Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cavemen, human nature, and man versus machine

I'm currently taking a graduate course on human development.  Nevermind that I've already taken the same exact course before in undergrad, and nevermind that there isn't any new information between the two.  It's a different school, a different teacher, but the same hoops for jumping through have presented themselves.  

In my world, and through its eternal glass-half-full lens, I see that this is all just means to an uneventful end, in which I teach Secondary English for a few years, pay off some student loans, get my masters and Ph.D in something more meaningful, and move on.  

My professor is an interesting guy, though.  He's got some fun interpretations of the world.  One of these is this:  That human nature hasn't changed.  Everybody always talks about how children are different "these days" and how "in [their] day, school was like" this or that.  The thing that people are missing is that the slate, the chalkboard, the stack of paper, the composition book, the Five Star Notebook, and the word processor are one in the same.  The students have not changed any.  The way in which they see the world - in which we see the world - is what's different.  People pick on the methods of moving the knowledge from one person to the next - they don't see what's important - that the knowledge keeps moving.  Trying to force old ways on new dogs doesn't work.  

So my professor said, "People always speculate why people are the way they are.  But it's been that way since humanity's beginning.  You had Trog running around saying, "Why is Ugg such a jackass?" 

And I'm sitting here right now wondering the same thing.  Why are all these people with whom I go to class such class-A Idiots?  Why do people think I'm such a weird bitch?  

The other day, one of my classmates said that she has a "class full of morons." I don't think women like that need to be educating anyone, or passing those kinds of opinions on to students.  Kids pick up on that stuff.  When they think that adults around them think little of them, they in turn think little of themselves.  

And these adults are the same people who think that machines make everything.  They think human hands don't make the blue jeans they are wearing, that somewhere, some Chinese man throws a bolt of fabric, a spool of thread, a pair of scissors, a zipper, and a bag of buttons into a big black hole, and somewhere, in another part of the factory, a Pakistani woman drives by on the Wonkatania and blue jeans magically fall out of a chute into the truckbed behind her.  As if by Magic.

That is not real.  

That is the Easy Bake Oven version of the world.  

What's even more horribly offensive is that the people who manage the places in which things are actually made don't do anything about this modern misconception.  They let people think these things.  The public's ignorance is their bliss.  Why?  It allows people to allow other people to suffer all sorts of bad working conditions so that they can buy their pants for $20 and throw them away not when they wear out, but when they grow tired of them.  They don't feel bad about using resources because they think that everything is produced by magic machines.  

When I look at photographs of people from long ago, there is something endearing about a coat that's been patched where it's worn.  It reminds me of my grandfather.  He had this blue quilted winter jacket that he wore out in the wood shop, and it had been mended in a bunch of places.  Some of these stitches were done with white thread, and some had been done to match.  But they were there.  My grandmother fixed it.  When a pocket got a hole in it, she sewed it back shut.  

People don't do that anymore.  They think the machines will make more.  Why not just throw it away.  The machines spit new ones out all the time.  The machines will take care of us.  

I was at an open house at Christmas time.  There was a girl selling one of those home party plans like Home Interior, but with a more country bumpkin slant to it.  She had these embroidered pictures inside a cheap frame that cost $40.  I was trying to sell paintings and artwork, and this girl had these dumb pictures, and I was kind of offended because A) they were so expensive, and so carelessly put together; and B) the person who embroidered it probably didn't get a dollar for doing it.  She's probably living in Taiwan somewhere, doing piecework.  I said something about it, and this girl said, "That's made by a machine." 

When I tried to explain to her that machines can't tie knots like what were on this piece of fabric, that machines can't hand-emboider, she said, "Yes they can - they sell embroidery machines at Jo-Anne's." She thought I was stupid.  She thought I was a moron because I didn't know that machines make everything.  This girl couldn't tell the difference between something machine-done and something hand-done.  Not that it's important.  They think that handmade things aren't as good as machine-made ones.  They would rather buy something screen printed than something handpainted.  Is that why real art is such an elitist thing?  

That the majority of people would rather just sit around and think that machines do everything, that we should be thankful to them for what they do, and stop trying to make good things with our hands, stop trying to learn, stop trying to find the truth, stop trying to find new truths, make new discoveries?  

It makes me feel incredibly helpless to think that people don't care that we're proving Plato right.  He said that Gold is precious, so you make jewelry, not swords.  You don't make crowns out of steel, either.  And in this steel belt, where the collars are blue, education is much like gold.  Plato thought that people were in society, in the places where they should be, and that you might as well not waste education on people who aren't going to amount to much of anything, anyway.

I think back now, on that open house, where all these people were wearing the jewelry that they'd bought from the jewelry party plan girl, and it seems so surreal:  

The girl in the blue Lane Bryant sweat suit wearing the $50 Coral elasticized bracelet. 
Made by machines.  

Her matching $70 Coral necklace.  
Made by machines.  

The old lady with the sparkly rhinestone earrings/bracelet/necklace set. 
Made by machines. 

All these women, in their down-homey clothing, wearing overpriced costume jewelry, fauning around over home party plan decor.
Made by machines.  

Demanding not that the quality of the things they buy be anything other than exactly the same as the other people around them, gobbling up the plastic Christmas clock, the screen-printed tin sign that says "Friends Welcome / Relatives by Appointment" (and in Comic Sans, of all fonts!), the hand-embroidered muslin square in the cheap, glued-together frame.  
Made by machines.  

Demanding not that their children receive a good public education, but that their kids "get good grades," as if one was any indication of another.  I heard a woman say recently, upon moving her two children from one school to another, that the new school was a better school because her daughter, who had previously been "a C student" was now "an A student" - never thinking that the quality of the teacher may have gone down, that the standards were lower.  No.  Obviously, what's happened is that her daughter magically became more intelligent because of her mother's wise decision to enroll her in a different school.  Yes, that must be it.  As if by Magic.  

Demanding that their jewelry, their lives, and their children's educations be made entirely of fool's gold - and wallowing in that paradise. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Last Summer Anecdote

One night, when it was hot and humid (it's Ohio), my brother kept us up until past 4am. 
When my mother went to sleep, she dreamt 
of my father and his father, of that other very stressful
time in her life. 

The next day, a man came to the shop, 
smiling.  He said he was on his way 
to West Virginia.  

I did not know him,
my father's father.  

I am beginning to have faith in my mother's ability 
to conjure people. 

I think she is too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Book of Good Cheer

I found this book.  It's called "The Book of Good Cheer." The subtitle is "A Little Bundle of Cheery Thoughts" and it's edited by some guy named Edwin Osgood Grover.  It's small and the paper is cheerfully yellowed, and there's a cheery little basket of orange flowers illustrated on the title page.  The thing is, it's a "wealth of wisdon and good cheer, gathered from all countries and all times" that was published by the Algonquin Publishing Company in 1913.  

And I've read through it several times, and I feel no cheerier, no better.  

One of the quips included says that what we see depends mainly on what we look for.  

Though I'm often tired of feeling like I see the worst in people, I find that when I try to see the good in them, I feel lousier about it still.  

For example, a woman in my Human Development class said of her students last week, that she always gets "a class of morons." I yelled at her.  I yelled at her in class, and I said that I found it horrifying that she was a teacher and had that shitty of an attitude toward the young people who depend on her to teach them.  She had an equally horrible opinion of me, but I found solace in that.  I felt good knowing that, in her ignorance, she didn't understand what I was talking about because it was that ignorance that separated us, that gave my anger validity.  She couldn't see how self-perpetuating it was for a stupid person to treat an entire group of children as if they were, in turn, stupid themselves.  That's what's wrong with public education.  It's why I know that I will never be a career teacher, why I know that I could never live with having people like her as colleagues.  I can't think of a worse place to be than a teacher's lounge, and yet I'm getting a teaching license so that I can pay some student loans and get my finances straight.  I know I'll be a good teacher, but I know that I won't last long at it.  A few years, maybe, at most, and then I'll be frustrated enough to direct my aspirations elsewhere, where they should be directed presently, except that this in-between time is necessary.  It's necessary so that I can get there.  The getting there is important.  

I often feel like a monster in a girl suit.  Embracing that inner-monster, I'll put the book of good cheer on the shelf, and I'll turn to something one of my best and favorite friends said earlier this evening.

"Sometimes, it's kind of fun to be a nasty grown-up." 

Yes.  It is.