October 2008

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Sometimes I feel that I am in a psychic jail, paying off the debts of my life’s imperfections. I am cast upon a small rock island, a fruitless raft tossed by ocean’s waves, always pushing, always threatening to throw me onto the shore’s cliffs.
I hope for mercy and penance in return for the deep debts I seem to be in.
In debt to life, the burden of each day occasionally seems too much; I am unable to clarify, to state clearly to my self where I am, how I got here, and whom I owe.
My parents, my teachers, family, friends, colleagues, neighbors…who else?
Who else? My own imaginations of how they imagined I could be, would be, should be, sometimes at odds with how I am. How I am, in my own terms to myself? – sometimes whispering, at other times, screeching.
Do I not live a life equal to that which they hoped I could; do I not let them be the persons that they willed and will; did their own debts and pain-filled penances spill over onto me, onto my future, its hopes and would-be’s and would have been’s?
Would I know what to do, where to go, if ever I could satisfy the debts of soul and spirit and life’s accumulations?
Penance! Penance?

Change, Change, Change! Yes, Yes, Yes…

Change, Change, Change – Yeah, but…

In my office at the University where I teach, there is a poster which I look at frequently, but keep mostly hidden from others: “I touch the future: I teach.”

Now older, many years of experience in thought and in teaching, I am even less bashful. “I inspire the future : I teach.”

Change, yes: but towards what? How can we envision the futures of democracy, without probing where we are, how we got here; and where is there to go?

Where are we: emerging from another “gilded age,” a “money bubble” which has so altered the shape of democracy, that it might be powerful enough to shape our very ideas of change. How to see, how to study these so-fragile times?

How we got here? We have been part and partners in the great money bubble: our children, our students go to school less to learn how to think, or grapple with their futures. More they go because that is the “thing to do.” Not to think critically, but to work toward a credential as “efficiently” as possible. Then their futures will be “O.K.”

Envision the future?? It will take care of itself, as long as we do what we do? Think critically? Bah! Do what we’re “supposed” to do, and…

Change, change, change. The mentality of the gilded age has pushed us into ourselves on facebook and U-space. The world in which we reside shapes us so much more than we realize. We have – not thoughtfully – accepted the oligarchies of money and power which shape our very desires. As it is all collapsing – in “crisis” – my students hardly blink, as they hardly realize that the world is always, already changing. Democracy entails awareness.

How to study these so-fragile times? History can be very useful? How did the last “gilded ages” – of the late 19th century and the 1920s collapse? How did the “progressive age” take place? Explore Hofstadter’s “The Progressive Movement,” and Josephson’s “Robber Barons.” How did we move – forward – from the great depression?

How might we envision the future of democracy? Where may our “Next Places” be – both politically and personally? A next progressive era?

Education: said John Dewey – probably the most thoughtful of the progressive thinkers – and do-ers. The very idea of democracy must be rethought, and taught to each new generation. It is the future, their future, in which they need to think and act. Teachers need to be sufficiently thoughtful and “important” to be able to inspire their futures.

The gilded ages have been driven mostly by new technologies: ideas, products, and the new monies generated and then controlled by the very clever, and very selfish and greedy few. How to return the U.S. to “we the people” as we go from boom to…?

Explore where we are, try to foresee various possibilities, then set out visions for the futures of those students whom we inspire to become truly engaged – in these times and their times – toward education and democracy.

The institution where I work is hard to move. Having reached a size, an age, a ponderous entity-ness, it IS. It is so big that everyone talks and meets and writes summaries of discussions, but no one seems to be able to summon the energy to do anything new. Or, there is so much doing already, daily, daily, doing, doing, that any more would be too much. Perhaps, as Kierkegaard claimed (The Present Age), each official, each self, is so well-geared, so successful at doing what is done already, that there springs up great resistance to any change, to any moving which is not what I already do…and do…and do. It is as if in order to move, I, we, have to damn all our pasts which have led to this present; to disqualify ourselves from our own lives. Once we have arrived in this institution, in this present, it is as if we are outside of our own time, outside of our own lives. It is as if we are not very present, only watching. Moving only to resist movement which would affect our selves, we sit watching.

Somebody realized not too long ago that knowledge has its own marketplace. What sells, what people hear and want to hear, what is the truth, and what are the facts, have no clear tests. What constitutes truth is all mixed up with what sells, and there is no totally obvious truth. What is true, the logicians say, is what is not-false. Truth is like geometry: axiomatic, derivable, provable, applicable. Perspectives, contexts, a different set of assumptions, equally true or not, burst that bubble! What is truth, logicians come to say, is what is falsifiable. Hedging, it seemed, but noting at long last what is circular and proves nothing but what was believed already. This realization has set the stage for much wondering.

Many could not stand the tension of wondering what – anything? – is clearly true. Wanting to believe in the truth of their beliefs, they became their own earlier opponents, and declared the end of truth, the impossibility of knowledge. They (we) have become beggars, hanging about the marketplace of ideas, declaring there are none, still eager to eat the shriveled fruits and tired vegetables of yesterday. Appetites shrunken, satisfied with little, they (we) seek nothing…and find it.