Jack and the Bomb
or, the Giant's Jolly Christmas
WE really wanted, at this festive time of year, to don our gay apparel; but it turns out that you can't do that anymore without being mistaken for a consciousness-raising band of role-players cheerily relating to an alternative lifestyle. So we decided simply to wish for peace on earth to men of good will. That proved wrong too, so we changed it to persons of good will. And even that proved wrong, for it was sure to offend a substantial and much maligned minority which should be appreciated and related to rather than demeaned by exclusion from our prayers.
It was a certain Joanne Greenberg who reminded us, and just in time, that persons of ill will have feelings too, you know. And rights.
Greenberg seems to be, a bit to our surprise, we must admit, the author of Jack and the Beanstalk. Really. It says so right here in this nifty brochure from West Publishing Company Inc., in Mineola, New York. It says, too, that Greenberg has written thirty other "instructional materials." This, her latest material, is not actually called a book in the brochure, but it is obviously meant to look like one, and it costs $5.75, a bit steep for a material. But it surely is "instructional."
It's not easy to make children hate reading stories, but this Greenberg is a professional. Here's how she does it:
Jack and the Beanstalk, by Joanne Greenberg, provides a familiar framework which allows elementary students to practice decision making while learning the basic principles of our legal system relating to fairness and honesty. The suggested activities encourage students to explore their own opinions about fairness.
Doesn't that sound like fun? How many "opinions about fairness" do the cunning little tykes have? Are many against it? Will they be set right by a merry bout of decision making? Will the teachers' manual that comes with this material teach the teachers those "basic principles of our legal system relating to fairness and honesty"?
But this is more than a pre-pre-law material. It is "relevant and motivating reading matter":
The activities in each chapter not only motivate the students to think critically, view situations from various perspectives, and form conclusions, but also apply language art skills such as spelling, handwriting, and creative writing.
Just imagine. There you sit, reading a book, dwelling awhile in a world strangely truer than the world, and at the end of every chapter, along comes this meddlesome schoolteacher who makes you practice decision making and "learn" legal principles. You have just watched Huck hastily covering the dead face of his friend, and this busybody, whose own "opinions" are slogans left over from teacher-school courses in interpersonal relating and values clarification workshops, calls a rap-session to help you explore your opinions. Emma is stuffing her mouth with the poisonous powder, and some officious employee of the state, whose mouth drips the cant of life adjustment and behavior modification in the affective domain, "motivates" you to view situations from various perspectives," and then to "apply" spelling.
And when Jack lays his axe to the root of the beanstalk, will this Joanne Greenberg come barging in with her explorations and activities and maybe a neat ecological-awareness message from Smoky the Bear? Well, no. She comes up with something worse:
One major change has been made: the Giant is not killed in the end, to avoid a violent act which would have no bearing on the issues being examined.
These school people hate literature. It stands for everything that they stand against. A work of literature comes from one, solitary mind, not from the consensus of a collective. It is an unequivocal assertion that this is so. It abides, or it dies, but it will not negotiate. It comes before us neither as a supplicant nor a defendant, but as a judge. It cares nothing for our favorite notions or our self-esteem. And it offends in us what most deserves offense--petulant sectarian touchiness, facile social supposition, and especially smug self-righteousness. Thus it is that the educationists' literature is not the real thing. They must abbreviate it, or amend it, or--and this is their usual practice--elucidate it, lest their students fail to appreciate correctly its relevance to "the issues being examined." And should the work at hand have nothing to do with the issues they want to examine, they must concoct an "instructional material" and call it Jack and the Beanstalk.
Little children know, even blithering idiots know--except for one tribe--that the Giant must die. The story is about the Good and the Bad, which, in the outer world of the social order, must be always cutting deals. That sad necessity is sad; it is not to our credit. When we forget to be ashamed of that compromise, when we ordain it as a principle of the inner life of the mind, when we learn to flatter ourselves for the "liberality" out of which we tolerate the intolerable, and the "flexibility" with which we gladly bend to every gust of popular novelty, then we aren't even cutting any deals. We are simply capitulating.
Jack does not capitulate. Nor does he cut a deal by accepting, instead of justice, an "enhanced interpersonal relationship" with brutal greed. He does not "view the situation from various perspectives," but seizes what is truly his, not by "the basic principles of our legal system relating to fairness and honesty," whatever the murky notions intended by that awkward phrasing, but by the one deepest principle of Lawfulness itself. And it is Unlawfulness that dies with the Giant.
And Tyranny, too, dies with the Giant, for that is another of the many names of Unlawfulness. That is why children are not frightened by the death of a brutal monster. They know Tyranny when they see it, for they see it regularly. It is the continued life of the monster, watching and waiting, that frightens them.
Children are little, and cannot live by their own efforts. They need order and principle in the world, lest they perish, in one way or another. When they find their destinies in the hands of unruly and self-indulgent parents, and teachers so unprincipled that they think it "humanistic" to "view" greed and force "from various perspectives" they recognize the Giant. While the Tyrant lives, how can they live? Must they always cut the same old deal, remake themselves after the Giant's image and likeness, lest he sniff out foreign blood in them? Will no one save them? Who can stand, when even the grown-ups prissily reject a violent act which would have no bearing on the issues," against strong tyranny?
"One cannot understand the least thing about modern civilization," said George Bernanos, "if one does not first realize that it is a universal conspiracy to destroy the inner life." Greenberg's revision is surely one of those least things, although probably an involuntary ideological twitch rather than a deliberately conspiratorial deed. She is simply "staying in line," which is the first and great commandment of all collectivisms. And the second is like unto it: Keep thy neighbor in line.
And if we send the Giant to the head of the line, maybe he'll be nice to us.
All of which makes us wonder about…
Primitiveness and civilization are degrees of the same thing. If civilization has an opposite, it is war. Of those two things, you can have either one, or the other. Not both. Ursula Le Guin
Those of you who are worried about the Bomb, but still have faith--ah, faith--in the Great American Public School, will be happy to hear that the same people who have practiced (and practiced and practiced) on any social disorder you can think of, and, some that no one ever would have heard of if those folks hadn't thought them up so that they get in even more practice in solving our problems for us, those same wonderful adjusters of our sadly unsocialized children are going to adjust them into yet another enhanced awareness. Why not? Who better than the meticulously educated professionals who gave us Death Education to bring their formidable expertise to Megadeath Education?
The National Education Association (a union) has put out a "packet of materials" intended for junior high school children. They are, according to one Robert McLure of the NEA, the ones that have the most fear of the holocaust bomb."
He must be some professional, that McLure. We would have guessed that we had the most to fear, or even that it couldn't possibly matter a damn who had the most fear. McLure obviously knows better. In times like these, it is nice to find a real expert to tell us to tackle this Big Problem by finding the ones who have the most fear of its consequences, and then...
And then, what? Talk them out of their fear? Confirm them in it? Aside, from those, can there be any other effect of knowledge about the substance of our fears?
But maybe McLure is just propagandizing in that good old affective domain, since most of the ad hoc and pseudo-curricular "educations" of the last fifty years have been justified as "remediations" of some supposed feelings in the students. In that cause, the educationists found that "mere knowledge" was less useful than something else. But, it's Christmas, so let's try to be charitable. Let's suppose that this time they really are going to stick to knowledge and, for once, forego all psychological and socio-political programming. What then? Will knowledge be able, as NEA promises, "to dispel [in teenagers] misconceptions about nuclear war and the buildup of nuclear arms"? Has that knowledge in fact dispelled misconceptions in those who have it, leaving them in perfect agreement? Does this teachers' union have some new knowledge that will have that effect? Is it not the case that most of what we want to know in this matter is simply not knowable, and that "experts" differ not out of differing knowledges, but out of differing speculations and ideologies? So, if anything is to be dispelled in the students' "conceptions," knowledge wilt not suffice; the megadeath educationists will have to reach for something else.
Both the NEA and another group of school people, the, Educators for Social Responsibility, believe that Megadeath Education is a "social study," a part of Civics Education. Defending it as such, the commissioner of education in Maine, Harold Raynolds, Jr., quoted Jefferson to his purpose:
I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion; the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.
We are not convinced. In fact, the quotation is so irrelevant in this context that we have to suspect Raynolds either of poor reading skills, ignorance of what is done in the schools and to whom, or an attempt to deceive. If educationists suppose that they can inform the discretion of "the people," in some matter where available knowledge is not enough to overcome the beliefs of factions, which is the case in social and political issues, as well as the religious, they are free, as citizens speaking to other citizens, to try. Indeed, Jefferson might say, thinking of the inherent kinship of right and duty, that they are obliged to try. But school children are not "the people." They are a captive audience of minors required by law to associate with whatever potentially influential persons the state, or their parents, might choose, and to risk, long before they have powers out of which to inform their own discretion, whatever consequences may flow from that involuntary association. It is not as equals considering the words of equals, not as "the people," that they sit before their teachers, but as lesser before greater. Schooling, utterly unlike education, which takes place in the inner life, can never be without some admixture of coercion.
Nor are those teachers "the people." They are, mostly, a fiction. It is the aim of their training to make them compliant members of the faction to which their trainers already belong, sharing social and political beliefs and feelings. But, as paid agents of government, they also constitute an especially "privileged" faction in the strict sense of the word; for it is by law that the children are delivered into their influence. It can not have been the hope of Jefferson that the discretion of the people would be officially informed by the legally sanctioned power of public employees over the minds and the feelings of children.
Furthermore, these people who now propose to rap and role-play with our children about nuclear devastation do not have a good record. They are pliable faddists, continually neglecting the useful, little things that they actually might be able to do for the sake of "higher" goals. And as to what is "higher," and how to discover it, the have no abiding principle. They can abhor nuclear destruction and play the Lifeboat Game in the same class, as though murder were some numerical value. They can "utilize visual learning materials" distinguishing circles of total destruction from circles of major destruction, but they applaud when Joanne Greenberg makes their tasks easier, and so much more conducive to the "higher" goal of socialization, by taking the sharp sting of justice out of Jack and the Beanstalk.
It is because they have no abiding principle, because they can find many reasons for doing what they want but never the Reason of their doing, that the educationists make everything trivial. Love, and marriage, and the care of children, are serious; family living education is a joke, although only the students have the good sense to laugh at it. Goodness, honor, duty, the perennial themes of literature, are serious; "adventures in appreciation" are silly. The study of history, which actually would be to the point in these times, is serious; social studies are silly. And now, having firmly convinced their students, especially the more thoughtful ones, that anything considered in school really is trivial, these people will consider the Bomb.
And the students will love peace exactly as much as they love wisdom.
The threat of nuclear war calls into question the deepest meanings of this life. What sort of creature are we? How have we come to this? How shall we live? Those considerations require not "awareness" but thoughtfulness, not a "program" but solemnity. Thoughtfulness and solemnity can exist in only one place: the inner life of mind. There is none of that allowed in the schools.
We are not utterly without tidings of comfort and joy. In response to last month's Lifeboat Footnote, we had letters from some true teachers, the beleaguered few who still detest the detestable and just can't relate well to the Giant. This one came from Michael F. Drummey, Phillips Exeter, in New Hampshire:
I thought first of Sonia's response to Raskolnikov's question about who should be allowed to live--Luzhin or Marmeladov's wife:
But I can't know the Divine Providence... And why do you ask what can't be answered? What's the use of such foolish questions? How could it happen that it should depend on my decision...who made me a judge to decide who is to live and who is to die?
Well, you can see how far we have come since the time when authors exalted silly ninnies like Sonia.
Then I thought about the lifeboat game some more, and it seemed to fit into modern education so well--the eliminating or sugaring over of everything that is difficult or frustrating. And what a fun thing to play a part in our own disaster movie.
But then I thought how this game is really good training--for administration--here is the ultimate test of the administrator: how to make people accept their own deaths without being peevish. "Certainly you can see our reasons for choosing you. Now just slip quietly over the side--and leave your sweater, would you?" And you in your burrow thought it was pointless.
* * * * * *
Drummey's quotation couldn't be more apt for now. But no one will ever again be troubled by it when Joanne Greenberg becomes the author of Crime and Punishment. Under its new title, Maladaption and Remediation, it tells the story of a struggling young MBA candidate who can not interact positively with his financial aid facilitator, an elderly Samoan lady who collects old cigarette cases. When Raskolnikov shatters her self-esteem by pretending to bring her a cigarette case but giving her instead, cunningly disguised as a learning material, a tape recording of certain provocative passages from Also sprach Zarathustra, the genial but relentless values clarifier, Porfiry, suspects him of ageism, sexism, and ethocentricity. The hapless lad, his consciousness raised by a rap-session with Svidrigailov, who represents an alternative lifestyle that Raskolnikov once demeaned, saying that he wouldn't want his sister to marry one, flees for remediation to his girlfriend Sonia, a graduate student of humanistic psychology and guidance counseling who is working her way through school by conducting small seminars in interpersonal relating enhancement and Rolfing. It is at this point in the material that Sonia does not say what Drummey quotes above.
Make not the Lesser Grebe more less,
No less than you, the Aardvaark needs
Like you the naughty Roach may need,
Rejoice in Spiders; gladly treat
Lest, when at last they have their say,
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Neither can his mind be thought to be