A Commons Or A Prison

Wall to Wall YorkshireI prepared the following for the Bergamo Conference on Curriculum Theory and Classroom Practice.

From Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall.”

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

George Monbiot, in the Guardian a few days ago, reported an amazing discovery…humans are NICE! He notes in particular this review article in the Journal Infancy from 2013 (journals are enclosure) called “A New Look at Children’s Prosocial Motivation.”

One way to distinguish whether a behavior is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated is to look at the effect that material rewards have on it. If the behavior is inherently rewarding, that is, intrinsically motivated, then extrinsic rewards will undermine the intrinsic motivation to engage in the activity, a phenomenon known as the overjustification effect. Furthermore, the reverse can be true for inherently dull and unattractive activities: Subjects will attribute intrinsically motivating features to a previously performed activity if the reward they received for participating serves only as an insufficient post-hoc justification for engaging in the activity. In a study investigating children’s intrinsic motivation to perform a drawing task, 3- to 5-year-old children were assigned to one of three conditions in which (1) they expected a reward for performing the task, (2) they were given a reward only after they had performed it, or (3) they neither expected nor received any reward. Only children in the condition in which they expected, and subsequently obtained, a reward showed less interest in the drawing task afterward, suggesting that their otherwise intrinsically motivated behavior was undermined through making them expect extrinsic material rewards.

So…here is a “commons” inherency. Here is mutual aid…beating in the breast.

I shared this with my friend, Eric, who teaches high school English at a Catholic boys school, and he scoffed. He’s in the middle of teaching Moby Dick (something I have been pressuring him to do for several years–I seem to write about 2 things, the politics/economics of education and Moby Dick.) Moby Dick is fecundity itself. You CAN argue, and I will accept it, that Women are an absence and/or problematic element in Melville–BUT the absence is as teachable by which I mean “thinkable” as anything thing else in the novel. The whale seems to me, though biologically male, one aspect of the unknowable femaleness of Melville’s Universe. The Human condition–the SOCIAL condition–corrupts men and women.MEN are scared of LIFE. Yet men are conquerors. Yet Men are a dime a dozen. Our social organization both aggrandizes and diminishes the male. Go Alpha or go home.

In any event, Moby Dick offers a us our primary scene–it talks about the joint stock company–it talks about shareholders–it talks about “merit” advancement–it talks about the waste of talent–it talks about production–it talks about ecological devastation–it talks about working with pride–working together–it talks about psychological manipulation–it talks about the beauty and mystery of nature–it talks about religion (and its ties to what marx called primitive accumulation)–a ship owner negotiates to steal Ishmael’s labor by constructing terrible terms (But Ishmael considers room and board payment enough) and this is where the bible is use: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” (if you’re a laborer)–it talks about racial categories–it takes on political philosophy with a chapter dissecting the whale’s tale, as an illustration of Hobbes’ Leviathan–it talks about death, well that’s on every page–it talks about suicide–it talks about epistemology–it talks about scientific tools–it details blubber production in what might be my favorite chapter for laying bare MEN and Industrial processing, the Try-Works–and it talks about, well you get the picture…it is as near a total representation of the modern world as I think there is.

Eric, my friend, shared with me some of the questions he asks his students to think about. One of which explores Ahab’s relation to his mates (not the crew–irrelevant other than needing a rousing reason to continue the suicide mission–GOLD) at mess. From the chapter “The Cabin Table.”

In this one matter, Ahab seemed no exception to most American whale captains, who, as a set, rather incline to the opinion that by rights the ship’s cabin belongs to them; and that it is by courtesy alone that anybody else is, at any time, permitted there. So that, in real truth, the mates and harpooneers of the Pequod might more properly be said to have lived out of the cabin than in it. For when they did enter it, it was something as a street-door enters a house; turning inwards for a moment, only to be turned out the next; and, as a permanent thing, residing in the open air. Nor did they lose much hereby; in the cabin was no companionship; socially, Ahab was inaccessible. Though nominally included in the census of Christendom, he was still an alien to it.

Eric asks:
How is the “state” of the ship described here? Although the mates and harpooners are eating with Ahab, are they welcomed guests? What does this scene symbolize?

Are they “welcome”–Are they guests? Are they even “men”? Melville extends this exploration of class hierarchy to the order in which the mates enter the mess and how much they do or don’t get to eat.

I mentioned the gold doubloon above…Ahab also gives a rousing speech and even performs a kind of mystical voodoo ritual with his harpooners…this creates a common goal (not a good one, mind)…The study about prosocial behavior in children also includes this tidbit (another word from Melville–though there it’s titbit) about a thing called “promotive tension.”

In one study (from 1971), pedestrians found two ‘‘misplaced’’ envelopes by the same sender, one stating a political attitude of the sender either in accordance or in contrast with the finder’s own, while a second envelope contained the sender’s contribution to a research institute. Subjects were more likely to complete the sender’s goal (by mailing the second envelope) if the political opinion of the sender resonated with their own.

Learned group identification will create a “non-helping” behavior!

I could also quote from the Monkey-Rope chapter of Moby Dick here–but it is problematized–metaphorically it is an all-for-one idea–we are literally attached to every action in the world around us–but “capitalistically” it is a tether of fear and burden.

So strongly and metaphysically did I conceive of my situation then, that while earnestly watching his motions, I seemed distinctly to perceive that my own individuality was now merged in a joint stock company of two; that my free will had received a mortal wound; and that another’s mistake or misfortune might plunge innocent me into unmerited disaster and death. Therefore, I saw that here was a sort of interregnum in Providence; for its even-handed equity never could have so gross an injustice. And yet still further pondering—while I jerked him now and then from between the whale and ship, which would threaten to jam him—still further pondering, I say, I saw that this situation of mine was the precise situation of every mortal that breathes; only, in most cases, he, one way or other, has this Siamese connexion with a plurality of other mortals. If your banker breaks, you snap; if your apothecary by mistake sends you poison in your pills, you die. True, you may say that, by exceeding caution, you may possibly escape these and the multitudinous other evil chances of life. But handle Queequeg’s monkey-rope heedfully as I would, sometimes he jerked it so, that I came very near sliding overboard. Nor could I possibly forget that, do what I would, I only had the management of one end of it.*

If we attend Christian schools, do we learn “group” helping? If we attend MBA programs? If we attend private Waldorf schools in Google Land?

This idea of the error of “extrinsic reward” also does the work of explaining why capitalism undermines our sociallity–the extrinsic reward of “money-success” makes what Percy Shelley called “the sordid lust of self” in his “Queen Mab.”

‘The harmony and happiness of man
Yields to the wealth of nations; that which lifts
His nature to the heaven of its pride,
Is bartered for the poison of his soul;
The weight that drags to earth his towering hopes,
Blighting all prospect but of selfish gain,
Withering all passion but of slavish fear,
Extinguishing all free and generous love
Of enterprise and daring, even the pulse
That fancy kindles in the beating heart
To mingle with sensation, it destroys, –
Leaves nothing but the sordid lust of self,
The grovelling hope of interest and gold,
Unqualified, unmingled, unredeemed
Even by hypocrisy.

Interdependence is a dirty word in an America which prizes the individualist ideology (a false one) which lays the foundation for the so-called aberration of the lone gunman. Shelley’s advice “Learn to make others happy.”

Facebook (twitter, instagram, snapchat, whatever else) is not a substitute for physical-relationality, and its rewards are seem force the extrinsic inside us. (iPads are enclosure)

Schools Are Enclosure–boy, that’s a tough one, right? But like “democracy” which we call, oddly or rightly, the least bad of political systems–if you have to have one, let it be this–we want to call schools, public schools, the “least bad” form of a cage. Which is to say we want to infuse the cage with progressive and/or conservative ideals.

Charter schools are the Dispossession form of enclosure in schools–the next step. Just like the man who makes plows and uses them to reduce labor (ie, dispossess and alienate labor), who has no interest in the yield of the plowed land, the charter is interested in the “scene”–the materiality of the institution, and the money that is mined out of it. There are too many examples to list them all of charter corporations serving as real estate fronts–buying buildings to house their “schools” and renting them back to municipalities at exorbitant rates. IF the “school” part of the business deal fails–no worries, that’s not where the money worked and multiplied.

Now, I have to admit that I’ve sent both my kids to a Charter school in Bloomington, IN, for two years (each)–7th and 8th grade. I would have tried to place them there sooner if their public school had not offered a program that I prized. Their elementary school offered ONE classroom that was multi-year and interdisciplinary. Our youngest was in that class for 5 years. Same teachers and primarily the same kids. This class also had an extremely robust “inclusion” program incorporating learning partnerships with a class of children with disabilities. The charter school I sent them too was an extension of this classroom, indeed was founded by the former teacher/principal who started the multi-year classroom. It is small and it is inclusive. It is also “privilege.” It is by lottery. But it is narrowly “advertised” and the default of attendance goes to all siblings. So, it creates a very special kind of community. A neighborhood, but also enclosed.

Enclosure is “unfreedom”–

Something, indeed, doesn’t love a wall. You and me.


Did you know that the Federal Government created programs to manipulate native or indigenous peoples into becoming “homeowners”–into believing in the value of walls?

While he was putting his house in order, Schurz also attempted to carry out his ideas about Indian relations. In his first annual report on 1 November 1877, he expressed the opinion that trouble between whites and Indians in the United States could not be entirely avoided because they were living too closely together. The solution, therefore, he thought, was to separate them by settling the southern tribes in the existing Indian Territory, while creating a similar reserve for the northern ones. Yet not- withstanding this unfortunate insistence on segregation, which at least for a time led to continuing the ill-conceived policy of removing entire tribes from their ancestral homes, he also strongly advocated assimilation. Recommending that agriculture and husbandry be encouraged, he advised the discouragement of hunting because it made the Indians warlike. Above all, he wanted to further concepts of private prop- erty, especially the holding ofland in severalty. Once Native Americans were willing to live like whites, all the rights of citizenship ought to be conferred upon them….

The secretary continued to expound his theories in his annual reports. In 1878, he repeated his suggestions of the previous year. Taking great pride in the progress already made, particularly in Indian education, Schurz reported that fifty students had been sent to Hampton Institute. There they would “receive an elementary English education and through practical instruction in farming and other useful work, be sent back to their tribes after the completed course.” The education program was an important part of his continued emphasis upon assimilation, his encouragement of agriculture rather than hunting, and his propaganda for individual allotments of land.
-Hans Trefousse, “Carl Schurz And The Indians”

I. Tecumseh to Governor Harrison at Vincennes

Born about 1768, died in 1813; a Chief of the Shawnee and twin brother of Elskwatawa, who was defeated by Harrison at Tippecanoe; joined the British in the War of 1812; fought in several battles in Canada; commanded the right wing of the allied Indian and British forces, who were defeated in the Battle of the Thames by General Harrison.

IT is true I am a Shawnee. My forefathers were warriors. Their son is a warrior. From them I take only my existence; from my tribe I take nothing. I am the maker of my own fortune; and oh! that I could make that of my red people, and of my country, as great as the conceptions of my mind, when I think of the Spirit that rules the universe. I would not then come to Governor Harrison to ask him to tear the treaty and to obliterate the landmark; but I would say to him: “Sir, you have liberty to return to your own country.”

The being within, communing with past ages, tells me that once, nor until lately, there was no white man on this continent; that it then all belonged to red men, children of the same parents, placed on it by the Great Spirit that made them, to keep it, to traverse it, to enjoy its productions, and to fill it with the same race, once a happy race, since made miserable by the white people, who are never contented but always encroaching. The way, and the only way, to check and to stop this evil, is for all the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should be yet; for it never was divided, but belongs to all for the use of each. For no part has a right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers—those who want all, and will not do with less.

The white people have no right to take the land from the Indiana, because they had it first; it is theirs. They may sell, but all must join. Any sale not made by all is not valid. The late sale is bad. It was made by a part only. Part do not know how to sell. It requires all to make a bargain for all….


Some thoughts on the Commons and Enclosure:

Schools are enclosures. We should stop employing the myth that public education does anything other than enforce enclosure as an idea.

We frame our education in cultural assumptions, create expectations, enforce rules and demand hierarchical obedience. Why?

Time management is enclosure

Dictionaries and Grammars are enclosure

What do we want to save about Public Schools? What do we think they achieve, or is it that we feel there is potential, untapped still, in that form of organization?

Capitalism is the freedom of the Pirate made Legitimate.

The US Nationals of African descent exist in Enclosure. The Black Laws in Illinois criminalized the very FACT of Blackness in that state…caught while Black in Illinois, though free, or “unowned,” you were assessed a fine not possible to pay and in order to relieve the debt you would be hired out till it was worked off then you’d be transported across state lines.

How might curriculum offer a counter to enclosure? We see how curriculum enforces enclosure–we see the historical figures we still venerate though our foundations stories are just nationalist myth. And we see how money and bigotry well-placed creates new enclosures, new blindnesses, new myths. Look at any Texas textbook–or look at homeschooling texts (arguably a “freer” space of learning).

It’s so much easier to talk about enclosure, than it is to talk about “the commons”–the commons does not exist. Commoning, though, has existed for millennia, still exists in many ways. One such is Community Gardening. New York City has a Community Gardens Coalition and a group called the Green Guerillas. Bloomington, Indiana, where I live has a food pantry, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard that manages 4 community gardens where they teach folks how to raise vegetables.

Charter Schools have become (been used) as a form of Dispossession: What ideologies are they perpetuating?

What politics does REFORM propagate?

To “Reform” the commons there was enclosure and mechanical progress…which simply means dispossession and funneling of wealth via labor and resource exploitation.

So, even if all the lies were true, that funders care about students, about children, about educating for equality…what is it that charters represent as ideology?

Where has finance capital brought us? Are we forgetting that charters are an expression of market ideologues? If Milton Friedman is your patron saint, and Jay Greene, a Walmart scholar in Arkansas–his chair at the U of Arkansas in Fayetteville is funded by Walmart and is in Education Reform, provides your intellectual reasoning, isn’t it clear where the bread is buttered?

Public Schools are segregated, neighborhoods are segregated, charters may make this worse. But what are we changing about the public school to address any of these things/

from journalist blogger songwriter Chris Floyd re: “lone nuts” with guns:

Hypercapitalism destroys social, family, community and economic bonds; it sews division, isolation, competition, greed; lauds force and violence and war as supreme values; turns rape and murder into nightly entertainment; dehumanizes and commodifies human beings at every turn … and then we wonder why our society produces so many troubled, isolated, violent souls out there. A system set up on dehumanization and moral insanity is bound to produce the kind of damaged psyches we see falling prey to the hate that fills the nightmind of the internet — and the broad daylight of Establishment violence and brutality — and who then go walking into schools and churches and workplaces to act out the destructive chaos they hear in their heads … and see in the world.

By 1813 the Commons is completely broken wherever “international” commerce breaks ground (casts anchor? comes to port)–cotton then sugar–and coal for steam to power machines. Ships ERASE barriers to exploitation.

The Inclosure Acts were a series of United Kingdom Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common. Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual Enclosure Acts were put into place, enclosing 6.8 million acres of land (almost 11,000 square miles). [Wikipedia]

Where in the world is the school? It comes about as urchins, once staples of unregulated factory work, are “protected” from this labor. But all adults are thus made wage slaves and must attend factory machines (not raise children but raise products). Children must be imprisoned and taught obedience to the state. The pledge is just the most overt of our practices in evidence

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. “the tyrannical principle of power permeates all institutions.” Wm Godwin (father of Mary Shelley nee Wollstonecraft)

Wm Godwin (1756-1836), Godwin anticipated the ideas of P. J. Proudhon (1809-1865), Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), yet he had little direct influence on the radical, socialist and anarchist traditions of the 19th century. His rejection of political parties and authoritarian action and control in favor of education and discussion were among the reasons for his lack of influence. .

The School and the Prison are Bentham’s Panopticon. Now the machine speaks as well as sees.

Why are there so many school shootings? So many Police killings? Are these coming from the same place?

The social environment of the school reproduces and intensifies class hierarchies and racial differences–it perhaps creates the killer from within its environment.

A Public School is not, never was, a Commons–it is a state mandated scene of incarceration and instruction for obedience. You might say it is a preemption. We do not inculcate Luddism or insurrection. We mock those who are wary of technological advance, which continues to be embodied machinery–and seeks to be “minded machinery”–

Shelley notes in 1813 in Queen Mab that the machine creates the machine-like human.

….The man
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate’er it touches; and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame
A mechanized automaton.

Elite Private institutions are more lovely because they train in different ways obedience to money power–train for different roles–learning that “masses” must be abstractions, not people, but consumers and classes–so that they may more easily perform their own merciless tasks of subjecting the worker to the demands of the corporate/state. So that they may perform their “duty” to shareholders, (or generals their duty to the state–nobler than the individual) without pangs of conscience.

To change this we must change everything.

In 1813 Shelley publishes Queen Mab (the “bible” of the working class for 2 generations)

In 1851 Melville publishes Moby Dick (forgotten until discovered and then useful to the propaganda against tyrannical fascism–AHAB is Mussolini, is Hiter, is Franco, is Stalin).

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