Community VS. Network

Thinking after reading

Reading John Taylor Gatto’s speech “WE NEED LESS SCHOOL, NOT MORE”, it is a different feeling from reading his other essays in the past. When reading those essays, my reaction was usually: yes, right, I agree. But reading this essay, my response is: seriously, I need to think about this.

It is very good to be able to find a book that can challenge my assumptions, so I have to rely on my experience to rethink the whole thing and reshuffle the whole thinking.
From this speech, we can also see that education (a much better word is learning) is the deep root of our society. A thorough understanding of it will help us understand many other issues.

You should read Gatto’s speech. It is very well-written. And I am sure everyone will be provoked with a lot of different thinking. Here I just provide some comments I wrote along my way of reading, so you have a quick glimpse of his ideas. Original text from Mr. Gatto will be quoted. Comments will be in red and Italitc.

People who admire our school institution usually admire networking in general and have an easy time seeing its positive side, but they overlook its negative aspect – that networks, even good ones, take the vitality from communities and families. They make solutions to human problems mechanical, “by the numbers”, when a slow, organic process of self-awareness, self-discovery, and cooperation is what is required if any solution is to stick.”

Aristotle saw, a long time ago, that fully participating in a complex range of human affairs was the only way to become fully human; in that he differed from Plato.
network schools steal the vitality of communities and replace it with an ugly piece of mechanism.”

It is a fact generally ignored when considering the communal nature of institutional families like schools, large corporations, colleges, armies, hospitals and government agencies that they are not real communities at all, but networks. Unlike communities, networks – as I reminded you – have a very narrow way of allowing people to associate,

Another instance might clarify this. Networks of urban reformers will convene to consider the problems of homeless vagrants, but a community will think of its vagrants as real people, not abstractions. “Ron,” “Dave” or “Marty” – a community will call its bums by their names. It makes a difference. People interact on thousands of invisible pathways in a community and the emotional payoff is correspondingly rich and complex. But networks can only manage a cartoon simulation of community and a very limited payoff.

One thing I do know, most of us who’ve had a taste of loving families, even a little taste, want our kids to be part of one. One other thing I know is that eventually you have to come to be part of a place, part of its hills and streets and waters and people – or you will live a very, very sorry life as an exile forever. Discovering meaning for yourself, and discovering satisfying purpose for yourself is a big part of what education is. How this can be done by locking children away from the world is beyond me.”
Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should furnish you with an original spirit with which to tackle the big challenges; it should allow you to find values that will be your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves wherever he is, whoever he is with, whatever he is doing; it should teach you what is important, how to live and how to die.
This reminds me of my 5 years of undergraduate college life. My roommates and me, 8 people, lived together in a very small school dorm for 5 years. We didn’t have a choice who we wanted to be roommates. The school had arrangement of nearly everything of our lives. So we were just put together by the school. Of course, there were a lot of conflicts between us through those 5 years (but much better than the girls, who seemed constantly in a war time). But we live very closely. Most of us come from very far away, 1000 miles or 2000 miles away. Only during the winter or summer holidays, could we be separate. Furthermore, different from American universities, in Chinese university, there is a very clear concept of Class (Class as in Classroom, instead of Social Class). So for our grade year, we, around 50 students in this major, were split into 2 classes. We took around 90% of our courses together. There is a teacher from the department serving as class dean of us. Such kind of class is of course for easy social control. So we function as a unit of the school, which function as a unit of society. In a summary, we live very closely and have to interact with each other in numerous ways through out our daily lives for 5 years. Every night, after the dorm turned off the electricity and we had to go to bed, and before we fell asleep, we discussed many many things. When we got familiar with each other, there were nothing we didn’t discuss. A lot of topics, of course, were about females. So I guess this is what Mr. Gatto calls Community. I always felt bad that we didn’t have the freedom to choose who we wanted to be roommate with. And throughout of my college life, I always tried to socialize/network with students from other majors or other schools, to expand the scope my human contacts. I felt school deliberately arranged so, thus dumbing us down. After 5 years living together, however, we developed a very deep mutual understanding and tolerance towards each other. We know each other way too well. I learned to have fun there, and always tried my best to improve the situation at every moment. I learned that I could not change a person. It is better to tolerate and have fun together. Indeed, each person is so unique, having a unique character. We had a lot of fun in our last year in school.

So I learned friendship in my undergraduate. I learned to treat strangers like my old friends. I also learned about love during that time. She is very pretty. The first sight of her shocked me very much: she is so otherworldly. More importantly her personality is flowing very freely. Later I learned that she has a very caring and happy father. She learned about love in her family. Thus all the beautiful things she does come out so naturally.

My teacher said that for plus and minus to unite, reasoning is needed for them to gain permission to enter each other. Reasoning is natural. During my undergraduate years, I learned to tell myself to be rational because only by being rational can I grow. My teacher also said that there is a natural way to achieve unity of plus and minus, which is through love. I guess through my roommates and her, I learned of love. At that time, I felt so free. A yawn after a nap, can be so free, feeling like home, a home I have never been to. When she asked me what kind of boy is a good boy. I said that a good boy shouldn’t just love her or girls, he should also love other people and the world. I loved wherever I was, whoever I was with (I learned this specifically from her), whatever I was doing. I finally know to stop reasoning, and to feel, to feel strongly and deeply. Without that, all reasoning is castle on the sand, without a strong base. Most often, I know what to do directly by feeling, not by reasoning. Finally I don’t need to think all the time anymore.
To Mr. Gatto, community and family are very vital parts of life that make an individual fully human.

A bigger community is the culture, the country I live in. Through all the learning about this culture and its history, I became more and more a part of that big community. Knowing their suffering and fights generation after generation, I cannot be free. I have to care about many things, and I have to do many things. At the same time, getting nutrition from the culture everyday and contributing back are of great fun.
When I came to US, what I felt was that a big burden was lifted off my shoulder. Finally I didn’t need to care about all those things I had been caring so much. It is kind of feeling free. But I am hardly a human being anymore. All left in my memory was abstraction. The concrete detailed local experiences were all left in China. I had to integrate my life into this history here in US to be a human being again. It was not easy. Even though I came to abstract conclusion through my own concrete experience, when that concrete experience was stripped away (for example, when living in a foreign culture), the abstraction was also in a dangerous position. I took a wrong self as my true self. So as you see, even my own conclusion, when separated from local specific experience, cannot stay. If so, how can anyone teaches abstraction? However, so many people in this world only teaches abstraction, trying to tell you how you should live your life.

Right now I live in Harlem. This is a very dirty place. Garbage everywhere. You can even see human shit on the street. In the subway station, you can see many metro cards thrown on the track. I just couldn’t understand why they threw the cards on the tracks since the trash cans were just nearby. I guess it is just bad habits. Having stayed in the mid-west, especially in a beautiful campus and small down for a long time, Harlem was really a horrible sight for me. Although it remotely reminded me scenes in China, I think the sights here are still much worse. So everyday, I just don’t want to look at those things. It basically shuts my mind off. When walking in my old campus or the downtown, I liked whatever I saw. The beautiful scenery and street stores stimulated my mind, evoking feelings and imaginations. As a software developer, I need those images to stimulate my creative mind. My imagination basically stopped after moving to Harlem. I felt horrible. So my mindset everyday is that I don’t belong here. I just live here for convenience. I am not part of all these things. That creates a separation. To put it in a way, I am not feeling at home. Mr. Gatto’s article about community reminds me my exact feelings when in China before I went abroad. I realize that I need to love whoever I am with. I am here, this is my community. So if this place is dirty, I am part of the problem. It is not just “their” problem. It is also my problem. I am part of it. Thinking that it is their problem and I am not part of it creates separation. I need to feel at home here. No matter how unpleasant things are, living in a community means to accept them. If I don’t like it, I bear the responsibility to improve it. Realizing this, it feels like there is a structure change in my brain. Suddenly things are all different.

No matter where I am, love the place and be part of it. Don’t complain. If not satisfied, try to make it better.

I already knew this when in China. But somehow I have to find it again here in US. Maybe it is a good thing.

An important difference between communities and institutions is that communities have natural limits, they stop growing or they die. There’s a good reason for that: in the best communities everyone is a special person who sooner or later impinges on everyone else’s consciousness. The effects of this constant attention makes all, rich or poor, feel important because the only way importance is perceived is by having other folks pay attention to you. You can buy attention, of course, but it’s not the same thing. Pseudo-community life, where you live around others without noticing them, and where you are constantly being menaced in some way by strangers you find offensive, is exactly the opposite. In pseudo-community life you are anonymous for the most part, and you want to be because of various dangers other people may represent if they notice your existence.

A pseudo-community is just a different kind of network – its friendships and loyalties are transient, its problems are universally considered to be someone else’s problems (someone else who should be paid to solve them);”

that until 30 odd years ago you could escape mass-schooling after school, hut that now it is much harder to escape because another form of mass schooling – television – has spread all over the place to blot up any time spared by School.
I still remember my TV free time. In the summer, we, kids and adults, gathered under light bulbs. Insects were making loud sounds. Adults were telling all kinds of stories and life experiences. Such kind of life is no more after TV dominated every household’s night time. There is of course still some information you can get from TV. TV can be of good use or harmful depending on how you use it. But the information from TV is in no comparison to the information gain from real people, not mention that TV is often used as a propaganda tool.

Who can deny that networks can get some jobs done? They do. But they lack any ability to nourish their members emotionally.

At our best we human beings are much, much grander things than rational, at our best we transcend rationality while incorporating its procedures on the lower levels of functioning. That is why computers will never replace people, computers are condemned to be rational, hence very limited. Networks divide people, first from themselves and then from each other, on the grounds that this is the efficient way to perform a task. It may well be, but it is a lousy way to feel good about being alive.

I agree. But is corporation a network? If it is, how can we make corporation like a community while still keeping a free market?

Even associations as inherently harmless as bridge clubs, chess clubs, amateur acting groups or groups of social activists will, if they maintain a pretense of whole friendship, ultimately produce that odd sensation familiar to all city dwellers of being lonely in the middle of a crowd. Who has not felt this sensation who frequently networks? Having many networks does not add up to having a community, no matter how many you have or how often your telephone rings.

While I work with grassroots folks, I do feel belonging to a community. Maybe it is not just with grassroots people that make me feel belonging to a community. It might be because of my involvement in various aspects of local community that makes me feel belonging to a local community.

The pathological state which eventually develops out of these constant repetitions of thin human contact is a feeling that your “friends” and “colleagues” don’t really care about you beyond what you can do for them, that they have no curiosity about the way you manage your life, no curiosity about your hopes, fears, victories, defeats.
Might be largely true. But not totally true.

then a social machine has been constructed which, by attaching purpose and meaning to essentially meaningless and fantastic behavior, will certainly dehumanize the student, alienate him from his own human nature, and break the natural connection between him and his parents,
What else do you think the meaning is that only half our eligible citizens are registered to vote, and of that half, a bare 50 percent do vote? In two party jurisdictions a trifle over 1/8th of the citizenry is thus sufficient to elect public officials, assuming the vote splits 55-45.”

No matter how good the individuals are who manage an institution, institutions lack a conscience because they measure by accounting methods.

Unlike true communities, pseudo-communities and other comprehensive networks like schools expand indefinitely just as long as they can get away with it. “More” may not be “better” but more is always more profitable for the people who make a living out of networking. That is what is happening today behind the cry to expand schooling even further, a great many people are going to make a great deal of money if growth can be continued.

The quality-competition of businesses, when it happens, is generally a good thing for customers, it keeps everyone on his toes doing his best. The competition inside an institution like a school isn’t the same thing at all.

What’s gotten in the way of education in the United States is a theory of social engineering that says there is ONE RIGHT WAY to proceed with growing up.
What I dislike the most when living in the Chinese culture is that everyone is trying to tell you how to live your life. To them, there is only one right way to live the life. It is totally insane to me. I couldn’t understand why they think that way. To me, everyone is so different. Later I realize that way of thinking everyone should live the same kind of life is deeply rooted in the Confucius’ teaching. It is very suffocating to me. It kills individuality. In the Chinese culture, there is no boundary between individuals. Everyone wants to stick their nose into your business. Especially in a family environment, it is really a mess because it is carried out in the name of love. It is very hard to learn to be independent and self-reliant in the Chinese family. That is how come I like the western style, the way how the westerners handle family relations.

Living in traditional Chinese community can also be very suffocating since a very strict hierarchy is maintained. You have to respect/obey many man-made artificial rules. So that is why I like the modern society for its allowing individuals to opt out of a geographic based community and network with other people sharing the same interests. Individuals have to have this freedom. A local community can be totally evil, bloody, barbarian. One good thing of mass production is that such kind of communities will be exposed. Gatto mentioned this as well in his book Dumbing Us Down.

Although all of Mr. Gatto’s criticism of mass production is legitimate, I still think that mass production, viewed historically, is a big advancement in human history. It is a process where the plus starts first, but at the same time, the minus is initiated and gets bigger gradually. Maybe mass production should be guarded as a historic advancement. Since we, together as human being, don’t have much experience in this new development, we need to wait for a while. In other words, we have to stabilize our new learning for a while before we can move on. So we have to go through mass production for a while before we can address its problems. It is just like how a human being learns. So I would rather think this way: we human being discovered mass production, got too excited (maybe crazy) of the benefits it can reap, and after a while of experiencing with mass production we gradually realize all the problems with it, and thus started to address those problems, hopefully without totally denying the positive effects of mass production.

One of the surest ways to recognize education is that it doesn’t cost very much, it doesn’t depend on expensive toys or gadgets; the experiences that produce it and the self awareness that propels it are nearly free, in fact.

Well, this is a central point of Mr. Gatto perspectives on education: learning cost very little. Read Nine Assumptions of Schooling.

Sixty-five years ago Bertrand Russell, the greatest mathematician of this century, its greatest philosopher, and a close relation of the King of England to boot, saw that mass- schooling in the United States had a radically anti-democratic intent, that it was a scheme to artificially deliver national unity by eliminating human variation, and by eliminating the forge that produces variation: the Family.””Break up these institutional schools, decertify teaching, let anyone who has a mind to teach bid for customers, privatize this whole business – trust the free market system.”

Yes, Gatto calls for a free market based learning system



Filed under Essay, John Taylor Gatto, Liberal Arts, unschooling, What is Learning

3 responses to “Community VS. Network

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