filthy trash," and yet, in her hunger, she believed that God allowed them to be "sweet and savory to [her] taste."

Near the end of her captivity, she learned of her possible restoration and had to set a price for her redemption; this was ironic because the Indians had taken or destroyed all of her property, and she and her husband had nothing to give.  Nonetheless, she was redeemed for twenty pounds.  Later, she and her husband were able to track their two older children and redeem them, as well, so that they were all reunited once more.

Rowlandson recalled how God had His hand in this conflict, and how He provided for the Indians, whether it was to stop the English from pursuing or permit Indian victories, destroying towns and taking more captives.  She says,
Now the heathen begins to think all is their own, and the poor Christians' hopes to fail (as to man) and now their eyes are more to God, and their hearts sigh heaven-ward; and to say in good earnest, "Help Lord, or we perish."  When the Lord had brought His people to this, that they saw no help in anything but Himself; then He takes the quarrel into His own hand; and though they (the Indians) had made a pit, in their own imaginations, as deep as hell for the Christians that summer, yet the Lord hurled themselves into it.  And the Lord had not so many ways before to preserve them, but now He hath as many to destroy them.
In regards to her afflictions, she said,
I have seen the extreme vanity of this world: One hour I have been in health, and wealthy, wanting nothing.  But the next hour in sickness and wounds, and death, having nothing but sorrow and affliction.
Having known these miseries, she could now look beyond her troubles and be at rest in the Lord.

If I had to answer the question, "Why did Mary Rowlandson write her story?" I would say her simple message was this: God chastens those whom He loves, and He is able to carry them through their afflictions.  "That we must rely on God Himself, and our whole dependence must be upon Him."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Book (or Reading) Related Problems I Have

Ten Book (or Reading) Related Problems I Have

1. Sometimes I bite my nails when I read.

2. I underline a lot and write all over my pages.

A mess

3. I buy used books faster than I can read them.

4. It irks me when my 18-year old leaves his phone, watch, wallet,
and eye glasses on my bookcase.  They are not part of my books.

5. I love my bookcase that my husband built for me, but it is just a bookcase,
and I must not treat it like it is another family member.

Just a bookcase

6. Some people have pets.  I have books.

7. I get excited about going to the library.

8. I would rather read than exercise.  

9.  I bring books with me everywhere,
including family gatherings and birthday parties.

10. Most of the time, I'd rather be reading.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, by John Bunyan

Title:  Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

Author:  John Bunyan

Date Published:  1666

Challenges:  Literary Movement 2015, Renaissance; Reading England 2015, Bedfordshire; The Classics Club; and The Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, Biographies

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan's spiritual autobiography, covered numerous reading challenges for me - and it was only 77 pages.  But what a formidable, little book! 

In this short personal history, Bunyan recounts "the merciful working of God upon [his] soul." When God begins to prick the conscience of Bunyan, showing him his disobedience and wickedness, the author describes how he rebelled against and tried to hide from God.  Gratefully, there were people in his life who introduced him to the Scriptures, and he immediately enjoyed reading God's word; however, it also opened his eyes to God's standards, and conviction weighed heavy on his heart.  

This burden led to an extremely long and agonizing trek to salvation and conversion for Bunyan.  If you have ever read The Pilgrim's Progress, then you will begin to see Christian's journey unfold before your eyes. John Bunyan suffered through temptation, doubt, lack of or little faith, and ignorance of truth. When he thought he found comfort in God's word, he become fooled and discouraged all over again, blaming Satan for misleading him in his faithlessness.

Statue of John Bunyan
located at Southampton Row London
His most worrisome concern was a misunderstanding that he would never achieve salvation due to his blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, while tempting God.  Imagine convincing yourself that you could never be saved, and yet fully understanding the ramifications of God's wrath!  You could do nothing but wait for your coming judgment.  Bunyan lived with this dread and trepidation day after day.  And when the reader thought he finally found God's truth, love, and peace, Bunyan immediately turned to his anxiety, temptation, guilt, and doubt all over again.  I think I wrote the word "finally" about six different times, thinking he was complete, until finally!!! He embraced God's free gift of grace, with no strings attached.

My favorite was this irrefutable moment when he said: was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse: for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, 'the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).'
And immediately following, he continued:
Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations also fled away: so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God...
Bunyan's conversion was a long and slow process, but eventually he rose to be a great witness for Christ's glory.  He spent twelve difficult years in prison, apart from his wife and children, because he would not conform to the Church of England.  Of this suffering, he learned,
...I see the best way to go through sufferings, is to trust in God through Christ, as touching the world to come; and as touching this world, to 'count the grave my house, to make my bed in darkness, and to say to corruption, thou art my father, and to the worm, thou art my mother and sister...(Job17:13-14)'

John Bunyan in Prison, by Andrew Geddes
located at Bedfordshire, England

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Part V

I know these are super long posts - this one and all of the Underground History posts - but I could not cut out anymore because the message is so essential to all of us.  If you want to understand our history, our influences, our culture and civilizations, the direction we are headed as a nation, and what we can do to change it, you have got to read this book.  

For previous posts:
Part I
Part II
Part III & IV

Here is only a short synopsis of the final part:

Nothing good can come from inviting global corporations to design our schools, any more than leaving a hungry dog to guard ham sandwiches is a good way to protect lunch.

John Taylor Gatto
Modern schooling is a battle between the needs of social machinery and the needs of the human spirtIn other words, government schooling has basically forfeited a young person's natural desire and ability to create, problem solve, build, learn, discover, and thrive for something else: the corporatesocial agenda and the "better good" of the State.

A price had to be paid: the trade off was "the destruction of small-town, small-government Americastrong families, individual liberty, and a lot of other things people weren't aware they were trading for a regular corporate paycheck."

It was never a conspiracy. 

In fact, it was a reasoned undertaking engineered by very respectable men, but with help from ordinary citizens who bought into it, and who forgot how to be leaders, choosing rather to be consumers instead of producers.

This may sound unbelievable, but those in power tend to fear the education of the common man. Americans were once well-read, but schools had a new interest to train up children for "their role in the new overarching social system."  That included the end of reading as we once knew it.

"There are many ways to burn books without a match":

1. Substitute childish books for serious ones
2. Simplify language, so that it becomes demeaning
3. Fill books with pictures to replace imagination

(Have you examined a school's reading "program," lately?)

Gatto believes in people, especially children:
...people love to invent solutions, to be resourcefulto make do with what they have, but resourcefulness and frugality are criminal behaviors to a mass production economy...
Worst of all are those who yearn for productiveindependent livelihoods like...nearly all free Americans once had If that vision spreads, a consumer economy is sunk.  
...the form of schooling we get is largely a kind of consumer and employee training.  
How to break out of the trap:

1. debate the purpose of public education;
2. challenge elites who set the agenda;
3. withhold allegiance from political and economic leadership;
4. trust ourselves and our children to remake the future locally;
5. demand  intellectual and character development as the mission in schools; and
6. smash the government monopoly of funds.

Here is a dilemma: 
Modern schooling has no lasting value to exchange for the spectacular chunk of living time it wastes or the possibilities it destroys.
Universal prescriptions are the problem of modern schooling, academic research which pursues the will-o-the-wisp of average children and average stages of development makes for destructive social policy, it is a sea anchor dragging against advancement, creating the problem it begs for money to solve.

How to change the schools we have:

1. take profit out of reading and math specialists, including publishers and materials suppliers;
2. do not exceed a few hundred students per school;
3. measure performance with individualized instruments;
4. end the district school boards;
5. install permanent parent facilities in every school;
6. give children private time and space;
7. understand there is no one right way to grow up successfully;
8. teach children to think dialecticallyand
9. arrange schooling around complex themes instead of subjects.

An important truth about school vs. education:
Schools can never deal with really important things.  Only education can teach us that quests don't always workthat even worthy lives most often end in tragedy, that money can't prevent this; that failure is a regular part of the human condition; that you will never understand evil; that serious pursuits are almost always lonely; that you can't negotiate love; the money can't buy much that mattersthat happiness is free.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Parts III & IV

The best lives are full of contemplation, full of solitude, full of self-examination, full of private, personal attempts to engage the metaphysical mystery of existence, to create an inner life.

For previous sections, see:
Part I
Part II

Part III is a chapter about the author's youth and experience growing up and teaching.  Here are some of my favorite quotes:
Poverty can't make you miserable; only a bad character and a weak spirit can do that.
Nobody should be allowed to teach until they get to be forty years old.  No one should be allowed anywhere near kids without having known grief, challenge, success, failure, and sadness.
Millions of retired people would make fine teachers.  College degrees aren't a good way to hire anybody to do anything.
The idea that individuals have free will which supersedes any social programming is anathema to the very concept of forced schooling.
Part IV explores corporate domination on American education.  Wealthy, influential foundations, like Rockefeller's and Carnegie's, poured money into funding government schooling, (just like Bill Gates' Foundation).  Has anyone ever asked what Bill Gates knows about education? (See this current article about why Gates is wrong about Common Core - the current universal curriculum push.)  The more money wealthy foundations put into education, the more obligated the system is to their demands.

Gatto says,
" - corporate wealth...has advanced importantly the dumbing down of America's schools, the creation of a scientific class system, and the important attacks on family integrity, national identification, religious rights, and national sovereignty."
The author probes the psychology associated with forced schooling.  Behaviorists believed humans were machines; stage theorists treated humans like vegetables - hence Kindergarten, but neither treated children like people.  Gatto asks, "Are children empty vessels?...Is human nature empty?  If it is, who claims a right to fill it?"
This is the basic hypothesis of utopia-building, that the structure of personhood can be broken and reformed again and again for the better.
Gatto addresses the elimination of failure, morality, and God.
...a plan to eliminate failure structurally from formal schooling was considered and endorsed - failure could be eliminated if schools were converted into laboratories of life adjustment and intellectual standards were muted.
...the only psychological force capable of producing these perversions is morality, the concept of right and wrong. 
Spiritually-minded people cannot be controlled.  The Western Christian ideals must be replaced by the New Religion of Science that teaches:

1. Criticism of parents, community, and traditional values
2. Objectivity and suppression of human feelings
3. Neutrality
4. Only that which is visible can be known

The religion of science says there is no sin; no good or evil; no free will; no redemption; work is for fools; hard work is for slaves; and work as little as you can get away with.  It also says YOU CANNOT TRUST YOURSELF; but you can trust the State to make the best decision for you.

All this is coming true today!

A mother photographs her child doing math and blames Common Core.
The author states that the way to fix the problem with schools is to "return to discipleship in education."  This involves a return to "apprenticeships and mentorships which mostly involve self-education."
They are self-taught through the burdens of having to work, having to sort out right from wrong, having to check your appetites, and having to age and die.
Western spirituality granted every single individual a purpose for being alive.
...everyone counts...What constitutes a meaningful life is clearly spelled out: self-knowledge, duty, responsibility, acceptance of aging and loss, preparation for death...You do it for yourself.  It's time to teach these things to our children once again. 
Finally, the last chapter of Part IV covers more psychology of schooling and what its end result has been.  Gatto says, "School wreaks havoc on human foundations in...eight substantive ways so deeply buried few notice them, and fewer still can imagine any other way for children to grow up."

Schools teach:

1. Forgetfulness
2. Bewilderment and confusion
3. Children are assigned to social classes
4. Indifference
5. Emotional dependency
6. Intellectual dependency
7. Provisional self-esteem
8. The glass house effect: there is no privacy or privacy is a crime

Hence, schools produce children...

1. indifferent to the adult world of values and accomplishment
2. with almost no curiosity
3. with a poor sense of the future
4. who lack compassion for misfortune
5. who can't stand intimacy or frankness
6. who are materialistic
7. who are dependent and grow up to be whining, treacherous, terrified, dependent adults passive and timid in the face of new challenges.

Go to Part V.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Part II

Part I

The Foundations of Schooling

Part II is five chapters long, and Gatto delves deeply into the historical setting for forced schooling.

Here are some highlights:  

Modern schooling..."set out to build a new social order at the beginning of the twentieth century (and by 1970 had succeeded beyond all expectations), but in the process it crippled the democratic experiment of America, disenfranchising ordinary people, dividing families, creating wholesale dependencies, grotesquely extending childhoods.  It emptied people of full humanity in order to convert them to human resources."
"...correctly managed mass schooling would result in a population so dependent on leaders that schism and revolution would be things of the past.  The trick was to alienate children from themselves so they couldn't turn inside for strength, to alienate them from their families, religions, cultures, etc., so that no countervailing force could intervene."
Keep in mind that these ideas were concocted in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but you can plainly see how they have since come to fruition.

The author makes the case that great thinkers of the past influenced those who were now working to create the utopia I spoke of in Part I.  The family must be destroyed, individuals must learn to depend on others (the State), and they must have burden-free lives.  Meanwhile, the idea of artificial wants was being created to make way for overproduction and commercial mass entertainment.

Chapter 8 is dedicated to the history of the coal industry in America and its role in changing our culture and funding mass schooling.  For what purpose does the coal industry have in schools?  Gatto goes into great depth to explain why and how it happened.  He says,
"...American government and big business (coal) had been fully creating and maintaining mass society."
The author calls it "a coal-fired mass mind."

Here are some of the changes made slowly into national schooling:

1. Removal of literacies of writing and speaking which enable individuals to link up and persuade others.
2. Destruction of the narrative of American history...defining what makes Americans different from others.
3. Substitution of historical "social studies" catalogue of facts in place of historical narrative.
4. Radical dilution of academic content of formal curriculum which familiarized students with serious literature, philosophy, theology, etc.
5. Replacement of academics with a balanced-diet concept of humanities as substance of the school day.
6. Enlargement of school day and year to blot up outside opportunities to acquire useful knowledge leading to independent livelihoods; ie. shop classes.
7. Shifting oversight from those who have greatest interest in student development - parents, community, students - to strangers.
8. Relentless low-level hostility toward religious interpretations of meaning.

And this quote I found interesting from Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book Between Two Ages, published in 1970:
"It will soon be possible to assert almost continuous control over every citizen and to maintain up-to-date files containing even the most personal details about health and personal behavior of every citizen, in addition to the more customary data.  These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.  Power will gravitate into the hands of those who control information."
(Obamacare comes to mind.  Obamacare was never about healthcare anyway, just like schooling was never about education).

One last quote from the John Taylor Gatto is this
"Here is the crux of the difference between education and schooling - the former turns on independence, knowledge, ability, comprehension, and integrity; the latter upon obedience."
I will return later with Part III, or you can read the entire text for yourself at  The Underground History of American Education online for free.

Go to Parts III and Part IV.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe

Title: Robinson Crusoe

Author:  Daniel Defoe
Date Published:  1719
Challenge:  Back to the Classics 2015, classic with a name in the title

Occasionally, the vision of me on a desolate tropical island, with a hammock and Kindle (I don't own a Kindle) that never needs recharging and has access to all the books in the world, comes to mind.  Yeah, that's where I am.  Then reality reminds that I am not there; I am here, and there are four or five people talking at me all at once. Those are my kids.  So when I chose to read Robinson Crusoe, it was personal.  But I did not realize how personal it would get.

In truth, I approached Robinson Crusoe as an outdated classic adventure about a guy who finds himself alone on an island for a few years and lives to tell about it.  I have seen "Cast Away": it was not that eventful.  How interesting can this story be?

Tom Hanks yelling at Wilson, his volleyball companion, in "Cast Away"

The first third of the book was arduous: a "silent life," hunting seals, goats, and turtle eggs for food, making ink, clothing, and clay pots, and cutting down and constructing a small canoe - the latter event taking six pages to describe - to explore the beaches of the island. 

But let me get to the meat of this story because it is what influenced me entirely.  Two major themes of Robinson Crusoe are redemption and deliverance, given the strong emphasis on his spiritual journey.  Crusoe, the character, is the prodigal son who defied his father and went to sea.  He was prideful, rebellious, and disobedient, and for that, Providence set him apart from humanity, to live alone in silence for over twenty years.  

Early on, his sinful heart was convicted, and he repented.  With the help of a Bible that he had salvaged from the wreckage, he grew in spiritual knowledge of his Redeemer. During a time when he looked upon his situation as a prison, he began to read his Bible, and he came across these words,
'I will never, never leave thee, nor forsake thee.'
And he reasoned:
...if God does not forsake me, of what ill consequence can it be, or what matters it, though the world should all forsake me, seeing on the other hand if I had all the world, and should lose the favor and blessing of God, there would be no comparison in the loss?
He was thankful to God for bringing him to this place and "for opening his see the former condition of [his] life, and to mourn for [his] wickedness, and repent."

Then later, he came to a severe understanding that if God wanted him to live the remainder of his life in solitude, it would be God's will because He is Supreme.  
His sovereignty, who, as I was His creature, had an undoubted right, by creation, to govern and dispose of me absolutely as He thought fit, and who, as I was a creature who had offended Him, had likewise a judicial right to condemn me to what punishment He thought fit; and that it was my part to submit to bear His indignation, because I had sinned against Him.
Yikes!  Dispose of me!  That is extremely difficult to admit: God can do whatever He wants with me because He is my Maker.   God had certainly humbled Crusoe.

In the immediate paragraph, Crusoe continued:
I then reflected that God, who was not only righteous, but omnipotent, as He had thought fit thus to punish and afflict me, so He was able to deliver me; that if He did not think fit to do it, 'twas my unquestioned duty to resign myself absolutely and entirely to His will; and, on the other hand, it was my duty also to hope in Him, pray to Him, and quietly to attend the dictates and directions of His daily providence.
To hope in Him.  What mercy!  A righteous, omnipotent Creator, who Crusoe knew could dispose of him as He like, expected him to also HOPE in Him.  

Crusoe pondered these thoughts because he had found a footprint in the sand; he was so paranoid about it (after years of no human contact) that he imagined it could be a flesh-eating "savage" from a nearby island, until he found Scripture that soothed his soul:
'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver, and thou shalt glorify Me.
'Wait on the Lord, and be of good cheer, and He shall strengthen thy heart, wait, I say, on the Lord.
Crusoe was encouraged by these words that they relieved his heart instantly.  He realized that the footprint he saw in the sand, which burdened and worried him for so long, could have actually been his own.  

If an author can go on for six pages about the cutting down and building of a small canoe, I assure you, the bulk of the story is on Crusoe's spiritual redemption, repentance, and deliverance.  I have only provided two sections.  

It was, I believe, biblically sound, and I soaked it up and studied the text as if it were an assignment.  If this picture is any indication of what the majority of my book looks like, then you know what I mean.  I seriously need to think about a new copy.

Yeah, I do this.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Underground History of American Education, Part I

You can read my notes on the Prologue HERE.

In Part I of The Underground History of American Education, the author, John Taylor Gatto, considers what education "used to be."  Education focused on duty, hard work, responsibility, and self-reliance.
"Young people in America were expected to make something of themselves, not to prepare themselves to fit into a pre-established hierarchy.  Every foreign commentator notes the early training in independence, the remarkable precocity of American youth, and their assumption of adult responsibility."
"Anyone worthy of citizenship was expected to be able to think clearly and to welcome great responsibility."
But there was, from the onset of the birth of our nation, an attack on Western ideals.  These ideas began to creep into our culture very slowly until the post-Civil War period and just in time for the Industrial Revolution.  One goal was to create a school environment that destroyed creativity, independence, and hope, frankly.  If a large portion of the masses could be forced into this new way of thinking, this would help build upon the new utopia that man has always strived to reach.

School was the easiest way to implement these ideas.  But this is dangerous because
"Utopian schooling is never about learning in the traditional sense; it's about the transformation of human nature."
"To mandate outcomes centrally would be a major step in the destruction of Western identity."
But it has happened already.  According to the author, by the 1960's this long push for forced schooling had done its job.  Human nature has been changed.  

One concept was to extend childhood and alleviate early responsibility.  Keep young people in school longer and create an atmosphere where they believe they (and their peers) are not capable of self-governance or independence.

Another idea was to eliminate real books and how we read them.  (Hello, textbooks?)  Real books force us to think.
"Real books transport us to an inner realm of solitude and unmonitored mental reflection in a way schoolbooks and computer programs can't.  Real books conform to the private curriculum of each author, not to the invisible curriculum of a corporate bureaucracy."
"Reading, and rigorous discussion of that reading in a way that obliges you to formulate a position and support it against objections, is an operational definition of education in its more fundamental civilized sense."
"Reading teaches nothing more important than the state of mind in which you find yourself absolutely alone with the thoughts of another mind, a matchless form of intimate raport available only to those with the ability to block out distraction and concentrate.  Hence the urgency of reading well if you read for power."
One more great quote from the author about reading:  (I love this!)
"Once you trust yourself to go mind-to-mind with great intellects, artists, scientists, warriors, and philosophers, you are finally free." 
That's just two points, but there are so many more packed into Part I; you will have to read it for yourself.  The bottom line is this: the author makes the case that
"...government schooling made people dumber, not brighter; made families weakernot stronger; ruined formal religion with its hard-self exclusion of Godset the class structure in stone by dividing children into classes and setting them against one another; and has been midwife to an alarming concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a fraction of the national community."
I cannot say anymore, but I will return with Part II later.  For now, consider this:
"Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct.  Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy..." 
Now, ask yourself if schools today provide that to young people

Go to Part II.