Education & Democracy & Freedom, Oh My!

Education, considered in the early days of America to be critical to democracy on the basis of the tenant that only an informed and educated citizenry can responsibly make decisions about leadership, once again faces the challenge to be justified in the face of the push for economic gain. As op ed contributor Michael Roth notes in his article Learning as Freedom in today’s New York Times, “Conservative scholars like Charles MurrayRichard Vedder and Peter W. Wood ask why people destined for low-paying jobs should bother to pursue their education beyond high school, much less study philosophy, literature and history.”

These and similar questions around education represent one more chorus in the ever-recurring anthem of class: only rich people need to think, and the rest (99.9%?) should be ushered into low-paying jobs (reserved for them by “destiny”?) without the dangerous liability of a discriminating mind. An education would expose them to ideas and experiences that might cause a cognitive dissonance with their daily grind, make them aspire to – what’s that? the American Dream, perhaps?

Please, haven’t we had enough of the idea that money equals intelligence? ‘If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ has been answered pretty effectively with an abundance of supporting evidence during the recent recession. The answer, overwhelmingly and increasingly evident, lies critically in the advantages that come your way, and that come the way of the financially well-endowed over the ‘rags-to-riches’ candidate with odds that only a gambling addict would find acceptable.

Certainly, exceptional persons continue to overcome the disadvantages of an upbringing not funded by investments, and subject to the exigencies of an economy based on the .01% and its financial practices. Nevertheless, the very concept of a one percent, or of a one tenth of one percent, as we have come to recognize those who economically control our society, in itself points to the financial disparities whose acceleration drives the middle class economically downward, pulling benefits for the low and very low income with them.

The narrowing of educational opportunities led by the push for an end-profit orientation to education represents one more anti-democracy, plutocratic idea designed to deprive ‘the most of us’ of the tools for a rich and fulfilling experience of life, and an historical context in which to make sense of our daily contests and challenges. Disguised as a practical approach to lower-income life, in reality, a world in which income is equated with the need for education is a world of serfs run by lords, and one in which the idea of equal opportunity will meet a speedy and unpleasant end.

In a democratic society, the real solutions to the troubling disparities in educational opportunity lie in full access to free education – the basis for democracy and civic responsibility. Our public school system represents this recognition, and if our public schools are failing, the solution lies in fixing the schools, not in a move toward private schools. Likewise, if the contemporary society requires higher education in order for people to function as successful and responsible members, then perhaps we should look at how more people could have access to this education, rather than fewer.

Thank you, Charles Simic; or, My Continued Disorganized Discourse

This morning my email inbox included a letter from Twitter with a list of posts from folks I follow – technically follow, that is, as I usually don’t allow myself to actually follow them, for reasons that will become clear to the reader shortly. Several of these posts turned out to be quite fascinating, and involved me in a series of reading, communicating, and reading more that took up a good hour, an hour I didn’t really feel I had this morning to spend (oh, and don’t look now, I’m spending time writing things too). It was wonderful though, and I couldn’t help thinking that I wished I were paid to do this, because then I would do it all day and maybe half the night, except for the all day in which I was writing poetry and submitting it to journals, and all the day in which I was reading, period. If I were paid to do this, it would be one of those jobs you hear about where the interviewee says “I can’t believe they pay me to do this – I just love it!”

Venus approaches the moon, February 25, 2012

My employment tends to the direction of “I can’t believe they don’t pay me MORE to do this – it’s OK, but it’s a lot of work, not that interesting, and not enough to live on.”

One of the several articles I read this morning is a great piece by Charles Simic in the New York Review of Books, called Poets and Money. When I reached the stage of reading, communicating, reading something else, and then thinking – ‘Oh no, I have a lot to get done! Another hour squandered on wonderful things!’ everything suddenly came together in my mind. Consider the dilemma of someone I know, who, having newly left a quite decently compensated job for the graduate school poetry MFA track, finds school unfortunately academic – although more practical in terms of potential earning power – than the longed-for environment of creative people, and particularly poets, who, as Simic points out, are generally expected to produce poetry for nothing.

This individual could take me for an example to keep going in the pedestrian track (see above re my earning power). Just yesterday, I viewed a very inspiring video about friend & fellow poet Christopher Luna, who recounts a moment when he was enjoined by the poet Antler to “Make poetry your life!” My friend has done this beautifully, and all this sets me this morning to pondering; is it possible, I wonder, to make creativity my life, and manage to pay the bills as well? An open-ended question. In some favorite words of my late father, that remains to be seen.

Public or Private?

Here’s to going public on the internets: as pointed out to me quite recently, people only read online content if it’s of interest to them, for the most part – there’s enough out here to read such that we don’t have to bore ourselves. Of course, there are those who like to be provoked or provoking, and poke about to find things with which they disagree, but that could be interesting – that is, to have a response that really disagrees in a big way. Not a problem, as the saying goes.

So today’s thoughts are about to be no longer private. Perhaps someone will read them, & disagree . . . but only, of course, if I’ve done due diligence in my social networking, tagging, categorizing, & c., yes?


I listen to an MP-3 audio clip in German re Kerouac & Ginsberg, posted on FB by Michael (Kellner). I can understand it intermittently, it makes a good background to these reflections.

As K said goodbye on his way back to work from his lunch break, he said “indulge yourself in some way – go to a spa for instance if you feel like it.” (that’s a fairly good paraphrase, I don’t remember the exact wording). Ha, the tears commenced at that, though I don’t think he noticed – I’m getting good at hiding tears, from the kind of practice over the years you get if you cry ridiculously easily – My first thought had been, I can’t afford to indulge myself, I’m out of money; & I thought, why am I feeling so sorry for myself? And then I thought, “I don’t know what indulging myself is, I don’t do that, I don’t allow that, I have too much work to do, I – and suddenly I realized that, along with the easily recognized & acknowledged anger, I’m feeling a huge guilt over not getting this job, as if it was a personal failing. Possibly it has been a personal failing to not qualify for hire at a wide range and quantity of purported employment opportunities, but I hadn’t realized how much guilt I was feeling over it. Over everything, it seemed right then. I hadn’t noticed that that was one thing weighing me down, a major thing, in fact. It was suddenly clear that I felt compelled to make up for it in some way before I could feel good again.

What bullshit – as if feeling bad were going to fix anything. Totally contrary to my philosophy of life, which might be crudely characterized in part by the convictions that (1) if you’re not making mistakes, you aren’t learning; and (2) when you make a mistake, the useful response is not to feel bad about how dumb/incompetent/slow etc. you are, but to figure out how to do it right. That’s not actually how I was raised, however, so that may be why I have had such difficulty consistently practicing it, now that I think about it.

Of course, that last phrase (“now that I think about it”) is blatantly misleading. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about it; on the contrary, I’ve devoted probably large pieces of my consciousness to trying to figure this out, and live it. Such the stubbornness of the human psyche.

Also published as private.

Reflections on Writing in Public

I tried to publish “In Praise of the Convoluted Style” on this blog – take a jump into risk, but I couldn’t do it; in the end, I designated the post “private.” It’s still there, but I’m the only one who can see it. I really have this fear of publishing stuff that later I’ll really not like. I don’t want to inflict junk on the world, and I also don’t want to be seen as inflicting junk on the world. What a coward I am! (This post, too is private).(of course).


In Praise of the Convoluted Style

They say we should write every day: discipline. OK here goes. I write intermittently in my journal, using a pen & paper, a method I favor but which is unfortunately largely illegible to anyone else, partly by design (it’s a really very good way to keep it private) & partly because my thoughts outrun my pen, and the contest between them is a recurring example of the sacrifice of legibility to speed. However, this disjunction between expression and communicability keeps me in possibly a too-private world in the end, so here I go, trying it on in the virtual world. 

Today I feel really trashy in the personal not social sense, having been rejected from yet another employment opportunity, after investing a lot of time, energy, and feeling in the prospect of working at a job & location that initially appeared unattractive and unattainable anyway. The latter proved correct of course, while the former appeared increasingly through the process of approach not to be (correct, that is), which is not really any consolation. I find I can’t do these things without investing interest, however difficult it may initially be to drum it up, it always burgeons if I commit myself to the effort. I did meet some very nice people, who can complain about that?

Well everyone (practically) is familiar with this experience of not getting a job one (1) wanted and apparently also (2) needed badly to one degree or another; there can’t possibly be anything to add through the mediation of my comments on it, but that’s what’s with me today, so sorry, world of virtual communication, you get unemployment, specifically rejection after investment of significant effort, as your opening topic today.

Other comments: along the line of ‘no sincere effort is wasted,’ in the process of becoming even more knowledgeable about social media than I already was (within the library context) – which turns out to rather more beyond the average for my age & disposition than I expected – I discovered – much to the distaste of the literary, technical, and social snob in me – that getting more involved in Twitter has yielded access to a surprising & pleasing crop of connections who have provided really interesting information. Here I reveal myself to be old school in the disguise of a (relatively for my age) hip & tech-savvy writer-librarian. Books, paper, typography . . . still most beautiful.

One of my biggest barriers to communication is how tired of myself I so easily become, especially of my thoughts & words. Perhaps a condition endemic to writers, but I haven’t heard anyone else complain specifically of that dystopia of the spirit (crap, I don’t read enough is probably why). You might ask, if that’s the case, why bother to place this self of which you are so tired in the public view? Probably to give someone else that opportunity?