English Department Meeting

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Teaching Years

Once again: Colby’s English Department, with twenty-one members that year (c. 1968), was far and away the biggest and most powerful part of the college. The psychology department consisted of one; fine arts about three …

We go to school by law. There we are taught how our government functions. In the United States, we are taught that we citizens are the government. We are not taught how the school functions: no student is told that she is the school. We know however that the teacher has authority over us, that the principle has authority over the teacher, that the school board has authority over the principle. (Do the fields taught in the school have authority over the school board? Does the school board have to answer to such entities as Science? Or Mathematics? Or English?)
Galileo note below

Arriving at Colby as an instructor on a one year contract, I was encouraged to believe that the faculty democratically ran the college. My first faculty meeting showed me what a sham that democracy was. [See Faculty Bog.] But: within my department, things were as clear as they needed to be. I was hired by the Chairman. He’d sent me round to meet the former chairman before giving me the news officially, so I presume his predecessor, still had some influence. Mark Benbow might have had the power to hire whom he wanted, but he didn’t want to live with the disapproval of the old man. What the Chairman’s responsibilities were to the dean or to the corporation or to the alumni was not my business.

However, I was surprised and pleased, by the implications of the first department meeting. Mark Benbow chaired the meeting, but did so in a way that implied that we were a democracy: that even a one year instructor had a vote.

(Let me hasten to add: the President’s Cabinet may have votes; but only the President’s vote counts. (I’ll repeat my story about Lincoln below as a note).)

At that meeting we were invited to comment on a range of important things including the practice of giving grades. And let me go no further. Right there: grades. It soon became clear that the feelings against grading ran very strong. We all gave grades: it had come with the job; but we had neither designed nor approved that universe. It seemed strongly implicit at that meeting that Chairman Benbow also disapproved of grading.

Again, before we go a step further. You should know my position, long reported here (however briefly and inadequately) at FLEX Philosophers (InfoAll Blog: follow links to Paul Goodman). You should also know my History of Schools (InfoAll Blog).
[2014 06 04 All those references got destroyed by my arrest and censorship, 2006, 2007. But I’m rebuilding under Deschool Menu.]

It was remarkable. I hated giving grades even more than I hated receiving them. Now, suddenly it was clear to me that a seeming majority of my colleagues felt similarly. Yet we gave grades! Who’s in charge here? Mark. Above Mark, the deans. Above the deans, the president (also ex-of the English faculty, by the way.) Now we were being led to suspect that we could do something about it. A moment later, we were led to know that none of us, even all together, would ever be able to do anything about it: or about anything else of importance!

I wish I could spend enough novelistic time here to recreate each nuance. I’ll certainly try to edit and improve on this initial blurt. But better to blurt than to say nothing. The ideal was clear: no grading. We teach: we do not grade. The students know what we think of their performance. We also have some sense of the students’ appraisal of ours’. It’s not the parents’ business. It’s not the college’s business. And it most absolutely isn’t the government’s business. Or the business of industry, corporations, future possible employers … !

In other words. Not one of us held a system of ideals that related in any detail to the world we actually lived in! The chairman knew it. The chairman was the same! Ditto the dean, the president, etc. And that’s the way it would stay. You can’t get there from here: this is a democracy … of totally helpless, ineffectual, morons.

It was exactly like the Book Store Committee meeting: of course we’d all like the college book store to be a good bookstore, but there’s no practical way it can be accomplished. Joseph Heller portrays Washington DC to be much the same in Good as Gold: take your $1,000 per diem and enjoy your ineffectualness: marry a wife more chic, move into a better house, come back and be a nebbish again tomorrow; just don’t fuck with the status quo.

Well, my presentation thus far is hardly a presentation at all. I’ve just made a statement. But it’s a true statement. I shouldn’t have to prove it to you; you should recognize it.

I have to confess: When President Johnson told us to stand up and say what was wrong, I knew to keep my lip buttoned. When invited to participate in democracy at my first faculty meeting, I knew to keep my trap shut, to get the lay of the land first. And I certainly wasn’t going to climb onto a soap box at my very first ever department meeting. …

But I wasn’t a nebbish forever. A year, a year and a half, later, I founded FLEX. If FLEX didn’t work, it’s because the invited synergy didn’t form. That is: YOU didn’t form it.

We’re always being fed fictions about “the social contract.” What contract? Where’s my signature? Well FLEX was exactly such an opportunity. Society could have used it to free itself. The government would have been helpless in the face of real democracy. I invited you. (I did not command you. And if I had, you would have laughed: I didn’t have any missiles in any silos.) Illich invited you. “God,” as it were, invited you.

Society? Community? Scholars? There’s no such thing.

Notes

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation

I recently read a delicious story about Lincoln’s finessing of the Emancipation Proclamation. He ran it by his cabinet. The cabinet votes. The Secretary of State stands and utters his “Nay” unmistakably. The Secretary of the Interior follows suit. Treasury and so forth: all against. Lincoln hears them each in turn. “The ‘ayes’ have it,” he declares.

Galileo

Do Galileo’s observed “facts” trump Church/University authority? or visa-versa?
If the Sanhedrin can sabotage Jesus (and the Temple still be in business, still be sucking ass with state power, two thousand years later, then there is no authority: there’s no difference between a school telling you something and a voodoo mama telling you something. A dildo will pass for a dick.

Deschooling Quotes: Illich Deschooling Quotes: FLEX Deschooling Quotes: Since ’74
Social Order Hierarchy vs. Conviviality Stories pk School Stories
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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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