Both education and democracy, let alone welfare and immigration, do present their problems. The problems regarding all four of them arise because we have mostly assigned to government the working out of solutions. While of the four of them perhaps only welfare ought to have been made primarily government’s responsibility, for private giving, private charity, does now seem to have failed to meet the needs of all those who for whatever reason can’t help themselves.
But as for the other three, government should never have taken on the major role. Immigration, for example, well government should have mostly stayed out of it, as in the earlier history of the country when people freely came here and made the country we have today. Government’s role in immigration? Make things easier for those who want to come here, certainly not put obstacles, electrified fences and red tape in their way.
But also in respect to education and democracy, both ought to have been left primarily in the hands of the people. For by and large people educate themselves, not government. All those who do become educated men and women, without for now saying what this means, have done so because of their own efforts. In regard to education people, not government schools make it happen.
And democracy, well that too, government doesn’t have the power to impose it on its own people, let alone the people of other lands as today in the Middle East. For of democracy there is only the grassroots variety. All other varieties are not going to survive and grow. At the most governments might help the grass to grow by making water sources more easily available and by not blocking the natural light with their invading men and arms. But that’s about all governments can and should be doing.
A recent NYTimes piece, Democracy as Chimera, by Walter Clemen’s makes this point. He writes,
“But this liberal dream has met more defeats than victories. Russia seemed to opt for democracy in the 1990s, but when Vladimir Putin altered the rules, most voters went along. Even in the United States, democracy remains a work-in-progress. To make it a major policy goal in countries with vastly different cultures is a chimera.”
I would say to make it a major policy goal even in our own country, in our government schools, is also a chimera. Clemens was of course referring to our continual belief that it is our responsibility to spread democracy to other nations of the world. And given our “success” in that regard, and most especially in countries with vastly different cultures from our own, as in the Near and Middle East, democracy is clearly a chimera, a thing that may be hoped or wished for but in fact illusory or impossible to achieve.
Now the original meaning of chimera is, an organism containing a mixture of genetically different tissues, formed by processes such as fusion of early embryos, grafting, or mutation. That is, it’s something unnatural, a monster. And to see these “monsters” one need only to look at the present “governments” of the countries of the so-called Arab Spring, monsters all. And we have helped, while speaking democracy, to bring them about!
Isn’t our 150 year old attempt to educate our own people no less a chimera, or thing hoped for but impossible to achieve? That is, impossible to achieve by government efforts, or by anyone other than the principal players, the people, the students themselves?
The three most successful learning environments of modern times, these times being the 7 or 8000 years since the first agricultural revolutions, and perhaps of all times, although we know so little about the first 50 to 100 thousand years of homo sapiens’ time on this earth, all three involve little or no government presence.
These are the one on one, or the learning environment where there is a learner or tutee and mentor, the one room school house, that which we foolishly abandoned when we blindly sought economies of scale, as if turning out kids had anything in common with turning out cars or appliances, and finally, perhaps the most successful of all, the apprenticeship, that which we also no less foolishly abandoned, also in the interest of economies of scale, getting more learning, we thought, for our buck.
The very worst learning situation of modern times? What was that? What is that, for it hasn’t changed. Well without a doubt that which we have almost universally adopted, the public school classroom, when some 25 children of the same age, and, to begin anyway, of mostly the same level of ignorance, but all different of course but still placed in the same classroom, all with the one teacher. What could they possibly do together that would have them all learning? Find the page in a book? Listen to the teacher’s words? Copy something down from the blackboard? But learning anything important, realizing their different potentials? That sort of thing rarely or never happens.
Kids and people are different. Why don’t we take their differences more into account than we do? One of the very best ways to experience our differences is to read the hundreds of readers’ comments following, say, an op ed piece in the NYTimes. When I do this I never cease to marvel at the number of different ways the same thing, an idea, say, of Paul Krugman or David Brooks, can be read or interpreted.
Also if there’s an overriding reason to learn to write, isn’t it to be able to write down a thought and to then communicate it to others?…