The work for Democracy Schools calls all participants into the realm of “outside oneself.” Most Westerners don’t desire to go there, or we hold little understanding of where “there” actually is. Being outside oneself, of course, occurs each time we forget our own thoughts, feelings and bodies. This process occurs when we love. It can be spiritual, psychological, social, practical or physical. In the context of teaching, facilitating access to understanding or coaching, “outside myself” refers to the process and place where one participates in a class or group in a way that focuses attention, thought, senses and action on the transformation of the group.
Almost any “style” of teaching or coaching (that is essentially other-interested) will serve. One can be strictly serious, humorous, clowning, or one can be Socratic, probing and process oriented. The key remains: forget yourself long enough and deep enough to connect with the mind, feelings or actions of the majority of the group.
For Institute for Community Leadership workshops that means creating rapid movement and surprises inside the context of the format for each class session. Whenever participants “know” what will happen next they tend to accept the status quo. Everyone knows how to respond when they “know” what will happen next. In workshop, the participants will respond as they do in a status quo class. That is, when the participants “know” what comes next they will deploy their normal response. Some will respond with the answer they think the teacher wants, others will sit back and spectate, permitting others to always take the lead, and still others will actually believe they don’t know what to say because they have accepted so well the status quo categorizing that puts some in the always know and others in the never know. To prevent this from happening the coach must carry out the classes in ways that bring surprise, energy, excitement and democratic participation.
I learn a lot of comedy acts and magicians. Individuals who are good in either of these professions keeps a group of individuals focused by constantly changing, and for every focal point (joke or act) there is a beginning and an end. The end brings the participants into the act by either laughing or by stating amazement. When the participants in magic show gasp and look at each other, they are participating, interactively, in bringing each other further into the realm of “outside myself.”
One way to make workshop self-forgettable is to tie the life-assignments of the participants to the immediate cause of social justice. Students perceive such personal life-assignments, for example, as “going to college” and “being honest,” which should be tied to current struggles such as the teachers’ efforts to lower class sizes and raise their salary. This requires of the coach direct involvement in social justice, vision, initiative and ability to make actual connections for the students and the movement. This requires a coach be a relationship builder. As an active participant in the movement for social justice a coach maintains the relationships necessary to be a “clearing house” for students with diverse social justice needs and aspirations.
We should construct a realistic model of an aquatic sports center. A model two or two and one half feet long with different levels of diving platforms so we can show 10, 15, 20, 25, meter heights and refer to this as we do the coaching. We should enact games that get some of the students to move quickly into action. We should create short skits, good jokes, stories and parables that help make the point of social justice, coaching, self-forgetfulness, other-interestedness, listening, and courage.
Who among us want to stay the same? Who among us want to change? What do you want to change? What will you do to make that change? What will you pay, give up, and sacrifice in order to make the change?
The eight steps create energy and open the door of the heart. The coaching part of the workshop must fortify and add on to the energy and self-transformation that stems from the poem, assignment and the interaction of voices.
How much money in America goes to specific programs designed to address the prevention of violence? We need to get this figure. We need to get figures by states and then by school districts, congressional districts and state legislative districts. We don’t yet know the figures, but we know some of the conditions.
First, violence prevention as a concept is focused at the most vulnerable and least violent groups. That is, most violence prevention is focused on communities of color, immigrants and the poor. When we record the acts of violence by nation, class and race, it is clear that the greatest purveyors of violence are the U.S. government, the transnational corporations, the state and local governments and the wealthy elite. Who perpetrated slavery? Or Jim Crow? Or Japanese internment? Who bombed Viet Nam? Who continues to bomb Iraq? Who blockades other countries so they can’t purchase medicine and food? Who tolerates and lives with homelessness? Who imports and makes money off of drugs? Who opposes organizing and unionizing of farm workers and service workers? Who imports workers to work for slave wages under slave conditions? Who deports them? Who accepts that some youth will be groomed for college and others will be prepared for prison? Who makes money off of the incarceration of over two million people, the majority of whom are African American and Latino?
Violence prevention as deployed in our schools and on our streets actually increases violence because it supports and reinforces the power of organized violence. The specific services and equipment deployed as violence prevention assists and reinforces those who use violence to maintain the status quo. Who gets most of the money? Law enforcement first and foremost, and then companies that make buildings more policable such as camera companies, metal detectors, and programs that generally ignore all the heavy violence all the while putting down individual acts of anger or immorality. Nonviolence does not condone individual acts of violence. It does not condone weapons use or stealing, robbery or assault, but neither does it condone casting the future of millions as model prisoners while the few are cast as managers and wardens of society. Democracy does not permit such violent lies. Democracy cannot survive, it certainly cannot go forward, unless it tells the truth and seeks truth. One of the greatest violence prevention programs that could ever be created would be a revolution of values in our nation. The people must take control of our lives and work for justice. We must take control of the government and have it serve the majority. We must take control of the private sector and have it participate in democracy as good citizens and responsible contributors, not takers. We must take control of the school systems so that every family has access to seeking truth, to the constant renewal of the mind and to the ability to develop self-control.
Violence prevention means preventing violence. We need an ongoing effort to prepare ourselves for fortified, sustained, discipline action that liberates and generates energy and love. You know when the forces of liberation succeed they do two things. First, they draw new persons to them. The energy and hope encourages and inspires new persons to join in and contribute. Secondly, the forces of reaction become galvanized and more unified in their efforts to maintain the status quo.
To develop nonviolence in schools we must realize the successes earned by the efforts and energy of love will draw lots of new persons. Some of them will seek the hard work inherent in nonviolence. Some of them will seek the light and hope, the results that come from nonviolence work. Nonviolence successes will galvanize those who don’t want the fundamental structure of schools to change. Those who seek the maintenance of the current school infrastructure, those who seek the maintenance of the current grading, testing, social and political structure will unify and oppose the advance of nonviolence. Those who place heavy focus on sports and light focus on wisdom will be threatened by victories of love and inspiration. We must prepare our movement and ourselves so that we can defend and sustain victories.
In this context what role plays the traditional violence prevention department? Can the violence prevention specialists help create nonviolence victories? Are they doomed to always defend the lie and to focus on the victims of violence instead of the perpetrators of it?
Dr. King sets the compass. He looks at the truth and focuses on setting our path toward liberation. He says, “Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation that tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore— all exalt it.”
“Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.
“It was upon this massive base of racism that the prejudice toward the nonwhite was readily built, and found rapid growth. This long-standing racist ideology has corrupted and diminished our democratic ideals. It is this tangled web of prejudice from which many Americans now seek to liberate themselves, without realizing how deeply it has been woven into their consciousness.”
How can we integrate nonviolence, the declaration of war against racism and violence, into violence prevention programs? We can only do so by organizing violence prevention programs to be of and for the people. We must struggle to make violence prevention programs a resource for democracy instead of a resource for greed and division. We must prepare ourselves and work with our people to be neither submissive nor violent toward the domination by the truly violent.
Choosing An Academic Career
It is entirely possible that we need to ask a whole generation to give up striving to achieve individual success so that the nation can be saved and that future generations are born into a community based on group success. The idea that one can serve the community and get one’s self through a doctorate program might be too idealistic. It certainly puts pressure on the person. But my problem with it is a fundamental ideological difference. To get a PhD. one must believe that the training and the journey to the degree provide one with the resources and assets necessary to be a better servant. In some cases this is most likely the case. Say in medicine or advanced engineering, careers that required detailed and specific training. In these cases we need schools of medicine and engineering that are liberated. Certainly, a PhD. in any field gives one prestige and relative power. The question is: If you choose service over self, what is the best path to follow?
All Human Beings Want The Same Three Things
Does life have more to offer than it has already provided you? Women and men devote themselves to many different acts and vocations, ranging from the pursuit of pleasure, success and service, to the seeking of higher meaning and purpose. Whether life does or does not offer more is probably the question that divides people more sharply than any other.
The nonviolence answer to the question is clear and straightforward. Life holds other possibilities. A nonviolence summary calculates the amount of life that can actually be experienced and shared as very low for most people. We operate at a very low level of capacity in terms of what we can gain from living life more purposefully and unconditionally.
Huston Smith teaches that women and men all want the same three things. First, we want being. “Everyone wants to be rather than not be; normally, no one wants to die.” Hardly anyone ponders a future in which she or he has no part. This desire for being lies deeper than the desire for job satisfaction or for the possession of material goods. It is the foundation that generates in all who seek to improve life a vision of both an extended being, a being that lives beyond life, and a quality of being that extends beyond one’s own personal space.
Second, we want to know. Whether it is a child investigating her senses and making connections, or a researcher seeking a cure for a terminal disease, or someone looking for the best way to mop the floor, or just friends catching up on the latest gossip, humans are insatiably curious. This desire drives our ever seeking, ever experimenting, ever improving.
Third, people seek joy, a sensation of connection and harmony. Joy is the feeling that is the opposite of frustration, futility and boredom. Desire for joy is much deeper than the sensory pleasure-pain reactors. Humans are very capable of seeking pleasure and generating frustration, futility or boredom at the same time. Simply avoiding immediate pain for the preference of pleasure does not address the deep desire to seek joy. Indeed, seeking please can side track one from seeking joy.
The full nonviolence answer combines these three human desires. Nonviolence is aware of the human capacity to visualize beyond the finite, to dream into the infinite. These common human desires are sought after “until forever, as long as the rivers run.” That is, what people really seek are infinite being, infinite knowledge and infinite bliss. We might have to settle for less, but nonviolence holds that this is what we really want.
Nonviolence focuses on the liberation of the person and group from the finitude that restricts us from the limitless being, consciousness and bliss our hearts desire. History has recorded the development of higher and nobler states of individual being and group being. Each of us through our own experience recognize acts, thoughts and feelings in ourselves and others that are more or less noble and of a higher state. Nonviolence accepts that humanity is not done evolving and developing. We are, compared to where we can be; relatively low in the ascendance toward being, knowledge and joy. What hampers our development is not a lack of technology, but a lack of will. Humanity has known for sometime specific ideas for how to live better, more humanely, but we have chosen not to. Nonviolence holds that we can choose being over existing. That it is not a choice for just the highly devoted, but it is a choice that every caring mother makes many times a day, and every one truly in love makes often. We can choose being over self-centeredness.
Nonviolence holds as well that we can choose knowledge over un-knowledge simply by permitting our natural curiosity to guide our thoughts and actions. Each one of us cares about many different areas of knowledge that we want to know more about. We tell ourselves that someday we will take the time to look into these interests. Nonviolence instructs us to release our hold on our curiosity and follow it now. The sense of responsibility we have developed can be deceiving. To be responsible for your children, your job, and your home—all of this is based on a positive notion, but it is not the only definition of responsible. One can easily be financially responsible to his or her own children by exploiting other children through sweat shops or drug sales. Nonviolence coaches that when we discuss responsibility that we do so in an honest and thorough enough way so that our desire for wisdom and knowledge is not cut off by a limited or false notion of immediate responsibility for bills.
The mechanism by which we choose is love. Nonviolence recommends that we apply the yardstick of love to all decisions and choices before us. At first this may sound too vague, or to “touchy feely.” It is actually very simple. Love, the element that measures goodness, is easy to see and determine. When a decision awaits, nonviolence calls for us to seek the choice that gives or provides the most goodness to others. While this process is simple, the act of using it can be difficult because real choices require us to be responsible to others. It is not often easy to choose more love in the world, or more good in the world, over your own ego, or material possessions, or material benefit. Nonviolence instructs us on how to make choices based on love and goodness.
Our Limitations In Our Three Basic Desires
Nonviolence assumes that each individual holds potential for purpose. No one need be aimless. We can live feeling and thinking we are aimless, lost, insignificant and of no use. These feelings and thoughts, nonviolence claims, are learned responses and reactions created by our particular experience in our world. When we assume each of us holds purpose we begin to expect a purposeful response to our encounters whether they be physical, emotional or mental. Indeed, nonviolence contends it is impossible to be truly or purely aimless. One who believes that he or she has no purpose has taken on the purpose of proving to him self or her self and the outside world the fact that he or she is purposefulness. It is possible to pursue the illusion of purposefulness with religious conviction and dedicated vigor making one’s aim or purpose in life the “selling” of a false idea.
Returning to the nonviolence position that each of us holds purpose we need next to determine how best to determine our purpose and then, how to live according to our purpose. “The aim of life,” Justice Holmes reported, “is to get as far as possible from imperfection.” Nonviolence, while accepting our humanness, our weaknesses, and our errors, agrees with Justice Holmes. One purpose in life is to distance ourselves from our own imperfections and those of others. Injustice, one of humanity’s gravest imperfections, becomes a focal point for change. Some literally “get away” from specific injustices by physically leaving the point of conflict. Others “get away” from specific injustices by attacking it at the point of conflict. Both responses reflect humanity’s desire to get as far as possible from imperfection. One response is through detachment, isolation and segregation. The other response is through integration, interdependence and community construction.
I believe that one reason why certain individuals think they have no purpose, especially individuals in the highly industrialize consumerist societies, is because there exists so much injustice and meaninglessness. Also, the means of communication inform us at electrical speed of more and more imperfections and injustices so that if one begins by feeling or actually being alone it is quite possible to feel that the world has been conquered by imperfections and injustices and that there is no purpose in striving to have a purpose for surely you will fail. The insecurity, cynicism and fear that can delude individuals today are real, and it is also fabricated and marketed so that individuals fall prey to consumerism. Who makes the best buyer of designer cloths and luxury cars? One who has lost sight of his or her purpose and has replaced the purpose with a short-term gratification of permitting one’s self to be evaluated and measured by the clothes he or she wears and the cars they drive.
If nonviolence is correct, that underlying the subconscious and conscious world of all normal individuals lies the desire to seek perfection and to change or replace imperfection, then one must take the first step and define his or her own priorities for self change and social change. That is, one must begin by seeing his or her own strengths and weaknesses or limitations.
All of us share many of the same limitations. To one extent or another we lack strength and creativity to affect our dreams; we grow tired, know fits of anger and frustration, fall ill, and are foolish. We fail and become discouraged; we grow old and die. We can list imperfections and limitations, such as these, practically forever. This short list does not even mention our corporate and collective imperfections and limitations. Lists such as these could be extended indefinitely, but there is no need. Nonviolence holds that all specific imperfections and limitations reduce to the three basic human desires. We are limited in being, knowledge and joy, the three things we really want.
Nonviolence may seem bold because it so casually accepts the individual and collective responsibility to seek to rise to a quality of life that literally confronts our imperfections and brings us together to live with more joy, knowledge and a sense of being. The status quo and its many supporters, some of whom lead the open charge of defending the status quo and others who state their opposition to the status quo but, through their acts, help fortify the deadening, joyless and stupid ness of the status quo.
What are the most obvious limits to the three things we want most? Let’s put some of them out on the table for discussion and ask ourselves, “Do we recognize these limitations in our own lives?” Then we can ascertain whether or not we, as individuals and as groups, hold the capacity to move away from the limiting encounter and move toward a less limiting or more just encounter.
Let’s begin with the limits on our joy, these belong to three subgroups: physical pain, frustration that arises from the thwarting of desire, and boredom with life in general.
The forces of nonviolence and the forces of organized violence agree that physical pain is the easiest to overcome and deal with in our seeking a purposeful life. Physical pain can be endured and ignored depending on the amount of fear and the amount of “necessity” that accompanies the pain. When we hurt ourselves in the heat of a football game or an intense battle our mind and body have a way of working through the pain. Some pain, especially pain from unknown sources, is accompanied by fear that records the pain as even stronger and more dangerous that it really is. Fear can befriended, as Dr. King teaches, and when fear is conquered pain can be endured. We have the capacity, of course, to deal with unreasonable or unnecessary pain through the use of drugs and mental focusing. What is important to discuss here is the fact that physical pain is relatively easy to conquer and not an insurmountable obstacle preventing one from living purposefully.
A more difficult pain is the psychological pain inflicted with the thwarting of our desires and dreams. This pain, unlike most physical pain, can enter our psychic and live independently of reality. It can even be enlarged and take on debilitating powers. Dr. King teaches us what to do with shattered dreams and what not to do with them. There are three negative ways of responding to grief and disappointment: to become bitter and mean; to become introverted and segregated; and to develop a fatalistic philosophy of life. The one positive way to nonviolently confront disappointment is to say, “This is my grief and I must bear it,” and ask, “How can I turn this grief into an asset?”
The task of turning disappointment into an asset belongs both to the individual and the group. One weakness of current U.S. society is the general notion that psychological pain is unjust. That if I feel hurt, harmed, belittled or humiliated then I have a right to my pain. This notion agrees with the forces of violence and the status quo. It prepares one to be a consumer for if one has a “right” to a particular pain, and then one has the potential to purchase some relief. Nonviolence claims that holding onto such pain adds up to a negative and, as such, one imprisons himself or herself in the complex of the three negative ways of responding to grief. To discover an asset in a grief is to discover a higher truth, which is to step toward joy and away from the limits put on joy. All disappointments share a commonality. Each shattered dream shakes the individual ego. The psychological pain that persists demonstrates the egotistical or unique self’s displeasure with not getting its way. I am neither a psychologist nor an anthropologist. I don’t know either the specific history of the development of the ego, nor the differences and commonalities between egos from different cultures, races, nationalities and classes. Nevertheless, I’m certain, from my own experiences and from limited reading, that the ego, as we know it today, the self-consciousness of “I,” “Me,” and “mine,” has evolved and that it will continue to evolve past the present stages toward a trans-self-consciousness. Furthermore, egos appear very different in different cultures and classes. The degree of self-consciousness generally demonstrated by a U.S. teenager far exceeds the degree of self-consciousness of a Nicaraguan peasant woman in her forties. One is more egotistical than the other. One places the unique self at the center of his world, and operates from that center. The other places group or family, or in some cases, God, as the center of the world and operates from that center. Nonviolence instructs us that each of us can and should put something or some bodies beside our self as the center of our world. That is, nonviolence instructs us to shrink the ego to a realistic size, and center our thoughts, feelings and acts on something or some bodies outside of our self.
One makes a step toward joy when she acknowledges the interdependence between herself and others. When the self participates and sees itself in a common relation or a serving relation to groups the ego becomes adjusted to a more natural, less consumerist relationship to itself and others. This liberating process directs one toward joy.
The imperfection of knowledge expresses itself through ignorance. Perhaps the highest form of ignorance stems from the position of rigidly “knowing” the truth that happens to be a falsehood. The forces of violence excel at educating individuals and groups in stupidity and ignorance. The most dangerous person is the one who fights to death for a lie. Gandhi holds nonviolence as a constant renewal of the mind. Humility forms one of the pathways toward knowledge. Nonviolence provides individuals and groups with the tools to seek truth, constantly renewal the mind, and to develop self-control. If knowledge is power, then wisdom must be even more powerful. Nonviolence practices the development of the intuitive intellectual talents, not just the mental or factual skills. For nonviolence knowledge represents technical training within the boundaries of the status quo. Wisdom represents global understanding and insight that crosses boundaries. It reaches to other places in present time and it reaches to other times, both past and future. Wisdom is not confined to here and now, while knowledge is. Dr. King approaches the topic by reference to the military-industrial complex. We have reached a point in our society “where we have guided missiles and misguided men.”
Perhaps the most illusive attack on joy comes from the general boredom of life that can arise within our hearts and minds. This limitation might prove most cancerous because it deals primarily with the being of life. We are so constructed that our conscious, intellectual functions have the most direct say in our own, internal debates over our being and the meaning of life. This might seem unfortunate because our conscious, intellectual functions are very limited by our own experiences, heresy, and our sensual reactors. Our subconscious and our intuitive sense have much more integrity, but they are more difficult for the average person to connect with, especially in a consistent and ongoing way. Nonviolence directs us toward our intuitive. In so doing, it takes us away from our lack of being and moves us toward a more feeling, thinking and acting being. Nonviolence develops a total being; a well-rounded, wholesome being whose “heart” has the lead over the “head.” We all know individuals who successfully live intuitively. They are wiser; they have more strength, energy and joy. They seem freer, not in the sense of being irresponsible, but in the sense that they seem to find the social order not confining. They seem serene, content. They are natural peacemakers and contact with them strengthens and brings a heighten sense of being to all who encounter them.
To Battle Lies
The reason nonviolence seems so esoteric and difficult is due to the myths and lies generated about it by the forces of reaction and violence. A lie, once accepted by one’s peers, develops significant strength. Battling lies might be a nonviolence practitioner’s most normal or typical task. How best battle lies?
First, live according to truth. Shed yourself of the symbols and codes that represent lies and untruth. Second, practice and excel at intuitive communication, conversing with another’s heart and their own experience instead of conversing with their head. Our mind and intellect hold the capacity to rationalize, and, if our heart is weak enough, if our ethics and morality is small enough, our intellect can rationalize anything including mass murder and genocide. Third, show patience and acceptance to those who cannot overcome the lie. Fourth, step forward, not just emotionally and psychologically, but physically and literally, with happiness and a sense of humor and actively participate in the construction of truth without hesitating or waiting for those who cannot or will not join you.
Our schools these days exist not because they educate and help. They exist out of a sense of atrophy; they are skeletons of what might have been or what could be, but they are dry cocoons still hanging on the stiff vines of years gone by. Almost everyone directly involved in education readily admits, at least to themselves, that schools fail themselves. They fail the majority of families. They fail society. But they also fail their own historic role and goals. They have become antiquated systems that have been forced to carry out duties other than education. The main duty they perform is the division of society into two groups: one large group that is prepared for service work and/or prison; and another small group that is prepared to manage society. This division is not always directly related to academics or education. It is basically related to the subjective socio-psychological ability to either support the existing system or to reject it. If a student in the early years shows clear signs of being supportive of the status quo they join a pool from which individuals will be selected who can and will carry out the behavior or conduct necessary to look like, sound like and act like one of the status quo’s keepers. If a student shows clear signs of being resistant to the status quo they join a pool from which individuals later will be selected who can and will carry out the behavior or conduct necessary to look like, sound like and act like prisoners. Those in this second group who are unacceptable as prisons will be offered service jobs. This is the situation confronting schools in the United States today.
Practicing nonviolence inside such schools means living according to truth. Shed yourself of symbols and codes that signify untruth. We cannot give an exhaustive list of such symbols and codes. Each nonviolence devotee must develop his or her own truth and list of untruth. Permit some perhaps obvious examples, however. Dress according to long term, historical truth and avoid designer clothes and labels that signify sweatshops and consumerism. Converse at all times with students about topics of importance and significance. Avoid small talk about small topics. Every significant topic, when approached lovingly and truthfully, can be referred to in small talk and in passing. There is no reason to spend a brief encounter with a student talking about the latest professional basketball game. This may seem strict to the person who still lives in the status quo and wishes it weren’t so joyless and so unknowledgeable. My request to you is to give this a try. It really is a matter of conduct. Cultivate the habit with students of always being serious. This is not to say you cannot be funny and humorous. On the contrary, humor is perhaps the best genre for being serious.
Practice intuitive communication, conversing with the hearts of the students and not with their heads or intellects. Rely on their basic values, principles and direct experiences. Practice mentally walking with them instead of trying to convey to them some bit of information. Enter into a space where you and they might walk together, investigating, analyzing, dissecting, and getting a feel for the nature of the topic. In doing this you enhance the possibility that the students themselves will generate their own understanding and conclusions of serious topics.
Be patient with students who do not overtly seek knowledge, joy or being. There are many reasons, especially in the hyper-individualistic world of the United States, why an individual may not be acting, thinking or feeling beyond the instant gratification of either the senses or the self-centered ego. Patience with these individuals demonstrates how nonviolence co-exists in the mainstream and holds the capacity to love in a loveless setting and can provide endless hope in a hopeless world.
Lastly, construct your own nonviolence reality amidst the atrophied, busy and violent school population, and in so doing, make sure to integrate with others and organize both short term and long term efforts to move our schools and society toward justice and away from the imperfections of ignorance, despair and violence.
Nonviolence will end up being much easier than the status quo for most human beings. The status quo, especially in school, calls for everyone to share in the pain and emptiness of ignorance and the loss of joy. Nonviolence calls for everyone to share in the fullness of wisdom and knowledge and in the contentment of joy. For those who believe they “get” nonviolence but just think it too difficult to live up to, we close, with this statement: love and kindness are infinitely easier to live with than hate and violence, do the math!
The practice of nonviolence stems from certain centers. We call these schools or factories. Many individuals don’t readily visualize nonviolence as a factory, but most nonviolence organizing results from factory-like production.
Factories produce. They utilize labor power and raw material or individual parts. They construct, applying their labor power to the putting together of the individual parts to create a new thing. Factories don’t create new things out of nothing. Everything in the new car, let’s say, existed prior to the construction of the new car. All the metal, fiberglass, wires, plastic, and other materials existed. Human hearts, minds and hands put the items together to create something new. Nonviolence lives in this way. Nonviolence does not create, out of thin air, anything that did not previously exist. It takes what is there and, using human labor power, puts what is there together in ways that a new relationship or a new reality forms amidst the current, or what was current and is now the old reality.
We must produce nonviolence the way we produce machines and usable crafts. Nonviolence takes the positive act inherent in each individual and combines it with the positive acts of others to create a new relationship and a new reality. An infinite number of positive acts reside within each of us. Perhaps it is better to say the potential for an infinite number of positive acts reside within each of us. Nonviolence recognizes that each person is born with the capacity to do (and thus be) both positive and negative. A nonviolence factory researches the positive and prepares it for the assembly process where it is connected to or combined with the positive of others.
Our schools must become factories of nonviolence. They must assemble the positive and the potential positive in ways that create new relationships and realities. Currently, schools in our nation actually accentuate the negative. They are factories of violence. They search for and seek out the negative, and then they assemble the individual negatives in such a way that the schools function as prisons or warehouses, focusing on bodies instead of hearts or minds. School safety as currently constructed is one of the products of the factory of violence. Things and labor power are put together in such a way so that the relationships that happen are based on fear, distrust and preparation for crisis or catastrophe. You cannot produce a learning relationship by using the materials and labor power of an unlearning or non-learning factory any more than you could produce a new car in a paper factory.
We permit schools to function as factories of violence. Everyone involved, from parents and students, to teachers, administrators, business, labor and government leaders, has aided and provided labor power, investment or material to the creation and management of the factory of violence. This is done by simply beginning with the negative (a fear, a concern, a worry). Then labor power and/or money is applied to this negative until it is coupled with or integrated with other negatives. It does not take very long before relationships are developed based on the negative.
A factory of violence uses the raw material of fear, doubt and hate. All of these raw materials are chemically and organically connected. They all share certain physical and social characteristics. The labor power exerted in a factory of violence does not have to always to negative in order to produce a negative product. One can work in a factory of violence and bring into the factory a certain level of love and compassion, but this love and compassion is restricted by the nature of the negativity of the raw material. How, for example, do you change the fact of spending money, using materials and devoting staff time to Emergency Policies and Procedures and the subsequent drills, by applying love and compassion? One can, I suppose, more or less lovingly run his or her students through a drill in preparation for a gun shooting at the school, but the final product, no matter how lovingly created, still is a negative produced by and further producing fear, doubt and hate.
To produce a loving and compassionate product (relationships based on love and compassion) the raw material must be love, hope and other-interestedness. All of these raw materials are also chemically and organically connected. They too share certain physical and social characteristics. They all are positive. Likewise, the labor power exerted upon these basic materials does not always have to be positive in order to create positive results. That is, a particular person can apply negative labor power and still the result will most likely be positive if the raw material consisted of love, hope or other-interestedness.
When we have factories of nonviolence there will continue the possibility of injecting negativity into the factory, either by using negative raw materials, negative investments or negative labor power. The overall effort will continue to be characterized as a struggle between positive and negative. It will continue as a struggle between democracy and justice and privilege and injustice. Our most important step at this point is the creation of factories of nonviolence so that the model and efficacy of positively becomes popularized and known. The struggle to transform education must include the effort to construct factories of nonviolence.
Families United For Just Education
The struggle to change education in the United States suffers for lack of a deep and serious perspective on the part of those who need and want change. The use of the term, school reform, remains in the standard vocabulary and indicates this lack of serious perspective. The people do not need school reform. They need school transformation.
Reform attempts to make the current system better. It accepts the goals and purpose of the current system. Transform attempts to change the current system by changing the basic purpose and goals, and by changing the infrastructure. Reform leads to more of the same. Transform leads to new opportunities for larger numbers of families. Reform focuses on improving and making something better; it accepts the basic purpose, goals and role of education in the United States. Transform focuses changing the nature and fundamental function of education precisely by changing the purpose, goals and role.
We don’t need to be educational historians to know that today’s public school does not serve the vast majority of students. The primary activity of public school remains the preparation of some, perhaps less than a majority, of the students to go on to college or jobs. The majority of students, especially low-income students, students of color and immigrants encounter at school an effort to prepare them for either prison or low paying service jobs. In almost every school district where we work the majority of students are not being served, they are being processed and prepared for a vision less, spectatorist, selfish consumer of trinkets and worthless items. Only a small percentage, I would estimate between 10 and 25 %, depending on the school district, receive the service of preparing them for college or a livable wage job.
The majority of families in the United States need educational transformation. They need and deserve access to real learning and the tools of analytical thinking, intuitive and creative thinking, and social participation and cohesion. We need the Families United For Just Education movement. One of the sad developments in this situation, at least in the schools where we work, is the fact that many teachers do not see this dilemma. Some teachers see the interests of the various classes, races and social groups in society, and can see that schools address the interest of the very few and either ignore or oppose the interests of the vast majority. Most teachers, however, fail to have a deep analysis of education. They are working in one of the most political position in the nation without a political consciousness. For them to be helpful to the vast majority they must be honest, which is to say, they must be fair, reflective and objective. Failing to see the political nature of their profession is neither objective nor reflective. To drive down an unknown road, not knowing where you’re going isn’t too foolish unless you discover you’re driving in a highly secure, restricted and active army bombing range. Ignorance is no excuse when it comes to driving. Ditto when it comes to assisting our children in living and learning.
Social Cohesion: A Necessary Element
Schools today devote most their time, talent and money to the act of social division. Nonviolence prioritizes the creation of social cohesion. Nonviolence is the most potent antidote to disunity. It offers school districts a chance at change, an avenue by which more families can come together participate and generate cohesion.
Social cohesion forms one of the pillars of a nonviolence perspective. We place such importance on social cohesion from the understanding of our interdependence and mutuality. There are practically ramifications of this regarding global concerns of war, economic exploitation and stability. There are also philosophical explanations about why we much generate social cohesion. In short, we can’t survive if we don’t, and secondly, we cannot become the women and men we are meant to be if we don’t create community and cohesion. To live at odds, antagonistically, with one another leads to unnecessarily and falsely superior individuals exploiting and oppressing unnecessarily and falsely inferior peoples. Violence rules and reigns without social cohesion.
Today’s social cohesion in the United States is maintained by force and violence. The status quo utilizes military and police force, restrictive and punitive laws and criminal justice system, jails and prisons, punishments and banishment in order to maintain a violent and artificial social cohesion. Internationally, social cohesion is based on the use of military force or the threat of such force, and on the buying and selling of goods and services in ways that add up to economic warfare. The social cohesion at the global level only exists because of massive military actions and surgical military oppression. This form of social disunity and social inequity being made to appear as social cohesion through the use of force leads to escalating struggles between the forces that need real cohesion and the forces that block such unity and civility. No one can oppress and repress large numbers forever. No one people can remain oppressed and repressed forever. The crisis today is a crisis between the forces needing and demanding social unity and those that seek the continuation of selfish profit making and promotion of the ego.
Take Care What You Learn
Why do we send our children to school? And why do the children go? What is the fundamental purpose of schooling? All of these questions have the same answer: TO LEARN. We cannot forget that the purpose of education is to learn. What does that term, to learn, mean? Does it mean the same thing to different people, to different classes or different races? One immediate goal each family in the United States should accomplish is to define the concept, to learn, for them selves. This will permit them to help create the time, place and method by which our children might learn.
Two things important about learning must be included in our search for answers. One, learning is constant. We learn all the time and from everything we do. Secondly, learning is an act involving the senses, the mind, one’s memory and one’s body. Technically it is a neutral act. That means one can learn positive things and things that are negative. We can learn many different things from a single act. We can also learn contradictory things from a single act. Parents experience this all the time when they try to tell their children something and they do so in an angry manner. The child immediately learns that Dad is mad and, most of the time, the child learns whatever lesson Dad is talking about. Of these two learning points the most important, not just in our example, but also in all of our relationships, is the fact that the authority figure, the one with the lecture, lesson or learning point, is also the one who is mad.
I submit that each of us learn different things by going to school. It depends on cultural and personal experiences and expectations. That is, what we learn at school has to do with our (the student’s) own reference point as well the material coming at us and the method or tone by which it comes. At a minimum, then, we have three elements of significant importance. One, the cultural and personal experiences of the individual (including class, race, gender, beliefs and personality). Two, the cultural and personal experiences of the individual presenter (teacher, coach, leader). And the cultural and personal experiences from which the material being presented was formed and packaged. All three of these elements must be at the same place at the same time or learning isn’t positive and productive.
This means that a student’s most positive learning experiences and cultural traditions that promote learning must be accessed prior to and at the moment of learning. This means also that a teacher’s most positive learning experiences and cultural traditions that promote learning must be accessed prior to and at the moment of learning. Lastly, it means that the information itself must previously have been gleaned, harvested and produced so that the values and purpose of learning, and the process of learning, are readily present and available to both students and teacher. This last point may seem less clear. When we seek to impart knowledge we must include in the process the experience of learning so that what material and information we seek to impart carries with it our own learning experience and our own values and purpose of learning. Permit an example from history. As a child I had “learned” about the death of General George Armstrong Custer at the hands of Native Americans. A few years later I “learned” more and was able to put the death in context of a battle and at a place called the Little Big Horn. Then as a teen I traveled to the Crow Nation and visited the national monument at the Little Big Horn. I was shocked by the obvious. I learned that the battle was actually an attempt by the U.S. Calvary, led by Custer, to wipe out several adjoining villages or camps of Native Americans from different nations and tribes. The attack was an attempted massacre. In defense the combined Native American forces defended the camps and defeated the Calvary. By the time I was a teen I had already learned to be on the side of the underdog. I could explain this but at some other time. It was during the escalation of the U.S. war in Viet Nam, which I opposed actively and wholeheartedly. During my visit to the monument I learned that we must rename the monument and refocus the message that is set there in stone and in the reader boards. It should be named the Victory Monument in honor of the courageous and righteous victory of the Native American people over a well-armed army carrying out a criminal assault against civilians. It should stand as a monument to Indigenous sovereignty and the continuous struggle to go forward in spite of hundreds of years of genocidal policies. It does not have to cast personal attacks against General Custer or his troops. That would be unnecessary. But it should clearly tell the truth and make clear attacks against the immoral policy of genocide and the stealing of the lands and waters and the natural resources of the original Americans. The Battle of the Little Big Horn deserves a monument to all the millions of anonymous Native Americans who, through official policies of brutal attacks, continue onward, their lives, cultures and land still under attack and still being defended by the justice minded and dedicated warriors.
Learning isn’t neutral. We learn positive things and we learn negative things. When we send our children to school lets do our best to have them zero in our their own positive learning experiences and of the positive learning experiences of their cultural tradition. That way, they can play a part in learning positive things and rejecting the negative things that might be part of someone else’s agenda.
Interconnections Between The Subject & The Object
One of the more reactionary aspects of U.S. education insists that one can objectively observe an object without any thing from within one’s self interfering with the observation. This misinterpretation of life provides the foundation for all the lies and half-truths perpetuated by public schools. This incorrect assumption holds that there is an abyss existing between the observer and the observed. One is the subject and the other the object. The object, according to this false notion, can be accurately sensed, measured, estimated by the subject without any mental, subconscious, emotional, physiological additions or subtractions made on the part of the subject.
Nonviolence holds that a very thin line exists between the so-called subject and so-called object. A better metaphor is a veil, a vague and fragile barrier than can be breached many times in the act of observing. Moreover, nonviolence teaches that within the observer many lives already exist, some of them in our consciousness and others submerged in our sub consciousness, in our feelings, in our memories. When an observer observes the observed an interconnection takes place, and in that space and time one’s senses form not from a distant observation tower but from an intimate, electronic impulse in the heart and brain.
If one must resist seeing one’s self in the act of observing then one will have to be content with lies. The act of observing, even observing historical events, requires one to be present and be aware of his or her own act. The thought that one can objectively observe leads one to label military massacres and battles in war, and assassinations as executions, and it causes one to call the enemy a friend and a friend the enemy.
The United States has stolen practically everything that makes it feel good: the land, the name, and the concept. Now, we find ourselves a nation and a collective of human beings who can and must face up to the fact that we are products of a criminal enterprise. Certainly I love our nation. I love our people. I love the hills, valleys, mountains, streams, rivers and lakes that tie with oceans that make up this place. Because I love our people I wish not to live with the lie. We are better than that. We can be a nation of honest and loving persons. We can accept the errors and hatred of the past and transform ourselves into a new and respectful nation of diverse cultures and peoples.
What cohesive power might hold together a people who must exchange a mountain of lies for the hardship and difficulties of forging new relationships based on mutual respect and love? What power can hold us together? Nonviolence is really our only choice. Religion, however powerful and wisdom giving cannot because humans have taken our religions as possessions and the churches now are weapons against those who believe differently. This is not to say that the religious and the religious organizations cannot and will not play a vital role. They certainly can. It will require a revolution of grace and value within their own congregations. Corporate America cannot provide the cohesive power because it is the source of the expansive, disbanding, individualistic power that is tearing us apart. Unions and civil rights organizations will play a big role, but they too must focus on nonviolence and the elements of other-interestedness. Certainly our schools, as we know them today, are the first entities to strike down humaneness. The schools are the most important weapons of corporate America in disarming our people and incarcerating us in prisons of concrete and prisons of thought. How much will live extend to this nation before we foolishly destroy ourselves? This is not the worried question of an evangelical condemner; this is a straightforward question from one who loves our people and our nation. We must learn to live together or we will be forced to perish together.
Five Necessary Components of a Learning School
The adage we learn from everything we do rings true for all students who attend public school. What we learn, however, fits the definition of violence and dysfunction. Students today are far more likely to learn negative views about themselves and others than they are the basics of natural and social sciences. Schools function on a model detrimental to the mental and physical health of the students. For schools to serve the community they must become a service. The ideal remains that a school would prepare young people for the tasks of integrated living with an integrated personality. Individuals would develop intuitive and analytical capacity, communication skills and the personality qualities that permit them to creatively participate in their own lives and the life of the nation. What schools do today falls far below the ideal and fails the families of our country. Schools must become learning circles.
The first thing it takes to learn is curiosity. Curiosity provides the motivation that initiates the senses and brain into an awake and learning mode. Without curiosity the individual does not actively partake in the exchange, and the individual forfeits her responsibility and participation in defining what she is to learn, how she is to learn and why she learns. Schools today run primarily for the non-curious. They function for the passive personality who either cares more about something else or cares little about anything. In deed, schools are the manufactures of passivity. Their structure and methods deal with the individual’s body in the most basic way, providing a chair, light, water, and, in most cases, food, and they refuse to deal with one’s basic mental and emotional centers. You cannot feed curiosity let alone inspire it without connecting to one’s mental and emotional centers.
Why schools fail as learning centers stems from their role and purpose in contemporary society. They met the requirements of the ruling systems need for workers and consumers. They serve the most base interests of the leading corporate profit makers by producing millions of unskilled, non-creative, bored, insecure, frightened personalities addicted to their most passive senses and instant gratification. I’m not sure we can turn this around. Certainly it will require great sacrifice and dedicated struggle. What I propose is our own efforts to experiment with nonviolence as the means by which schools might become learning centers. Nonviolence offers, much more directly and passionately, a method that inspires and connects with the natural curiosity, care and concern of the student. Nonviolence is the only way-of-life I know of that can overtake the intense sensuality of violence and hyper-individualism that students currently learn in the public schools. Nonviolence shares many of the traits of organized violence. It generates excitement, feelings of bravery and honor, adventure and it permits one to sacrifice for the common good. It also permits one to unify her own struggle with the struggles of others in her own community and beyond.
The five most necessary components of a learning circle are: love; hope; community; constant renewal of the mind; and the development of self-control. I propose we develop a practical outline, or maybe a combination of practical outline with a manifesto, providing a call and a guide to developing and implementing these five components.
Probably step one begins by defining the Greek origins of the three or more definitions of love, leading up to understanding agape or universal good-will toward all.
Next it might serve to provide examples of how other-interestedness, participation, altruism, volunteering, motherhood, fatherhood, family, teamwork, base their theories and acts on love.
Perhaps some synonyms such as kindness, cohesion, unity, harmony, politeness, courtesy, yielding, etc. may assist in painting a word picture of how love affects our lives.
A part describing the current situation and how to integrate love and love based methods into schools. Perhaps defining the struggle. Revealing how individual acts of love help, but are easily suppressed. We need organized love, networking, and mobilizing.
Point out changes individual teachers will need to make in their lives, doing so in ways that provide hope and a sense of practical possibility. We should publish some examples. We should publish some interviews of teachers who do develop loving relationships and provide true learning space for students.
This concept needs defining as well so that the normal person can see we are not talking about pie in the sky or the self-centered “hopeful thinking” of the corporate manager type.
Tie hope to curiosity, purpose, means and ends.
Give practical examples. Tie study materials for all classes (math and sciences too) to the power and affect of hope. Show how hope, made present and real, energizes, inspires, guides and motivates the individual and the group.
This component brings out all the difference between community and society relying on Tonnies. Use examples. Make the connection between the battle of wills and how the battle either produces community or produces society.
Point out that community includes the style and method, and not just the names of those who live in the community. Community is a concept, not a mailing list. It is a lifestyle, not a geographic variable.
CONSTANT RENEWAL OF THE MIND
This component, like all five components, is shared by philosophies other than nonviolence. Point out how a life long, meaning today and tomorrow, dedication to the renewal of the mind creates all the other components (love, hope, community, self-control). It also generates humility, courage and confidence. Respect for self and others develop from a constant renewal of the mind.
Tie the development of emotions, spirit, body to the pursuit of excellence and the constant renewal of the mind. Show the negative examples of how we “feel” bad when we live trying to avoid learning, trying to do the bare minimum in order to suffice. We dumb down our selves.
DEVELOPMENT OF SELF-CONTROL
Take care to not have this segment seem like a call to individualism or libertarianism. Point out the tie between an integrated personality and a directed personality. Point out the ability to serve fluctuates depending on the amount of self-control achieved by the servant.
While this effort must accurately convey the great possibilities of nonviolence I think it also important that it convey a practical vision so that the normal teacher, parent, person can and will pick up on some of the advice. It needs to be a blueprint for what is to be done, thus it needs to be precise, basic and deeply involved with the day-to-day of public education.
How We All Learn
Schools can’t provide learning space, let alone learning circles, as long as they insist on the basis for human interaction be individualistic and not collective. Whenever a group discussion takes place and the whole purpose of the discussion is expansion of the role of some above and against the role of shrinking of others, the learning space becomes a mechanical selection device, culling human beings based not on their most positive character and characteristics, but on their more selfish and arrogant sides.
Nonviolence integrates the curiosity, energy and courtesy of all individuals into a team approach for expanding the consciousness, wisdom and knowledge of all the individuals and of the group as a whole. The “we” cannot learn math until the “we” learn how to reinforce the curiosity and concern of each one of us. When we insist on math lessons without insisting on the relationship building energy of the circle we learn that “they” know math and “we” don’t, especially “I” don’t.
CEREMONIES OF RECONCILIATION
The human infant responds to evolving consciousness primarily with emotion. When changes and differences make themselves known, the infant interprets the situation more from a feeling than from an intellectual demand for more information. This is perhaps true for groups as well. At the most basic level groups respond in the realm of emotion prior to responding in the world of ideas and intellectual information.
Contemporary so called Western society has developed such a strong and deep reliance on material goods, physical power and individual separation that most of us define “together” by being in the same place and the same time. Other societies and cultures not so commercialized still define “together” to include more substantial connections of culture, tradition, customs and rituals, doubts and fears, dreams and aspirations, economic conditions and beliefs. The very act of standing back and observing the group is a Western invention. A more collective society places the individual within the group. One can stills see, hear and observe, but the standing place is of, with and for, instead of separated, alone and watching. Once most individuals see the group from outside the group, community is difficult if not impossible to construct. The binding it takes to be community is the same perceptual change individuals will have to make that permits them to be with and among instead of away from and separate.
Nonviolence calls for the creation of ceremonies of reconciliation. Acts and events that pull the alienated ego back into the circle. We’re not proposing esoteric rituals, but common, everyday kinds of creativity that permit normal folks to reconcile their strangeness and reenter the atmosphere of group ness. Common activity such as reading circles, folk dance, poetry circles, craft and art circles, canning and cooking circles, gardening circles, where people come together and redevelop their lost ability to be one with others.
The Columbia, South Carolina newspaper printed an interview this week with South Carolina’s All-State Academic Team, a group of 100 or so high academic achievers from around that state. I’m always peeved when the mainstream media attempts to get students, or youth in general, to give advice on conditions that confront them. I’m not opposed to students giving advice; I’m opposed to the notion that students, just because they are students, should be armed with a complete understanding of what ails the U.S. school system. Some of the students made good points, but the artInstitute for Community Leadershipe was about students and not about violence in schools, which is what the title and the by-line said the artInstitute for Community Leadershipe would cover. In other words, instead of any focused opinions or advice about how to limit violence in schools, the paper prints some quotes from youth about that violence.
We have to begin putting youth voices in the leadership of the movement. Violence will continue as long as schools remain violent. That seems easy enough to get to. Now, students, adults, newspaper people, everyone should deal with the deadly violence that the school generates, instead of talking about the violence from some segments of the student body. The students who commit acts of violence are generally dealt with, and, most of us agree that they will continue to be. The ones most responsible for the violence, the one’s who perpetrate the most cruel forms of violence hardly ever get mentioned and never charged or dealt with. School boards, superintendents, district directors, principals, counselors, coaches and teachers—all participate in premeditated brutality. They isolate individuals and create puesdo-socities that are real to the core and gruesomely cruel. Individuals are bullied, picked on, put down, left out, laughed at and scared, many of them for life, with deep feelings of insecurity or, what might be worse, deep feelings of superiority. Racism and sexism flourish under the direction of our school personnel. Meaninglessness that robs our children of their dignity and purpose in life is the definition of school. Meanness roams the halls and classrooms of most schools like fluencia in winter. Mean teachers permanently disable more individuals each year than all the individuals killed or wounded in overt school violence.
School violence, the fighting, stabbings and shootings are results of the overall climate of fear, punishment and violence that the school creates and continues to generate. If any of us are truly going to confront the problem of school violence we must confront the most violent elements within the school, and those elements are rarely students. Dignity, respect and friendliness come from courtesy. Courtesy is a foreign concept in most of the schools I work in. What teachers say and do against other teachers and students would make a Marine queasy in the stomach. The backbiting, gossiping, lying, exaggerating in the teachers’ lounge constitutes the fuel that fires up the anger and disgust that oppresses the teachers themselves.
Community & Society
Perhaps one of the most urgent endeavors to help transform schools into learning circles is the development of community within the schools and between schools and the rest of the world. Community, as a concept and a way-of-life, differs greatly from society. The German sociologist, Ferdinand Tonnies, wrote in depth about these two distinct contrasts. Society, according to Tonnies, is a method for human beings to relate and interact that bases the relationships on technical, legal and contractual types of encounters. Driving on the freeway, for example, serves as a good societal type of relationship. You do what the law requires and expect others to do the same and the result is large numbers of individuals can co-exist, get what they want or need, without harming or impeding others. The downside of society seems obvious. Individuals exist on the freeway in isolated, expensive shells and do not develop a sense of belonging, participation or group effort.
Schools today function as freeways. The society model forms the basis for all interactions taking place in and on the school grounds. An individual teacher, for example, enters the school without any requirement to bond with or bring together anyone else. While he or she is physically in the company of children and other adults all day long, the teacher still acts, feels and thinks like he or she is on the freeway. The teacher must signal for a lane change, but changing lanes is accepted. The society model for education makes direct learning most difficult. What the majority learns from a society model school remain great psychological and sociological negatives. They learn separation, disintegration, and segregation along with loneliness, alienation and indifference.
To develop and learn the basics of intuitive knowledge and analytical thinking one must be in community with and connected to others. To learn how to think one must maintain trusting relationships based on collective motion upward and onward. When you car fails on the freeway you pull over to the side. The very motion, speed and volume of the cars whizzing by generate a sense of fear and failure. You learn you don’t like to be stuck on the side of the freeway, but you don’t learn how to keep the car running. Inevitably for most people, when our cars breakdown on the freeway we need help and assistance. In getting help trust is one of the most important variables. No one is totally happy to have a frightening character that seems uninterested in your car stop and offer to help. Trust is the bases by which we choose from whom to receive assistance. Trust is also the basis by which we choose from whom to receive instruction and learning.
A community model in school must be based on real and essential mutual interests. That is, the group(s) within the school must have and see that they have common interests. A teacher must see that she or he cannot teach without a student seeing himself or herself as sharing the teacher’s interest in teaching. And a student cannot learn without a teacher seeing the student’s interest in learning. There must be a group or team acceptance of real and significant mutual interests.
Clearly, in a society model school is much more like a road race. What mutual interest that exists accepts that all will move in the same direction and the objective is to go fast. Those who go slowly fail the common interests, and must be placed in their own lane or track so as not to cause delay for those who accelerate. Those who actually try to go in some other direction immediately collide with the combined force of all others, students, teachers, and administrators. The racetrack model of education disbands any perception of collectivity, distorts the self-perceptions of all involved, and teaches individuals that they are incapable or unable to construct community.
Getting Your Own Way
Keep your purpose in life in the forefront of your mind. Keep your purpose in life constantly in your heart. How easy it is to put yourself into just doing, doing the tasks that make up the everyday life. Nonviolence instructs in purposeful living. What does it matter to put in time when you are not putting time into your life’s purpose?
Schools have very little to do with meaning or purpose. The goal in many classes, for the teacher and the students, is to get through the class period. Living like this leaves one on life’s edge. Not centered nor in the current one’s personality might take on insecure and blind reaction. When it rains you move into shelter without ever figuring out how to know when it is going to rain.
Perhaps the first mistake in education was to think that school was a formula for getting one’s own way instead of a method of returning to the over-all way that life and nature and the universe follow. The negative disrupter shares this mistake with the straight “A” student. Both have accepted and perfected the formula of getting one’s own way. The second mistake of education was to think that this consistent behavior could create community. This mistake basis its potency on the mistaken thought that school leads society. School remains the caboose. It follows. A third mistake was turning education against other human beings. School became a weapon. First, against other nations, then against other races until the present condition when school is utilized by the individual to confront and oppose all others.
The standards movement flows from the conservative and right wing segments of our society. The purpose of the standards movement remains the reinforcement of these three mistakes. All of the talk about being prepared and helping youth become academically accomplished seems to hide the fact that standardized testing divides and pits a particular culture (class and race) against all other cultures and races.
The Interests That Built and Maintain Public Education
The history of education in the United States looks like the story of an immense and brutal war that never ends. For most of the two hundred and twenty five years the temporal victor in the continuing education battles has been business and the ruling elite. In deed, it was the ruling elite and the original merchant class of the colonies that sought educational opportunities for their children to prepare them to administer their businesses, administer relations with Europe and to compete in the intra-colony and international economic struggles.
During the first hundred years of U.S. history the struggle for education continued to be dominated by the merchant class. The general agricultural nature of the economy and the society, while producing much of the profit margin for the merchant class, including the agricultural based slave production, was not integrated into the drive for education. Not until the late 1800’s did the combination of big business and agriculture produce a drive for agricultural science and education. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the growth of manufacturing and banking, a new struggle in education began between the old merchant class, who favored the classics, the conservative refining of an aristocracy similar to the European model, and the new industrialists and bankers who fought for public education as a means of preparing the masses for becoming workers and assistants, even managers, in the growing factories, plants, banks and stock market brokerages.
By 1890 the industrial elite had won the battle over the merchant class in the war of the economy. They also gained around this time an upper hand in the struggle within education. Thus, some one hundred and fifteen years after the founding of the nation, the country metamorphosed from an agricultural and merchant economy to an industrial and financial economy. The next stage of the educational war would pit the industrialist and financiers against the growing working class, professional class and the development of a so-called middle class all of whom fought for education that would benefit their own class interests. Workers and professionals struggle for education that would liberate society from the chains of slavery, segregation, war and oppression, and would liberate the individual from the cellar of obscurity bringing personality and individuality into the plaza of humanity.
From the late 1890’s to the 1960’s these two sides battled over the purpose, direction, and methods of education. Industrialist and financiers developed committees and civic groups to propagandize their attacks against the interests of the common people. Their prescriptions, while not always consistently unified, generally called for conservative, route learning, memorizing, and technical training that excluded the theory and practice of learning to think, learning to seek wisdom, of learning how to put one’s life purpose with one’s daily study and activity. The working people and their educational representatives battled for progressive schools, for the reconstruction of educational purpose and method. Their effort called for multidisciplinary studies, putting real life as the centerpiece of learning and applies math, science, language arts and history to the task of learning and mastering real life.
The battle between the interests of the industrialist/financiers and the interests of the working majority during the seventy-year war becomes totally disoriented by the violence and inhumanness of the industrialist/financers and their effort to control the world’s economies and markets. These seventy years, roughly the life span of an individual, roughly representing two generations (given that a generation is measured by 30 years) include the advent of the modern day revolutionary period marked by the victory of socialism and liberation movements in many parts of the world, by one huge, world wide economic depression lasting from 1929 to the end of the 30’s, by two huge World Wars that produce new and efficient weapons for mass destruction (including the development of missiles, rockets, aircraft, ships, submarines, trucks and land vehInstitute for Community Leadershipes and a large number of raw materials and synthetics that change the life of everyone); by a large number of other wars and regional conflicts such as Korea and Viet Nam; by the centralization of the means of production, the financial centers and the means of communication and media into the hands of a very few, all ardent warriors representing the industrialist/financier sector.
There are many other important aspects of the war in education during this period of 1890 to 1960. The struggle for African American freedom develops the struggle for Black education and Black colleges. The internationalism and growing consciousness of the working people create a struggle in education for cooperation, peace and friendship. The great crisis caused by the wars and economic depression was used by the industrialist/financiers to garner support for their educational policies. They relied upon patriotism, the vile spirit of chauvinism and jingoism, fear and hatred, and the opportunity to gain income for workers in the growing military-industrial complex to stalemate with the forces in education representing the interests of the workers, or, in many cases, the industrialist/financiers won key battles. They used false accusations of “treason,” and the false notion of a “pure” American education and way-of-life. To a significant degree they we’re able to establish within higher education and through control of teachers’ colleges they gained control of the public schools. They also used their antidemocratic monopoly of local, state and federal legislative bodies to control congress, state legislatures and local school boards so that they unified and centralized their anti-government, anti-worker, anti-freedom, racists, sexists, violent and pro-war educational theory and practice into a national network of suppression and repression.
The period from the 1960’s to the present can be seen as a continuation of the war between the industrialists/financiers and the workers/poor, or it can be seen as a new era. What are significant are the rapid development of technology and the owners of technology becoming industrialists/financers. That phenomenon brings new divisions to the ruling elite. Owners of technology, for example, seek a working class that is computer literate and seek educational theory and practice based on computers and the World Wide Web. Such a clear and concise drive isn’t necessarily in unity with the historic drive of the industrialists/financiers to monopolize all the peoples of the world.
Another characteristic of the current epoch is the collapse of the many of the socialist nations, and, just as significant, the continued growth of other socialist nations. In other words, socialism has changed in this period as well, and the ruling elite of the United States does not have a unified policy and therefore lacks a unified educational battle plan for what to do about the growing strength of socialist nations like Cuba, Viet Nam, and China.
I prefer to see the current situation as a different era rather than a continuation of the era of 1890-1960. This era, while sharing many parts of the previous one, defines itself as new precisely because the war between the ruling elite and the rest of us has taken on new and qualitatively different characteristics. The war in education is currently being led by the most right wing of the ruling elite. They use the centralized system created by them in the previous epoch. They control simultaneously many legislative bodies, the media, many civic groups and, unfortunately, many colleges and universities. The neo-industrialist/financiers seek education that protects the unipolar military and economic power of their own empire. This requires education that divides and selects individuals who also support the domination of the world by these U.S. based economic and military powers. Such an educational system requires the development of two other fundamental industries: prisons and entertainment. Entertainment as an alternative to learning, to engaging in one’s own life and destiny, is the ruling elites number one proposal for an alternative to education. Prisons for all who don’t intuitively support the maintenance of the status quo provide the other alternative. Thus, those furthest emotionally, culturally and economically from the new and old industrialist/financers—people of color, poor people, working class people—are pushed, oppressed, brainwashed and cajoled into the criminal injustice/prison industrial complex.
In this epoch educators and representatives of the working and poor people must battle for schools that address the interest of the majority. First and foremost, schools and education must be for and about life itself, our lives. School and education must be about democracy, the various forms of democracy, and how one lives, learns, grows and becomes a responsible, participating, and democratic citizen. School must structure itself to provide intra-cultural learning. The concept of the ruling elite is that their way of learning is the way, and all other learning methods and cultures must recede and vanish from history. Education of and by workers and the poor must fight for and provide methods by which many cultures can successfully speak, write, read and dialogue simultaneously, bringing the diverse views and intuitions into the community and honoring the diversity within such unity. Education of and by workers and the poor must fight for and provide methods by which different personalities and learning styles can speak, write, read and dialogue simultaneously, bringing diverse views and intuitions into the community and honoring the diversity within such unity. The ruling elite educational concept that the group can only learn by reading completely goes against all educational research and experience. Individuals and groups learn through many different ways of engaging information and life. We learn by seeing, hearing, reading, writing, doing, touching and we use our minds, emotions, dreams, imaginations and bodies when we learn.
The present epoch is fraught with danger. No one should underestimate the potential violence and brutality of humanity. The ruling elite control devastating tools that can be unleashed. Nuclear war, chemical and germ warfare and high tech wars continue to be definite realities and potential realities for the people of the world. This does not frighten us. It simply reminds us and focuses our attention on the seriousness of the war within education.
Furthermore, the present epoch remains and continues to be one of revolution and liberation. The force of love and compassion, the force of humanness cannot live next to and among the monstrosities caused by the ruling elite in stagnation. Either love pushes out a bit of hate, or hate suppresses a bit of love. Neither the forces of love or the forces of hate can ignore this dialectic. The regional wars, the brutality of poverty, of starvation, of unnecessary deaths by curable disease, the exploitation of small nations, the plundering of the natural resources and ecosystems of the planet, and the racist and sexist division of humanity cannot continue unprovoked and unorganized next to the opulent decadence of too much wealth, too much luxury and too much power.
Education has become a major battleground. For the ruling elite, education is their final frontier. They must obtain the hearts and minds of a significant number of students so that they become complacent consumers or better yet, enthusiastic mangers of the unjust system of greed and corruption. For the workers and the poor, education is either a part of the solution or it is our final frontier. Education either serves the interest of the majority, bringing hope, insight, love and compassion to the endeavor of learning and mastering the arts and sciences, or it will continue to serve the interests of a few, bringing despair, closed mindedness, selfishness, and indifference to the efforts of learning.
This is not now a gentle war, and it is certainly to be expected to become a more open, public and violent one. Our most significant weapon is nonviolence. It is the philosophy and way-of-life of demanding change by changing our own mental, emotional and physical abilities to be contented, sacrificing warriors for justice. Nonviolence permits individuals in the battle to have full control over their minds, their hearts and their bodies. Nonviolence permits us to avoid the arrogance and egotism that naturally comes from violent approaches to war. A violent warrior for justice takes undeserved pride and boosts his ego when serving the people. That ego and that pride harm our efforts to win lasting results.
The history of education in the United States has been, in the most general terms, the history of domination of the economic and political elite over the mass of citizens. Education has been an instrument of rationalization for genocide, racism, sexism, exploitation and brutal violence. Education ceased being a tool to learn. It became a tool for denial and rationalized brutality. Learning, for many individuals of the majority, took place much more outside of education than under the boot of it. The same condition exists today. All of us must learn and commit to learning. The plague of entertainment unleashed among working people, people of color, the poor, and, in particular, our youth devastates the masses and our efforts to integrate, involve and unify. Nothing is more selfish than the desire to be entertained when one could directly choose at the same time communication and conversation. I can almost understand someone who, facing the possibility of gaining or losing a million dollars, would resort to selfishness and greed. But I cannot accept someone, practically penniless, having only his or her physical and mental labor power to provide, choosing a television show of lies and sensuality over the responsibility of listening and conversing with a family member, neighbor or potential friend. The degree of selfishness in such an act conditions our people to live and work against our own natural interests.
Some of our allies retort, “But our people are worked to the bone. They come home tired, sometimes depressed, and they need some personal time.” I totally agree with the first two points, but I equally disagree with the last. When, in the history of humanity, did the concept, “personal time,” become known and useable? It is a recent concept. Developed by the institutions of education that are controlled by the forces of industrialist/financiers. The concept is a distortion of a legitimate and necessary demand of the working class movement. Worldwide, workers have demanded leisure time and time away from work. This demand, in historical terms, comes from the understanding that leisure adds to the culture and cultural development of all, including workers. Rest, reflection, study, recreation, hobbies and an opportunity to get outside one’s daily routine—all add to the uplift and cultural development of the working people. The use of such time for personal consumption and spectatorism distorts the historic demand. It alters it from one seeking cultural development to one seeking cultural disintegration. No doubt, many representatives of organized labor in the industrialized nations have inappropriately argued and struggled for personal time without making their own connection to the disunifying and disintegrating nature of using such time for selfish separation and removal from social bonds.
Democracy schools build their purpose on the participation of the majority. From this point, from the development of purpose, comes the implementation of methods that permit the majority to cooperatively and collectively learn, gaining deep insight, and gaining profound understanding of one’s self and other selves. What is to be gained in a school where the vast majority “learns” insecurity, fear and a view that they either do not matter at all or matter for the wrong reason? It is easy to see why the industrialist/financiers, including the new technologists, oppose education that has the goal of providing for the vast majority the experience of learning self security and collective security, the conquest of fear and an objective view of their strengths and weaknesses. The society produced by such education would demand and take its sovereign place in history. It would run the economy, the government, the military and defense industry and the social and cultural endeavors of the people. It is not as easy to see why so many normal individuals go along with the status quo education, or strive simple to reform it instead of transform it into democracy education. Certainly, some meaningful explanation comes from the fact that we are all “educated” by the opponents system. We have within our thoughts and feelings the ideas and emotions of our opponents. This manifest itself in certain, narrow forms of sectarianism, mean-spiritedness, jealousy and arrogance on the part of those struggling for democracy education.
Another explanation might stem from the fact that our overall movement remains under the view of economic priorities first, and inner realm, cultural or educational priorities second. This view itself is a remnant of the industrialist/financier educational model. We hear it in our struggles for jobs, housing and community development. There is truth to the economic struggle. When one joins with others and wins control over jobs and a livable wage, an important step and act has been accomplished. Still, we cannot continue without including in our efforts the necessary battle for our cultural and social lives as well. It is that war that uses the battlefield of education. Democracy schools must prioritize developing unity with labor and other segments of our community over the vital significance of our inner realm liberation and independence as well as our economic liberation and independence.
To Remain Calm
It is important to strive to identify individuals and ideas that correspond to democracy education. In the effort to recruit and train coaches, for example, we must do so in a way that permits analysis and documentation of the various ideological positions of those interested in coaching and the relationships of those positions to democracy education.
In the effort to determine where we have contracts a similar process of providing analysis and understanding of existing ideologies of school administrators and personnel and how those ideologies relate to the positions of democracy education.
I accept the draw that comes from the concept of involving one’s self in order to help liberate one’s race, or class. This power seems love based and essential. I also accept the draw, less evident and less popularized, that comes from the concept of involving one’s self in order to help liberate the love and compassion within all, or, stated slightly differently, to help liberate humanity. From a nonviolence perspective no contradiction exists between serving humanity and serving one’s race or class. If one serves one’s race in a narrow and divisive way, without putting forth and pulling up the universal elements, then perhaps there is a contradiction between that style of race based service and serving humanity. Still, those who seek service to humanity must struggle and build, inform and raise consciousness, and act with discipline and courage to help provide access to the struggle to serve humanity.
We must remain disciplined, calm, with a premeditatedly daily purpose tied to a weekly and monthly purpose that serves the development of democracy schools.