Monday, September 28, 2009

To Learn: License, no Freedom

Leaving the elementary school campus after a productive volunteer session I know there lies confusion below my satisfied surface. Satisfaction because I am practicing community investment in local education. Confusion because there appears a contradiction at the heart of the education of these young people: they will possess the fundamentals of adding and reading, but they will not be able to use those tools because of the tacit tyranny of the teacher, and the lack of application of lessons to their personal lives. Exposed to this contradiction and the unspoken nature the tyranny, almost certainly will leave me misunderstanding the hopeful potential for educating young people. The contradiction stems from the improbability of a teacher to engage students in interactive learning activities. The dysfunctional learning is a result: as soon as children recognize the classroom culture to be grounded in discipline rather than learning and group processing. Indeed, as much as individual students have learning styles so too does the group.

In fact, as a teacher we must lead the group in developing an empowering style of learning which will discipline the students to develop respectful interactive behaviors so that they can have fun learning together. The motivation of the students and teacher must be on critical thinking skills in all areas of study because it will reinforce the interests of the individual students to maintain a functional classroom and the interest to learn more about their lives. As it is, the motivation is to appease the teacher/to avoid punishment; it is her wrath and judgement that drives most students to accomplish the assigned tasks.

My mind snaps to attention as I see her ruler smack with a loud 'Thwack!' on her master text. The students report the work to her like cadets to a drill sergeant. Hands pop up and down, eyes remain to the front, feet under the desk, backpack behind the chair, all for the sake of discipline and order. It's this kind of compensation that inflicts the classroom and compromises the minds of the young people. Really what must be either agreed upon or thrown out, is whether any classroom style develops critical thinking or memorization of the material.

But, like an uninvited guest the curricular demands intrude and eat up time. We evade the truth of our confounding circumstance and wonder whether to confront the problem head on: the students are not learning to think. We must move beyond rote memorization to student investment in lessons. How do we encourage students to care enough to invest time and energy? Rooting the lessons in their lives.

I flash to my own experience in school. Classrooms silent except for the frustrated voice of the teacher. Knowing how to add but not knowing why it matters. Excited for the end of class but having no place to go once I was gone. Everyone leaves with less energy and interest in the subject matter than when they entered.

The legacy of permitted apathy begins everyday authority reinforces their control over curriculum and the culture of the classroom. Control must be carefully shared between both the students and teachers.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Unforgivable Power

The full picture, the range of emotions shared between two who were strangers, is where you will find the pride and hope of community. Watch the scene develop. Crop the photo properly. Capture the young together bound by victory, but leave out questions from the critique. Those black men are surrounded by crowds of congratulating whites, motivated by what? Victory. Power. And where is the source of the power? Is it played out on the field? What does the power even look like?

Unfortunately the shot of the power was left out of the picture showing greatness and victory. The power lies with those capable of changing glazed eyes to inquisitive.

Our mind's soil suffers from massive deficiencies and opening minds is not an option we all pursue. Motives are not to grow sustainable long limbs that can reach the sun while holding a strong base in the ground, they are to prove myself superior through sheer size. Inevitably we topple. And I blame it on soil?

Caged by a media that stands above us with water in hand. The eyes are so preoccupied with how best to tap the well that the hand misses our bodies entirely.

Freedom lies deeper in our dirt. Roots intertwined we'll share breathes of long glances and even longer meals. Conversations in the dirt will last well beyond the setting of the sun, but will dip into darker places. We need those talks too.

Slowly, even the most modest of us will find health and prosperity in this shared dirt. In the long memories of that deep dirt we will find pain, and entertainment in that pain. Survival requires it. Joy will come when we value the depths of our roots and the flowers stretched open. Then our seeds will fall on better soil.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Invisible Men

'Yes, sir. That's what the president tells us. You have yours, and you got it yourself, and we have to lift ourselves up the same way.'
'But that's only part of it, young man. I have wealth and a reputation and prestige--all that is true. But your great Founder had more than that, he had tens of thousands of lives dependent upon his ideas and upon his actions. What he did affected your whole race. In a way, he had the power of a king, or in a sense, of a god. That I've come to believe, is more important than my own work, because more depends upon you. You are important because if you fail I have failed by one individual, one defective cog; it didn't matter so much before, but now I'm growing old and it has become very important...' (Invisible Man, 45).

I anticipate a room and a time when I don't have the energy to think about my past. I anticipate thinking how busy I am and how important my work is, how much depends on me. That lack of perspective will ultimately lead to my unraveling. In order for a man to be visible he must embody a power hidden deep in the human records. Forfeiting game upon game he must grow strong with a personal standard for visible power. Not to be confused with self-confidence, this power has depth, like I said. Through the pain of realizing the games are fixed by egos and anger, our better halves fight to survive until the pain is overcome by calm. This is what it feels like when I take back the gold of my soul. A stone finally valued for what it is: unforgivably my own.

This is not an exaggeration of reality, but finally an honest appraisal of the imperfection of our nature. Regardless of flaw all angles of time hold both hope and dismay. Together the two forces press in upon us. And from my experience, this pressing is more intimidating when your attention is not upon it.

As a matter of fact, it is peculiar that so many people are coaxed into ignoring the creativity of their soul, instead diverting energy to maintaining a stable facade of status. Upon a world so inexplicably unexplained besides the myths of religion, we live as drowned fish in a raging river loosening our bodies only when we come to an intersection of waterways. Twisted, our bodies are awakened by the collision.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Submerged above water

How exactly did this happen? How did I reach this clearness of thought. Like being outside on a hot day but feeling only cool breezes blow past, the harshness of my reality looks more like the tranquilty of time itself. To the left you have the young black men of Winter Park finding harmony in a world of bone and flesh, and on the right you have young white men finding that same harmony with different proportions of the same ingredients. It wouldn't bother me so much except that I know the effects of split racial identities. I know what it is like to feel different and see the progress made in a different light. Wait rewind. We need a better approach.

It makes no difference what color I resemble. What matters is an appreciation of time and space, the all inclusive boundaries. Like being able to weigh two adverse objectives in two hands of the same body, the infinity of our universe only allows for a certain number of contradictions. Call them moments of clarity. Where, despite all the evidence to the contrary, a mere human can see the destruction of time and space and remain in the present. To be a law abiding citizen and still see the expansion of Rome as an expansion of the human heart. My point is that we are living, breathing, enigmas. Distortions of time and it's frequency that folds into a napkin. A metaphor for buddha without the slightest movement or stimulus. Everywhere, all day, we exist to see the contradictions and forget them. We do not need a better approach. This one is just fine. Whatever approach can we take?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism; Good man, Bad man

“I’m having a difficult time understanding who was harmed here,” said Richard X. Bove, a banking analyst with Rochdale Securities. “Why is this company being put into court over a series of events that benefited the nation, its economy, its financial system, the shareholders of Bank of America and the bank itself.”

Our nation has much work to do. Our communities have much work to do. Walking through one of Orlando's wealthiest neighborhoods I see and feel the work that must be done. From gentrified neighborhoods, to a degraded environment, such a blisteringly alienated population brings rise to individualism that cannot sustain the community, and sustaining our communities is the work that needs doing. The question is, how do we build sustainable communities? What tools can we use? Who are our allies? Where are the pitfalls? If our communities are to survive the trends toward misunderstood and under-appreciated local resources and opportunities brought about by industrialism and globalization, we must answer these questions on our way to investing in all of our people, our environment, and our businesses. Preferably locally produced, but also locally critiqued and consumed through a more positive culture of consumption.

We then come to the investors in our future communities. In the 21st century we will need greater initiatives from the private sector and the public sector and volunteering citizens to create opportunities for responsible growth and positive progress toward sustainable economies and communities. Often the business world forgets that the foundation for positive commerce is positive communities of consumers supporting a capitalism that perpetuates the same concern for the producers. Integrating new techniques to accomplish this goal of sustainable capitalism should be the next step for social entrepreneurs. Everyone has a role in the process of making sense of the confusing network of forces at play on community members on any given day. Leadership must be checked by followership.

Think about our current situation. Here in 2009 with a ravaged economy, a globe dealing with extreme amounts of environmental pressure, a media system siding with their financiers, and communities of people anonymous to one another, our leadership is organized to perform their agenda but the followership is not. The scale bends as far as we allow it to.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sleepwalking to the Fridge

Food is becoming more and more of a national issue. Many different organizations with many different agendas are talking food problems and solutions. Unfortunately for consumers of national news and views, food problems are performed and solutions are often accomplished on the local levels. Reported on the national level but worked out on the local, our food system takes on a view of unrecognizable relationships between businesses and consumers and unreliable agents of social and political change. With such a tradition of reporting, our communities cannot take action on their own behalf because there exist no infrastructure for local leadership and education, and because of a custom to national media streams to report on national stage actors, thereby omitting local solutions. Relying on that national discourse to explain an issue such as food policy is the onset of the alienation that ails us and perpetuates the community problem of ignorance. The solution to this problem is to begin forming community organizations tasked with diagnosing local problems and finding necessary solutions. Instead of a reactionary national press reporting on issues concerning local communities, and local communities scrambling to connect the dots, we need systems of education, reflection, and action that will empower local communities to reach their full potential. A quick suggestion: increase the funding to local public radio stations in order to improve the quality of local coverage.

On the front page of Time magazine this past week (Aug 31 2009 edition) is a cellophane package of meat with a warning to consumers reading, "Warning: This hamburger may be hazardous to your health. Why the American food system is bad for our bodies, our economy and our environment--and what some visionaries are trying to do about it." Bryan Walsh summarizes the scope of our current food crisis, putting in perspective the challenge ahead for our communities without directly addressing communities, as being politically, socially, and personally more costly than the price tag might let on. The article does not segment the problem, but grants our food system a seat at the head of the table with a great deal of analysis of the real cost of cheap food. Walsh even sidesteps the pitfall of ignoring the role of ordinary citizens writing, "Whether that happens will ultimately come down to all of us, since we have the chance to choose better food three times a day... But what we eat--how it's raised and how it gets to us--has consequences that can't be ignored any longer," (37). But, he fails to report on the underlying threat to consumers: disorganization.

The solution to the problem of poor food quality is bigger than changing the rationality for factory farming and industrial agriculture (although that is a piece). The solution to our problems of food, health care, environmental degradation, education, etc. is the resource the national press cannot help but forget about, the sleeping public. Mobilizing the local community into 'people's organizations' is the solution to a discourse dominated by narrow interests and attended to by a minority of foodies. Walsh plays directly into the recognition and dependence on a national leadership base that cannot know the intricacies of culture on the local level. They cannot know the reasons for the popularization of local customs supporting these destructive national forces of food-profiteering. Thus, the sleeping public must be awoken.
Some Americans are heeding such warnings and working to transform the way the country eats--ranchers and farmers who are raising sustainable food in ways that don't bankrupt the earth. Documentaries like the scathing Food Inc. and the work of investigative journalists like Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan are reprising Sinclair's work, awakening a sleeping public to the uncomfortable realities of how we eat (33)
A sleeping public. The public, our local communities, are the ultimate solution to our woes of uninformed choice. Through the linking of our shared narratives by sharing food, time, and fun we can empower eachother to value the action of upkeeping customs of positive community relations. Food is only the latest symptom of a larger problem of rampant consumerism, and the choices only begin with our food. As the article indicates, this issue extends into our health care, our environment, our jobs, and our politics. Thus the power we wield as communities must take center stage. The article goes on to read, "What we really need to do is something Americans have never done well, and that's to quit thinking big, (37)" But what we really need to do is start thinking organization. What we really need to start doing is thinking of the public's option to dialogue and understand the resources the public has.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Morals behind Organizing: An inquiry into values

Man must be provided with an opportunity for a healthy, consistent reconciliation of morals and behavior or he will be forced into a pathology of rationalization. (Reville for Radicals 94)
Evidence of a culture of community disorganization exists in every community lacking the infrastructure for public exchange (community centers, public parks, sidewalks, etc.). Due to this disorganization there is little opportunity to reconcile an interest in a public life with a completely private behavior.
The rationality of organizers are often hypocritical or counterproductive especially when the organization is marginalized or counter-cultural. This tendency exists because many organizers see the tools used to make the masters house as being oppressive in themselves. I argue the contrary. These tools of organization should not be chosen or discarded on account of their prior use. Instead, the organizers rationality should be to use the tools for the sake of a dignified movement. Do not put down the axe because it can be used to destroy and kill but instead put the axe down at the root of the problem: evil rationality.
The evil rationality is easily seen in the corporate structure. Like a crushing human pyramid building upon itself by recruiting more to it's foundation through promises of trickle down wealth, the workers suffer under the weight in order to survive. With the Keynesian dream motivating the cubicle nation, this process of organization changes the rationality of leadership and work to an evil bend. With such a pervasive mentality regarding our system of capitalism it is hard not to see the conflict between big-business and it's pursuit of profit at all costs and community organizers' pursuit of solutions to community problems, one of which is that same mentality. The maniacal psychology of corporate profiteers puts our communities at risk of alienation from natural resources, personal wellness, and a complimentary psychology of submission.
Thus, every community organizer is faced with the difficult decision of choosing the tools with which to start an organization. Do I build an effective organization through a rigid hierarchical structure placing a high premium on self-interest? Or do I reject that structure entirely and invest in a philosophy of anti-authority? The process of running to the opposite side of the spectrum in order to avoid the pitfalls of hierarchical (corporate) organizing can be just as fruitless as the prior. The key to networking and organizing those networks is finding ways to assign people to tasks that power the engine of organizing to it's greatest potential and then empowering them to determine their ascendancy. Structure, organization, leadership, and authority must be used and used wisely if the organization is to succeed in producing critical thinking members, who mature into personal leaders who render the original structure obselete. If this is done well, then hierarchy will prove to be the illusion it always has been.
If we strip away all the chromium trimmings of high-sounding metaphor and idealism which conceal the motor and gears of a democratic society, one basic element is revealed--the people are the motor, the organizations of the people are the gears. The power of the people is transmitted through the gears of their own organizations, and democracy moves forward. (Reveille for Radicals 46)
Thus, when organizing the recognized leadership must be ready to incorporate new people with new talents to the established organization. Providing structure for those new members gives a strong supportive base. The established leadership then must be able to provide opportunity for leadership to arise out of a supported followership. As the member matures and grows into their role, they will inevitably grow too large and impressive for their role and must be given the ability to grow in whatever direction they choose. Offering room for development is key. Such freedom of hierarchy allows for a balance between an industrial and organic rationality of organizing.