Tuesday, April 05, 2016


If I were to do my education all over again from grade school on, I would get a list of the books Delancy Place.com draws from and read them all.  

The “mother ship” for this daily automatic email quote, short but pithy, is self-described as follows:  “The Governor’s Woods Foundation is a private, not-for-profit philanthropic organization based in Philadelphia. Our interests and commitments are primarily focused in two areas: cultural development and progressive realism in government policy.”  I suppose it’s a little like the website Aeon, except that it’s specifically American and deals with history of government and culture, including pop culture.

The trouble is that I could NOT read all these books in the Fifties because not only had some of the events not happened yet, but also the point of view had not developed and couldn’t until another decade or so and the Vietnam War had broken up the WWII solid front.  Until war was truly over, we could not afford to give up all the “great men” and triumphalism that was the focus of history — still is out here in the Montana boonies.  The idea is a source of courage.   

“A People's History Of The United States” by Howard Zinn is not generally read or taught here except in the university towns.  Ken Burns’ television histories are well-loved because of the photos, even though it may support a focus on conflict.

Ken Burns

When I was in high school, the subject of history was taught by the coaches because they were really there to coach sports with the goal of winning and had to teach something.  They continued the triumphalism, the mono-focus on only Brit/white history, which was seen as “our” history.  All dates of battles we won and names of people who succeeded.  In Montana a law had to be passed to force the teachers to include Native American history in spite of the many NA people in the state.  White people thought it had nothing to do with them. 

With that as my sympathy, one might think an article by Paul Mason in the Guardian, which also comes to me as email excerpts, would appeal to me, but it does.  The header says, “The problem for poor, white kids is that a part of their culture has been destroyed.”  It hasn’t just been NA kids, though they are not addressed in this article, but most rural white kids have had their culture damaged as well.  Black kids are separated.  Red kids are ignored.  Yellow kids prevail.  ("Yellow" has too many connotations -- let's call them "golden kids.")

Paul Mason

Long ago (eighties?)  I attended a conference at the College of Great Falls where Wendell Berry spoke, mourning the loss of the rural relationship to land and family.  At the end when there was time for questions, Darrell Kipp stood up and said, “Ranchers and farmers had better pay close attention to what happens to Indians, because they are tomorrow’s Indians.”  Exactly what he meant is probably what Denise Juneau needs to address in her campaign for the US Senate.  The loss of culture is a poverty.  

Mason was addressing Thatcherism, which is the British version of Reaganism, which I am just figuring out is Neoliberalism, deliberately misnamed for something quite like Oligarchy.  The idea is the same old smug self-congratulation of those who have it made, trying to promote it as due to their natural talents and energy in a laissez-faire environment.  In fact, it has been a matter of withdrawing all the necessary features of the Commons, like infrastructure, of which education is a part.  The bridges, the pipelines, the highways go down, and so do the kids.  Health support, service regulation, investment in public systems, all go down.

In his article Mason was remarking on the failure of poor and working class white kids (esp. boys, I think, though he didn’t say so) to do well in school.  Specifically, he’s reflecting on a study by CentreForum, “An independent, liberal think tank seeking to develop evidence based, long term policy solutions to the problems facing Britain. . .  CentreForum's driving principle is to promote opportunity for all and particularly for those in disadvantaged circumstances.”

At first the kids are okay, but then they begin to fail and drift so that they slide away from school or ordinary jobs or even their families.  Unless they see themselves as part of the winning classes, or at least the honored classes -- which working classes once were when they were pulled into service as the backbone of a working army.  Or when they organized in labor unions and progressive groups.

Montana is not so mixed as England, but here’s how the cards come down for English groups:  “The detailed ethnic breakdown in the report makes for depressing reading. The worst performers are white Irish traveller children, then “white gypsy/Roma” children – both of which school fails by a long chalk. They are followed by mixed-race children with Caribbean backgrounds, then white British. These are the only groups who collectively go backwards in the two years researchers have been crunching the numbers. By contrast, black Caribbean, and white Irish children go forward a bit, and Chinese and [East] Indian children a lot.”  The recent wave of immigrants was evidently not included because this is a study over years.

Mason says,  “It’s 30 years since I taught in the school system – at a high school and then a special unit for behaviourally disruptive teenagers in Leicestershire. So the only relevant first-hand knowledge I can bring to this debate is that the same problems were apparent then. By the late-1980s people from a white, working-class background already knew we had a problem.”. . . “It has nothing to do with being “overtaken” – still less with any reverse discrimination against them.  It is simply that a specific part of their culture has been destroyed. A culture based on work, rising wages, strict unspoken rules against disorder, obligatory collaboration and mutual aid. It all had to go, and the means of destroying it was the long-term unemployment millions of people had to suffer in the 1980s.”  

Valier and the other High-line ag and resource towns are struggling with the same issues now.  In Mason’s words: “To put right the injustice . . . requires us to put aside racist fantasies about “preferential treatment” for ethnic minorities; if their kids are preferentially treated, it is by their parents and their communities – who arm them with narratives and skills for overcoming economic disadvantage.

“If these metrics are right, the present school system is failing to boost social mobility among white working-class kids. But educational reforms alone will barely scratch the surface. We have to find a form of economics that – without nostalgia or racism – allows the working population to define, once again, its own values, its own aspirations, its own story.”

Mason pins his story on a lovely little movie called "Kez" about a boy and a sparrowhawk he trains.  In the cruelest Arab dictatorships not only are racing pigeons -- kept with as much tradition and pride as hawks -- forbidden and killed, but also their owners even if they are boys who had little else.  The world is more bitter and deadly than it used to be.  There was a nasty little story in one of my feeds today about how it was human sacrifice that enabled the shift from hunter-gathering to hierarchical town life.  I'll have to search that further.

Ancient breeds of Bagdad pigeons

The problem has been to find a counter story.  What counts?  What are the abilities and attitudes that will support growing individuals?   How can they stay in their communities and still make a living — not just a minimum income but enough to support marriage and children?  What are the rural stories as opposed to the bi-coastal television series lives that dominate the media?  Is the answer in the Internet?  Is it in the priorities of the schools?  Can populations like the Rez maintain their identity without leaving the larger world?  How can the mourning for a world now gone finally be completed or at least fortified by a new vision?  Is war the only way to achieve solidarity?  Human sacrifice?

Reading "Delancy Place" quotes every morning gives me perspective that is world-based with an American focus.  It suggests many stories, some of them revisionist, that are NOT pinned to conflict and the need to have heroes.  Maybe that will suggest a story we can share.  

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