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Industrial economics, Industrial education, and the Abolition of Man

From Wendell Berry: In Distrust of Movements, a 2000 essay.

Study of the history of land use (and any local history will do) informs us that we have had for a long time an economy that thrives by undermining its own foundations.

Every time I read Mr. Berry’s works about the economy, land use, the environment, etc. I realize that he sees things as an integrated whole. That is why he can make observations like the foregoing, and it is why I, as an educator, commit an act of folly when I fail to apply what he is saying to education.

Economy: From the Greek: Oikos, household, and Nomos, law or custom.

Economy is the study of household customs or, by extension, the study of what is good for the household. Show me that in our modern statistics. We have an economy that undermines its own foundations. How so?

First, we don’t even think about the household when we measure the modern economy. We think about money, a significant PART of the household. But a non-income producing housewife, for example, has no measurable value in the modern economy.

Second, the well-being of the household is the foundation even for our financial economy. We have spent about 80 years living in a welfare state. Because of the way it has chosen to measure things, this welfare state has destroyed families and communities and encouraged behavior that further undermines families and communities. Our “economy” is guided and regulated and formed by people who make their profits by undermining the family and the household it sustains.

This has everything to do with education. First, we live under an industrial model education that has as its counterpart the welfare state to perpetuate it. John Dewey’s “Gary Plan,” that subjected students to the assembly line mode of instruction is virtually universal in American education apart from the home school. Suggest an alternative and you’ll be regarded as a dunderheaded nincumpoop idealist. Well, you would be, but those are big words.

Since education is necessary for everybody but is so incredibly badly managed in America, we need a welfare state to prop it up. $300 billion/year; for what?

In 1890 the typical 8th grade graduate knew math well enough to run his own business without a calculator and to figure out mortgage amortization in his head. 2008 could not have happened in 1890.

To paraphrase Laertes in Hamlet: “The school! The school’s to blame.” By which I mean, of course, those educators who have blinded us to what it means to be a human and have driven us to an anxiety that only they can resolve: by taking more power.

If you were to spend one hour writing notes about what makes us human and what makes life worth living, and then you examined what happens to a child in school, you would find considerable evidence that the developers of modern education hate human beings – hate the human soul, just as you would find evidence that the captains of industry hate the earth and the soil. As a mistress, sure; as a covenanted bride? Forget it.

To adapt Mr. Berry: “Study of the history of teaching (and any local school will do) informs us that we have had for a long time an education that thrives by undermining its own foundations.”

Thus our schools and our economy and our politicians have cooperated to produce a society that is untenable, unsustainable, and eating its own heart out as we watch.

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