for Managed Democracy
When I was in the seventh or eighth grade (1951 or so) the teacher announced that we were going to have class elections. First, we’d “want” to form political parties. “Who would like to nominate a name for the first party?” Um, err, one compliant girl fumbled. Er, the Republican Party! “Good. Now: who would like to second that nomination?” Uh, I second. “Excellent. Now: who would like to nominate an alternate party?”… I … I nominate the Democratic Party. “Very good.” Etc. She got a second. Four kids were off the hot seat. “All right then,” she continued, “are there any other nominations?” This last was said perfunctorily, without really looking. Why should she look? We were Americans. We had now independently recreated our political culture.
My friend Joe and I were exchanging nauseous glances. I don’t imagine either of us could have articulated our disgust at the time. But I can articulate mine now. We weren’t rehearsing for democracy: we were being rehearsed, scripted. The director says to the actress, “Now say I love you. Sincerely. With all my heart.” It’s bad enough that marriage vows have been rehearsed and directed, scripted by people dead for centuries, people who can never have met you, know nothing of your relationship. But how shallow is the farce when the voice of the people is practically lip-synched?
So the teacher was asking if there were any other nominations. Joe & I are exchanging retching signs. One of us — I’m fairly sure it was Joe — blurts, “Communist!”
The teacher, as I say, wasn’t looking, wasn’t listening. But she heard that all right. (McCarthy Era, remember.) “You’re going to the principal’s office, right now, ” she says. The other of us — I’m fairly sure it was me — reflexed a protest. So the two of us were marched out of the room. Leaving the others to “practice” their “democracy.”
Let me assure you: I know I didn’t know what “communist” meant. I’ll bet Joe didn’t. I’m not sure we knew what “pledge allegiance” meant either. Does a ten year old girl know what she’s saying when she opines that something or other “sucks”?
I recommend that the reader see the context in which I placed this story in Illusion (Knatz.com/Teaching/Society/Social Epistemology). There the context was society’s pathologies as a whole; here the context is specific events in pk’s own schooling that prepared me to recognize the truths presented by critics of schooling from Samuel Butler & R. Buckminster Fuller … to Ivan Illich (all got biographical background introductions at the Deschooling sections of Knatz.com, InfoAll.org …) and others.
2010 06 22: My landlord Dan just told me a school story that deserves telling in this context. His New Jersey school had scheduled a fire drill. A section of the school had been fenced off, representing a fire. The instructions were to find the nearest exit and file out of the school building in an orderly fashion. The superintendent of schools was present. Kids were going down the hall toward the exit they were intended to use, passively following the passively following teachers.
Dan and his friend, a volunteer fireman even while in high school, saw that the barrier was set near a door that led to a stair half a flight down from which was a tool shed, that had a window, the other side of which was open air. Young fireman and friend led the students near them to the nearest exist: the tool shed. But that was not the exit the superintendent had in mind! even though it was the nearest exit, and the safest exit. Dan and friend were reprimanded, threatened. The kid dropped a dime, called the fire chief, the fire chief arrives, corners the school superintendent, chests him against the wall. Listen, he says: when there’s fire you do not own your school; any card carrying fireman owns it. When your house burns you do not own your house; my young volunteer here owns your house.
Implied: Now get out of his way, and stay out of his face.
Of course the kids should have been commended: but not in a society run by inept authorities.
PS: Dan then added a contrasting story: The fireman had told him that if there were a fire he did not own his home, any fireman could direct him, could forbid him access to the burning building. “If my kid is in the house then me and my gun say that you and your law aren’t big enough to stop me.”
@ K. c. 1995