Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Education of An Educator by Theodore R. Sizer



I didn't want to meet Judson Shaplin. He was then – in 1956 – Associate Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and czar of the university's Masters of Arts in Teaching program. Actually, I wanted an M.A. Degree in history but could not qualify for admission as I had, prior to two years in the Army, majored in English at Yale. Now, a teacher in a private school, I wanted to shift fields, an unacceptable decision for Harvard's history department. My sister Alice, a Cambridge resident, pushed me towards Jud and an MAT. He had just won election to Cambridge's School Committee as a reform candidate, and Alice knew him as a bright new light in an old college town.

I slunk into his dilapidated old Lawrence Hall office oozing (I'm sure) preppy arrogance. Education schools? “Certification” for public school teaching? Taking courses in Methodology and How to Teach Reading to Snotty Little Kids? Nice Yalies didn't consort with such things.

Without preliminaries, Shaplin took me apart. It was clear that he admired neither Ivy arrogance nor preppiness, that there was a job to do in public education and that he'd admit me on the spot if I forthwith tried to shed my snobbery and if I had enough stamina to take a 150 percent academic load, including eight history courses (in that very department which had earlier spurned my Cleanth Brooks-sharpened Lit Crit skills). I joined up, probably because I believed this to be the only way of stifling his scorn. My abrupt decision may have startled my wife. It surely amused my sister.

I had Jud in class, an old certification chestnut, “Education B-6: The American School.” Lectures were held in the Mallincrodt Chemistry Building, Shaplin presiding behind a gassy table. Pipe tobacco littered his rumpled suits; he was ever fussing with, tamping and misplacing a series of foul pipes. He was out of shape; his belt strained.
 His course didn't. We graduate students – virtually all still at least closet snobs- contemptuously expected lectures on Classroom Management and The Making of the Daily Schedule. Instead we got an ill-organized jumble of provocative speculations on issues that were then in few education textbooks. The poor ( we read Allison Davis). Race ( Gunner Myrdal and the Brown decision). The pros and cons of federal aid to the schools. Teacher unions ( he imported Myron Lieberman to talk to us). And back to social class (we now read MiddletownElmtownGrowing Up in River City.) The public schools were public; the poor were welcome there. Even though these schools ill-served poor kids today, they might serve them better tomorrow – that is, as long as the likes of us cared. We were an elite social status; Shaplin would have us be a meritocratic elite, or at least a part of an elite corps that would serve the public interest. To worry even for a moment over how such a commitment would be viewed by our mid 50s Ivy peers was contemptible.

These were odd views for Harvard. Yes, one could respectably study the poor and the political process. But labor with them? Run for public office? Work the ethnic halls, churches and bars for votes? Teach in city schools. Indeed, even like the hoi polloi?

His course, like the man, was a triumph of personality over plan, of intelligent passion over academicism. It bespoke Jud's origin. His father, who died early, was a usually unemployed Pennsylvania miner [ a H.S. Principal actually- J.S.]. His mother struggled, failed. Jud was shipped off to Girard College in Philadelphia, a sanctuary for poor white orphan boys. His volcanic energy and smarts vaulted him from there to a Harvard College scholarship. He majored in physical anthropology, earning a summa. Graduate school with a PhD in social relations [clinical psychology, actually- J.S.] followed: there he displayed energy, restless intelligence, and a deep anger. He had to be at Harvard because he hated a part of it so ferociously. And loved a part with passion, to. He labored in the college dean's office. He married a professor's daughter.

After a year of teaching, I returned to Harvard for a PhD and worked for Jud. We argued often, as friends, seated in chairs in his office or home. He always won, however long the discussion took, jamming the stem of some grubby pipe viciously into his shoe, rattling off the latest statistics gathered by his left-leaning social scientist friends. His course, in which I now became a teaching fellow, continued in its seemingly incoherent but stimulating form. He tolerated my issuance of weekly reading lists, but pointedly ignored them. Chaos reigned in the MAT program too – a chaos caused by honoring of substance over process, ideas over procedure. He would get his Jeffersonian elite, and they would care about The Public, all of it. If toward this end one made decisions about people on the spot, then procedures be damned.

Kennedy's election was further galvanizing. Jud led Harvard into the Peace Corps; the world's poor were added to those of America. Nigerian notables found their way to his Upland Road living room (Judd was surprised, however, and disappointed by their aristocratic airs.) Washington had him regularly on the phone. The anger and the optimism reach their zeniths.

Jusds boss,Francis Keppel, left Harvard in 1962 to join the Kennedy Administration. Shaplin became Acting Dean. He wanted the top post, his shoes started to shine, a comb was used; he got organized. He didn't get the job. In due course, I, his Yalie flunkie did.

Jud moved to Washington University in Missouri. Soon there was less fire, less optimism. He welcomed me to St. Louis, gave me counsel. We argued; he still always won. His advice was as right as the pungency, the blunt assurance, of his manner of talk. The old indifference to appearances still sparkled. So the Arts and Sciences professors mock Education. Let 'em mock! What you're doing is more important than what they're doing, so ignore their sherry party snobbishness. Schooling is the way up for orphaned sons of impoverished mining families. That is your cause. Don't let any pseudo-aristocratic academic pomposities deter you. Don't romanticize the poor (poverty isn't pretty), and don't forget them either. Be inventive on their behalf. Understand, he'd argue, what social class is all about. Don't entangle yourself in the details of red tape, those procedural deities that give elite institutions excuses for inactivity. Believe, and act.

Jud Shaplin died years ago, in great pain ([peacefully, actually -J.S.], from kidney disease. But up until his last illness he enjoyed our arguments. He didn't appear to resent me, the newly-minted Harvard Education Dean, probably because my admiration of his principled activism and sensible impatience was so transparent. He knew I believed his anger to be justified, an ultimately constructive force for democratic ends.

No little kid should have to suffer what little Jud had suffered. One had first to understand this; one would then become angry about it; once thus moved to action, to correct it. Energetic, informed good intentions could lead to reform. Anger, ironically, gave birth to optimism.



Washington Post Educational Review, 20 April, 1986

Religions of Lament by Elias Canetti


The face of the earth has been changed by the religions of lament and, in Christianity, they have attained a kind of universal validity.  What is it then which has endowed them with their power of resistance?  What is it that has procured for these religions originating in lament their peculiar persistence during millennia?

The legend around which they form is that of a man or a god who perishes unjustly. It is always the story of a pursuit, a hunt, or a baiting, and there may   also be an unjust trial. In the case of a hunt, the wrong creature will have been struck down, the foremost hunter instead of the animal which is being pursued.  This animal, in a kind of reversal, may have attacked the hunter and wounded him fatally, as in the story of Adonis and the boar.  This is the one death which should not have taken place, and the grief it arouses is beyond all measure.

It may be that a Goddess loves and laments the victim, as Aphrodite Adonis. In her Babylonian shape the goddess’s name is Ishtar, and Tammuz is the beautiful dead youth. Among the Phrygians it is the mother goddess Cybele who grieves for Attis, her young lover. In Egypt it is Isis who has lost her husband Osiris. But it can also happen – and this is the later and no longer mythical case – that a group of relatives and disciples lament the dead, as they do Jesus, or Husain, the Grandson of the Prophet and the true martyr of the Shiites.

The hunt, or pursuit, is pictured in all its details; it is a precise   story, very concrete and personal. Blood always flows; even in the most humane of all Passions, that of Christ himself, we find wounds and blood. Each of the things which compose the Passion is felt to be unjust; the further removed from mythical times, the stronger becomes the tendency to prolong the passion and to fill it out with human details. The hunt, or baiting, is always experienced from the point of view of the victim.

Around his end a lamenting pack forms, but the lament has a particular tone; the dead man has died for the sake of the people who mourn him.  Whether he was their great hunter, or had another and higher value for them, he was their savior. His preciousness is stressed in every possible way; it is he, above all that should not have died.  His death is not recognized by the mourners. They want him alive again.

It begins with the few faithful who stand beneath the cross; they are the kernel of the lament.  At the first Whitsuntide there were possibly 600 Christians; at the time of the Emperor Constantine about 10 million.  But the core of the religion remains the same; it is the lament. Why is it that so many join the lament?  What is its attraction? What does it give people?

To all those who join it the same thing happens: a hunting or baiting pack expiates its guilt by becoming a lamenting pack.  Men lived as pursuers and as such, in their own fashion, they continue to live.  They seek alien flesh, and cut into it, feeding on the torment of weaker creatures; the glazing eye of the victim is mirrored in their eyes, and that last cry they delight in is indelibly recorded in their soul. Most of them perhaps do not divine that, while they feed their bodies, they also feed the darkness within themselves.  But their guilt and fear grow ceaselessly, and, without knowing it, they long for deliverance. Thus they attach themselves to one who will die for them and, in lamenting him, they feel   themselves as persecuted. Whatever they have done, however they have raged, for this moment they are aligned with suffering.  It is a sudden change of side with far-reaching consequences. It frees them from the accumulated guilt of killing and from fear that death will strike at them too. All that they have done to others, another takes on himself; by attaching themselves to him, faithfully and without reserve, they hope to escape vengeance.

Thus it appears that religions of lament will continue to be indispensable to the psychic economy of men for as long as they remain unable to renounce the killing pack.

Crowds and Power, " The Pack and Religion"; (1960)

England, An Island by Elias Canetti


During the War, more than fifty years ago now, it was England's salvation that it was an island. It was still an island, and that asset, a colossal advantage, has been frittered away.

Today, it is what's left over from a government whose one and only prescription for everything was selfishness. People felt proud of the fact, as though it were kind of a revelation, and horde of men (and women) in pinstripes swarmed over the land, calling themselves businessmen or executives, and sought to plunder the country, just as once the country had sought to plunder the rest of the  world.  England decided it would loot itself, and engaged an army of yuppies for that end.  As a paradise, but one to be had here and now, everyone was promised their own house.  People got busy, and, in quite un-English haste, made their piles.  The state proudly declared it would no longer provide for anything, because everyone was to provide for themselves, and who goes around cleaning other people’s streets? The hypocrisy, which was actually the mortar that held English society together, fell away.  In seemingly no  time at all, the universal slogan was to look after number one, and devil take the hindmost.  It was shown – I say this with incredulity – that selfishness was every bit as much worth preaching as selflessness.

The supreme teacher in the country was a woman who tirelessly rejected whatever was done for other people.  For other people, everything was too expensive; for oneself, nothing was.  Water, air, light, were turned into businesses, to flourish or fail; usually they failed. A small war was started on the other side of the globe, to remind the waves they were Britannia’s. The person of Churchill was invoked, and the danger in which England had found itself not so many years ago; and what made it all still more effective was the fact that these tough decisions were taken by a woman who was married to a simple (in every sense) millionaire.  He had settled for too little, she hadn’t. He kept to the shadows, and didn’t get in the way.  Because of her, the cities collapsed into disgusting squalor. The schools rotted, so that children might learn to trust instead to their own acumen and hard-heartedness .Since every man is inclined to meanness, and only restrains himself with some difficulty, English humanity now felt a huge sense of relief, because all at once they were permitted to be as mean as any other people, and receive the highest praise for it on top of that.

I was permitted to live though this time, and see my best friends warped.  They came from nurseries that any citizen of any country in the world would have licked their lips to have been at.  To them, a governess, who played the opposite of the games they were raised to play, was a boon.  Suddenly, you were supposed to be all the disgusting things that a man naturally is, but has had to renounce. The relief must have been incredible, and all that was left of the old hypocrisy was a show of pretense towards me.  There were of course others, and not the worst, who showed themselves to me the way they really were.  They knew what I thought, and respected it.  I have nothing to accuse them of, beyond their noxious human nature, of which I myself stand accused just as much.  But I am angry at others who were dearer to me, sensitive, delicate beings among them, poets and authors, or at least writers, who, for a time of ten years or more, worshipped that idol from the days of slavery, and in my presence continued to use all the language of philanthropy…

 Written in 1991`-93

On the Advantages and Disadvantages of History for Life


Let us take the simplest and most frequent example.  Think of artless and feebly artistic natures girded and armed by monumental history of art and artists: against whom will they now direct their weapons?  Against their traditional enemies, the strong artistic spirits, namely against those who alone are capable of learning truly, that is, for the sake of life, from that history and of putting what they have learned into higher practice.  It is their path which is obstructed and their air which is darkened when one dances idolatrously and diligently round a half understood monument of some great past, as though to say, “See, this is true and real art: what do you care about aspiring newcomers!”  Apparently this dancing swarm even has a monopoly on “good taste”: for the creator has always been at a disadvantage to him who openly looked on without even trying his hand; as at all times the armchair politician has been wiser, more just and judicious than the governing statesman.

Furthermore, if the use of the popular vote and numerical majorities were transferred to the realm of art and the artist required to defend himself before a forum of the aesthetically inactive, you may bet your life that he would be condemned: not despite, but just because of the fact that his judges have solemnly proclaimed the canon of monumental art (that is, according to a given explanation, of art which has at all times “produced an effect’). While for all art which is not yet monumental because still contemporary they lack first, any need, second, any genuine inclination, third, just that authority of history.

On the other hand their instinct tells them that art may be beaten to death with art: the monumental art must definitely not be produced again, and what happens to have the authority of monumentality from the past is just the right preventative.  This is how the connoisseurs are because they wish to eliminate art altogether; they give the appearance of physicians while their real intention is to dispense poisons; so they cultivate their tongue and their taste in order to explain fastidiously why they so insistently decline whatever nourishing artistic fare is offered them.  For they do not want something great to be produced: their expedient is to say “see, the great already exists!”  In truth they care as little about existing greatness as about greatness in the making: to that their life bears witness.

Monumental history is the disguise in which their hatred of the mighty and the great of their time parades as satisfied admiration of the mighty and great of past ages. Cloaked in this disguise they turn the proper sense of monumental history into its opposite; whether they know it clearly or not, at any rate they act as though their motto were: let the dead bury the living.- Friedrich Nietzsche

Living Wage by Walter Lippmann


"Wouldn't it be absurd to assume that minimum wage legislation is a kind of omnibus for paradise. To fix a 'living standard' would be a great advance over what we have, but by every civilized criterion it is a grudging and miserable thing.  In those moments of lucidity when we forget our hesitation before brute obstruction, it sees like a kind of madness that we should have to argue and scrape in order that we may secure to millions of women enough income to "live." If we had not witnessed whole nations glowering at each other all winter from holes in the mud, it would be hard to believe that America with all its riches could still be primitive enough to grunt and protest at a living wage, mind you; not a wage so its women can live well, not enough to make life a rich and welcome experience, but just enough to secure existence amid drudgery in grey boarding-houses and cheap restaurants.

We may fail to secure that.  As far as the press is concerned, the issue hardly exists. It lies at the moment stifled in platitudes and half-truths about "not hurting business." From the little comment there is, we might think that a business was sound if it rested on the degradation of its labor; might think that businessmen were a lot of jumpy neurotics ready to shrivel up and burst into tears at a proposal to increase their wages bill a penny or two on the dollar; might think, from the exclamations of Mr. Brown and his friend Smith, that a campaign against sweating would do no less than ruin the country.

But you cannot ruin a country by conserving its life. You can ruin a country only by stupidity, waste and greed."

March 27, 1915

The Advisor by Czeslaw Milosz


Well, it is true that the landscape changed a little, for a lot.
We have factories now and waste tanks where the forests were.
As we approach the river-mouth we hold our noses:
A current of oil and chlorine and methyl compounds.
A huge stain of synthetic colour poisons the fish of the sea.
Where the rushes grew, fringing the sea shore,
Are rusted and smashed machines, ashes, bricks.
We used to read in the ancient poets the scents of the earth,
And grasshoppers; now we take pains to avoid the fields,
And pedal as fast as we can through the chemical zone of the farmer.
The insect, the bird, are wiped out. Far away, a bored man
Drags dust with his tractor, umbrella against the sun.
But what do we regret? The tiger? The shark?
– It may be the case that when Adam awoke in the garden
The beasts licked the air, were yawning and friendly
While the scorpion’s tail was lashed to his back, fangs
Were only a figure, and the red-backed shrike,
Later, much later, named Lanius collurio,
Did not impale grubs on the spikes of blackthorn.
However, apart from and after that moment, our knowledge
Of Nature is not in its favour; our own was no worse.
And so, I beg you, no more of these lamentations.



Translated by Andrew McCulloch  and James Shearing (2004)

The True Enemies of Freedom


Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it compromises and develops the germ of every other.  War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few,. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of the state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both.  No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.- James Madison


In my present condition I could scarcely be justified were I to omit raising a warning voice against this approach of returning despotism: the effort to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor in the structure of government.  Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves a much higher consideration. No men living are more worthy to be trusted than those who toil up from poverty; none less inclined to take or touch which the have not honestly earned.  Let them beware of surrendering a political power which they already possess, and which if surrendered will surely be used to close the door of advancement against such as they and to fix new disabilities and burdens upon them till all of liberty shall be lost.- Abraham Lincoln

It is time for the public to hear that the giant evil; and danger in this country, the danger that transcends all others, is the vast wealth owned or controlled by a few persons. Money is power. In Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils, in the courts, in the political conventions, in the press, in the pulpit, in the circles of the educated and talented, its influence is growing greater and greater. Excessive wealth in the hands of a few means extreme poverty, ignorance, vice, wretchedness as the lot of the many. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations.- Rutherford B. Hayes