Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Education, the Business Model and the Imago Dei

What is education? It is the subject of much debate, though usually the matter is consigned to educational directors and social planners. Most parents do not feel that they posses the intellectual qualifications to grapple with it. Yet perhaps a more fundamental question needs to be asked first. "What does it mean to be human?"

In the book of Genesis, in the Bible, we read a story of origins. We read that God created the world and then formed humans out of the dust of the earth. He made them male and female and placed them as co-equal rulers over the rest of creation. And most importantly, he made them in his own image. To be human, therefore, according to the Biblical narrative, is to bear the image of the Divine, the stamp of his own character. We can think, reflect, reason and create after the same manner as our Creator.

This propensity to emulate God is evident from earliest childhood. I can look around the room and see it in the activities of my own children at this very moment. Just as God thought, then expressed his thought in creative act, so they make use of the elements of paint, water, glue, piano keys, a computer, and random toys and objects in order to rearrange them into a form that was conceived in their own minds, by their own wills. And, like God, they can step back from their creations and say to themselves, "It is good." Furthermore, as God himself completed his masterpiece, and set aside a day for his people to enjoy it, so is the urge to share what is made expressed in so many words, "Look what I did, Mama!" or, "Listen to this!" or "I made this for you.", followed by an expectation of approval, a sign that the delight is mutual. This should naturally lead to the desire for God's own approval, exercising our creative labor during the week, then enjoying that work in the context of God's gifts of grace in feasting, thanksgiving and worship together when the week is done, and a new one begun. This completes the cycle of love between the Creator and his people.

What happens to this universal work ethic model, for it is nothing less than that, when one enters the business world, or the public school system which was designed to prepare children for it, is the great question that the book I am reading, The Underground History of American Education, by John Taylor Gatto, helps to answer. In it, Gatto, a retired public schoolteacher of 30 years, traces the various influences in history that played a part in shaping the structure of society as we know it today. Through a strange wedding of wealthy opportunists to Utopian dreamers, armed with the tools of scientific management and the moral commission that Darwin granted to those handpicked by natural selection to help the selective process of evolution along, the modern business model and it's labor force supplier, the public school, emerged.

Despite the danger of oversimplifying Gatto's intensive investigation, I think the words of Frederick W. Taylor, brilliant evangelist of the scientific management model of the early 20th century, best sums up the sentiment of the age. He said, "What I demand of the worker is not to produce any longer by his own initiative, but to execute punctiliously the orders given down to their minutest details." In his book, "Principles of Scientific Management" Taylor summarized his managerial discipline in the following power points:
  1. A regimen of science, not rule of thumb.
  2. An emphasis on harmony, not the discord of competition.
  3. An insistence on cooperation, not individualism.
  4. A fixation on maximum output.
  5. The development of each man to his greatest productivity
Perhaps this list does not scare you as much as it does me. But listen to how it is applied by Taylor in a theoretical scenario at a steel factory:

"Now Schmidt, you are a first-class pig-iron handler and know your business well. You have been handling at a rate of twelve and a half tons per day. I have given considerable study to handling pig-iron, and feel you could handle forty-seven tons of pig-iron per day if you really tried instead of twelve and a half tons.

Skeptical but willing, Schmidt started to work, and all day long, and at regular intervals, was told by the men who stood over him with a watch, "now pick up a pig and walk. Now sit down and rest. Now walk—rest," etc. He worked when he was told to work, and rested when he was told to rest, and at half past five in the afternoon had his forty-seven tons loaded on the car."

And so it goes, so it goes. The deliberate massification of the population. The systematic destruction of the Imago Dei in the human imagination, both in the mind transplants of those forced into the school manufacturing process and, more so, in the goitered jowls of the suit and tie business tycoons and their bought-and-paid-for politicians. We owe much to this model. Suppression of creativity leads to violent passions, which requires psychological therapy and brain altering medication to control, and television to soothe the numbed mind, or mass policing when these other methods fail. Students are trained to trust an elite hierarchy from birth onward for every area of life. First there is the immune system rape of mass vaccination, upheld by mythic hero tales, coupled with the disabling and vastly under-reported neurological side effects of these toxins. There is the seizure of the food supply by powerful agribusiness lobbies, squeezing out the nourishing traditions of small farming families and replacing them with nutritionless convenience foods with addictive chemicals added to mask their flavorlessness. And let us not forget the seizure of lands rich in fossil fuels, both local and abroad, regardless of the cost to human and ecological life. There is the co-opting and absorption of religion and indigenous traditions into mass national and global identities. There is the mutilation of family life, the shared table replaced by the cafeteria. And the list goes on.

What is the remedy? It is as manifold and varied as it's adversary is monolithic. Each of us must stop and seek to recover the Imago Dei in our own lives, in our own localities. We must reflect deeply, nuture our creative urges, and create free spaces for our children to develop theirs, away from the mind control of massified society. We can plant gardens, support local farmers and crafters, invite neighbors to read through classic literature together, share meals, and learn skills to become independent in herbal medicine, traditional foods, and locally produced renewable energy. There are many possible avenues to be explored, many minds to recover. There is much to be done.

"the fight against the wall continues" (picture by Yann Forget)

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