I am still SO. TIRED. But, I’m going to give this writing thing a shot.
I like what you had to say about your life and work. Good post. I couldn’t help but to think how it really exemplifies the differences between you and me. The whole “city mouse / country mouse” sort of thing. While you’re all about getting ahead in your job, living an expensive lifestyle, and having a busy schedule, I’m all about trying to find more ways to get back to nature, simplify my life, and focus on the little things.
I’m going to go on a tangent here about all the things that have been bothering me about the world lately, so please just bear with me and don’t take offense. Your post just reminded me of some of these things for some reason.
Here we go:
(I will address some of these ideas toward you, but that’s only because you personify a general way of living and being in the world that most of the culture engages in or strives for. Again, please don’t take offense. It’s okay for people to have a difference of opinion, I just want to take this time to highlight some of the differences between us [as well as between me with society in general] because I think that’s part of what makes this blog and these conversations interesting.
First of all, it bugs me how schools and education are geared toward “getting a good job”. Is that what our lives amount to?
I read the book Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto recently. This was a man who taught for 30 years in the New York City school system, and then quit (shortly after being named New York’s Teacher of the Year), and has been spending the rest of his life trying to reform our ideas about education.
What nineteenth century American experience demonstrated unmistakably is that an independent, resourceful, too well-educated common population has the irresistible urge to produce – and the ability to do so. Many famous “panics” of nineteenth century America were caused in part by a hangover from early Federal times and Colonial days when the common ideal was to produce your own food, your own clothing, your own shelter, your own education, your own medical care, your own entertainment, etc. The common population was still insufficiently conditioned to be interdependent and specialized.
Now, all we are are interdependent and specialized. We don’t produce things for ourselves and our families anymore. We consume, consume, consume. We consume products, we consume education, we consume everything.
Under this outlook, the classroom would never be used to produce knowledge, but only to consume it; it would not encourage the confined to produce ideas, only to consume the ideas of others. The ultimate goal implanted in student minds, which replaced the earlier goal of independent livelihoods, was getting a good job.
In that super long Wendell Berrry article I sent you awhile back, he writes:
The modern household is the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming. Nothing productive is done there. Such work as is done there is done at the expense of the resident couple or family, and to the profit of suppliers of energy and household technology. For entertainment, the inmates consume television or purchase other consumable diversion elsewhere.
When questioned about Why Do We Need to Learn Math, my high school daughter’s math teacher presented them with an essay that had a lot of great points about how math is important in problem solving (“each individual problem because a small but important lesson for solving problems in general”), which I thought were great answers. But then, on the subject of Can I Get a Good Job Without Learning a Lot of Math?, the essay says: In all honesty, anything is possible. However, less and less labor intensive jobs are available. Workers in those fields are being replaced by machinery and robotics. Someone has to fix all of those machines and robots.
Really? That’s what our lives and jobs amount to, fixing machines and robots? I’m so tired of hearing about freaking robots. (Have you read anything about the production of robots lately? There’s some crazy stuff going on.)
And I want my kids (and people in general) to have labor-intensive jobs. I want them to have their own businesses (to produce) instead of working for big corporations. Sitting down all day, working in front of a computer, and moving from one indoor location to another is not a good thing. There’s not enough natural movement in people’s lives. Not enough nature. We have really created an unnatural world for ourselves.
We are really moving away from a lot of the things that are really important in life in pursuit of things that aren’t.
The number one case in point being the family. Now, instead of making the family the most important thing in our lives, it becomes our schooling and then our jobs that are most important.
In another book that I recently read, Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton by Dale Ahlquist, he writes:
What common sense through the ages tells us is that most people have this simple basic desire: to have a happy family and a happy home. Chesterton says that “just now there is a tendency to forget that the school is only a preparation for the home, and not the home a mere jumping off place for the school.”
As is so often the case in the modern world, we have things exactly backward. In the process of turning our children over to the public education system, we have turned our backs on the home and the family. And we have somehow mislaid the primary purpose of going to school.
By turning public education over to “the experts”, we have undermined the natural authority of the family.
And this, from John Taylor Gatto:
The curriculum of family is at the heart of any good life, we’ve gotten away from that curriculum, time to return to it. The way to sanity in education is for our schools to take the lead in releasing the stranglehold of institutions on family life, to promote during school time confluences of parent and child that will strengthen family bonds. Experts in education have never been right, their “solutions” are expensive, self-serving, and always involve further centralization. Enough. Time for a return to democracy, individuality, and family. I’ve said my piece. Thank you.
And again, from that Chesterton book:
When we step out of the home, when we pass from private life to public life, we are passing from a greater work to a smaller one, and from a harder work to an easier one. And that is why most modern people wish to pass from the great domestic task to the smaller business world serving the minor needs of a hundred different people than meeting all the major needs of just one person, which includes serving meals, conversation, and moral support. They would rather teach a course in trigonometry to a hundred children than struggle with the whole human character of one child.
I don’t like that our culture has created this need for women to think that they should (or need to) work outside the home. Our culture doesn’t value the home enough, and therefore, neither do the women and men inside those homes.
From Wendell Berry:
I know that I am in dangerous territory, and so I had better be plain: what I have to say about marriage and household I mean to apply to men as much as to women. I do not believe that there is anything better to do than to make one’s marriage and household, whether one is a man or a woman. I do not believe that “employment outside the home” is as valuable or important or satisfying as employment at home, for either men or women. It is clear to me from my experience as a teacher, for example, that children need an ordinary daily association with both parents.
I should say too that I understand how fortunate I have been in being able to do an appreciable part of my work at home. I know that in many marriages both husband and wife are now finding it necessary to work away from home. This issue, of course, is troubled by the question of what is meant by “necessary,” but it is true that a family living that not so long ago was ordinarily supplied by one job now routinely requires two or more. My interest is not to quarrel with individuals, men or women, who work away from home, but rather to ask why we should consider this general working away from home to be a desirable state of things, either for people or for marriage, for our society or for our country.
It is easy enough to see why women came to object to the role of Blondie, a mostly decorative custodian of a degraded, consumptive modern household, preoccupied with clothes, shopping, gossip, and outwitting her husband. But are we to assume that one may fittingly cease to be Blondie by becoming Dagwood? Is the life of a corporate underling—even acknowledging that corporate underlings are well paid—an acceptable end to our quest for human dignity and worth?
How, I am asking, can women improve themselves by submitting to the same specialization, degradation, trivialization, and tyrannization of work that men have submitted to? And that question is made legitimate by another: How have men improved themselves by submitting to it? The answer is that men have not, and women cannot, improve themselves by submitting to it.
A broader, deeper criticism is necessary. The problem is not just the exploitation of women by men. A greater problem is that women and men alike are consenting to an economy that exploits women and men and everything else.
Now, onto the topic of technology. That’s another thing that I’m tired of. I mentioned before how our non-labor-intensive technology-driven jobs of today rob us of much needed natural movement and time outdoors. But it goes beyond that. Beyond even the addiction nature of the whole thing, which nobody seems to care about anymore. Everything being created today seems to make us lazier and lazier. There are machines created to open the garage door for us, to do the dishes for us, to flush the toilet for us, etc. Granted, I like modern appliances as much as the next person, but enough already.
At the end of his article, Wendell Berry writes:
We are going to have to learn to give up things that we have learned (in only a few years, after all) to “need.” I am not an optimist; I am afraid that I won’t live long enough to escape my bondage to the machines. Nevertheless, on every day left to me I will search my mind and circumstances for the means of escape. And I am not without hope. I knew a man who, in the age of chainsaws, went right on cutting his wood with a handsaw and an axe. He was a healthier and a saner man than I am. I shall let his memory trouble my thoughts.
And Chesterton says:
We are learning to do a great many things… The next great task will be to learn not to do them.
So, those are some things I’ve been thinking about technology lately, how to get away from it and examining what the use of it has taken away from me.
What it comes down to is that I think the Amish people have got it right. Hard work. Craftsmanship. Community. No technology. Focus on family. Time in nature. Those are the things that make for a good and healthy life.
Unfortunately, I can’t just run off and join an Amish farm (nor am I sure that I would want to). But I do want to keep exploring these ideas and seeing I can create for myself and my family a valuable, important and worthwhile life.
P.S. I am so sorry about all the quotes from other sources that I used throughout this article. I realize that I totally overused them, yet I liked them so much, I couldn’t leave them out. Again, my apologies. I know quote reading can be annoying.