Archive for February, 2012

Save a heirloom seed company. Don’t let Monsanto force it to fold!

Landreth seed is an heirloom seed company that is in danger of being taken over by Monsanto. They are pushing to sell lots of catalogs to try to pay off a debt to avoid this fate:

Landreth seed is an heirloom seed company that is in danger of being taken over by Monsanto. They are pushing to sell lots of catalogs to try to pay off a debt to avoid this fate:

Pass it on!

We need the richness of many genetic strains of seeds. If yu can help Landreth out, please do not delay.


Elisabeth Kübler-Ross – Death Does Not Exist

Death Does Not Exist
• By Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
• CoEvolution Quarterly
• Summer 1977

I was thinking for a long time what I’m going to talk with you about, this morning. I’m going to share with you how a two-pound “nothing” found her way, her path in life. How I learned what I’m going to share with you, and how you too can be convinced that this life here, this time that you’re in a physical body, is a very, very short span of your total existence. It’s a very important time of your existence because you’re here for a very special purpose, which is yours and yours alone. If you live well, you will never have to worry about dying. You can do that even if you have only one day to live. The question of time is not terribly important, it is a man-made, artificial concept anyway.

To live well means basically to learn to love. I was very touched yesterday when the speaker mentioned, “Faith, love and hope, but the biggest of the three is love.” In Switzerland you have confirmation when you’re 16, and you get a saying that is supposed to be a leading word throughout life. Since we were triplets, they had to find the one for three of us, and they picked love, faith, and hope, and I happened to be love.

I’m going to talk with you about love today. Which is life, and death; it is all the same thing. I mentioned briefly that I was born an “unwanted” child. Not that my parents didn’t want a child. They wanted a girl very badly, but a pretty, beautiful, ten-pound girl. They did not expect triplets, and when I came, I was only two pounds and very ugly, and no hair, and was a terrible, terrible big disappointment. Then 15 minutes later the second child came, and after 20 minutes a 6-1/2 pound baby came, and they were very happy. But they would have liked to give two of them back.

I think that nothing in life is a coincidence. Not even that, because I had the feeling that I had to prove all my life that even a two-pound nothing . . . that I had to work really hard, like some blind people think that they have to work ten times as hard to keep a job. I had to prove very hard that I was worth living.

When I was a teenager and the war was over, I needed and wanted to do something for this world which was in a terrible mess at the end of the war. I had promised to myself that if the war ever ended that I would go and walk all the way to Poland and Russia and start first aid stations and help stations. I kept my promise, and this is, I think, where this whole work on death and dying started.

I personally saw the concentration camps. I personally saw train loads of baby shoes, train loads of human hair from the victims of the concentration camps taken to Germany to make pillows. When you smell the concentration camps with your own nose, when you see the crematoriums, when you’re very young like I was, when you are really an adolescent in a way, you will never ever be the same any more, after that. Because what you see is the inhumanity of man and that each one of us in this room is capable of becoming a Nazi monster. That part of you you have to acknowledge. But each one of you in this room also has the ability of becoming a Mother Teresa, if you know who she is. She’s one of my saints — a woman in India who picks up dying children, starving, dying people, and believes very strongly that even if they’re dying in her arms, that if she has been able to love them for five minutes, that this is worthwhile, that they have lived. She is a very beautiful human being, if you ever have a chance of seeing her.

When I came to this country, after having been a country doctor in Switzerland, and a very happy one, I had prepared my life to go to India to be a physician in India like Schweitzer was in Africa. But two weeks before I was supposed to leave I was notified that the whole project in India had fallen through. And instead of the jungles of India I ended up in the jungles of New York, marrying an American, who took me to the one place in the world which was at the bottom of my list of where I ever wanted to live. And that too was not coincidence, because to go to a place that you love is easy, but to go to a place where you hate every bit of it, that is a test. That is given to you to see if you really mean it.

I ended up at Manhattan State Hospital, which is another dreadful place. Not knowing really any psychiatry, and being very lonely and miserable and unhappy, and not wanting to make my new husband unhappy, I opened up to the patients. I identified with their misery and their loneliness and their desperation and suddenly my patients started to talk. People who didn’t talk for twenty years. They started to verbalize, share their feelings, and I suddenly knew that I was not alone in my misery, thought it wasn’t half as miserable as living in a state hospital. For two years I did nothing else but live and work with these patients, sharing every Hanukkah, Christmas, Passover, and Easter with them, just to share their loneliness, not knowing much psychiatry, the theoretic psychiatry that one ought to know. I barely understood their English, but we loved each other. We really cared. After two years 94 percent of those patients were discharged, self-supporting, into New York City, many of them having their own jobs and able to function.

What I’m trying to say to you is that knowledge helps, but knowledge alone is not going to help anybody. If you do not use your head and your heart and your soul, you’re not going to help a single human being. This is what so-called hopeless, schizophrenic patients taught me. In all my work with patients, whether they were chronic schizophrenics, or severely retarded children, or dying patients, each one has a purpose. Each one can not only learn and be helped by you, but can actually become your teacher. That is true of 6-month old retarded babies who can’t speak. That is true of hopeless schizophrenic patients, who behave like animals when you see them for the first time. But the best teachers in the world are dying patients.

Dying patients, when you take the time out and sit with them, they teach you about the stages of dying. They teach you how they go through the denial and the anger, and the “Why me?”, and question God and reject Him for a while. They bargain with Him, and then go through horrible depressions, and if they have another human being who cares, they may be able to reach a stage of acceptance. But that is not just typical of dying, really has nothing to do with dying. We only call it the “stages of dying” for lack of a better word. If you lose a boyfriend or a girlfriend, or if you lose your job, or if you are moved from your home where you have lived for 50 years and have to go to a nursing home, some people if they lose a parakeet, some people if they only lose their contact lenses, go through the same stages of dying. This is, I think, the meaning of suffering. All the hardships that you face in life, all the tests and tribulations, all the nightmares and all the losses, most people still view this as a curse, as a punishment by God, as something negative. If you would only know that nothing that comes to you is negative. I mean nothing. All the trials and the tribulations, and the biggest losses that you ever experience, things that make you say, “If I had known about this I would never have been able to make it through,” are gifts to you. It’s like somebody has to — what do you call that when you make the hot iron into a tool? — you have to temper the iron. It is an opportunity that you are given to grow. That is the sole purpose of existence on this planet Earth. You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden and somebody brings you gorgeous food on a silver platter. But you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain and learn to accept it, not as a curse or a punishment, but as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.

I will give you a clinical example of that. In one of my one-week workshops — they are one-week live-in retreats — was a young woman. She did not have to face the death of a child, but she faced several what we call “little deaths.” Not very little in her eyes. When she gave birth to a second baby girl which she was very much looking forward to, she was told in a not very human way that the child was severely
retarded, in fact that the child would never be able to even recognize her as her mother. When she became aware of this her husband walked out on her, and she was suddenly faced with two young, very needy, very dependent children, no money, no income, and, no help.

She went through a terrible denial. She couldn’t even use the word retardation. She then went through fantastic anger at God, cursed him out, first he didn’t exist at all, and then he was a mean old you know what. Then she went through tremendous bargaining – if the child at least would be educatable, or at least could recognize her as a mother. Then she found some genuine meaning in having this child, and I’ll simply share with you how she finally resolved it. It began to dawn on her that nothing in life is coincidence. She tried to look at this child and tried to figure out what purpose a little vegetable-like human being has in this Earth. She found the solution, and I’m sharing this with you in the form of a poem that she wrote. She’s not a poetess, but it’s a very moving poem. She identifies with her child and talks to her godmother. And she called the poem “To My Godmother.”
What is a godmother?
I know you’re very special,
You waited many months for my arrival.
You were there and saw me when
only minutes old,
and changed my diapers when I had been there
just a few days.
You had dreams of your first godchild.
She would be precocious like your sister,
You’d see her off to school, college,
and marriage.
How would I turn out? A credit to those
who have me?
God had other plans for me. I’m just me.
No one ever used the word precocious about me.
Something hasn ‘t hooked up right in my mind.
I’ll be a child of God for all time.
I’m happy. I love everyone, and they love me.
There aren ‘t many words I can say,
But I can communicate and understand affection,
warmth, softness and love.
There are special people in my life.
Sometimes I sit and smile and sometimes cry,
I wonder why?
I am happy and loved by special friends.
What more could I ask for?
Oh sure, I’ll never go to college, or marry.
But don’t be sad. God made me very special.
I cannot hurt. Only love.
And maybe God needs some children who
simply love.
Do you remember when I was baptized,
You held me, hoping I wouldn ‘t cry and –
you wouldn’t drop me?
Neither happened and it was a very happy day.
Is that why you are my godmother?
I know you are soft and warm, give me loves,
but there is something very special in your eyes.
I see that look and feel that love from others.
I must be special to have so many mothers.
– No, I will never be a success in the eyes of
the world.
But I promise you something very few people can.
Since all I know is love, goodness and innocence.
Eternity will be ours to share, my godmother.
This is the same mother who, a few months before, was willing to let this toddler crawl out near the swimming pool and pretend to go to the kitchen so the child would fall into the swimming pool and drown. I hope that you appreciate the change that has taken place in this mother.

This is what takes place in all of you if you are willing to always look at anything that happens in your life from both sides of the coin. There is never just one side to it. You may be terminally ill, you may have a lot of pain, you may not find somebody to talk to about them. You may feel that it’s unfair to take you away in the middle of your life, that you haven’t really started to live yet. Look at the other side of the coin.

You’re suddenly one of the few fortunate people who can throw overboard all the “baloney” that you’ve carried with you. You can go to somebody and say, “I love you,” when they can still hear it, and then they can skip the schmaltzy eulogies afterwards. Because you know that you are here for a very short
time, you can finally do the things that you really want to do. How many of you in this room, how many of you do not truly do the kind of work that you really want to do from the bottom of your heart?

You should go home and change your work. Do you know what I’m saying to you? Nobody should do something because somebody tells them they ought to do that. This is like forcing a child to learn a profession that is not its own. If you listen to your own inner voice, to your own inner wisdom, which is far greater than anybody else’s as far as you’re concerned, you will not go wrong and you will know what to do with your life. And then time is no longer relevant. After working with dying patients for many years and learning from them what life is all about, what regrets people have at the end of their life when it seems to be too late, I began to wonder what death is all about. Nobody ever defines death except in physical language — first it was no heart beat, no blood pressure, no vital signs; then it became more sophisticated and added EEG and became a several page description. But that too is not sufficient, because it only deals with the physical body.

One of my patients helped me to find out how to begin research into finding out what death really is, and with it, naturally, the question of life after death. Mrs. S had been in and out of the intensive care unit 15 times, never was expected to live, but always made a comeback. In one of her hospitalizations she could not get to Chicago, and she was hospitalized in a local hospital. She remembers being put in a private room, very close to death, and could not make up her mind whether she should call the nurse because she suddenly sensed that she was moments away from death. One part of her wanted very much to lean back in the pillows and finally be at peace. But the other part of her needed to make it through one more time because her youngest son was not yet of age. Before she made the decision to call the nurse and go through this whole rigamarole once more, a nurse apparently walked into her room, took one look at her, and dashed out.

At that moment, she saw herself floating out of her physical body, floating a few feet above her body. She was very surprised at seeing her corpse in that bed. She made some very funny remarks about how pale she looked, and then to her utter amazement, described how the resuscitation team dashed into her room. She described in minute details how they worked on her, who, was in the room first, who was in last, what they wore, what they said — she even repeated a joke of one of the residents who apparently was very apprehensive and started to joke. In the meantime while everybody worked very desperately to bring her back to physical life, she floated a few feet above her body and had only one need, one wish — to tell them down there, “Cool it, relax, take it easy, it’s OK.” Those are her own words! The more she tried, the more she realized that she could perceive absolutely everything that was going on, but they could not perceive her. And then she gave up on them. She was declared dead, and three and a half hours later she made a comeback and lived for another year and a half.

In my classroom this was our first account of a patient who had this experience. This then lead to a collection of cases from all over the world. We have hundreds of cases, from Australia to California. They all share the same common denominator. They are all fully aware of shedding their physical body. And death, as we understood it in scientific language, does not really exist. Death is simply a shedding of the physical body like the butterfly coming out of a cocoon. It is a transition into a higher state of consciousness, where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh, to be able to grow, and the only thing that you lose is something that you don’t need anymore, and that is your physical body. It’s like putting away your winter coat when spring comes and you know that the Coat is too shabby and you don’t want to wear it any more. That’s virtually what death is all about.

Not one of the patients who’s had this experience, was ever again afraid to die. Not one of them, in all our cases. Many of our patients also said that besides the feeling of peace and equanimity which all of them have, and the knowledge that they can perceive but not be perceived, they also have a sense of wholeness. That means that somebody who was hit by a car and had a leg amputated sees his amputated leg on the highway and then he gets out of his physical body and has both legs. One of our female patients was blinded in a laboratory explosion, and the moment she was out of her physical body she was able to see, was able to describe the whole accident and describe people who dashed into the laboratory. When she was brought back to life she was totally blind again. Do you understand why many, many of them resent our attempts to artificially bring them back when they are in a far more gorgeous, more beautiful and more perfect place?

The most impressive part, perhaps, for me, has to do with my recent work with dying children. Almost all my patients are children now. I take them home to die. I prepare the families and siblings in order to have my children die at home. The biggest fear of children is to be alone, to be lonely, not to be with someone. At that moment of this transition, you’re never, ever alone. You’re never alone now, but you don’t know it. But at the time of transition, your guides, your guardian angels, people whom you have loved and who have passed on before you, will be there to help you in this transition. We have verified this beyond any shadow of a doubt, and I say this as a scientist. There will always be someone who helps you in this transition. It is most of the time a mother or father, a grandparent, or a child if you have lost a child. It is sometimes people that you didn’t even know were “on the other side” already.

I had the most moving experience — the gift of an Indian woman who was in her nineties, who came all the way to one of my lectures in Arizona and traveled an enormous distance from her reservation to share with me this incident. I have very few incidents of Indians. They do not talk about these things, and they are my most favorite people. This woman introduced me to her daughter ~ the woman was about 90, the daughter about 70. They came together to my workshop. The 70-year old daughter told me that her sister was killed on the highway, hundreds of miles away from the reservation, by a hit and run driver. Another car stopped and the driver tried to help her. The dying woman told the stranger that he should make very very sure to tell her mother that she was all right because she was with her father, and she died after having shared that. The patient’s father had died within one hour on the reservation, hundreds of miles away from the accident scene and certainly unbeknownst to his traveling daughter.

Do you understand what I’m trying to say?

We’ve had one case of a child, a 12 year old, who did not want to share with her mother that it was such a beautiful experience when she died, because no mommy likes to hear that their children found a place that’s nicer than home, and that’s very understandable. But she had such a unique experience that she needed desperately to share it with somebody, and so one day she confided in her father. She told her father that it was such a beautiful experience when she died that she did not want to come back. What made it very special, besides the whole atmosphere and the fantastic love and light that most of them convey, was that her brother was there with her, and held her with great tenderness, love and compassion. After sharing this she said to her father, “The only problem is that I don’t have a brother,” Then the father started to cry, and confessed that she indeed did have a brother who died, I think three months before she was born and they never told her.

Do you understand why I am bringing up examples like this? Because many people say, well, you know, they were not dead, and at the moment of their dying they naturally think of their loved ones, and so they naturally visualize them. Nobody could visualize that.

I ask all my terminally ill children whom they would love to see the most, whom they would love to have by their side always, (meaning here and now, because many of them are non-believing people, and I could not talk about life after death. I do not impose that onto my patients). So I always ask my children whom would you like to have with you always, if you could choose one person? Ninety-nine percent of the children, except for Black children, say mommy and daddy. (With Black children, it is very often Aunties or Grandmas, because Aunty or Grandma are the ones who love them perhaps the most, or have the most time with them. But those are only cultural differences.) Most of the children say mommy and daddy, but not one of these children who nearly died has ever seen mommy and daddy, unless their
parents had preceded them in death.

Many people say, well this is a projection of wishful thinking. Somebody who dies is desperate, lonely, frightened, so they imagine somebody with them whom they love. If this were true, 99 percent of all my dying children, my 5, 6, 7-year olds, would see their mommies and their daddies. But not one of these children, in all these years that we’ve collected cases, when they died saw their mommies and daddies, because their mommies and daddies were still alive. The common denominator of who you are going to see is that they must have passed on before you even if it’s only one minute, and that you have genuinely loved them. That means many of my children see Jesus. A Jewish boy would not see Jesus, because a Jewish boy normally doesn’t love Jesus. These are only religious differences. The common denominator
is simply genuine love.

I have not finished telling you the story of Mrs. S and I’m going to run out of time, I’m sure. I want to add that she died two weeks after her son was of age. She was buried, and she was one of many patients of mine, and I’m sure I would have forgotten her if she had not visited me again.

Approximately ten months after she was dead and buried, I was in troubles. I’m always in troubles, but at that time I was in bigger troubles. My seminar on Death and Dying had started to deteriorate. The minister with whom I had worked and whom I loved very dearly had left. The new minister was very conscious of publicity, and it became an accredited course. Every week we had to talk about the same stuff, and it was like the famous date show. It wasn’t worth it. It was like prolonging life when it’s no longer worth living. It was something that was not me, and I decided that the only way that I could stop it was to physically leave the University of Chicago. Naturally my heart broke, because I really loved this work, but not that way. So I made the heroic decision that “I’m going to leave the University of Chicago, and today immediately after my Death and Dying seminar I’m going to give notice.” The minister and I had a ritual. After the seminar we would go to the elevator, I would wait for his elevator to come, we would finish business talk, he would leave, and I would go back to my office, which was on the same floor at the end of a long hallway.

The minister’s biggest problem was that he couldn’t hear; that was just another of my grievances. And so, between the classroom and the elevator, I tried three times to tell him that it’s all his, that I’m leaving. He didn’t hear me. He kept talking about something else. I got very desperate, and when I’m desperate I become very active. Before the elevator arrived — he was a huge guy — I finally grabbed his collar, and I said, “You are gonna stay right here. I have made a horribly important decision, and I want you to know what it is.” I really felt like a hero to be able to do that. He didn’t say anything. At this moment a woman appeared in front of the elevator.

I stared at this woman. I cannot tell you how this woman looked, but you can imagine what it’s like when you see somebody that you know terribly well, but you suddenly block out who it is. I said to him, “God, who is this? I know this woman, and she’s staring at me; she’s just waiting until you go into the elevator, and then she’ll come.” I was so preoccupied with who she was I forgot that I tried to grab him. She stopped that. She was very transparent, but not transparent enough that you could see very much behind her. Tasked him once more, and he didn’t tell me who it was, and I gave up on him. The last thing I said to him was kind of, “To heck, I’m going over and tell her I just cannot remember her name.” That was my last thought before he left.

The moment he entered the elevator, this woman walked straight towards me and said, “Dr. Ross, I had to come back. Do you mind if I walk you to your office? It will only take two minutes.” Something like this. And because she knew where my office was, and she knew my name, 1 was kind of safe, I didn’t have to admit that I didn’t know who she was. This was my longest path I ever had in my whole life. I am a psychiatrist. I work with schizophrenic patients all the time, and I love them. When they had visual hallucinations I told them a thousand times, “I know you see that Madonna on the wall, but I don’t see it.” I said to myself, “Elisabeth, I know you see this woman, but that can’t be.”

Do you understand what I’m doing? All the way from the elevator to my office I did reality testing on me. I said, “I’m tired, I need a vacation. I think I’ve seen too many schizophrenic patients. I’m beginning to see things. I have to touch her, if she’s real.” I even touched her skin to see if it was cold or warm, or if the skin would disappear when I touched it. It was the most incredible walk I have ever taken, but not knowing all the way why I am doing what I am doing. I was both an observing psychiatrist and a patient. I was everything at one time. I didn’t know why I did what I did, or who I thought she was. I even repressed the thought that this could actually be: Mrs. S who had died and was buried months ago, When we reached my door, she opened the door like I’m a guest in my own house. She opened the door with this incredible kindness and tenderness and love and she said, “Dr. Ross, I had to come back for two reasons. One is to thank you and Reverend Gaines . . .’ (he was that beautiful Black minister with whom I had this super ideal symbiosis.) “To thank you and him for what you did for me. But the real reason why I had to come back is that you cannot stop this work on death and dying, not yet.” I looked at her, and I don’t know if I thought by then, “It could be Mrs. S.” I mean, this woman was buried for ten months and I didn’t believe in all that stuff. I finally got to my desk. I touched everything that was real. I touched my pen, my desk, and my chair, and it’s real, you know, hoping that she would disappear. But she didn’t disappear, she just stood there and stubbornly but lovingly said, “Dr. Ross, do you hear me? Your work is not finished. We will help you, and you will know when the time is right, but do not stop now, promise.” I thought, “My God, nobody would ever believe me if I told about this, even to my dearest friend.” Little did I know I would say this to several hundred people. Then the scientist in me won, and I said to her something very shrewd, and a real big fat lie, I said to her, “You know Reverend Gaines is in Urbana now.” (This was true; he had taken over a church there.) I said, “He would just love to have a note from you. Would you mind?” And I gave her a piece of paper and a pencil. You understand, I had no intention of sending this note to my friend, but I needed scientific proof. I mean, somebody who’s buried can’t write little love letters. And this woman, with the most human, no, not human, most loving smile, knowing every thought I had — and I knew, it was thought transference if I’ve ever experienced it — took this paper and wrote this note, which we naturally have framed in glass and treasure dearly. Then she said, but without words, she said, “Are you satisfied now?” I looked at her and thought, I will never be able to share this with anybody, but I am going to really hold onto this. Then she got up, ready to leave, repeating: “Dr. Ross, you promise,” implying not to give up this work yet. 1 said, “I promise.” And the moment I said, “I promise,” she disappeared.

We still have her note.

My time is running out. I wanted to share with you many other things. I was told a year and a half ago that my work with dying patients is finished — there are many people that can carry on now — that this was not my real job, why I’m on the Earth. The whole whole work with death and dying was simply a testing ground for me, to see if I can take hardship, abuse, and resistance and whatnot. And I passed that. The second test was to see if I can take fame. And that didn’t affect me, so I passed that too. But the real job is, and that’s why I need your help, to tell people that death does not exist. It is very important that mankind knows that, because we are at the beginning of a very difficult time. Not only for this country, for the whole planet Earth. Because of our own destructiveness. Because of the nuclear weapons. Because of our greediness and materialism. Because we are piggish in terms of ecology, because we have destroyed so many, many natural resources, and because we have lost all genuine spirituality. I’m exaggerating, but not too much. The only thing that will bring about the change into a new age is that the Earth is shaken, that we are shaken, and we’re going to be shaken. We have already seen the beginning
of it.

You have to know not to be afraid of that. Only if you keep a very, very open channel, an open mind, and no fear, will great insight and revelations come to you. They can happen to all of you in this room. You do not have to take a guru, you do not have to go to India, you don’t even have to take a TM course. You don’t have to do anything except learn to get in touch in silence within yourself, which doesn’t cost one penny. Get in touch with your own inner self, and learn not to be afraid. And one way to not be afraid is to know that death does not exist, that everything in this life has a positive purpose. Get rid of all your negativity and begin to view life as a challenge, a testing ground of your own inner resources and strength.

There is no coincidence. God is not a punitive nasty God. After you make the transition, then you come to what was described as hell and heaven. That is not a right interpretation of the judgment, however. What we hear from our friends who passed over, from people who came back to share with us, is that every human being, after this transition (which is peace and equanimity and wholeness and a loving someone who helps you in the transition), each one of you is going to have to face something that looks very much like a television screen, where you are given an opportunity — not to be judged by a judgmental God — but to judge yourself. By having to review every single action, every word and every thought of your life. You make your own hell, or your own heaven, by the way you live.


Hern The Promise of Deschooling

The Promise of Deschooling
Matt Hern

Politics, Pedagogy, Culture, Self-design, Community Control.

It is virtually anathema in our culture, but I want to argue here that our society needs far fewer schools, not more. I believe that schools as we have conceived them in the late-20th Century are a parasite on our communities, a burden to our children and are the very essence of a hierarchical, anti-ecological culture. I further contend that dissolving the school monopoly over our kids may well hold the key to reconstructing our communities around local control and participatory democracy. Fortunately, there are a phenomenal number of alternatives to schools and schooling already flourishing in every community across the continent, representing a major threat to centralized institutional control. The abject failure of monopoly, state-controlled, compulsory schooling is evident to anyone who looks. The nightmare of schooling is costing our kids, our families and communities dearly in every way. Schools waste more money than anyone can fully conceive of, demand that our kids spend twelve years of their natural youth in morbidly depressing and oppressive environments and pour the energies of thousands upon thousands of eager teachers into demeaning and foolish classrooms. The sanctity of public schools has become so reified in our bizarre North American public political consciousness that people reflexively mouth support for ‘education spending’ or ‘school dollars’ without any comprehension of what they are calling for. The reality that stands as background to the sordid liberal-conservative debate about how much cash to allocate to public schools is a system that systematically nurtures the worst in humanity and simultaneously suppresses individuality and real community.

Deschooling is a call for individuals, families and communities to regain the ability to shape themselves. It is a political, a cultural and a pedagogical argument against schools and schooling, and the impetus to fundamentally reorganize our institutional relationships. For many good reasons I believe schools are the linchpin of the monopoly corporate state power over local communities, and actively resisting their grip holds much of the key to local power. I want to analyze and forward deschooling here in terms of three kinds of arguments: political, cultural and pedagogical, and draw each into a rubric of radical decentralism and direct democracy.

A Political Argument

A political argument in favour of deschooling is a fairly simple one. Schools are huge businesses. They command massive amounts of capital, huge administrative apparatuses, they have enormous workforces and sprawling facilities, “Schooling is the largest single employer in the United States, and the largest grantor of contracts next to the Defense Department.” Over the course of a century, schools have developed into monumental undertakings, and the money that pours into them comes directly out tax dollars. Schooling is “a very profitable monopoly, guaranteed its customers by the police power of the state.” Schooling is about the triumph of the state over families and communities, and the spectacular entrenchment of bureaucracy at innumerable levels makes reform unthinkable. All across North America the pattern is relentless: tax money is appropriated in ever-growing amounts and amassed in Ministries of Education, with colossal infrastructures and blanket mandates to license schools, accredit teachers and manufacture curricula. These Ministries then distribute that money to sanctioned school districts, themselves with huge bureaucracies who transfer money and required curricula to the actual schools. Teachers, also all accredited and sanctioned, are then given a series of groups of children, and are required to pass on a required curriculum in a required time frame. The effect is a seemingly endless hierarchy, with a downward spiral of tighter and tighter control, so that at the classroom level there is minimal flexibility. Teachers are given strict guidelines about discipline, achievement, pedagogy and time. They are reduced to information conveyers, passing on a prescribed set of knowledges to a prescribed population in a strictly regulated environment. And the real losers, of course, are the kids and their families. First, they are seeing only a sliver of their tax dollar returned to them, and have no political voice in how or where that sliver is spent. As John Gatto (1935- ), a past New York City and State Teacher of the Year and now vigourous deschooling advocate shows:

Out of every dollar allocated to New York schools 51% is removed at the top for system-wide administrative costs. Local school districts remove another 5% for district administrative costs. At the school site there is wide latitude (concerning) what to do with the remaining 44%, but the average school deducts another 12% more for administration and supervision, bringing the total deducted from our dollar to 68 cents. But there are more non-teaching costs in most schools: coordinators of all sorts, guidance counselors, librarians, honorary administrators who are relieved of teaching duties to do favours for listed administrators… Under these flexible guidelines the 32 cents remaining after three administrative levies is dropped in most schools to a quarter, two bits. Out of a 7 billion dollar school budget this is a net loss to instruction from all other uses equaling 5 1/2 billion dollars.

This kind of pattern is recognizable in every school district across the continent. There is an incredible amount of money devoted to education, for example, “in Washington State nearly half of every tax dollar is spent on kindergarten through twelfth-grade education,” and precious little of it is ever returned to those it was appropriated for, “New York State, for instance, employs more school administrators than all of the European Economic Community nations combined.” There is an amazingly pervasive myth that government schooling is cheaper than private education, and that opposition to schools is thus a necessarily elitist proposal. It is a contention that is plainly absurd, and one that common sense, a priori evidence and statistics prove foolish.

of the two forms (public and private) … public school is by far the most expensive in direct cost (we’ll leave social costs out of it for the moment!), averaging $5500 a year per seat nationally, to a national average for all forms of private education of about $2200.

The scale of school bureaucracy is monstrously wasteful, and as a government sponsored monopoly with guaranteed customers there is no pressure on schools to perform; in fact the opposite is true. Schools are rewarded for failure. When students emerge from schools with minimal skills and degraded personalities, the call inevitably goes up for more school money, more teachers, longer school years, more rigourous regulation. Schools are failing at even their own narrow mandates, and yet the response is to then increase their power and scope, which is the reverse of what is really needed. We need fewer schools and less schooling. The inherent logic of centralized monopoly schooling is faulty, both in terms of economics and pedagogy. Schools have always been conceived of in terms of warehousing and the efficient maintenance of a maximum number of children, and in a very limited way, contemporary schools are moderately effective at that, although hardly cost-effective. The difficulty with school logic is that kids habitually defy regimentation and families continue to demand that their children be given conditions to flourish in. What it means to flourish, though, and what each individual family and child needs to grow into themselves is as variable as kids themselves. Every child is a unique and enigmatic individual with all the nuances and contradictions humanity entails, and each requires a specific set of circumstances and environments to learn, grow and flourish that only the kid and their family can even begin to comprehend. Necessitated by its very structure, compulsory schooling attempts to standardize and regulate all students’ patterns of learning, and plainly does not and will not work. This represents the street-level tragedy of schooling, and underlines a political argument for deschooling. The centralized appropriation of school money drains families and local communities of the resources to create locally and individually appropriate learning environments. What is needed is a vast, asystematically organized fabric of innumerable kinds of places for kids to spend their time. A decentralized, deschooled community vision includes homelearners of every stripe, learning centres, traditional schools, religious schools, Montessori, free schools, arts and performing centres, dance troupes, language training, athletic clubs etc., all organized on the basis of local need and interest. The resources should be available in every community to create a swath of local answers, and for each family and kid to develop their own educational and pedagogical approaches. The attempt to drive all children into centralized, compulsory and regimented schooling is an absurd scam and wasteful at every level. It is impossible for healthy children to thrive in such circumstances, and the century-long effort to enforce schooling has been hugely costly. It is a burden our communities should bear no longer.

A Cultural Argument

A cultural argument for deschooling follows naturally and easily from a political analysis. The attempt to entrench compulsory schooling is felt throughout society, not only by children, and the corrosive effects of the school mentality reaches deep. Americanist culture is profoundly mired in what Wendell Berry calls simply ‘a bad way of life’: “Our environmental problems (are not) at root, political; they are cultural … our country is not being destroyed by bad politics, it is being destroyed by a bad way of life. Bad politics is merely another result.” Clearly, the domination centralized, hierarchical and compulsory state schooling exercises over our children represents a major support for a bad way of life. A culture of compulsory schooling is a culture that reifies the centralized control and monitoring of our daily lives. A society that has been obsessively schooled from an early age swiftly becomes a place where self-reliance is abandoned in favour of professional treatments, and the most essential human virtues are transformed into commodities. As Ivan Illich put it in Deschooling Society: imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value.

Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools and other agencies in question… the institutionalization of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence: three dimensions in a process of global degradation and modernized misery.

A schooled society actively undermines the development of self and community reliance, in favour of institutional treatments. A directly democratic agenda has to include an explicit renunciation of the other-controlled mentality of compulsory schooling. There is an important set of distinctions to be made here, and it is a critical deschooling project to carefully define schooling, education and learning. Popular and professional usage tends to conflate the three cavalierly, and the differences in real and perceived meaning are useful. Schools practise a certain brand of schooling: they are institutions with their own particular ideologies and pedagogical approaches, and they are devoted to schooling, or imparting a certain set of values, beliefs and practises upon their clients. Schooling has found its ultimate (thus far) expression in the current state-run, compulsory child warehousing system we call public schools. But schooling can still take place outside of schools themselves, and clearly that is what many homeschooling families do, they school their children at home. Schooling is about people-shaping, it is about taking a particular set of values, an explicit view of the way things are or ought to be, and training students to be able to repeat that information in specific ways. The success of schooling can be evaluated in very quantifiable and obvious ways. Teaching is the practise of that transfer of information. The teacher is a professional, someone trained in a variety of ways to coerce, cajole, plead, beg, drive, manipulate or encourage their students to receive, accept and repeat the information they are offering. The teaching profession often attempts to view its work as ‘sharing’, but the practise of teaching and the act of sharing are very different things. One is a service, with one person, very often unrequested, imparting a piece of information onto another, defining the knowledge and evaluating the other’s ability to describe that knowledge. Sharing is about offering one’s understanding freely, it is allowing another person access to a private understanding. One is professionalized manipulation, the other is friendship and genuine humanity. Further, I want to draw your attention to education. Education is the larger context, the meta-model, the excuse for schooling. The educative stance is an interpretation of what is good and important knowledge to have, a description of what every person ought to know to become a legitimate member of society. Educators describe what people should know, for their own good. As Boston writer and unschooler Aaron Falbel writes:

I believe that John Holt is right in saying that most people use ‘education’ to refer to some kind of treatment. … It is this usage that I am contrasting with learning, … this idea of people needing treatment. … Many people use the words ‘learning’ and ‘education’ more or less interchangeably. But a moment’s reflection reveals that they are not at all the same… Learning is like breathing. It is a natural human activity: it is part of being alive. … Our ability to learn, like our ability to breathe, does not need to be tampered with. It is utter nonsense, not to mention deeply insulting to say that people need to be taught how to learn or how to think. … Today our social environment is thoroughly polluted by education … education is forced, seduced or coerced learning.

This is clearly not a simple semantic discrepancy and begins to mark out important territory. Education is all about the centralization of control, self-directed learning is fundamental to a self- and community reliant culture. The deschooling argument I want to make here presumes that each and every individual is best able to define their own interests, needs and desires. Schools and education assume that children need to be taught what is good, what is important to understand. I refuse to accept this. Kids do not need to be taught. Our children should be supported to become who they are, to develop and grow into the unique, enigmatic, contradictory individuals that we all are, away from the manipulative and debilitating effects of education. The renunciation of education is imperative for the creation of a ecologically sane, decentralized and directly democratic society. As John Holt (1923 – 85), the Godfather of the unschooling and homelearning movements has written:

Education, with its supporting system of compulsory and competitive schooling, all its carrots and sticks, its grades, diplomas and credentials, now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the modern and worldwide slave state, in which most people feel themselves to be nothing but producers, consumers, spectators and ‘fans’, driven more and more, in all parts of their lives, by greed, envy and fear. My concern is not to improve ‘education’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and let people shape themselves.

Deschooling suggests the renunciation of not only schooling, but education as well, in favour of a culture of self-reliance, self-directed learning, and voluntary, non-coercive learning institutions. A disciplined rejection of schooling and education does not insulate a person from the world, it engages them, demands that they make decisions and participate genuinely in the community, rather than waste time in institutions that have limited logic and meaning only internally. I believe that schooling and education are destructive forces across the board, with their implicit and explicit effects being to further entrench and reinforce hierarchy and centralized domination.

A Pedagogical Argument

At root, any political or cultural arguments for deschooling have to rest on some specific pedagogical beliefs about the nature of learning and living. Years of considering pedagogy and five years of running a learning centre for young children has consistently shown me that kids and adults are perfectly capable of running and directing their own lives, given the opportunity and nurturing circumstances. The idea that there is an absolute body of knowledge that every child should access if they are to grow up healthily is a dangerous and debilitating one. Further, “it cannot be overemphasized that no body of theory exists to accurately define the way children learn, or which learning is of the most worth”. Every individual is an enigmatic creation of circumstance, personality, environment, desire and much else, and their learning interests, styles and needs are equally unique. It is absolutely true that there is no body of theory explaining how children learn, since it is absurd to speak of ‘children’ in any unified way, any more than we would speak of women or men as homogenous groups. Individual learning patterns and styles come in infinite varieties, and the only way to fit a vast number of children into a single pedagogical program and a regimented schedule is with a severe authoritarianism. To maintain a modicum of order, schools are reduced to the kind of crude control unschooling advocate and author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook Grace Llewellyn describes:

The most overwhelming reality of school is CONTROL. School controls the way you spend your time (what is life made of if not time?), how you behave, what you read, and to a large extent, what you think. In school you can’t control your own life. … What the educators apparently haven’t realized yet is that experiential education is a double-edged sword. If you do something to learn it, then what you do, you learn. All the time you are in school, you learn through experience how to live in a dictatorship. In school you shut your notebook when the bell rings. You do not speak unless granted permission. You are guilty until proven innocent, and who will prove you innocent? You are told what to do, think, and say for six hours each day. If your teacher says sit up and pay attention, you had better stiffen your spine and try to get Bobby or Sally or the idea of Spring or the play you’re writing off your mind. The most constant and thorough thing students in school experience — and learn — is the antithesis of democracy.

This centralized authoritarianism is the core of schooling, and it reduces learning to a crude mechanistic process. Alongside a deep distrust of self-designed learning, schooling teaches children that they are always being observed, monitored and evaluated, a condition French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault (1926-1984) has named as panopticism. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault described the prison panoptical model as a thin circular building, divided into a vast number of cells, with a guard tower in the middle. The cells have a window on either end, but none on the sides, leaving the inhabitants of each small box effectively backlit for viewing from the tower, but fully isolated from one another. All the prisoners can thus be viewed fully at any time by any one single person in the central tower, “the arrangement of his room, opposite the central tower, imposes upon him an axial visibility; but the divisions of the ring, those separated cells, imply a lateral invisibility.” The critical factor in this arrangement is that the prisoners do not ever know if or when they are being watched. They cannot see when the guards are in the tower, they can never know when they are being observed, so they must assume that it is always the case.

Hence, the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearer.

This is the essence of panopticism. The actual surveillance is not functionally necessary, the subject swiftly assumes responsibility for their own constraints, and the assumption of constant monitoring is internalized and they evolve into both the prisoner and warden. It is hardly a stretch to fit modern schools, hospitals, prisons or psychiatric institutions into this model. One of the cultural residues of mass compulsory schooling is a widespread panoptical imprint. People who have been rigorously schooled reflexively believe they are always being watched, monitored and evaluated. It is a condition many of us, myself certainly included, can recognize easily and identify working virtually constantly in our lives. Schools and schooling lead us to believe that we are always under surveillance, and whether or not it is actually true is insignificant, it is the impulse that the schooled person necessarily accepts, and adjusts their behaviour accordingly. The schooled panoptical mentality extends itself further into parenting and adult-child non-school relationships. At school children are always monitored, and schooled parents believe that they should similarly be constantly monitoring their offspring, in the name of safety. The last decades of this century have seen an exponential growth in concern for children’s daily safety, particularly in cities, and most parents I come into contact with want to keep a very close eye on their kids. This is a laudable concern, and one I share, yet I have a deep suspicion of the equation that safety = surveillance. There is a threshold where our concerned eye becomes over-monitoring and disabling, an authoritarian presence shaping our kids’ lives.

If we want and expect our kids to grow up to be responsible creatures capable of directing their own lives, we have to give them practise at making decisions. To allow authority to continually rob our kids of basic decisions about where and how to play is to set our kids up for dependence and incompetence on a wide scale. Children who are genuinely safe are those who are able to make thoughtful, responsible, independent decisions. The panoptical society and schooling severely restricts individual self-reliance, and supports a disabling reliance on authoritarian monitoring. A deschooled antidote to this condition is trust. Parents have to trust their kids to make real decisions about their own lives, as Dan Greenberg, who founded the Sudbury Valley School in 1968 outside of Boston, describes:

We feel the only way children can become responsible persons is to be responsible for their own welfare, for their own education, and for their own destiny. … As it turns out, the daily dangers are challenges to the children, to be met with patient determination, concentration, and most of all, care. People are naturally protective of their own welfare, not self-destructive. The real danger lies in placing a web of restrictions around people. The restrictions become challenges in themselves, and breaking them becomes such a high priority that even personal safety can be ignored. … Every child is free to go wherever they wish, whenever they want. Ours is an open campus. Our fate is to worry.

If we are to truly counter the disabling effect of schools, this is indeed our fate. A genuine democracy, a society of self-reliant people and communities, has to begin by allowing children and adults to shape themselves, to control their own destinies free of authoritarian manipulation.

Some Common Objections and Some Short Responses

There are many objections to a deschooling agenda, and while many of them are vigourously forwarded by those with very entrenched interests in the maintenance of schools and school funding, some of the critiques are salient. The primary set of reservations centers around access issues, the inference that without public schools, many kids will be without adequate educational opportunities, and the oft-repeated claim that a deschooled society would mean excellent facilities for rich communities and inadequate ones for poor families. These kinds of access arguments all focus around the implied belief that schools have somehow operated as great levelers, institutions that rise above societal inequalities and become places of equal opportunity where anyone can succeed regardless of their background, a claim that is patently false. Schools have always closely mimicked larger cultural and social inequities and rich kids have always had huge advantages in a schooled culture. The scenario of well-funded and prospering schools in rich areas alongside nightmare schools with abysmal resources in poor neighbourhoods is already the reality, as Jonathon Kozol has documented so clearly in Savage Inequalities. It is a pernicious myth that schools have ever acted as levelers. Moreover, the argument that school funding, if loosed from State control and returned to local communities, would result in wide disparities in quality of opportunity is exactly the kind of paternalizing ethic that is so endemic in centralizing arguments. The assumption is that poor or non-affluent people cannot manage their money appropriately, and that families and communities need government agencies to spend their money for them, lest they waste it. This is the paternalism that is at the heart of statism. The second major set of objections revolves around the idea that schools should shepherd and caretake an existing canon of knowledge that it is essential for everyone to comprehend, and without that understanding, kids have little chance to succeed in a society that reifies that canon. This argument is frequently forwarded by cultural conservatives lamenting the decline of Western Civilization and traditional standards and the clear articulations of education and intellectual status that were so once so easily defined. The contention that schools are the only guarantor of certain kinds of success has been convincingly refuted by the homeschooling and alternative education movements in North America and elsewhere, not to mention the examples of a plethora of unschooled figures throughout history. Free school follow-up studies and the examples of families like the Colfaxes, who sent three homeschooled sons to Harvard, continue to demonstrate that success, however defined, is entirely possible beyond the constraints of compulsory schooling, and that there are innumerable paths to any goal. The final set of objections to deschooling I want to address here is argument that schools actually are not that bad and that the deschooling agenda somehow over-dramatizes their failings. The reasoning is that so many of us attended traditional schools and emerged all right, and that there are, in fact, good teachers and nice schools out there. These assertions are all undeniably true, but miss the point entirely in a culture where it is an old cliché that ‘all kids hate school.’ As Bookchin puts it “The assumption that what currently exists must necessarily exist is the acid that corrodes all visionary thinking” (21), and its this kind of debilitating reformist stance that deschooling so plainly refutes.

A Conclusion and Hopefully, a Beginning

I believe that deschooling represents a fundamental piece in the construction of an ecological society. To resist compulsory schooling is to resist the other-control of our lives at levels that dig at the very root of family and community at a daily, visceral level. Real communities can and are being built around an opposition to monopoly schooling all across the continent. The most compelling of these movements are those which are rejecting not only government schools, but the cultural and pedagogical assumptions of schooling and education themselves. It is easily possible to envision a society where schools are transformed into community learning centres that fade into a localist fabric, and are replaced by a vast array of learning facilities and networks, specific training programs, apprenticeships, internships and mentorships, public utilities like libraries, museums and science centres. The simplistic monoculture of compulsory schooling is abandoned in favour of innumerable learning projects, based on innumerable visions of human development, and children and adults alike are able to design, manage and evaluate the pace, style and character of their own lives and learning. The implications of schools reverberate throughout our culture, and it is plainly clear that an ecological society cannot bear the burden that schools place on our kids, families and communities. They are crude constructions for a world that has been exposed as unethical and unsustainable. Deschooling represents a tangible and comprehensive site for a disciplined renunciation of centralized control, and a transformative vision, not only of personal autonomy, but of genuine social freedom.

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