I’ll be honest, today has me flooded with indignation and it has become hard to think amidst the noise made by the onslaught of corporate legislation removing the education of children from the public charge and domain and placing it in the hands of the highest or most connected bidder. If you want to read this news head on to Doug Martin’s Indiana Government Exposed (it’s really a national digest as much as a local one). I won’t terrorize you with links.
I think, should the US abandon public education as an attempt in (at the very least) equal indoctrination in favor of private and unequal indoctrination, we might have to abandon the aspect of the system that is legally mandatory. (You see via this formulation that one can make a cogent argument against state education as an education of subservience.)
Of course all of this plays into a general boon to the thieves and marketers. It is interesting how we are finally making plain what, behind or underneath the stirring rhetoric of documents declaring independence, we are as a nation–that is we are now institutionalizing graft in our schools as in our legislatures and courtroom. We are the grifter nation, large and small, short and long, and our politics and business practices have finally begun to win that particular battle for primary self-knowledge: I fleece, therefor I am.
At least we are being honest, or at least our inheritors of the Founders’ psychological DNA are, about our true dream. Domination by trickery and force. That’s us. I cheat and murder, therefor I am. Sounds like the Wild West, at least as an idea in our historical imagination, as recreated so lovingly in Milch’s Deadwood, is our true identification of liberty. Liberty is for the powerful only, or the one with the quickest draw, or the one devious and ignoble enough to wait in the alley to stab you in the back. America, America, America!
Our truest Founder might be Samuel Argall. Argall’s exploits are outlined in a book by Nathan Miller called The Founding Finaglers (buy it–donate to the school library–it appears to be out-of-print but there are used copies available. Mine came from the Great Neck Library in NY–shame on them to withdraw it!). Immediately we learn that exploration and discovery and “founding” is done by Pirates, Joint-Stock companies and suckers (folks who believed the “new world” had waterfalls of gold around every river bend–folks who do the hard work of sailing a ship and “living” in a strange land and climate, folks who battle “savages” and lose). Anyway, what we find out is that graft is the law of the land in England and graft will be the law of land in the Land of Liberty. In other words, public servants were not paid enough by the Crown, perennially broke, but did do quite well selling their good favor to petitioners. Ta da…American Politics, 101.
Samuel Argall, Deputy Governor and Admiral General of Jamestown, “was the first to bring to the New World the principles of graft and corruption that had long been basic to almost every form of public endeavor in England and throughout Europe.” Basically, this man simply used Jamestown as a port to raid coastal settlements. He even “stole” Pocahontas (four years after the mythic trial and saving of Captain John Smith) in order to leverage “trade” and security with the Powhatan tribe. He never traded her back–she stayed in Jamestown, converted to Christianity, married, went to England with Argall and her husband where she died while anchored in a ship awaiting a fair wind to return to Jamestown. (Now there’s a cautionary tale.)
Argall, having proven a man of ready capacity to “freeboot” was promoted to deputy governor of Virginia–and he begins again to plunder with little interest in his actual “duty” to his charges. The colony suffers, the Virginia Company turns out to have kept little to no record of who paid in as a stockholder and things get messy. Argall has left (very wealthy after a raid on a Spanish fleet in Bermuda)–and as he has become wealthy and known he is Knighted. Finally King James, “exasperated by the constant bickering” of the Virginia Company’s principals, dissolves the corporation and names Argall (the source of mismanagement and lack of return–but to himself) to the commission to “devise a royal government for the colony.” Fox, meet hen house, enjoy. But doesn’t this seem all too relevant to the privatization movement in education? What are the lessons learned by the facts exposed? That this is what achievement is all about. Perhaps you’d like to nominate someone as our current Argall clone?
However, I would have still said that we have kept most of this out of our schools (literally, in never exposing students to American venality). Teachers, unlike my general perception of cops, are not lovers of dominance and power (there are some of course), but are instead believers in human communities involved in a humane task–learning. Yes, we learn the “right” history (more right than ever in places like Tejas) and we honor the right men (and a few subservient women) and yes, we learn time management–or rather we learn that our lives are not our own and that we must constantly be moving to the next task. So, yes, we do things that create the fertile ground for our young adults to be dominated by our economic system and to be eager members of the jingoistic chorus of true believers in the manifest destiny of US world domination.
Yet, this mythos has found its way in to the foundations of community education and identity: I think we’ve been primarily trying to teach domination and trickery on the side through our sports programs, but also via programs like learning the art of “finance” via lemonade stand education. This is education in and through competition.
Competition teaches us “do what it takes” and this easily devolves into trickery and violence.
Competition teaches two things: Winners deserve to win; Losers deserve to lose. Winners are few; Losers are many.
You can see how this fits in with our Founders and our current ruling class, right? They are the truth, but so are we, all of us losers. We too are America.
I just don’t think I’d sing songs of praise to it or want to defend it as a wholesome way of life.
*Detail from The Abduction of Pocahontas by Jean Ferris, c. 1910 found at “1609 Chronology“