Intro to mention Heineman book

 RG Speech WLU July 25 2002
I was honored to be invited to speak to an international conference of educators in Kearney Nebraska last spring, and doubly honored to have a young man, a student, assigned to drive me around. I’ll call him Joe, just to absolve him of any profound connection with me, other than this: 

I asked Joe where he went to school.

“Country school, north-central Nebraska.” Joe was not a talkative guy.

“What’s a country school?”

“One room school, maybe 40 kids, all ages, all classes, from about 70 miles around...came on buses. One teacher.”

Thinking, “Egad,” I asked, “How was it? Do you think they prepared you well for the University of Nebraska?”

“Yeah, sure. We just made sure everyone understood as we moved along. Made sense. Our teacher said learning was like working the soil, churning and overturning everything with care, to set the ground so things could grow.”

Making sure that everyone understands, in a setting that allows for thorough churning and overturning is no longer possible in any urban school, and is possible in probably only a few suburban schools. Indeed, the struggle for the truth, overturning appearances as knowledge moves closer and closer to essence, the main task of education workers and agents of change, is now dangerous business. 

We now try to teach and learn in a society that is in the midst of a social and economic collapse. The economic system must be called by name,  capitalism, which has become a system of grotesque systematic inequality, segregation of all kinds, and the diminution of all it touches. Capitalism, which churned and finally overturned feudalism, was once a revolutionary system, a major step forward in human history, but now it is just making the age-old relationship of Masters and Slaves a little more complex, and less so as time goes by, as inequality reemerges, deepens. 

We now try to teach and learn in a nation that promises its children a perpetual war, a massive invasion of the world. The clear purpose of that war is not democracy or justice, or the defeat of terror, but to guarantee sources of cheap labor, raw materials, and open markets for certain US goods. How many young people will be asked to shed blood for oil, for the lavish lifestyles of oil billionaires, for greed? 

 I now teach and learn in an elementary school in El Cajon California that was, until January, self-described as a Peace School. By January, working in a peace school in the US did seem a little silly. 

The politics of the US can now be reasonably described as fascist. The corporate state was well in place before September 11, and so were racism and a monstrous system of prisons. The US built its capitalist base on fascism in other nations, and from time to time had conducted fascist policies within specific US communities, parts of Detroit, for example, or Lakeside, California. Fascism always enjoyed a limited open popularity. But now civil liberties are extinguished, in the name of combating terror, and tyranny reigns in the US, fascist tyranny—and I do not use that word flippantly or cavalierly. 

This week we are challenged once again to answer the question, “How Do I Keep My Ideals and Still Teach,” in the midst of fascism, war, and economic collapse. I told you this was coming. 

Our task, it seems to me, is to see that these issues remain connected, to question how it is that we can teach well, build inclusive democratic communities where people are free to learn in a loving atmosphere, in the midst of fascism, war, and capitalism in crisis. How can we teach well, fight back, yet not recreate the habits of the Masters, yet go beyond the self-discipline of Slaves?

To me, the strategic, and long range question must be, How do we overcome, transcend, go beyond, the processes of capital—in schools and out?  Capital’s key intellectual task is to obscure what is true, not merely what is true in fact, but the precesses of discovering what is true, learning how it is we can comprehend and transform our world. 

The research is done. Our job is not to compare our research with theirs, not to prove, once again, that people learn to read better when they are surrounded by a culture of reading and writing, by print, by meaningful activities, by a multitude of “why’s” to learn, and they do not learn to read well using a falacious part-to-part fonics system;  but to connect sound reasoning with power in order to build a world where people can live, on earth, with sound principles, like from each according to their commitment, to each according to their need–where people can lead life in freedom, at work as well as at play, where the creativity and possible contribution of everyone can be celebrated, where this is achieved not by exclusion but by friendly connections—the source of every significant human advance. 

At issue is a pedagogical question, one that should be of great interest to school workers: What do people need to know, and how do they need to come to know it, in order to reach out and win their own freedom? 

How we get from here to there is our big job. But that young Nebraska boy did offer some profound advice. To close,  I rephrase the words of Popol Vuh.
The Masters will Never Adopt the Ethics of the Slaves. 
That all may understand,
That all may know how they know
That all may test for truth
That all may rise
That all may overcome
To never live the same way again......
The Slaves must always prevail,
but they are the ones who must
choose how
much they lose and how long they are
in overturning. 

Thank you,   

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