hard heads soft hearts
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
I've just learned that two of my links, to 1) a John Taylor Gatto essay, "Education & The Western Spiritual Tradition", and 2) a JRR Tolkien Story, "Leaf by Niggle", no longer work. So just to help future googlers, I'm going to post the full-text of both pieces on this tiny, little, pea-sized blog. Apologies for the lack of formatting/aesthetics.
John Taylor Gatto
The Neglected Genius of America: The Congregational Principle and Original Sin (Education and the Western Spiritual Tradition)
I'll be talking about three characteristics of American Christian doctrine. When I say "American Christian doctrine," the country, until the 1870s or 1880s, was virtually exclusively Protestant and more than Protestant -- it was made up of the independent and dissenting minds of England and Germany, not the State Church people.
You'll recall the Dalai Lama yesterday said that the goal of Buddhism is happiness, and I think one sharp dividing line between these two major faiths is that the goal of Christianity has not been happiness except incidentally to other purposes.
The Congregational Principle
When the Puritans arrived in Salem in 1629, there were no Anglican church officials around to approve the selection of their church authorities. That would have been mandatory in the State Church of England, so the first congregation here took that responsibility illegally into its own hands. That simple revolutionary act subverted power that traditionally had belonged to some certified expert and placed it into the hands of people who simply went to church. The sole yardstick of suitability for high office was that the seeker be the choice of ordinary people whose only proof of competence was joining a congregation which took religion seriously. That was it.
History dubbed this quasi insurrection the Salem Procedure, and for the next 231 years that simple public shedding of traditional authority, which was an act of monumental localism, challenged the right of arrogant power to broadcast any centralized version of the truth without argument. America became the only nation in human history where ordinary people could argue with authority without being beaten, jailed, or killed, and that remains largely true in the world that you and I live in today.
The best thing, I think, about the Internet so far is that it shows signs of becoming a post-modern Salem Procedure. In the face of widespread moral and intellectual collapse in what is mistakenly called public education, we re being asked once again to patiently try a variety of expert solutions whether by James Comer, Ted Sizer, Chris Wittle, the National Education Association, or any of a large number of fronts for institutional players. Some are honorable men, some dishonorable men, but all clamoring to manage the lives of children in various profitable mass compulsion schooling schemes.
Plato once said, "Nothing of value comes from compulsion," but pass that by for a moment and concentrate on the new praetorian guard who claim the right to drain all the children from the community like pied pipers. They come from a very few selective universities, from less than a dozen private foundations, from the board rooms of about 30 global corporations, from a handful of think tanks, from a few government agencies whose operations are shielded from the view of the public, and from various other national associations. This is a body like the ephors in ancient Sparta who ruled the public through fear from behind a screen of dummy legislators.
The reforms of these reformers appear to be very different in nature, representing different constituencies, but do not be fooled. Just as we have not had a two-party political system for a long time, perhaps since the power to issue currency was stripped from the House of Representatives and placed in the hands of private bankers, all the narrow set of cronies who float national school reforms belong to the same clubs, read the same magazines, send their children to the same private schools, address each other by first names when they meet in Chevy Chase or Cambridge, Palo Alto or Boulder.
You could never mistake any of the comfortable experts who have appropriated the right to speak for ordinary people, for the people who thought God was more important than anything, the ones who built the New England congregations, although indeed many of the modern experts are honorable men.
Congregations were never universal, but they were always intensely local. Particular men and women were attached to them who knew their fellow congregants by name and by family history. They were not mere networks of pious people who met whenever it was convenient. They cared about each other, not about humanity in general. If a congregation had a school problem, it would not welcome outside intervention unless it asked for help. These places insisted upon their God-given right to do things their own way, to make their own mistakes. I don't think you can grow up unless you re allowed to make your own mistakes.
Were some of these congregations bad places? Of course they were. Some of them were horrible, but think hard about this: At least the damage stopped abruptly at the boundaries of a single church. That's the difference between a congregational reality and a State Church system or indeed, any systematic universal governance. A system won't let you walk away while a congregation says good luck and good riddance.
We’re far from a time when we trusted each other or ourselves enough to make waves in congregations without surveillance. Since the Civil War, a century and a half of increasingly suffocating expert interventions in our schools has left us thinking there isn't any other way to do things. To get something done, Harvard has to be called in or Stanford or Yale or the Carnegie Corporation.
Official strangers decide everything important, sometimes with token local voices allowed to ventilate before the prearranged decision is published. Often not even that bone is tossed, nor is there any target for our children to aim for in this society but the approval of official strangers. That's a major reason our families fall apart. How can children respect their own parents when those sad souls are regularly contradicted by various agents of the State, most frequently by the school hierarchy? Our parents have been made childlike by honorable people.
The Salem Procedure of picking laypeople, of letting them pick their own experts, and then keeping an eye on those experts because the congregational polity was small enough to allow that, has a kinship to the powerful vision of Anabaptists a vision which lives on in the spectacularly successful, spectacularly prosperous Amish communities that have driven the governments of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin livid with rage because of their successes this past century.
But it also draws from a well of common sense innate in people who actually work instead of talk for a living. Small farmers, crafts people, teamsters, artists, fishermen, loggers, small entrepreneurs, people who maintain an intuitive understanding of the fakery lurking near any expert claim to superior wisdom. And I'm being precise there. I mean superior wisdom. Of course, experts are supposed to have superior knowledge, but knowledge and wisdom are far from the same things, and to conflate the two is madness. Going to college can help you be knowledgeable, but it cannot make you wise.
The American genius was to locate wisdom in ordinary people while every other government on earth located it in an aristocracy, a theocracy, a military class, a merchant class, or in civil service experts. And those who know Thomas Hobbes will recognize where I'm coming from on that.
The failure of forced monopoly schooling to check our slide into despair and moral chaos allows me to demand the subordination of the expert voice once again, on the grounds it has had a century's monopoly reign and has produced a bankrupt leadership with not the slightest idea how to get us out of this mess we re in except to ask for more money, more power, more power over our children, a sorry elite who are currently making a desperate effort to turn the leadership of our schools over to men and women who sell soap for a living or cigarettes or processed food. That's what school-to-work legislation is, of course.
It's time to turn the school business back to people where the Constitution vested it in the 10th Amendment. It's time to let any small group that wants to try to show what it can do in schooling. A million family schools over the past decade have demonstrated that uncertified parents, many of them in modest circumstances and lacking the benefit of college themselves, can pin back the ears of the best factory model schools, public or private.
The congregational principle is a spiritual force propelling the maximum number of people to reach their full potential by vesting everyone with an identity and a voice at the policy table and doing it in voluntary associations with members who feel in harmony with one another. That's the way the Council on Foreign Relations works, that's the way the Ad Council works, that s the way the Business Roundtable works, that's the way the Sidwell Friends School that Mrs. Clinton's daughter goes to works, that's the way Groton and Saint Pauls work, and that's the way public schools will work best, too.
If you think about this, you begin to wonder what purpose is being served by arranging government schools any other way. The congregationalists knew that good things happen to the human spirit when it is left alone to make its own curriculum. No two congregational churches ever got together. They had contempt for the Presbyterians because that denomination met once a year in a synod. The congregations did not officially compare notes. They didn't inquire about each other's doctrinal purity, they had no universal management. Some churches were good, some were horrible, but each was sui generis. Each was sovereign. And what was the result? The forms, the spirit, and the leadership of New England during its congregational period produced the only coherent regional culture this nation has ever seen, with the Anglican tidewater south a distant second.
Indeed, New England ships were selling ice cut from local ponds to India, if you can believe that, long before you could take a train from Boston to New York. Ninety-eight percent of the Massachusetts population could read, write, and count quite well before the legislature, at the urging of the new industrial business establishment (coal mining and railroad interests like the Peabody family and real estate interests eager to exploit the empty land to the West) rammed through a compulsion school law. (It's true they fronted the zealots, and Horace Mann was a zealot. He had been offered a seat in Congress if he fronted this operation.) The entire Connecticut population was also literate without forced schooling.
We have never reached that degree of literacy again, although we were close to it in 1941 when, under cover of World War II, the nation's schools abandoned wholesale the brilliantly efficient reading method which had been used for centuries and gradually replaced it with a system certain to fail again I'm being precise certain to fail in the dramatic hothouse of a classroom. That was the congregational principle.
Discipline and Disciples
Wherever I go in the United States these days I hear of something called the crisis of discipline, how children are unmotivated, how they resist learning. That is nonsense, of course. Children resist teaching, as they should, but nobody resists learning. However, I won't dispute that schools are in chaos. Even the ones that seem quiet and orderly are in a kind of moral chaos beyond the power of journalism, so far, to penetrate. And restless children underline the school's failure so they come to public attention, and they must be explained some way by authorities.
I don't think it's off the mark to say that all of us, whatever else we may disagree upon, want kids to have discipline in the sense of self-control. That goes for Black mothers in Harlem where I taught for five years, despite the secret religion of schooling that believes those mothers are genetically challenged. But we want more than behavioral discipline. We pray for discipline in the more specialized sense of intellectual interests well enough mastered to provide joy and consolation all our lives and maybe even a buck, too.
A discipline is what people who drink chablis instead of Pittsburgh Red Whiskey, call a field of learning like chemistry, history, philosophy, et cetera, and its lore. The good student is literally a disciple of a discipline. The words are from the Latin disciplinare and discipulus. (By the way, I learned all this from a school teacher in Utica, New York, named Orin Dominico who writes me and I pay attention. In this discipline matter, I'm Orin's disciple.)
The most famous discipline in Western tradition is that of Jesus Christ. That's true today, and it was true 1500 years ago, and the most famous disciples are his 12 apostles. What did Christ's model of educational discipline look like? Well, attendance wasn't mandatory, for one thing. Christ didn’t set up the Judea Compulsory School System. He issued an invitation, "Follow me," and some did, and some didn't. And Christ didn't send the truant officer after those who didn't.
So as Orin tells me, the first characteristic of this model is a calling. Those who pursued Christ's discipline did so out of desire. It was their own choice. They were called to it by an inner voice, a voice we never give students enough time alone to possibly hear. And that's more true of the good schools than it is of the bad ones.
Our present system of schooling alienates us so sharply from our inner genius, most of us are barred from being able ever to hear our calling. Calling in most of us shrivels to fantasy and daydreams as a remnant of what might have been.
The second characteristic of Christ's discipline was commitment. Following Jesus was not easy. You had to drop everything else, and there was zero chance you could get rich doing it. You had to love what you were doing. Only love could induce you to walk across deserts, sleep in the wilderness, hang out with riffraff, and suffer scorn from all the established folks you encountered.
The third characteristic of Christ's model of discipleship was self-awareness and independence. Christ's disciples were not stooges. They had to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions from the shared experience. Christ didn't give lectures or handouts. He taught by example, by his own practice, and through parables which were open to interpretation. Orin, my coach, personally doubts that Christ ever intended to start a school or an institutional religion, for institutions invariably corrupt ideas unless they are kept small. They regiment thinking, and they tend toward military forms of discipline. Christ's followers started the Church, not Christ.
And finally, Christ's model of discipline requires a master to follow one who has himself or herself submitted to discipline and still practices it. Christ didn't say, "You guys stay here in the desert and fast for a month. I'll be over at the Ramada. You can find me in the bar if you need help." He did not begin his own public life until he was almost a rabbi, one fully versed in his tradition.
One way out of the fix we re in with schools would be a return to discipleship in education. During early adolescence, students without a clear sense of calling might have a series of apprenticeships and mentorships which mostly involve self-education. Our students have pressing needs to be alone with themselves on quests to test themselves against obstacles, both internal personal demons and external barricades to self-direction.
As it is, we currently drown students in low-level busywork, shove them together in forced associations which teach them to hate other people, not to love them. We subject them to the filthiest, most pornographic regimen of constant surveillance and ranking so they never experience the solitude and reflection necessary to become a whole man or woman. You are perfectly at liberty to believe these foolish practices evolved accidentally or through bad judgment, and I will defend your right to believe that right up to the minute the men with nets come to take you away.
The net effect of holding a child in confinement for 12 years and longer without any honor paid to the spirit is an extended demonstration that the State considers the Western God tradition to be dangerous. And, of course, it is. Schooling is about creating loyalty to an abstract central authority, and no serious rival can be welcome in a school that includes mother and father, tradition, local custom, self-management, or God.
The Supreme Court Everson ruling of 1947 established the principle that the State would have no truck with spirits. There was no mention that 150 years of American judicial history had passed without any other court finding this fantastic hidden meaning in the Constitution.
But even if we forego an examination of the motives of this court and grant that the ruling is a sincere expression of the rational principle behind modern leadership, we would be justified in challenging Everson today because of the grotesque record laid down over the past 50 years of spiritless schooling. Dis-spirited schooling has been tested and found fully wanting. I personally think that that's because it is a liar's game that denies the metaphysical reality recognized by men and women worldwide today and in every age.
One of the great ironies of Chelsea Clinton's schooling at Sidwell Friends School is that she is compelled to study Quaker history and participate in Quaker meeting. For Chelsea, it was take it or leave it at Sidwell. She seems to have survived that compulsion to learn a religion not her own.
It is ironic from a contrarian viewpoint that the most prestigious scientific position in the world today is surely heading up the human genome project. Corporations are lined up all the way to China to make fortunes out of genetic manipulation, and the co-head of that project is a man named Dr. Francis X. Collins who, according to the New York Times, personally recognizes religion as the most important reality in his life.
Collins was reared in an agnostic home in western Virginia where he was homeschooled all his life by his outspoken, radical mother who broke the law, he says, in a number of ways to give him an education. While in medical school, he came to the conclusion I'm quoting Collins that he would become a born-again Christian because the decision was "intellectually inescapable." It blew my mind to read that. And he has maintained that faith energetically ever since, a decision that makes his professional colleagues very uncomfortable.
The difficulty with rational thought, however valuable a tool it certainly is, is that it misses the deepest properties of human nature: our feelings of loneliness and incompletion, our sense of sin, our need to love, our longing after immortality.
Let me illustrate very specifically how rational thinking preempts terrain where it has no business and makes a wretched mess of human affairs. Now you can tell your grandchildren that you actually heard someone at the end of the 20th century challenge Galileo's heliocentric theory. Here goes. This is what's called a tour de force.
In materially evidentiary terms, the sun is at the center of the solar system, not the earth, and the solar system itself is lost in the endless immensity of space. I suppose most of you believe that. How could you not? And yet, as far as we scientifically know to date, only planet earth looks as if it were designed with people in mind. I know that Carl Sagan says we'll find millions of populated planets eventually, but right now there s only hard evidence of one. As far as we know, you can't go anyplace else but earth and stay alive for long. So as of 1997, earth is clearly the center of the human universe. I want to push this a little farther, however, so stick with me.
Planet earth is most definitely not the center of your personal life. It's merely a background which floats in and out of conscious thought. The truth is that psychologically, you are the center of the universe and the solar system. And don't be modest or try to hide the fact. The minute you deny what I just said, you re in full flight from the responsibility this centrality entails: to make things better for the rest of us who are on the periphery of your consciousness.
When you deny your own centrality, you necessarily lose some trust in yourself to move mountains. As your self-trust wanes and school is there to drill you in distrusting yourself: What else do you think it means to wait for a teacher to tell you what to do? You lose some self-respect. Without self-respect, you could hardly love yourself because we can't really love those we don't respect or trust except, curiously enough, by an act of faith. When you can't fully trust yourself or even like yourself very much, you re in a much worse predicament than you may realize because those things are a preamble to sustaining loving relationships with other people and with the world outside yourself.
Think of it this way: You must be convinced of your own worth before you ask for the love of another or else the bargain will be unsound. You'll be trading discounted merchandise unless both of you are similarly disadvantaged, and perhaps even then your relationship will disintegrate, usually painfully.
The trouble with Galileo's way is that it is a partial truth. It's right about the relations of dead matter, and it's wrong about the geography of the spirit. But schools can only teach Galileo's victory over the church. They cannot afford to harbor children who command personal power. So the subtlety of the analysis that you and I just went through which can confer power has to be foregone. Galileo's rightness is only a tiny part of a real education. His blindness is much more to the point. The goal of a real education is to bring us to a point where we can take full responsibility for our own lives, and in that quest, Galileo is only one more fact of little human consequence.
The ancient religious question of free will marks the real difference between schooling and education. Education is conceived in Western history as a road to knowing yourself and through that knowledge arriving at a further understanding of community, relationships, jeopardy, living nature, and inanimate matter. But none of those things has any particular meaning until you see what they lead up to, finally being in full command of the spectacular gift of free will: a force completely beyond the power of science to understand.
With the tool of free will, anyone can forge a personal purpose. Free will allows infinite numbers of human stories to be written in which a personal you is the main character. All of the sciences, hard or soft although the soft are much worse in this regard assume that Purpose that's with a capital P and free will are hogwash. All of them believe that, given enough data, everything will be seen as predetermined.
Schooling is an instrument to disseminate this bleak and sterile vision of a blind-chance universe. When schooling is able to displace education, as happened in the U.S. just about a century ago, a deterministic world could be simulated. We can entrap children into becoming organic machinery simply by ignoring the universal human awareness that there is something dreadfully important beyond the rational. We can cause children to mistrust themselves so severely they come to depend on cost-benefit analyses for everything. We can teach them to scorn faith so comprehensively that buying things and feeling good becomes the point of their lives.
The Soviet empire did this brilliantly for a little over 70 years. Its surveillance of individual lives was total. It maintained dossiers on each human unit, logged every deviation, and assigned a mathematical value so that citizens could be ranked against each other.
Does that sound familiar? It schooled every child in a fashion prescribed by the best psychological experts. It strictly controlled the rewards of work to ensure compliance, and it developed a punishment system unheard of in its comprehensiveness. If you want to ever explore that, read Solzhenitsyn s Gulag Archipelago. If human science could guarantee a stable orthodoxy directed out of the centralized leadership of a political state, then the Soviet practice reached the millennium where lives can be regarded as Galileo regarded planetary bodies.
I sat no more than ten feet directly in front of Jean Kirkpatrick about eight years ago in a small room in the Old Senate Office Building, and she informed this little group of political chairmen I was in that it would be at least 100 years before we saw cracks in the Soviet Union because they had mastered every detail of deviance, and they could chart these things and predict them far in advance. Oh, Jean! Oh, Jean! She said the Kremlin owns all the tanks, all the jobs, all the schools, and all the food. But just the other day, I read in the New York Times that 8,000 criminal gangs, many of them white collar, operate freely today in what used to be the Soviet Union. An explosion of irrationality is upon them in spite of all their precautions. Finally, the suffocation of leading well-schooled lives got to be more than the Soviets could bear. Nobody could be trusted, not even the army. Everybody cheated, lied, stole, sabotaged orders, felt contempt for everyone else because they felt contempt for themselves.
The bedrock principles of human nature had just been violated too long, and so the whole apparatus fell apart. It lasted one lifetime. Our softer form of spiritual suffocation has already been in place for two lifetimes. The neglected genius of the West, neglected by the forced schooling institution as a deliberate policy, lies in its historical forging of a collection of spiritual doctrines which grant dignity and responsibility to ordinary individuals, not to elites. And I have the greatest respect for every other religious tradition in the world, but not one of them has ever done this or attempted to do this. It correctly identified the problems that not one of us can escape, the problems that you can't elude with money or intellect or charm, science, politics, or powerful connections. It also said that these problems were paradoxically fundamental to human happiness.
The Challenges of Original Sin
We first encounter a description of these problems in the Hebrew Bible arising as universal punishments for the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Even if you believe yourself too sophisticated to accept the story at face value, it matters little to my accounting because it is certain that you do share these burdens with believers, as you'll soon see.
What I'm speaking of is original sin, a concept which comes from the Christian interpretation of the Book of Genesis, which has powerfully affected the shape of every Western institution in the past 1500 years. The fallout from a millennium-long, often bloody debate about original sin was profound. Out of Genesis came four penalties which followed the expulsion from Eden. And if you'll forgive me some slight modernization of the Genesis account, I'll enumerate those burdens.
First was labor. There was no need to work in Eden, but now we would have to care for ourselves. Next, there was an emotional penalty of pain. There was no pain in Eden, but now our natures would be subject to being led astray, to overindulging, to feeling tremendous pain, even from natural acts like childbirth, whether we were good people or bad people.
Third, there was the amazingly two-edged free will penalty which included the right to choose evil which would now lurk everywhere. Recall that in Eden there was exactly one wrong thing to do. Now we would bear the constant stress of having to be morally wary or surrendering to sin.
And lastly and most important, we were assigned the limitation penalty. The term of human life would be strictly limited. Nobody escapes death. And the more you have in wealth, family, community, and friends, the more you will be tempted to curse God as you witness yourself day by day losing physical beauty and energy and eventually losing everything. If you know the Book of Job, you'll have an idea what I mean.
So that's some doom, I know you'll agree. The question is what to do about it. Since these penalties exist in a religious universe, but they also exist as matter-of-fact, everyday material realities, two different answers emerge depending upon how intensely one group or the other felt the spiritual pull.
The Response of the Dis-Spirited
I'll start with the group that cast its lot on the racehorse of shrewdness, calculation, and science to find a way out because that group has commanded forced schooling, our economy, our technology, and our public philosophy for over a century. Here is its response to the challenge of original sin.
On labor. Work is a necessary evil, but for the smart, it is a curse which can be avoided. Machines and electronic slaves are making work obsolete. Only stupid people work. Hired hands are there for those who understand this.
On pain. There are many scientific ways to avoid pain and enhance pleasure. Chemicals and other modern magic have made pain obsolete and, with them have come most problems of overindulgence. If you get drunk, megadoses of vitamin B will handle it. If you get fat, you can be lypo sucked; if you get old, there's plastic surgery. Grab for the gusto. You only go around once. Good feelings are what life is about. There isn't anything else.
On the third penalty, good and evil, the dis-spirited response denies that they even exist. When Alger Hiss accepted the presidency of the World Health Organization in 1948, his initiatory address said that the problem of good and evil was an illusion and had caused more harm in the world than anything else and everything else put together.
Every principle is negotiable. All ethics are situational. Nothing isn't relativistic, and you cannot know too much. With enough knowledge, you can duplicate the mythical God's powers. You can walk on water, you can fly, you can even create life.
Did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with fire in the Hebrew Bible? Well, wake up. We turned the night sky over the Sinai just a few years ago into flame with a gasoline air mixture which incinerated 100,000 retreating Iraqis in a matter of seconds. Only one out of six of those people even had a weapon. We are God, at least the most evolutionarily advanced among us are. And you know where you find them at Harvard, Princeton, and the Yale Divinity School.
And finally on aging and death. Aging and death are the ultimate evils, but magic is available in the form of pills, potions, lotions, surgery, aerobics to stave off sickness and extend life. Young is the name of the game when it's all said and done, so aging must be concealed as long as possible through dress, speech, personal training regimens, and attitude makeovers. We only live once, and life is the highest value, so it follows that the health industry holds the ultimate wisdom around which we should center our attention. Every day science gets closer and closer to making life eternal.
You see how easy it can be done to repudiate the penalties of original sin, to grant absolute absolution. Ideologically speaking, that was the main mission of forced schooling: to redirect loyalty away from God and those who lived in a godly fashion by the Western Christian tradition to belief in a corporate industry and specialized intelligence.
The Spiritual Response
What Western spirituality taught was much different. Rather than avoiding the punishments, it asked you to embrace them. It taught the marvelous paradox that willing acceptance of these burdens was the only way to a good, full life, the only way to inner peace. By bending your head in obedience, it would be raised up strong, brave, indomitable, and wise. Now let me go through the same list of penalties from the spiritual perspective.
About labor, the religious voice said that work was the only avenue to genuine self-respect. Work develops independence, self-reliance, resourcefulness, and a host of other valuable things. Work itself is a value elevated far above a paycheck, above praise, above accomplishment. Work produces a spiritual reward unknown to the reinforcement schedules of behavioral psychologists like B.F. Skinner, but only if you tackle it gladly, without resentment or avoidance, whether you re digging a ditch or building a skyscraper.
If the secular aversion to work is a thing to be rationalized, as schools do rationalize minimal effort, a horrifying problem is created for our entire society, one which has proven so far to be incurable: I refer to the psychological, social, and spiritual anxieties that arise when you have no useful work to do. Phony work, no matter how well paid or praised, causes such great emotional distortions to emerge that the major efforts of our civilization will soon go into solving them. But there is no hint of an answer in sight from any familiar modernist quarter.
In the economy we have allowed to evolve, the real political dilemma everywhere is keeping people occupied. Jobs have to be invented by government agencies and corporations, and both employ millions and millions of people for which they have no real use. It's an inside secret in the top echelon of CEOs that when you want to exercise your stock options, all you need to cause a sharp rise in the stock's value is to lay off 40,000 people. And that is done regularly and cynically independent of bottom lines. I learned that by reading Fortune.
Young men and women during their brightest, orneriest, and most energetic years are kept from working or from being a part of the general society as they would have been in Ben Franklin's day. This is done to keep them from aggravating this work situation either by working too eagerly, as kids are prone to do, or by inventing their own work which could cause a cataclysm in the economy. The violation of the injunction to work which Western spirituality imposed has backed us into a corner from which no authority has any idea how to extricate us. We cannot afford to let children learn to work as Amish children do for fear they will discover one of the great secrets of Western history: Work is not a curse, but a salvation.
About the second penalty, pain, Western spirituality has always regarded pain as a friend because it forces attention off the things of this world and puts it squarely back into the center of the universe, which is yourself. Pain and distress in all its forms are the ways we learn self-control (among other valuable lessons), but the siren call of feel-good lures us to court sensations and to despise pain as a spoiler of pleasure. Western spirituality teaches that pain is the road to self-knowledge, that self-knowledge is the road to trusting yourself; that without such trust, you cannot like yourself; without such self-liking, you can never dependably love another or love God.
About the third penalty, good and evil, Western spirituality demands you write your own script through the world. In a spiritual being, everything is morally charged, nothing is neutral, no excuses are accepted. Choosing is a daily burden, but one which makes you fully alive because literally everything then becomes a big deal.
I heard secondhand very recently about a woman who said to her mother about an affair she was conducting openly despite the protest of her husband and in full knowledge of her 6-year-old daughter, that, "It's no big deal." That's what she said to her mother. But if infidelity, divorce, and the shattering of innocence in a child isn't a big deal, then what could ever be one? By intensifying our moral sense, we feel the exhilaration of being alive in a universe where everything is a big deal.
To have a real life, you must bring as many choices as you can out of the preprogrammed mode and under the conscious command of your will. The bigger the life you seek, the less anything can be made automatic, as if you were only a piece of machinery. And because every choice has a moral dimension, it will incline toward one or the other pole of that classic dichotomy that people hate to hear about, good and evil.
Despite any extenuating circumstances and they are legion, I know the accumulating record of our choices marks us as worthy or as unworthy people. Even if nobody else is aware how your accounts stand, deep inside the running balance will vitally affect your ability to trust, to love, to gain peace and wisdom from your relationships and your community.
And finally, aging and death. In the Western spiritual tradition which grew out of a belief in original sin, the focus was primarily on the lesson that nothing in this world is more than an illusion. This is only a stage on some longer journey we do not understand. To fall in love with your physical beauty or your wealth, your health, your power to experience good feelings is to kid yourself because they will be taken away. An 86-year-old aunt of mine with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and a woman I love very, very dearly said to me tearfully after the death of her husband of 60 years who had left her millions of dollars, "They don't let you win. There is no way to win."
She had lived her life in the camp of science, honorably observing all its rules of rationality, but at this pass, science was useless to her. The Western spiritual tradition would reply, "Of course you can win. Everyone can win. And if you think you can't, then you re playing the wrong game."
The only thing that gives our time on earth any deep significance is that none of this will last. Only that temporality gives our relationships any urgency, and passion makes our choices matter. If you were indestructible, what a curse! How could it possibly matter whether you did anything today or next year or in the next hundred years, learned anything, loved anybody? There would always be time for everything and anything. What would be the big deal?
Everyone has had the experience of having too much candy or too much company or even too much money, so much that no individual purchase can involve real choices because real choices always close the door on other choices. I know that we would all like to have endless amounts of money, but the truth is too much money wipes out our ability to choose since we can now choose everything. That's what the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius discovered for himself in his reflections on what really matters. In the Meditations, which has become one of the greatest classics in Western history, he discovered that none of it was for sale. If you don't believe any emperor would feel this way, read the Meditations.
Too much time, like too much money, can hang heavily as well. Look at millions of bored school children. They know. The corrective for this boredom is full spiritual awareness that time is finite. As you spend time on one thing, you lose forever the chance to spend it on something else. It is a big deal.
Science cannot help with time. In fact, living scientifically so as not to waste time, becoming one of those poor souls who never goes anywhere without a list, is the best guarantee that your life will be eaten up by errands and that none of those errands will ever become the big deal that you desperately need to finally love yourself because the list of things still to do will go ever onward and onward. The best lives are full of contemplation, full of solitude, full of self-examination, full of private, personal attempts to engage the metaphysical mystery of existence.
There must be a reason that we are called human beings and not human doings. And I think the reason is to commemorate the way we can make the best of our limited time by alternating effort with reflection and reflection completely free of the get-something motive. Whenever I see a kid daydreaming in school, I'm careful never to shock the reverie out of existence.
Buddha is reputed to have said, "Do nothing. Time is too precious to waste." If that advice seems impossible in the world described in the evening news, reflect on the awesome fact that in spite of the hype, you still live on a planet where 67% of the world's entire population has never made or received a single phone call and where the Amish of Lancaster County live prosperous lives free of crime, divorce, or children who go beyond the 8th grade in school. And yet not a single one of that 150,000 member sect has a college degree, a tractor to plow with, or a telephone.
If I seem to have stepped away from original sin with these facts, it is not so. Until you can acknowledge that the factual contents of your mind upon which you base decisions have been inserted there by others whose motives you cannot fully understand, you will never come to appreciate the neglected genius of Western spirituality which teaches that you are the center of the universe and that the most important things worth knowing are innate in you already. They cannot be learned through schooling. They are self-taught through the burdens of having to work, having to sort out right from wrong, having to find a way to check your appetites, and having to age and die.
The effect of this formula on world history has been titanic. It brought every citizen in the West a mandate to be sovereign, which we still have not learned to use wisely, but which offers the potential of such wisdom the moment we figure out a way to put the neo-aristocracy of global business, global government, and massive institutions back into the Pandora's box where they belong.
Western spirituality granted every single individual a purpose for being alive, a purpose independent of mass behavior prescriptions, money, experts, governments. It conferred significance on every aspect of relationship and community. It carried inside its ideas the seeds of a self-activating curriculum which gives meaning to time.
In Western spirituality, everyone counts. It offers a basic, matter-of-fact set of practical guidelines, street lamps for the village of your life. Nobody has to wonder aimlessly in the universe of Western spirituality. What constitutes a meaningful life is clearly spelled out: self-knowledge, duty, responsibility, acceptance of aging and loss, preparation for death. In the neglected genius of the West, no teacher or guru does the work for you, you must do it for yourself.
The Guerrilla Curriculum: How to Get An Education In Spite of School
by John Taylor Gatto
An intelligent and sensitive woman named Mary Wallech, when asked by her grown son Martin, my good friend, to consider the possibility that America’s wars were never fought for the reasons offered by great newspapers and television stations, replied simply, "It’s better not to know." I recall Mrs. Wallech to you not to explore any implications of her thesis or that of her son, but to underline for all of us how difficult it is to come to terms with the concept "education," how slippery.
Was Mary Wallech content to remain ignorant, simply to be the peasant cut off from the larger world that her immigrant ancestors were, or was she wise beyond her years in understanding that the pursuit of forbidden knowledge often ruins the seeker, that the malice of the great ones who seek to fool ordinary people is unfathomable at bottom, another of the eternal deficiencies of human nature? That attending too closely to unraveling their deceits can unravel, instead, one’s faith in the ultimate goodness of the universe? That the loss of faith is a worse harm than being gulled?
These aren’t questions I have an answer for, and the Wallechs are all dead now so we can’t ask them, but observe how many layers of the secret reality beneath surfaces we are alerted to by the ability to ask such questions. Sharp questions signal a reflective mind at work and that in turn bespeaks the presence of an educated mind, not merely an intelligent one.
The closer you look at the word "education," the slipperier it gets. You wouldn’t expect the education of a successful Eskimo to be the same as that of the Kalahari Bushman and almost the instant you ears hear that challenge, they need no expert lecture to finish the analysis; an education in self-reliance and courage such as might mean the difference between satisfaction and misery in a remote village isn’t at all what the weight of city living demands.
James Bryant Conant, the longtime president of Harvard and godfather of the enormous "comprehensive" high school which has played such a leading role in the de-intellectualizing of the school years, once admitted to feeling great anger when he heard the question, "What is an education?" An education, said Conant, is "what a school delivers." While a logic class might call that begging the question, Conant maintained that it was the only answer that made sense. From a bigshot’s perspective he was probably right – you go along to get along, those who criticize the program are given short shrift.
But while it’s useful to know what a Harvard president thinks an education is, there are a lot of different takes of this business that are different: The anthropological point of view form the first half of the 20th century said that the point of education was to pass on the cultural heritage and assembled knowledge of the tribe, and to place the individual on the social map and explain that map to him: The notion of a Christian education was, and has remained, to know God and to serve His will: Classical Greek education was about excellence in morals and physique, in the Hellenic period intellect was added to the mix: For Pindar, the Roman poet and thinker, education was about learning to be yourself, about polishing and exercising your innate virtues and talents after, presumably, first discovering them.
I could supply a dozen other definitions, but my point isn’t to have you select one from the column of possibilities, only to point out what to this old schoolteacher has become painfully obvious: Most of us have only the vaguest idea what we mean when we talk about education. If other people praise our children, or if they are certified by supposedly competitive tests, then we assume that the mysterious process of education is happening. And maybe it is.
But maybe it isn’t either. One of the difficulties of trusting to luck or the judgment of others, of steering by instinct, is that we don’t have all the time in the world. As I write, your kids are being pushed willy-nilly, at breakneck speed, into a future whose appearance is difficult to see. All we know about it is that expert prognostications are certain to be wrong. Study after study, taking the predictions of 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago about the future and comparing them with reality leave no ground for optimism at all.
Even in a homely way we can see that the mechanisms of the pseudo-scientific seer don’t work. For many years the Wharton School of Business at Penn has shown that the overwhelming number of stock market prediction services – over 95% -- don’t do as well as the averages, that even the few who seem to do better over time are no more than the number that pure chance would produce, making its choices blindly by spinning a wheel or tossing a dart.
And it’s been a horrifying academic secret for decades that the children who walk away with the highest formal honors, the valedictorians and National Merit Scholars, have a horrendous performance record in later life.
Here’s a final homely example: Up until three years ago, I was certain that it would be possible, with close attention, to break the code of gambling on professional football, and consistently win by picking correctly against the professional odds out of Las Vegas. After all, the game was finite; its resources were visible, quantifiable and closely studied by specialists all over the country. But driving through Vegas one day three years ago, at the end of the season, I picked up a year-end summary of the predictions of 12 leading football experts who had predicted every game during the season past. The best did no better than chance, and most did much worse than that!
All three of the above sets of prophets, in finance, in the correlation of academic prowess and success, or in major league sports, are unable, using the tools of reason, to master the future.
All this, I think, argues against blindly trusting that outsiders will know with any degree of accuracy whether your kid is progressing toward the condition of being educated. Whatever that means.
What I think it means is that you and your kid have to be the principal judges of whether things are going right. And to do that, all of you, beginning with the oldest members of the team, have to think the matter of education through. What does it mean to you?
You don’t have to forget the Conants or the Greeks or all the rest, but you can’t trust them to pick the destination for you; most importantly, even if you agree with somebody else on the destination, you can’t trust anybody else to map the road to it for you. Horrifying as it may seem, you have to wrestle long and hard with the right questions to ask, to agonize about the scarcity of time and what might be most worthwhile to fill it with?
To get to Paris you have to know what Paris is first, then what your options of arrival are; to get to education . . . ditto. Gruesome as it may sound to people reared on multiple-choice tests, there isn’t any right answer, only an answer that’s right for you; if you leave that choice to someone else, the odds are against you.
To get you started on your own quest, I’ll tell you what I think an education is, for an American about to live through the 21st Century. As long as you remember that I wrote this for myself and not for the human race, it can’t do you much harm to peer into another mind at work on the problem.
Twelve Reflections on an Educated Person
1. An education person writes his own script through life, he is not a character in a government or corporation play, nor does he mouth the words of any intellectual’s Utopian fantasy. Education and intelligence aren’t the same things. The educated person is self-determined to a large degree.
2. Time doesn’t hang heavily on an educated person’s hands. She can be alone, productively, seldom at a loss for what to do with time.
3. An educated person possesses a blueprint of personal value, a unique philosophy which tends toward the absolute, not one plastically relative, altering to suit present circumstances. An educated person knows who he is, what he will tolerate, where to find peace. Yet at the same time, an educated person is aware of and respects community values.
4. An educated person knows her rights and knows how to defend those rights.
5. An educated person knows the ways of the human heart so well he’s tough to cheat or fool.
6. An educated person possesses useful knowledge. She can ride, hunt, sail a boat, build a house, grow food, etc.
7. An educated person understands the dynamics of relationships, partially from experience, partially from being well-read in great literature; as a consequence he can form healthy relationships wherever he is.
8. An educated person understands and accepts her own mortality; she understands that without death and aging, nothing would have any meaning. An educated person learns from all her ages, even from the last hours of her life.
9. An educated person can discover truth for himself; he has intense awareness of the profound significance of being (as distinguished form doing), and the utter importance of being here and now.
10. An educated person can figure out how to be useful.
11. An educated person has the capacity to create: New things, new experiences, new ideas.
12. Education is built around ten cores: They metaphysical reality, the historical reality, the personal reality, the physical world within reach, the physical world outside personal awareness, the possibilities of association, an understanding of vocation, homemaking, the challenges of adulthood, the challenges of loss, aging and death.
Education for me is a matter of approximations; I personally haven’t ever arrived totally at any of these destinations even though I’ve lived two-thirds of a century. But knowing these are values I cherish helps me to find my way in the wilderness, provides me with maps that keep my feet on the path.
The older I get the more it seems to me that all of the principles in my own private formulation you’ve just seen are related to one another, when you resolutely attend to any one of them you are actually working on all. It took me about a half century of living to distill out these principles, so my advice is not to be daunted when you begin to climb your own mountain.
As long as you accept that it’s your journey under your direction, and that it involves an obligation of real and continuous struggle on your part – that nobody else can do the struggling for you – you will prevail. Good luck.
. . .and then Tolkien:
LEAF BY NIGGLE
there was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations.
Niggle was a painter. Not a very successful one, partly because he had many other things to do. Most of these things he thought were a nuisance; but he did them fairly well, when he could not get out of them: which (in his opinion) was far too often. The laws in his country were rather strict. There were other hindrances, too. For one thing, he was sometimes just idle, and did nothing at all. For another, he was kind-hearted, in a way. You know the sort of kind heart: it made him uncomfortable more often than it made him do anything; and even when he did anything, it did not prevent him from grumbling, losing his temper, and swearing (mostly to himself). All the same, it did land him in a good many odd jobs for his neighbour, Mr. Parish, a man with a lame leg. Occasionally he even helped other people from further off, if they came and asked him to. Also, now and again, he remembered his journey, and began to pack a few things in an ineffectual way: at such times he did not paint very much.
He had a number of pictures on hand; most of them were too large and ambitious for his skill. He was the sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to catch its shape, and its sheen, and the glistening of dewdrops on its edges. Yet he wanted to paint a whole tree, with all of its leaves in the same style, and all of them different.
There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots. Strange birds came and settled on the twigs and had to be attended to. Then all round the Tree, and behind it, through the gaps in the leaves and boughs, a country began to open out; and there were glimpses of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow. Niggle lost interest in his other pictures; or else he took them and tacked them on to the edges of his great picture. Soon the canvas became so large that he had to get a ladder; and he ran up and down it, putting in a touch here, and rubbing out a patch there. When people came to call, he seemed polite enough, though he fiddled a little with the pencils on his desk. He listened to what they said, but underneath he was thinking all the time about his big canvas, in the tall shed that had been built for it out in his garden (on a plot where once he had grown potatoes).
He could not get rid of his kind heart. "I wish I was more strong-minded!" he sometimes said to himself, meaning that he wished other people's troubles did not make him feel uncomfortable. But for a long time he was not seriously perturbed. "At any rate, I shall get this one picture done, my real picture, before I have to go on that wretched journey," he used to say. Yet he was beginning to see that he could not put off his start indefinitely. The picture would have to stop just growing and get finished.
One day, Niggle stood a little way off from his picture and considered it with unusual attention and detachment. He could not make up his mind what he thought about it, and wished he had some friend who would tell him what to think. Actually it seemed to him wholly unsatisfactory, and yet very lovely, the only really beautiful picture in the world. What he would have liked at that moment would have been to see himself walk in, and slap him on the back, and say (with obvious sincerity): "Absolutely magnificent! I see exactly what you are getting at. Do get on with it, and don't bother about anything else! We will arrange for a public pension, so that you need not."
However, there was no public pension. And one thing he could see: it would need some concentration, some work, hard uninterrupted work, to finish the picture, even at its present size. He rolled up his sleeves, and began to concentrate. He tried for several days not to bother about other things. But there came a tremendous crop of interruptions. Things went wrong in his house; he had to go and serve on a jury in the town; a distant friend fell ill; Mr. Parish was laid up with lumbago; and visitors kept on coming. It was springtime, and they wanted a free tea in the country: Niggle lived in a pleasant little house, miles away from the town. He cursed them in his heart, but he could not deny that he had invited them himself, away back in the winter, when he had not thought it an "interruption" to visit the shops and have tea with acquaintances in the town. He tried to harden his heart; but it was not a success. There were many things that he had not the face to say no to, whether he thought them duties or not; and there were some things he was compelled to do, whatever he thought. Some of his visitors hinted that his garden was rather neglected, and that he might get a visit from an Inspector. Very few of them knew about his picture, of course; but if they had known, it would not have made much difference. I doubt if they would have thought that it mattered much. I dare say it was not really a very good picture, though it may have had some good passages. The Tree, at any rate, was curious. Quite unique in its way. So was Niggle; though he was also a very ordinary and rather silly little man.
At length Niggle's time became really precious. His acquaintances in the distant town began to remember that the little man had got to make a troublesome journey, and some began to calculate how long at the latest he could put off starting. They wondered who would take his house, and if the garden would be better kept.
The autumn came, very wet and windy. The little painter was in his shed. He was up on the ladder, trying to catch the gleam of the westering sun on the peak of a snow-mountain, which he had glimpsed just to the left of the leafy tip of one of the Tree's branches. He knew that he would have to be leaving soon: perhaps early next year. He could only just get the picture finished, and only so so, at that: there were some comers where he would not have time now to do more than hint at what he wanted.
There was a knock on the door. "Come in!" he said sharply, and climbed down the ladder. He stood on the floor twiddling his brush. It was his neighbour, Parish: his only real neighbour, all other folk lived a long way off. Still, he did not like the man very much: partly because he was so often in trouble and in need of help; and also because he did not care about painting, but was very critical about gardening. When Parish looked at Niggle's garden (which was often) he saw mostly weeds; and when he looked at Niggle's pictures (which was seldom) he saw only green and grey patches and black lines, which seemed to him nonsensical. He did not mind mentioning the weeds (a neighbourly duty), but he refrained from giving any opinion of the pictures. He thought this was very kind, and he did not realize that, even if it was kind, it was not kind enough. Help with the weeds (and perhaps praise for the pictures) would have been better.
"Well, Parish, what is it?" said Niggle.
"I oughtn't to interrupt you, I know," said Parish (without a glance at the picture). "You are very busy, I'm sure."
Niggle had meant to say something like that himself, but he had missed his chance. All he said was: "Yes."
"But I have no one else to turn to," said Parish.
"Quite so," said Niggle with a sigh: one of those sighs that are a private comment, but which are not made quite inaudible. "What can I do for you?"
"My wife has been ill for some days, and I am getting worried," said Parish. "And the wind has blown half the tiles on my roof, and water is pouring into the bedroom. I think I ought to get the doctor. And the builders, too, only they take so long to come. I was wondering if you had any wood and canvas you could spare, just to patch me up and see me through for a day or two." Now he did look at the picture.
"Dear, dear!" said Niggle. "You are unlucky. I hope it is no more than a cold that your wife has got. I'll come round presently, and help you move the patient downstairs."
"Thank you very much," said Parish, rather coolly. "But it is not a cold, it is a fever. I should not have bothered you for a cold. And my wife is in bed downstairs already. I can't get up and down with trays, not with my leg. But I see you are busy. Sorry to have troubled you. I had rather hoped you might have been able to spare the time to go for the doctor, seeing how I'm placed: and the builder too, if you really have no canvas you can spare."
"Of course," said Niggle; though other words were in his heart, which at the moment was merely soft without feeling at all kind. "I could go. I'll go, if you are really worried."
"I am worried, very worried. I wish I was not lame," said Parish.
So Niggle went. You see, it was awkward. Parish was his neighbour, and everyone else a long way off. Niggle had a bicycle, and Parish had not, and could not ride one. Parish had a lame leg, a genuine lame leg which gave him a good deal of pain: that had to be remembered, as well as his sour expression and whining voice. Of course, Niggle had a picture and barely time to finish it. But it seemed that this was a thing that Parish had to reckon with and not Niggle. Parish, however, did not reckon with pictures; and Niggle could not alter that. "Curse it!" he said to him self, as he got out his bicycle.
It was wet and windy, and daylight was waning. "No more work for me today!" thought Niggle, and all the time that he was riding, he was either swearing to himself, or imagining the strokes of his brush on the mountain, and on the spray of leaves beside it, that he had first imagined in the spring. His fingers twitched on the handlebars. Now he was out of the shed, he saw exactly the way in which to treat that shining spray which framed the distant vision of the mountain. But he had a sinking feeling in his heart, a sort of fear that he would never now get a chance to try it out.
Niggle found the doctor, and he left a note at the builder's. The office was shut, and the builder had gone home to his fireside. Niggle got soaked to the skin, and caught a chill himself. The doctor did not set out as promptly as Niggle had done. He arrived next day, which was quite convenient for him, as by that time there were two patients to deal with, in neighbouring houses. Niggle was in bed, with a high temperature, and marvellous patterns of leaves and involved branches forming in his head and on the ceiling. It did not comfort him to learn that Mrs. Parish had only had a cold, and was getting up. He turned his face to the wall and buried himself in leaves.
He remained in bed some time. The wind went on blowing. It took away a good many more of Parish's tiles, and some of Niggle's as well: his own roof began to leak. The builder did not come. Niggle did not care; not for a day or two. Then he crawled out to look for some food (Niggle had no wife). Parish did not come round: the rain had got into his leg and made it ache; and his wife was busy mopping up water, and wondering if "that Mr. Niggle" had forgotten to call at the builder's. Had she seen any chance of borrowing anything useful, she would have sent Parish round, leg or no leg; but she did not, so Niggle was left to himself.
At the end of a week or so Niggle tottered out to his shed again. He tried to climb the ladder, but it made his head giddy. He sat and looked at the picture, but there were no patterns of leaves or visions of mountains in his mind that day. He could have painted a far-off view of a sandy desert, but he had not the energy.
Next day he felt a good deal better. He climbed the ladder, and began to paint. He had just begun to get into it again, when there came a knock on the door.
"Damn!" said Niggle. But he might just as well have said "Come in!" politely, for the door opened all the same. This time a very tall man came in, a total stranger.
"This is a private studio," said Niggle. "I am busy. Go away!"
"I am an Inspector of Houses," said the man, holding up his appointment-card, so that Niggle on his ladder could see it. "Oh!" he said.
"Your neighbour's house is not satisfactory at all," said the Inspector.
"I know," said Niggle. "I took a note to the builders a long time ago, but they have never come. Then I have been ill."
"I see," said the Inspector. "But you are not ill now."
"But I'm not a builder. Parish ought to make a complaint to the Town Council, and get help from the Emergency Service."
"They are busy with worse damage than any up here," said the Inspector. "There has been a flood in the valley, and many families are homeless. You should have helped your neighbour to make temporary repairs and prevent the damage from getting more costly to mend than necessary. That is the law. There is plenty of material here: canvas, wood, waterproof paint."
"Where?" asked Niggle indignantly.
"There!" said the Inspector, pointing to the picture.
"My picture!" exclaimed Niggle.
"I dare say it is," said the Inspector. "But houses come first. That is the law."
"But I can't . . ." Niggle said no more, for at that moment another man came in. Very much like the Inspector he was, almost his double: tall, dressed all in black.
"Come along!" he said. "I am the Driver."
Niggle stumbled down from the ladder. His fever seemed to have come on again, and his head was swimming; he felt cold all over.
"Driver? Driver?" he chattered. "Driver of what?"
"You, and your carriage," said the man. "The carriage was ordered long ago. It has come at last. It's waiting. You start today on your journey, you know."
"There now!" said the Inspector. "You'll have to go; but it's a bad way to start on your journey, leaving your jobs undone. Still, we can at least make some use of this canvas now."
"Oh, dear!" said poor Niggle, beginning to weep. "And it's not, not even finished!"
"Not finished?" said the Driver. "Well, it's finished with, as far as you're concerned, at any rate. Come along!"
Niggle went, quite quietly. The Driver gave him no time to pack, saying that he ought to have done that before, and they would miss the train; so all Niggle could do was to grab a little bag in the hall. He found that it contained only a paint-box and a small book of his own sketches: neither food nor clothes. They caught the train all right. Niggle was feeling very tired and sleepy; he was hardly aware of what was going on when they bundled him into his compartment. He did not care much: he had forgotten where he was supposed to be going, or what he was going for. The train ran almost at once into a dark tunnel.
Niggle woke up in a very large, dim railway station. A Porter went along the platform shouting, but he was not shouting the name of the place; he was shouting Niggle!
Niggle got out in a hurry, and found that he had left his little bag behind. He turned back, but the train had gone away.
"Ah, there you are!" said the Porter. "This way! What! No luggage? You will have to go to the Workhouse."
Niggle felt very ill, and fainted on the platform. They put him in an ambulance and took him to the Workhouse Infirmary.
He did not like the treatment at all. The medicine they gave him was bitter. The officials and attendants were unfriendly, silent, and strict; and he never saw anyone else, except a very severe doctor, who visited him occasionally. It was more like being in a prison than in a hospital. He had to work hard, at stated hours: at digging, carpentry, and painting bare boards all one plain colour. He was never allowed outside, and the windows all looked inwards. They kept him in the dark for hours at a stretch, "to do some thinking," they said. He lost count of time. He did not even begin to feel better, not if that could be judged by whether he felt any pleasure in doing anything. He did not, not even in getting into bed.
At first, during the first century or so (I am merely giving his impressions), he used to worry aimlessly about the past. One thing he kept on repeating to himself, as he lay in the dark: "I wish I had called on Parish the first morning after the high winds began. I meant to. The first loose tiles would have been easy to fix. Then Mrs. Parish might never have caught cold. Then I should not have caught cold either. Then I should have had a week longer." But in time he forgot what it was that he had wanted a week longer for. If he worried at all after that, it was about his jobs in the hospital. He planned them out, thinking how quickly he could stop that board creaking, or rehang that door, or mend that table-leg. Probably he really became rather useful, though no one ever told him so. But that, of course, cannot have been the reason why they kept the poor little man so long. They may have been waiting for him to get better, and judging "better" by some odd medical standard of their own.
At any rate, poor Niggle got no pleasure out of life, not what he had been used to call pleasure. He was certainly not amused. But it could not be denied that he began to have a feeling of—well, satisfaction: bread rather than jam. He could take up a task the moment one bell rang, and lay it aside promptly the moment the next one went, all tidy and ready to be continued at the right time. He got through quite a lot in a day, now; he finished small things off neatly. He had no "time of his own" (except alone in his bed-cell), and yet he was becoming master of his time; he began to know just what he could do with it. There was no sense of rush. He was quieter inside now, and at resting-time he could really rest.
Then suddenly they changed all his hours; they hardly let him go to bed at all; they took him off carpentry altogether and kept him at plain digging, day after day. He took it fairly well. It was a long while before he even began to grope in the back of his mind for the curses that he had practically forgotten. He went on digging, till his back seemed broken, his hands were raw, and he felt that he could not manage another spadeful. Nobody thanked him. But the doctor came and looked at him.
"Knock off!" he said. "Complete rest—in the dark."
Niggle was lying in the dark, resting completely; so that, as he had not been either feeling or thinking at all, he might have been lying there for hours or for years, as far as he could tell. But now he heard Voices: not voices that he had ever heard before. There seemed to be a Medical Board, or perhaps a Court of Inquiry, going on close at hand, in an adjoining room with the door open, possibly, though he could not see any light.
"Now the Niggle case," said a Voice, a severe voice, more severe than the doctor's.
"What was the matter with him?" said a Second Voice, a voice that you might have called gentle, though it was not soft—it was a voice of authority, and sounded at once hopeful and sad. "What was the matter with Niggle? His heart was in the right place."
"Yes, but it did not function properly," said the First Voice. "And his head was not screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all. Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself! He never got ready for his journey. He was moderately well-off, and yet he arrived here almost destitute, and had to be put in the paupers' wing. A bad case, I am afraid. I think he should stay some time yet."
"It would not do him any harm, perhaps," said the Second Voice. "But, of course, he is only a little man. He was never meant to be anything very much; and he was never very strong. Let us look at the Records. Yes. There are some favourable points, you know."
"Perhaps," said the First Voice; "but very few that will really bear examination."
"Well," said the Second Voice, "there are these. He was a painter by nature. In a minor way, of course; still, a Leaf by Niggle has a charm of its own. He took a great deal of pains with leaves, just for their own sake. But he never thought that that made him important. There is no note in the Records of his pretending, even to himself, that it excused his neglect of things ordered by the law."
"Then he should not have neglected so many," said the First Voice.
"All the same, he did answer a good many Calls."
"A small percentage, mostly of the easier sort, and he called those Interruptions. The Records are full of the word, together with a lot of complaints and silly imprecations."
"True; but they looked like interruptions to him, of course, poor little man. And there is this: he never expected any Return, as so many of his sort call it. There is the Parish case, the one that came in later. He was Niggle's neighbour, never did a stroke for him, and seldom showed any gratitude at all. But there is no note in the Records that Niggle expected Parish's gratitude; he does not seem to have thought about it."
"Yes, that is a point," said the First Voice; "but rather small. I think you will find Niggle often merely forgot. Things he had to do for Parish he put out of his mind as a nuisance he had done with."
"Still, there is this last report," said the Second Voice, "that wet bicycle-ride. I rather lay stress on that. It seems plain that this was a genuine sacrifice: Niggle guessed that he was throwing away his last chance with his picture, and he guessed, too, that Parish was worrying unnecessarily."
"I think you put it too strongly," said the First Voice. "But you have the last word. It is your task, of course, to put the best interpretation on the facts. Sometimes they will bear it. What do you propose?"
"I think it is a case for a little gentle treatment now," said the Second Voice.
Niggle thought that he had never heard anything so generous as that Voice. It made Gentle Treatment sound like a load of rich gifts, and the summons to a King's feast. Then suddenly Niggle felt ashamed. To hear that he was considered a case for Gentle Treatment overwhelmed him, and made him blush in the dark. It was like being publicly praised, when you and all the audience knew that the praise was not deserved. Niggle hid his blushes in the rough blanket.
There was a silence. Then the First Voice spoke to Niggle, quite close. "You have been listening," it said.
"Yes," said Niggle.
"Well, what have you to say?"
"Could you tell me about Parish?" said Niggle. "I should like to see him again. I hope he is not very ill? Can you cure his leg? It used to give him a wretched time. And please don't worry about him and me. He was a very good neighbour, and let me have excellent potatoes very cheap, which saved me a lot of time."
"Did he?" said the First Voice. "I am glad to hear
There was another silence. Niggle heard the Voices receding. "Well, I agree," he heard the First Voice say in the distance. "Let him go on to the next stage. Tomorrow, if you like."
Niggle woke up to find that his blinds were drawn, and his little cell was full of sunshine. He got up, and found that some comfortable clothes had been put out for him, not hospital uniform. After breakfast the doctor treated his sore hands, putting some salve on them that healed them at once. He gave Niggle some good advice, and a bottle of tonic (in case he needed it). In the middle of the morning they gave Niggle a biscuit and a glass of wine; and then they gave him a ticket.
"You can go to the railway station now," said the doctor. "The Porter will look after you. Good-bye."
Niggle slipped out of the main door, and blinked a little. The sun was very bright. Also he had expected to walk out into a large town, to match the size of the station; but he did not. He was on the top of a hill, green, bare, swept by a keen invigorating wind. Nobody else was about. Away down under the hill he could see the roof of the station shining.
He walked downhill to the station briskly, but without hurry. The Porter spotted him at once.
"This way!" he said, and led Niggle to a bay, in which there was a very pleasant little local train standing: one coach, and a small engine, both very bright, clean, and newly painted. It looked as if this was their first run. Even the track that lay in front of the engine looked new: the rails shone, the chairs were painted green, and the sleepers gave off a delicious smell of fresh tar in the warm sunshine. The coach was empty.
"Where does this train go, Porter?" asked Niggle.
"I don't think they have fixed its name yet," said the Porter. "But you'll find it all right." He shut the door.
The train moved off at once. Niggle lay back in his seat. The little engine puffed along in a deep cutting with high green banks, roofed with blue sky. It did not seem very long before the engine gave a whistle, the brakes were put on, and the train stopped. There was no station, and no signboard, only a flight of steps up the green embankment. At the top of the steps there was a wicket-gate in a trim hedge. By the gate stood his bicycle; at least, it looked like his, and there was a yellow label tied to the bars with niggle written on it in large black letters.
Niggle pushed open the gate, jumped on the bicycle, and went bowling downhill in the spring sunshine. Before long he found that the path on which he had started had disappeared, and the bicycle was rolling along over a marvellous turf. It was green and close; and yet he could see every blade distinctly. He seemed to remember having seen or dreamed of that sweep of grass somewhere or other. The curves of the land were familiar somehow. Yes: the ground was becoming level, as it should, and now, of course, it was beginning to rise again. A great green shadow came between him and the sun. Niggle looked up, and fell off his bicycle.
Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished. If you could say that of a Tree that was alive, its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind that Niggle had so often felt or guessed, and had so often failed to catch. He gazed at the Tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide.
"It's a gift!" he said. He was referring to his art, and also to the result; but he was using the word quite literally.
He went on looking at the Tree. All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only. he had had time. Nothing was written on them, they were just exquisite leaves, yet they were dated as clear as a calendar. Some of the most beautiful—and the most characteristic, the most perfect examples of the Niggle style—were seen to have been produced in collaboration with Mr. Parish: there was no other way of putting it.
The birds were building in the Tree. Astonishing birds: how they sang! They were mating, hatching, growing wings, and flying away singing into the Forest, even while he looked at them. For now he saw that the Forest was there too, opening out on either side, and marching away into the distance. The Mountains were glimmering far away.
After a time Niggle turned towards the Forest. Not because he was tired of the Tree, but he seemed to have got it all clear in his mind now, and was aware of it, and of its growth, even when he was not looking at it. As he walked away, he discovered an odd thing: the Forest, of course, was a distant Forest, yet he could approach it, even enter it, without its losing that particular charm. He had never before been able to walk into the distance without turning it into mere surroundings. It really added a considerable attraction to walking in the country, because, as you walked, new distances opened out; so that you now had doubled, treble, and quadruple distances, doubly, trebly, and quadruply enchanting. You could go on and on, and have a whole country in a garden, or in a picture (if you preferred to call it that). You could go on and on, but not perhaps for ever. There were the Mountains in the background. They did get nearer, very slowly.
They did not seem to belong to the picture, or only as a link to something else, a glimpse through the trees of something different, a further stage: another picture.
Niggle walked about, but he was not merely pottering. He was looking round carefully. The Tree was finished, though not finished with—"Just the other way about to what it used to be," he thought—but in the Forest there were a number of inconclusive regions, that still needed work and thought. Nothing needed altering any longer, nothing was wrong, as far as it had gone, but it needed continuing up to a definite point. Niggle saw the point precisely, in each case. He sat down under a very beautiful distant tree—a variation of the Great Tree, but quite individual, or it would be with a little more attention—and he considered where to begin work, and where to end it, and how much time was required. He could not quite work out his scheme.
"Of course!" he said. "What I need is Parish. There are lots of things about earth, plants, and trees that he knows and I don't. This place cannot be left just as my private park. I need help and advice: I ought to have got it sooner."
He got up and walked to the place where he had decided to begin work. He took off his coat. Then, down in a little sheltered hollow hidden from a further view, he saw a man looking round rather bewildered. He was leaning on a spade, but plainly did not know what to do. Niggle hailed him. "Parish!" he called.
Parish shouldered his spade and came up to him. He still limped a little. They did not speak, just nodded as they used to do, passing in the lane; but now they walked about together, arm in arm. Without talking, Niggle and Parish agreed exactly where to make the small house and garden, which seemed to be required.
As they worked together, it became-plain that Niggle was now the better of the two at ordering his time and getting things done. Oddly enough, it was Niggle who became most absorbed in building and gardening, while Parish often wandered about looking at trees, and especially at the Tree.
One day Niggle was busy planting a quickset hedge, and Parish was lying on the grass near by, looking attentively at a beautiful and shapely little yellow flower growing in the green turf. Niggle had put a lot of them among the roots of his Tree long ago. Suddenly Parish looked up: his face was glistening in the sun, and he was smiling.
"This is grand!" he said. "I oughtn't to be here, really. Thank you for putting in a word for me."
"Nonsense," said Niggle. "I don't remember what I said, but anyway it was not nearly enough."
"Oh yes, it was," said Parish. "It got me out a lot sooner. That Second Voice, you know: he had me sent here; he said you had asked to see me. I owe it to you." "No. You owe it to the Second Voice," said Niggle. "We both do."
They went on living and working together: I do not know how long. It is no use denying that at first they occasionally disagreed, especially when they got tired. For at first they did sometimes get tired. They found that they had both been provided with tonics. Each bottle had the same label: A few drops to be taken in water from the Spring, before resting.
They found the Spring in the heart of the Forest;
only once long ago had Niggle imagined it, but he had never drawn it. Now he perceived that it was the source of the lake that glimmered, far away and the nourishment of all that grew in the country. The few drops made the water astringent, rather bitter, but invigorating; and it cleared the head. After drinking they rested alone; and then they got up again and things went on merrily. At such times Niggle would think of wonderful new flowers and plants, and Parish always knew exactly how to set them and where they would do best. Long before the tonics were finished they had ceased to need them. Parish lost his limp.
As their work drew to an end they allowed themselves more and more time for walking about, looking at the trees, and the flowers, and the lights and shapes, and the lie of the land. Sometimes they sang together; but Niggle found that he was now beginning to turn his eyes, more and more often, towards the Mountains.
The time came when the house in the hollow, the garden, the grass, the forest, the lake, and all the country was nearly complete, in its own proper fashion. The Great Tree was in full blossom.
"We shall finish this evening," said Parish one day. "After that we will go for a really long walk."
They set out next day, and they walked until they came right through the distances to the Edge. It was not visible, of course: there was no line, or fence, or wall; but they knew that they had come to the margin of that country. They saw a man, he looked like a shepherd; he was walking towards them, down the grass-slopes that led up into the Mountains.
"Do you want a guide?" he asked. "Do you-want to go on?"
For a moment a shadow fell between Niggle and Parish, for Niggle knew that he did now want to go on, and (in a sense) ought to go on; but Parish did not want to go on, and was not yet ready to go.
"I must wait for my wife," said Parish to Niggle. "She'd be lonely. I rather gathered that they would send her after me, some time or other, when she was ready, and when I had got things ready for her. The house is finished now, as well as we could make it; but I should like to show it to her. She'll be able to make it better, I expect: more homely. I hope she'll like this country, too." He turned to the shepherd. "Are you a guide?" he asked. "Could you tell me the name of this country?"
"Don't you know?" said the man. "It is Niggle's Country. It is Niggle's Picture, or most of it: a little of it is now Parish's Garden."
"Niggle's Picture!" said Parish in astonishment. "Did you think of all this, Niggle? I never knew you were so clever. Why didn't you tell me?"
"He tried to tell you long ago," said the man; "but you would not look. He had only got canvas and paint in those days, and you wanted to mend your roof with them. This is what you and your wife used to call Niggle's Nonsense, or That Daubing."
"But it did not look like this then, not real," said Parish.
"No, it was only a glimpse then," said the man; "but you might have caught the glimpse, if you had ever thought it worth while to try."
"I did not give you much chance," said Niggle. "I never tried to explain. I used to call you Old Earth-grubber. But what does it matter? We have lived and worked together now. Things might have been different, but they could not have been better. All the same, I am afraid I shall have to be going on. We shall meet again, I expect: there must be many more things we can do together. Good-bye!" He shook Parish's hand warmly: a good, firm, honest hand it seemed. He turned and looked back for a moment. The blossom on the Great Tree was shining like flame. All the birds were flying in the air and singing. Then he smiled, and nodded to Parish, and went off with the shepherd.
He was going to learn about sheep, and the high pasturages, and look at a wider sky, and walk ever further and further towards the Mountains, always uphill. Beyond that I cannot guess what became of him. Even little Niggle in his old home could glimpse the Mountains far away, and they got into the borders of his picture; but what they are really like, and what lies beyond them, only those can say who have climbed them.
"I think he was a silly little man," said Councillor Tompkins. "Worthless, in fact; no use to Society at all."
"Oh, I don't know," said Atkins, who was nobody of importance, just a schoolmaster. "I am not so sure: it depends on what you mean by use."
"No practical or economic use," said Tompkins. "I dare say he could have been made into a serviceable cog of some sort, if you schoolmasters knew your business. But you don't, and so we get useless people of his sort. If I ran this country I should put him and his like to some job that they're fit for, washing dishes in a communal kitchen or something, and I should see that they did it properly. Or I would put them away. I should have put him away long ago."
"Put him away? You mean you'd have made him start on the journey before his time?"
"Yes, if you must use that meaningless old expression. Push him through the tunnel into the great Rubbish Heap: that's what I mean."
"Then you don't think painting is worth anything, not worth preserving, or improving, or even making use of?"
"Of course, painting has uses," said Tompkins. "But you couldn't make use of his painting. There is plenty of scope for bold young men not afraid of new ideas and new methods. None for this old-fashioned stuff. Private day-dreaming. He could not have designed a telling poster to save his life. Always fiddling with leaves and flowers. I asked him why, once. He said he thought they were pretty! Can you believe it? He said pretty! 'What, digestive and genital organs of plants?' I said to him; and he had nothing to answer. Silly footler."
"Footler," sighed Atkins. "Yes, poor little man, he never finished anything. Ah well, his canvases have been put to 'better uses,' since he went. But I am not sure, Tompkins. You remember that large one, the one they used to patch the damaged house next door to his, after the gales and floods? I found a corner of it torn off, lying in a field. It was damaged, but legible: a mountain-peak and a spray of leaves. I can't get it out of my mind."
"Out of your what?" said Tompkins.
"Who are you two talking about?" said Perkins, intervening in the cause of peace: Atkins had flushed rather red.
"The name's not worth repeating," said Tompkins. "I don't know why we are talking about him at all. He did not live in town."
"No," said Atkins; "but you had your eye on his house, all the same. That is why you used to go and call, and sneer at him while drinking his tea. Well, you've got his house now, as well as the one in town, so you need not grudge him his name. We were talking about Niggle, if you want to know, Perkins."
"Oh, poor little Niggle!" said Perkins. "Never knew he painted."
That was probably the last time Niggle's name ever came up in conversation. However, Atkins preserved the odd corner. Most of it crumbled; but one beautiful leaf remained intact. Atkins had it framed. Later he left it to the Town Museum, and for a long while "Leaf: by Niggle" hung there in a recess, and was noticed by a few eyes. But eventually the Museum was burnt down, and the leaf, and Niggle, were entirely forgotten in his old country.
"It is proving very useful indeed," said the Second Voice. "As a holiday, and a refreshment. It is splendid for convalescence; and not only for that, for many it is the best introduction to the Mountains. It works wonders in some cases. I am sending more and more there. They seldom have to come back."
"No, that is so," said the First Voice. "I think we shall have to give the region a name. What do you propose?"
"The Porter settled that some time ago," said the Second Voice. "Train for Niggle's Parish in the bay: he has shouted that for a long while now. Niggle's Parish. I sent a message to both of them to tell them."
"What did they say?"
"They both laughed. Laughed—the Mountains rang with it!"