THE ECOLOGY OF TEACHING
Star Wars Civilization & Stone Age Emotions
By HECTOR VILA
Hector J. Vila is an Assistant Professor in Writing at Middlebury College in Vermont. He has been teaching writing in urban and rural environments since 1985. Hector is the author of Life-Affirming Acts: Education as Transformation in the Writing Classroom. Throughout his career he has always worked, in one way or another, with K-12 partners. Hector is a regular essayist for Community Works Journal, taking a deeper look at current events, ideas, and trends. He feels that it is clear that we–Americans–are being challenged to examine ourselves, re-assess our principles, values, and ideals; to challenge our pre-conceived notions of ourselves; to then perhaps move towards a fresher perspective.
That’s who we are … We could very well be a developing country.
Take a look: we are all getting our new credit cards with computer chips, something that has been long in coming.
Have you tried using your card, though?
I routinely walk to a counter, see the chip-enabled card reader, and when I go to use it, I’m met with this halting remark by the cashier (that we have cashiers, still, is another matter): “Wait. No. It doesn’t work. Please slide your card instead.”
In Chicago — this the 21st Century in the U.S. , mind you — teachers may go on strike because they have been working without a contract. Hell, there may not be enough money to pay them.
As Scott Beyer writes in Forbes, “The Chicago Public School system is in shambles, worsened by a combination of recent events. First is that CPS has received several credit downgrades, attaining that all-too-familiar Chicago characteristic: ‘junk bond’ status. Second is that CPS is dealing with a $480 million budget shortfall that it wants the also-broke Illinois state government to cover. Third is that Chicago’s school system, already facing academic failure, may cut staff and close facilities. And compounding all this is that CPS must deal with a Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) who, oblivious to reality, keeps demanding more for itself.”
What? We can’t afford to pay teachers, keep our schools running, let alone a state government? We can’t create good, viable schools in the U.S. in the 21st Century? We don’t have the will, tenacity, and funds to overhaul our aging infrastructure? (Iraq is running out of money, too, and will be challenged to keep its government afloat, let alone pay soldiers fighting ISIS. Gee, the invader and the invaded are starkly similar. Could it be that when we enter a country, we bring our problems with us?)
This is the United States in the 21st Century: machines that don’t work; dreams of border fences that won’t work but that some want to put up in states with Spanish names such as Arizona (does anyone know what happened to China after it raised its famous wall?); Syrian refugees turned away by Indiana, yet accepted in Connecticut — though we’ve had everything to do with the tragic disaster over there; the choice for president in November, well, it’s between a megalomaniacal misogynist clown and a hawkish carpetbagger no one likes or trusts; roads and bridges collapsing; the worst rail system in the modern world; lead in the water — it’s beyond Flint, Michigan; public schools we can’t keep open and education being dismantled and sold as a commodity to the highest bidder, advertised as a panacea for the good life in a vertically structured society — the penthouse on one end, homelessness on the other. Very good. We’re a model.
This is not a failure of funding — we have the money. Sadly, it is a complete failure of the American Imagination, that self-reliant being that, against all odds, created and found ways through the quagmire and dared to be different.
The stagnation caused by bipartisanship is a result of the complacency afforded by privilege; that is to say, entitlement comes about because of a cozy relationship between those that govern and those that control the purse strings of production. In other words, neoliberalism.
The means of production have been taken from the labor class and sold off.
Edward O. Wilson, in The Social Conquest of the Earth (2012), says the following prophetic words:
Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world. The mind seeks but cannot find the precise place and hour. We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology. We thrash about. We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life.
This is who we are.
And as Andrew Sullivan points out, citing Plato’s Republic, in his piece, Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic, that “right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny” because “tyranny is probably established out of no other regime than democracy”:
The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher … is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen.
See how we thrash about? We are thrashing, indeed.
Reading Sullivan’s entire piece is very worthwhile because he takes us through the history that got us here, citing writers, and moving all the way to the advent of “media democracy,” the first time I’ve heard this term: “The rise of the internet — an event so swift and pervasive its political effect is only now beginning to be understood — further democratized every source of information, dramatically expanded each outlet’s readership, and gave everyone a platform. All the old barriers to entry — the cost of print and paper and distribution — crumbled.”
So, as Sullivan describes it, we have a conflation of late-stage democracy, where it begins to fall apart, and easy access to media where literally everyone can have a voice — it depends on how loud it is, or how big your servers are.
This is, of course, a huge danger. Our Founding Fathers read Plato and established safeguards; however, they never saw media and technology coming with such force such that, over time, someone like Donald Trump can build an image and a constituency of malcontents.
That we are not happy with where we are is no secret — Trump and Sanders have shown this. Where we go from here, what this Republic will look like in the next 5 to 10 years, your guess is as good as mine. But tyranny could be the next wave.
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