Schools and the Forces of Anti-Democracy and Bigotry

From Upworthy:

“A Teacher Asked a Great Question About Superintendent Pay. Then, All Hell Broke Loose.”

I’ve copied and pasted a few of my Facebook and Twitter posts about this particular issue, which is followed by some additional commentary.

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Teachers have joined all of the other minority groups in the absolute lower tier of the hierarchy. School Board power is out of control. Look at the semiotic (symbolic) arrangement of the room with the school board elevated and behind a huge barrier, and at a large distance away from the audience. And, then the police, as is far too often the case, act with over-the-top aggression and inappropriate power and control.

The cop should be fired, along with the entire school board including the superintendent.

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Teachers have joined all of the other minority groups in the absolute lower tier of the hierarchy. School Board power is out of control. Look at the semiotic (symbolic) arrangement of the room with the school board elevated and behind a huge barrier, and at a large distance away from the audience. And, then the police, as is far too often the case, act with over-the-top aggression and inappropriate power and control.

The cop should be fired immediately, along with the entire school board and superintendent. This is a clear symptom of the complete dysfunction of our society and of the institution of schooling. We must stop this disgraceful, anti-democratic, uncivilized behavior.

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Anthony Fontana (the school board president involved in this fiasco) is just another bigot who shouldn’t be involved in education. He needs to resign or be removed. Shame on him for blaming female teacher who was asserting her right to present an argument. Fire police officer and remove entire school board, too.

Of course, schools “should be” the seat of democratic values, equity, openness, compassion, and intellectual and artistic inquiry. But, with very few exceptions, they are not.

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Today, when we really need schools to be a exemplars of democracy and related aspects (as mentioned in the previous paragraph), we have the vast majority of schools acting as purveyors of corporate and anti-democratic values and behaviors. They are sweatshops run by ignorant and bigoted people. School boards and many of the upper administrators have no background or are failed educators who have moved up the ladder… kind of like the old “Peter Principle.”

Teachers are underpaid and also are subjected to the anti-democratic and corporate forces along with children. And, they get blamed for everything. But, the vast majority of teachers are competent and hard-working, but they fear for their careers and meager livelihoods, so they often do not speak up or teach the way they really want to teach. They are forced to conform and submit. This is the corporate model that drives much of our society, which is especially exemplified by the political structures and dynamics in the United States and elsewhere.

Parents and even non-parents should be concerned for the lives and welfare of children. Parents are in the majority. They outnumber politicians, power-brokers, school board members, and superintendents. They have the power, if they want it. All parents should be in an uproar. They must join forces and take action to save their children, their teachers, and the fabric of our what-was a democratic society. There is no savior, no one person or group who is going to swoop down like a super-hero and save the day. We all must join forces, despite our differences, and work for change. We can do it!

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Living in Layers – Part VII – Where’s our Humanity? Heart or Mind? And Other Centers

From the great disconnect of self, other, and environment, aggression and an unwillingness to understand “other” at all levels from self to global relations is increasing. Self-loathing, psychological and physical violence in schools, unwarranted aggression towards other nations and cultures, and crimes in the streets of our cities, towns, suburbs, and rural settings are becoming more and more prevalent. We are losing our hearts and minds. From personal to corporate and political agendas, we fail to consider our shared humanity. Difference as manifested in cultural and religious beliefs, in varying worldviews, and in personal styles and abilities serve as the bases for fear, avoidance, and bias. We are losing our connections to our own and others’ humanity at all levels.

Although there is an incredible diversity among individuals and cultures, all people share the same basic emotions and concerns, We care about life, fear death, desire companionship and love, and strive for survival. At the core of our beings, according to Shambhala Buddhism, we share some sense of “basic goodness” or fundamental sense of our shared humanity. Of course, there are some who have lost their connection to humanity. Some have become suicidal. Others abandon or kill their children, kill others, and have given up caring about themselves. Life in all its forms, from bacteria to mammals (there is no hierarchy implied in this range), is incredibly unique and awe-inspiring in the grand scheme of the universe. Yet, we continually lose sight of our extraordinary situation. When our political leaders brag about and celebrate the killing of others, no matter what the circumstances, I am left feeling perplexed, saddened, and frightened. How can our leaders publicly exhibit joy in the death and killing of selected individuals, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, express an abhorrence of killing in other situations? The politicians implementation of “hit list” of Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda members, ISIS/ISIL, and Iraqis, along with the bringing to fruition of the death penalty for certain criminals, are actions to celebrate. At the same time, killing is considered to be the ultimate crime. I’m perplexed by this disparate binary of killing. I’m saddened that we trivialize death and view life and death so frivolously. And, I’m frightened that we are moving toward a life of greater violence, of greater disregard for our humanity. This total disregard for humanity certainly seems to be the characteristic of the U.S.’s present (2018) administration and Congress, as a whole. But, this disregard for humanity is not just characteristic of the U.S., it’s like a virus spreading throughout the world, which is often hidden by sweet words and superficial actions that appear to be humanitarian.

The layers of our identities are becoming increasingly hardened with less porosity. We are losing connections to our humanity, which is becoming deeply buried in solidified layers of meaningless rationalities and dark intentions. In schools, children and teachers are treated with little regard for their human needs. In my son’s middle school, a boy was caught getting drunk from his “water” bottle of alcohol. The principal banned all students from carrying water bottles. This was in Flagstaff, Arizona, at an altitude of 7,000 feet, where humidity tends to fluctuate around 15 percent. Drinking a lot of water is a necessity to keep from becoming dehydrated. Over the past years, everyone in my family has ended up in the emergency room for rehydration. With reckless disregard, the principal implements policies that put children at risk and, at the same time, has avoided dealing with the particular needs of the specific student and his obvious problem with alcohol.

The “letter of the law” at all levels of society is adhered to without considering the individual. Our jails are overflowing with people, many of whom could benefit from situations that could help them turn their lives around. Prisons, in general, do very little to rehabilitate inmates. Yet, we continue to create stricter laws and increase prison terms. In the Navajo Nation, when a person commits a crime within the jurisdiction of the Nation’s police force and judicial system, they assess the individual’s specific situation. Medicine men are brought into the process of helping the person reconnect with his life and culture. The humanity of the person becomes the focus of the process of helping to reconnect with a “life in beauty.” In other parts of our society, individuals have initiated similar humanitarian approaches. Years ago, in New Jersey, I recall that a judge sentenced certain individuals, who committed crimes of burglary, to a term of working for the victim. The idea was that not only did the criminal have a problem, but the victim had one, as well. The criminal burglarized a home with an objectified and disconnected notion of the victim. The victim, as a result, was contending with fear and an objectified and disconnected hatred of the perpetrator. In following the “letter of the law” approach, a binary that separates and solidifies the separation is created. By implementing a sentence that brings both parties together, they were forced into a situation of beginning to understand one another’s humanity, and a unifying binary was created. The last I heard was that the judge’s approach was successful in a vast majority of cases with no return to crime.

At “my” coffee shop, a homeless man came by occasionally and took a cup from the bin where patrons return their used cups and plates. He would walk in, put a quarter in the “refill” honor system can, and fill the cup, rather than paying the $1.82 for a medium coffee. The owner and employees knew the routine and said nothing. They felt that the man made the effort of paying something. The owner appreciated his humanity, just as he appreciated and connected to the humanity of his employees. We all experience such glimmers of humanity, as in the bumper sticker “perform random acts of kindness,” but as a society we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. What lies at the center of our connections and disconnections to humanity? Why do we choose to connect or disconnect?

In the phenomenal world, the metapattern notion of “centers” acts as the organizing and stimulating principle for activity, growth, development, and cognition. We build cities around rivers and inlets. Such geographic features are centers for the development of cities; and the cities become the centers for commerce, socialization, the arts, and other human activity. Within individuals, curiosity acts as the center for exploration, inquiry, and thought. From an anatomical perspective, the individual is comprised of multiple centers. The heart is the center of circulatory systems, as well as one of many centers of the whole. In the same way, the brain – itself composed of multiple centers – is the center of the nervous system as well as of the whole. Moving out from the individual biological form, cultures and societies are comprised of multiple centers. However, the notion of heart and mind, where mind may be considered to be more than just the brain, are fundamental centers of worldview. In Euro-Western societies, the mind tends to be center, where thinking, and rationality, where talk and writing are highly valued and serve as the basis for or fundamental mode of activity. From this perspective, emotions are seen as somewhat superfluous, problematic, or, at least, tangential to one’s primary activities. In many Hindu, Native American and other indigenous cultures, heart is the center for activity. The connections to others and to the earth are based upon connections of the heart. Feelings and emotions are the energizing factors. Within Buddhist cultures, the emphasis is on coordinating or joining heart and mind. Openness to others and compassion are activities of the heart, while intellect acts as the discriminating awareness that provides for skillful action in being open to and compassionate to others. From this perspective, all heart can be too wishy-washy or foolish, and all mind can be too aggressive. The balance is found by joining heart and mind. Hierarchies in human social structures tend to be mind-centered, where the centers of power and control occur at upper levels of the strata. Although holarchies can be mind-centered as well, they tend to be more heart-centered, in terms of valuing all participants and their particular concerns. In addition, holarchies hold the potential for propagating a coordination of heart and mind, for effective and socially sensitive activity.

Ego-centricity, ethno-centricity, national-centricity, and anthropocentricity (i.e., human-centered) tend to be mind-centered with a strong emotional character. Emotions, in such situations, may seem to contradict the notion of mind-centered versus heart-centered. However, our emotions are rarely experienced directly and purely. Immediately upon experiencing an emotion, we generate layers of storylines, rationalities, and justifications. The emotions themselves are deep connections to our humanity, but the thinking that ensues becomes claustrophobic and solidifying. From each of the centricities, with their mental and emotional rationales, we perpetuate our separation from others, from the living and physical world. Arising from a mind-center, we can rationalize and justify our actions. “I am angry at you, because….” “We’re going to bomb you, because….” Whatever, the situation, we can develop logical or, more frequently, logically fallacious justifications. And, fundamentally, such thinking leads to disconnects with humanity.

From a heart-centered or coordinated heart-mind-centered perspective, we may develop strong connections to ourselves, other individuals, and our cultures and ethnicity. However, such connections do not become solidified to the exclusion of others. Heart-centers recognize and feel our shared humanity, our shared suffering, and our shared joys. With the onslaught of thoughts that accompany emotions, we can stop putting much credence in the rationales, and even see the process as a shared human condition.

At this point nearing 2020, the United States is in extreme jeopardy from completely dysfunctional political institutions, from runaway corporate greed, and from the shared global threats arising from ecological collapse, global warming, dangerous population growth, massive immigration, and a shared sense of fear and desperation that only adds to the jeopardy. Countries and various groups of people are reacting emotionally and withdrawing into the tightest cocoon they can manage, while pushing away or attacking others. In times when all hell can break loose, the very thing we should not do is to attack one another. What all people must do is start connecting with one another and working together. Our only hope for survival, beyond a spattering of small groups, is to put aside differences and pull together. We must work together, pool our creativity, energy, and compassion to find ways of approaching the problems and to do so despite politicians and political and corporate agendas.

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The Dumbing Down of America

Here is Francesca Fiorentini’s: “The Rich Want to Keep You Dumb” on News Broke.

This dumbing down agenda has been around for a long time… well over a century. But, it has reached new heights as professors are being “watched” and threatened with physical harm. Administrations often do nothing to stop the “watching” and threats. This is becoming a dangerous ( physically, psychologically, and socially) situation that is likely to get much worse under the current political atmosphere.

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Living in Layers. Part VI. The Great Disconnect

Our quests for easier and more comfortable lives, for happiness, and for greater security have been leading to greater disconnects from ourselves, from each other, and from our natural world. Increasing reliance upon and use of various technologies, although beneficial in many ways, is leading to greater separation. Early specialization in schooling, work, science, and so forth increases our tendencies toward isolation, fragmentation, and solidification of self and other.

I usually write in the mornings, occupying my “reserved” seat at the coffee shop. But, occasionally I return in the afternoons. The crowds are different. Mornings are students, professors, and business people all of whom engage in chit-chat, work, business meetings, or even classes. In the afternoons, the multi-color haired, tattooed, and pierced disenfranchised fringe descends to talk, play, and smoke at the outdoor tables. Other patrons actively avoid contact and walk hurriedly by them and into the coffee shop. Just like teachers fearing children, the older patrons react with sublimated fear. As with the hippies of the 60’s and 70’s and those of the earlier beat generation, the people in the current “fringe” come together in an attempt to experience a sense of belonging and trust outside of the hierarchy. Their disconnect with the societal hierarchies have led them to the formation of a separate group identity. In search of themselves, they quest for comfort and an identity, while reacting against the society in which they live.

However, just as in the rest of society, there is a fundamental disconnect with one’s self. But, how can anyone be disconnected from one’s self? An interesting question, and one that seems to lie at the core of our personal and social problems. The common phrase about the hippy generation was some variation of “oh, he’s off at a commune searching for himself.” But the search was mostly fruitless. As discussed earlier, we create a layered sense of self – one that is constructed of illusory notions of who were are. We suppress emotions, put on facades, indulge in our own self-consciousness or self-centeredness, or fill in our time with entertainment and activity.

In relating to others, we engage in the same strategies of push, pull, and avoid (recall the earlier discussion of the three poisons). While sitting outside the coffee shop a number of years ago, a Navajo man comes up to me and starts a conversation. I knew where the conversation was leading before it began, when we first made eye contact as he approached. I could feel myself react: “I don’t want to engage with him. I don’t want to give him money….” However, I took a deep breath and reminded myself, much against my gut reaction, that he was a human being and that I needed to make contact and be direct. As is typical of the few societally disenfranchised Navajo people, they still attempt to hold their heritage in high regard. He approaches and shakes my hand, then starts talking about his situation. He’s been here in town and is trying to get back to his family on the Reservation. He talks on about his personal and cultural philosophy of “living in beauty” (the core idea of the Navajo people). I listen, then say that I will give him a couple of dollars, if he promises not to spend it on alcohol, while fully knowing that if that is what he is going to do, it’s out of my control. He says, “no, no, I have to get a bus.” We talk on more interactively, as I try to focus on his basic good qualities and culture, then give him two dollars. He walks off promising to pray for me. Maybe he caught a bus or maybe he bought alcohol, but at least we made contact as human being to human being.

We have compounded our disconnect to others over the past several centuries and especially in the last couple of decades with the introduction of new technologies. Early explorers traversed the oceans and made contact with others. However, the solidity of these explorers’ notions of self and culture made real contact almost impossible. Other peoples and cultures were viewed through the judgmental lenses of European culture. Conflicting assumptions about life and living resulted in seeing “the others” as uncivilized savages, with the all too often slaughter or enslaving of such peoples. As cars and then airplanes were introduced, we were offered further opportunities to make contact with people from across the country and around the world. However, these opportunities were, in large part, missed, as well as misused.

As a young child in the 1950’s, I toured much of the eastern United States with my parents during summer vacations. On one occasion, we were driving through the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, when we stopped at a tourist location. An old American Indian man dressed as a chief was standing by a shop and for a small fee I had my picture taken with him. Surely, he was not a chief, but he was an object of curiosity for the white tourists passing by. We objectified him with a total disconnect to his heritage, values, beliefs, and contemporary concerns. Although we move around the country and world with great ease, we miss opportunities to connect with the people with whom we come into contact. Even driving around town in our cars, we tend to see other cars and their drivers as impersonal objects. We yell at cars and their drivers, and, in some extreme instances, take violent action against them. Cars and trucks pushing others off the road and shootings from one car into another have been on the increase. We are losing our connections to one another with the help of mobile steel fortresses.

With the introduction of personal computers and the internet, we have had additional opportunities to make contact. However, in the jargon of this new context, we tend to “flame” at others. On one particular email list, I have watched as two individuals fire angry insults back and forth at each other. Neither knew the other, but I knew both. I sat at my computer somewhat incredulous, thinking that if they actually met, they would be instant friends.

The business use of computers has increased such disconnects with all of us. When businesses contact us to solicit our business, they are incredibly friendly, but never again. Once we are on the hook with their business, humanity disappears and we slip to the bottom rung of the hierarchy. Over and over again, we encounter instances where we go to the business and say something like, “well, when you were signing me up for your business, you said that this service was going to cost [a specific amount].” The response always goes something like “well, we’re sorry, but our policy states….” No matter how much you try to explain the problem, the people at the business end just keep repeating the same statement, as if you never heard it before. Phone companies, cable TV companies, rental car companies, banks, car dealerships, hotels, airlines, … take no responsibility for their actions in relation to customers. Even small hometown businesses have lost contact with their customers and employees. Whatever happened to a sense of integrity? The bottom line, rather than the customer, takes precedence. Any strategy that furthers the acquisition of power and money is justified in the eyes of those who pursue such acquisitions.

Wrapped up in our own story-lines and agendas, we, our institutions, and our governments proceed day after day in a state of disconnect with others. At all levels, from personal to social and institutional to societal and global, we “spin” our worlds and communications. With all of the “spin,” we create disconnects at all levels of being. When we “spin” ourselves or political agendas, we create illusory layers and views of situations with little or no connection to what is really happening. Our spins can be in the form of material goods, homes, tattoos and hairdos, clothing, the way we walk, what we say, and how we say it. And, at completely personal levels, we spin ourselves to ourselves with rationales and justifications for what we do and say and for who we think we are. As with the spin cycle of washing machines that drain the last vestiges of dirt and water, our psychological and social spin cycles drain anything that might tarnish the illusory view we wish to communicate to ourselves or others.

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Living in Layers – Part V – Fear and Loathing

At a profound level that underlies our need for power, control, and security, is a sense of fundamental fear. We fear a loss of basic ground, identity, meaning, death (both physical and psychological), and numerous other losses and even gains. Such fear creeps into our consciousness, where our thinking dwells and elaborates upon some aspects of this fear. This thinking serves to make this fear claustrophobic, which, in turn, leads to avoidance, aggression, and clinging to whatever remnants of security we can find. We avoid exposing ourselves. We push others away and cling to routines and material goods and ephemeral notions of self, deities, and the world. Such patterns are reinforced by the hierarchical stratification of identities, meanings, power, and control. Opportunities to break the cycles of fear and loathing can be found in holarchies with their unifying patterns of relationships and insights of self as holarchy.

Fear may be one of the most fundamental emotions shared by humanity. Yet, like the topic of death, we rarely discuss or confront our fears in this society. We tend to actively ignore such confrontations and work diligently to fill up our lives with other activities in order to avoid the feelings of fear. Of course, many people will watch scary movies. In a way the “rush” of watching such movies provides a “safe” way to release the tensions of being afraid, but facing our real fears is quite another story.

Several years ago, I asked my students who had been working with a fairly rough group of children, if anyone was afraid of children. No one in the class made the admission. Although the possibility existed that no one was afraid of children, my hunch is that at some level a majority of them were afraid of children. Over the years, I have watched my students nervously enter their first situation of working with children. Even after several sessions, I have seen many students avoid working with children in ways that are engaging to both my students and the children. Many take on more formalized personas and drift away from being themselves. Even among many experienced teachers, the same patterns of how they manifest in front of children still occur. The fears of children asking questions, for which teachers do not know the answers, of children challenging a teacher’s knowledge claim or a classroom rule, and of the possibility of chaos haunt teachers as they proceed through each and every day.

A major area of the professional knowledge and skill associated with teaching is referred to as “classroom management.” The term itself implies a hierarchical notion of power and control. We need to manage and control children. But, why do we need to control children? From where does such a notion arise? Teachers enter their first day of the school year with implicit and explicit expectations of what classrooms should look like. Such classrooms need to be orderly and reasonably quiet, and the children need to be “well-behaved.” Such notions are deeply embedded in the psycho-social contexts of schooling. We have experienced such expectations throughout our own experiences of schooling. For teachers, who are afraid of reprimands and negative feedback from those at higher levels of authority, such fears are compounded by the fears of losing control. We begin to see children as objects to control and manage. We generate expectations that all children need to conform to specific types of behavior, talk, thinking, and so forth. Classroom management and the wide range of associated expectations seem to have arisen from a basic fear of losing control.

Even as an experienced teacher and teacher educator, I encountered my own deeply embedded expectations several years ago when I taught a middle school science class for several months. After the first day of introducing the topic and how we were going to proceed, I initiated an activity that I hoped would engage the children and challenge some of their existing understandings. Well, it worked. On day two, the children began an argument (about density) that spanned five days. As the children continued the argument each day, they became more animated, vocal, and much louder. As the tension increased, I confronted the deeply embedded expectations as a dilemma of my own. “Should I control them? Or, should I let it go.” At the front of my mind, this kind of argument is just what I wanted, but I was plagued by all of the old expectations I had experienced as a classroom teacher years ago. As I bounced back and forth between the two questions, I finally decided to let it go. As it turns out, the children delved into some very complex conceptual problems involved with the notion of density. Had I controlled the situation and provided them with the “correct” answers, such depth and complexity of thinking never would have emerged. Their passion would have been muted and their sense of ownership over the content and process would not have happened.

All too often children are not treated as human beings, but rather as objects to be controlled, censored, forced into conformity, and, as suggested by Robert Bly1, molded into some adult’s fantasy notion of how they should act and think. Arising from the hierarchical layers of the institution of schooling, we create layers around ourselves (i.e., teachers) for protection and project layers of expectations around children.

On the other hand, I have witnessed a number of teachers who have managed to create more holarchic classrooms, where children feel free to be themselves and take ownership over the classroom community. In one such grade 6 classroom, the teacher was talking to the whole class to introduce a new activity. A boy, who fit the profile of the typical “trouble-maker,” got up from his seat, walked to the chalkboard, erased a word the teacher had just written, changed the word, and quietly returned to his seat. He had seen an error and corrected it. The teacher noticed the action, but never said a word or skipped a beat in her presentation. In many classrooms, a child might make fun of the teacher for making a mistake (which is a student’s vying—for—power strategy and a sign of dysfunction) or the teacher would admonish the child and assert her or his power and control.

In a grade 4 classroom, the teacher had been absent the day before I visited. The principal mistakenly cancelled her substitute. As the day when I was visiting began, the teacher asked the children what they did without a substitute. One little girl responded, “After a while we realized you weren’t coming, so I took the attendance and took it to the office. When I got back, we discussed it and decided to keep reading [some novel they had been reading aloud]. And, then we discussed it.” The teacher asked rhetorically, “well, what do you need me for?” Exactly! The classroom was a true holarchic community, where everyone shared control.

In a coffee shop, where I have done much of my writing, the owner was away at a meeting. I jokingly commented to one of the workers that she must be the boss for the day. She said, “there are no bosses here.” The owner occupies the center of the holarchy and helps to induct employees into the business. He cares for each individual in a context of mutual respect and trust. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so attracted to the establishment. I have always felt comfortable plugging in my laptop and working for hours on end.

By contrast, hierarchies perpetuate the fear of losing control, as well as a distrust (which is just another manifestation of fear) of others – of those at lower levels (subservients), of those in the same layer (competitors), and of those above (superiors). Out of such fear, we utilize whatever strategies we need to solidify our sense of control and power. Individuals, schools, businesses, and governments have their own ways of perpetuating their own power and control. Over the past couple of years, it has become clearly evident to me that we as a nation breed a fear of others, although the official rhetoric often states otherwise. Our leaders introduce just enough of a fear factor to allow them to implement strategies for more control and power. Such strategies are quickly supported by the media in their pursuit of power (ratings and income). Although the September 11, 2001, intentional crashing of planes was tragic and horrid, our government with the support of the media quickly took advantage to initiate frighteningly anti-democratic initiatives in order to secure power. Amidst rumors of governmental complicity, we started down a path towards achieving global control. And all along, the public is left in the dark with no sense of the real agenda, the real situation. Was the government complicit or not? After the initial media coverage of the smallpox “letters,” we heard nothing further after it was traced to a military laboratory. Was this a government operation to up the ante of fear with low risk of mortality? Was it some crazed individual or group? Or, was it a terrorist action? The questions, rumors, and fear continue. Although new events (real and imagined) continue and “facts” are what politicians and the media say they are, propaganda continues unabated.


1 Bly, R. (1996). The sibling society. New York: Vintage.

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Living In Layers – Part IV – Seeking Security and Stability

As holarchic1 beings in a hierarchic world, we live in a contradictory world. So, we seek security and stability through power and control, acceptance by others, aggression, avoidance, or filling up our lives with activities and goods. We want to be liked and loved. However, our living in a contradictory world dominated by hierarchies perpetuates a stratified view of life, where our approaches to achieving security and stability obscure our basic humanity, create confusion, and separate us from one another and from our worlds.

Although we desire to be loved, we tend not to love ourselves. The contradictions and expectations of our hierarchic worlds create a fundamental sense of inadequacy. We feel that we don’t have the expertise, the beautiful looks, a nice enough car or home, or the nicest belongings. Advertisements and other media representations set us up for failure and a basic sense that we lack adequate wealth, both psychologically and materially. The poor in this country are set-up from the get-go. The feelings of worthlessness lead to continued cycles of poverty and despair. Even for those with power and wealth, the struggle to maintain security and stability involves a constant sense of defensiveness and inadequacy. Always on guard, the powerful can never relax.

We live in what Gregory Bateson called “double binds.”2 The simplistic view of a double bind is that of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” or being caught in a “Catch-22.” However, this situation of being holarchic, but living in hierarchies is a kind of fundamental double bind from which any escape seems impossible. At a fundamental level, if we try to live as holarchic beings, where power is distributed among everyone and where there is a basic sense of equanimity, we immediately run up against the barriers that have been established by the social and political hierarchies. If we try to live in the hierarchic system, we are continually disappointed and frustrated, even if we climb the hierarchy. There is never enough power and control and there are always others trying to out-compete us and one another. These struggles also lead to our striving for security and stability in our lives.

Bottom of the Hierarchy.

From a Buddhist perspective, the patterns we use to maintain a seemingly secure and stable life arise from the three poisons of passion, aggression, and ignorance. These are poisons to our abilities to be open and compassionate, to be loved and to love, and to be completely in touch with our humanity. An interesting exercise is to walk down a busy street or through a crowded mall while watching how we initially react to others. To some, we feel attracted (passion). To others, we feel repulsed (aggression). And, to others, we may gloss over, avoid, or hardly notice. These patterns of reaction arise throughout all of our interactions with others, with our own thoughts, and with other situations or other creatures. We actively try to ignore or avoid, to seduce or indulge, or to push away certain thoughts or certain individuals. By using these deeply embedded and automatic patterns, we create an illusory sense of security, stability, and solidity in our lives. As teachers, we relate to children in the same way. We label children as those whom we do not like, those whom we like, and those whom we avoid or have no particular reaction. The supervisor or boss in the workplace relates to his or her employees through the same lenses. As a country, we manifest the same patterns with dire consequences. For those nations we do not like, we create sanctions or implement acts of aggression, both of which can result directly or indirectly in the death of human beings. Such national patterns of reactions are becoming dangerously apparent. At the same time, we try to seduce other nations for reasons not always clearly evident. And, for far too many nations, we simply ignore their existence. Throughout our history, we have seduced leaders and have drawn them into our fold. Then, when they outlive their usefulness, we implement acts of aggression against them. Noriega, bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein have all met with this “switcheroo” between passion and aggression. Just like young children and teenagers, we shout out that “I’m not going to play with you anymore!” or “I’ll get you back!” France and Germany in the spring of 2003 were at the receiving end of such proclamations from adolescent politicians and their adolescent media propaganda brokers. And, again in 2017, other nations are taking the brunt of mindless political rhetoric. Robert Bly’s contention in The Sibling Society3 that we are propagating a society of adolescents seems to apply at all levels of the hierarchy.

On the other hand, holarchic structures are founded on recognizing and appreciating one’s own and others’ humanity and on establishing and maintaining relationships among individuals and their worlds. Although the Buddhist notion of the three poisons will still manifest without efforts to expose them and to let go of our attachment to their seeming validity, holarchic structures offer the potential to create saner institutions. As we long for security and stability, holarchies can provide a sense of security and stability through negotiable relationships and a sharing of power and control.

A number of years ago, PBS aired a documentary called “The Creative Spirit.” One of the points of the series was that creativity manifests best when one feels reasonably secure, safe, and valued. In their examination of an architecture firm, the building was constructed so that no company directory existed, no offices had numbers or names attached, and the most important spaces in the building were created for social interaction. People who entered the building looking for someone in particular had to interact with another human being. No identifiers of status were ever used and a sense of equal status among all members of the business’ community was established. The contention that creativity does not arise on-call and is more likely to arise during social interactions led to the creation of social spaces where all members of the community could sit, drink coffee, and talk. As a corporate holarchy, all people were valued for their abilities and for whom they were as individuals.

For the Department of Homeland Security, its ability to create security seems rather unlikely. As we try to create a hierarchically-based approach to security, where other nations and its peoples are looked down upon from the top layer of the global hierarchy, dysfunctional binaries or relationships will continue to be propagated and lead to separation. As we continue on this path, threats to our security will continue. However, if we were to restructure our nation’s worldview in a global context and create a holarchically-based global community, we could achieve security without the need for a Department of Homeland Security. In such a holarchy, relationships would be based on negotiation and equitability. Concern for humanity and the well-being of others would take precedence over strivings for power and control. Although such a view may seem optimistic and unrealistic, I believe such a view could work. Many tribal societies that have maintained their culture and a number of corporate institutions are holarchic. And, after all, the whole notion of democracy in its purest form is holarchic, where power and control is distributed among citizens.


Bateson, G. (1972/2000). Steps to an ecology of mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bateson, G. (1991). Sacred unity: Further steps to an ecology of mind. (R. E. Donaldson, Ed.). New York: A Cornelia & Micahel Bessie Book/Harper Collins.

Bloom, J., & Volk, T. (2007). The use of metapatterns for research into complex systems of teaching, learning, and schooling. Part II: Applications. Complicity: an International Journal of Complexity and Education, 4(1), 45–68.

Bly, R. (1997). The Sibling Society. New York: Vintage.

Cullin, J. (2006). Double bind: much more than just a step “toward a theory of schizophrenia.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 27(3), 135–142.

Gibney, P. (2006). The double bind theory: Still crazy-making after all these years. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(3), 48–55.

Sluzki, C. E., & Ransom, D. C. (Eds.). (1976). Double bind: The foundation of the communicational approach to the family. New York: Grune & Stratton.

Volk, T. (1995). Metapatterns: Across space, time, and mind. New York: Columbia University Press.

1 Holarchies are embedded layers where one layer has no more importance than any other layer. We can view our biological systems (circulatory, nervous, digestive, etc.) as being holarchic layers. No one system is more important than any other. Yet, all are important. A truly democratic community is more holarchic in that each person shares in the power and control of the community. (Bloom & Volk, 2007; Volk, 1995)

2 Bateson (1972/2000, 1991); Cullin (2006); Gibney (2006); Sluzki & Ransom (1976)

3 Bly (1997)

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Living in Layers – Part III – Power and Control

As suggested by Bertrand Russell1, the major motivation of most human beings is a striving for power and control in at least some aspect of life. When we examine the layers of a variety of social and institutional structures, the tendency has been to create stratified layers or hierarchies. In India, such layers have manifested over millennia as the caste system. Those at the higher layers have had privilege, power, and access that those in lower layers have not had. Although this structure is slowly breaking down, the stratification persists. In the United States, such a system does not exist explicitly. However, a social stratification that provides privilege and access to power is alive and well. Although we have proclaimed that the United States is the land of opportunity, only a very small number of people, who are not among those in the higher, privileged layers of society, have moved into positions of power.

Moratorium in Washington, DC, 1970

When I was coordinating a Peace Corps Fellows program2 at my university, I attended a Peace Corps Fellows meeting in Washington, DC. At dinner, a Hispanic man of incredible presence started circulating and introducing himself and shaking hands with everyone at our table. After we shook hands, I thought, “this man has to be a politician.” As it turns out, President G. W. Bush had just appointed him as the director of the Peace Corps. Over dinner, he described how he had grown up in a Mexican-American migrant farm worker family. As he began to be disenfranchised by school, a middle school English teacher, whom he did not like, asked him to enter a speech contest. He ended up winning at the national level. This event, he contends, changed his life and led him to pursuing his present course. He had learned the language of power very well. Although he had an engaging presence, with a seemingly soft and permeable outer layer, I felt uncomfortable. After dinner and his speech, I introduced myself again, commended him on his speech, and tried to engage him on a more personal level. His response was at the same time appreciative and distantly cold. Trying to permeate the deeper and more personal layers was met with resistance. I grew up in a working class family, and it is still obvious in the way I speak (even though it is in formal English). Somehow I must give myself away through clues in my manner or in not following the unwritten rules of higher social strata. He picked up on these clues and resisted entry at that level. In positions of power, we seem to establish our own barriers to anything that may threaten that position.

Barriers are systematically established that prevent people of color, those who do not speak proper formal English (i.e., the language of power), and those from working class and lower socio-economic families from moving into positions of power. Such barriers appear in schooling, work environments, recreational situations, social interactions, and everyday activities and business interactions.

In schooling, we increasingly institute “standards” and “standardized tests” to upgrade the education of our children. At the surface, such moves seem to make a lot of sense. Raising standards and developing an approach to accountability seem to provide a vision of extensive intellectual growth in our population. In the same way, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, appeared to be a step in the right direction. However, at deeper levels of analysis, such initiatives may do just the opposite. With the pressure on teachers and principals to raise test scores, the standards no longer become the minimum, but become the maximum. Unless children extend there own learning, they are relegated to a “standard” or mediocre level of knowledge. Such mediocre levels of learning are further entrenched by teachers, who no longer feel that they can risk deviating from the curriculum and teach material that is devoid of relevance and meaning. They teach to the tests, omit material, which can be of great relevance and importance, and teach in ways that do not allow children to develop complex and meaningful understandings. For two years, I worked with groups of elementary teachers on developing their abilities to teach science through inquiry and to help children develop more complex understandings. These teachers were among the best in the local school district. However, what became frighteningly evident was that they did not want to take the risk, to take the time required to teach in ways that truly help children take their learning beyond the standards. The pressure from the upper levels of the schooling hierarchy has established a culture of mediocrity in our schools.

For children from different cultures and with non-English first languages, the situation is compounded even further. Teachers are forced into not taking the additional time needed to help children make connections to their own culture and language. A number of years ago, I had a Chinese graduate student who explored the dynamics of learning a second language in his masters degree thesis. What he found was that the embeddedness of meaning provided difficulties in conveying such meaning in a second language. Even a simple term, such as “park,” had very different meanings for someone from a different culture. Even within English, meanings vary between subcultures and cultures. If I were to say, “Fred is quite smart,” we in the United States would be impressed. However, someone from England would think he wasn’t really very smart at all. When I moved to Canada and bought a new car, the sticker information said that the car would consume gasoline at “six litres per 100 kilometres.” Although I had learned the metric system throughout my schooling (I was always interested in science), I knew what the statement meant, but it had absolutely no meaning for me. Over time on commutes to work, I developed a one step conversion of kilometers per liter to miles per gallon. After filling up, I got 17 liters per kilometer (pretty meaningless to me), but that translated (2.35 times 17) into about 40 miles per gallon. That’s great mileage – it was meaningful. For children learning English as a second language, the meanings contained within the words of their first language may be difficult to translate into English. Yet, meaning has to be addressed in the schooling of children, especially for those from different cultures. Imagine how difficult it is to learn science or how to write in English, when faced with the difficulties of expressing meaning, for which no clearly evident translation is available.

The power from above in schooling and the politics of schooling is creating a disconnected and irrelevant approach to education that is devoid of meaning for those students who are not privileged with opportunities to extend their learning outside of school. The symbols of power move down through the hierarchies of schooling. The federal Department of Education that controls funding based on its policies, each state’s department of education that controls funding and curriculum, the school district superintendent, the principal, and finally the teachers all have particular symbols, mechanisms, and languages of power. Children and parents occupy the lower layers. Each of the upper layers of the hierarchy has mechanisms that regulate contact with those in power. Try calling up or visiting the federal secretary of education or the superintendent of a local school district. The barriers to contact make it difficult. When contact is made a variety of barriers create further separation. The large desk behind which sits the individual with power is symbolic of such barriers. The desk puts us into a social space as opposed to a personal space. The monolithic desk indicates importance and power. A variety of other symbols may further indicate the differential in power, such as, the person’s clothing, the language and mode of communication they use (e.g., patronizing and official tones of voice), and certificates of accomplishment and institutional decorations on the wall.

In other social institutions, the counters and locked entry doors to the examination room areas in doctors’ offices, guards and metal detectors in schools and federal buildings, and a business person whose secretary controls access all create barriers and demarcate situations of power. We live in a hierarchical world that creates visible and invisible, explicit and implicit, overt and covert borders that establish and maintain layers of power and control.

The rigid structures of hierarchies also promote strivings for power, as well as a deferring of power and control to others. At the same time, hierarchies lead to a variety of relational binaries. Relationships between individuals occupying different layers set up dominant-submissive binaries. Relationships among those occupying the same layer are often competitive, where individuals vie for moves to more powerful layers. In both cases, such relationships are likely to result in separation. We set ourselves up for disappointment or disenfranchisement.

On the other hand, holarchic situations tend to distribute power and control among participants in social structures. Competition and subservience tend to be minimized. Relationships in such situations are based upon negotiation and respect for others. In such situations that are based on negotiation, relationships among individuals tend to lead to unification and stability.

Some of the covert approaches to power and control involve what has become known as “spin,” in which a variety of tactics, such as the use of propaganda, logical fallacies, disparaging news media, and playing to people’s emotions, are used to influence public opinion, bend the facts, evade issues, and propagate untruths. Such spin tactics are repetitive or cyclic patterns of brainwashing. During a past election for a seat in a newly created United States congressional district, the Republican candidate pursued an intensive smear tactic campaign against the Democratic candidate. This tactic took partial truths about the Democratic candidate, bought a large amount of TV time, and repeated these statements with great frequency. At the same time, my wife was quite active in the local Democratic party. As a result, I had several opportunities to meet and talk with their candidate. He was not very smooth in the way he presented himself, but appeared to be sincere, passionate, intelligent, and articulate. To me, this was a plus. Maybe I was talking with a real human being? In a small gathering, he explained the contexts of what actually happened in relation to each of the charges mounted by his opponent. One charge was that he stole millions of dollars from his business partners who sued him. That was all of the information provided in the campaign advertisements. Yes, his business partners sued him, but they lost the suit. His business was helping failing businesses turn themselves around. His success rate exceeded 80%. The majority of the voting public never asked questions about the claims. Even very intelligent people with whom I spoke during this time, accepted the claims as truth. As in the old television advertisement with the line “where’s the beef?”, we could ask “where’s the evidence?” Such cyclic spin weaves spheres of partial truths, misinformation, and emotional textures. The sphere as context is not only powerfully persuasive, but an all encompassing influence upon the public.

At an even more subtle levels of influence is the notion of creating contexts based on common assumptions. Noam Chomsky has discussed how most political arguments and critical media coverage serve only to reinforce the political hierarchy’s agenda.3 For example, George W. Bush’s argument for pursuing a war in Iraq was presented as a war on terrorism with implicit suggestions that there were ties between Saddam Hussein (who we helped get into power) and Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden (who we trained militarily). His arguments with the international community for joining in the military effort presented the binary of “you’re either for us or against us.” At the time, very little resistance to this stance was taken within the political structure of the United States. As time went by with the approaching 2004 election, more politicians came out against the war and our continued presence Iraq. Not only was the “for or against us” argument a false dilemma, but it established the foundation of common assumptions. These common assumptions revolved around the whole notion of war. If opponents argued against the war on whatever terms, they served only to reinforce the notions of war as the only tool, of an “us-them” binary, and of the United States as a superior military power. The same tactics have been taken to another level in the Trump administration. All of these assumptions, actions, and arguments occur within the same contextual sphere. However, if politicians and the media were to explore other possibilities based on very different sets of assumptions, we, as citizens, could have a true alternative. For example, we may perceive the world through a different set of lenses and assumptions. Rather than basing our view on an “us-them” binary, we may see “us” as a global community with a vast diversity of views, culture, and concerns. In a functional (as opposed to dysfunctional) community, we approach conflicts in very different ways. We do not pull out a gun and start shooting or start pounding someone else with our fists. We express concerns, try to understand others’ points of views, and negotiate terms for working together. In some cases, such as a work community, an effective “boss” will work with an individual on developing whatever skills or attitudes needed to be an effective participant. If this does not work, he or she may work with the individual in question to decide that they need to resign for their well-being and the well-being of the community. Such approaches hold a sense of shared humanity, where concern for others is paramount. Everyone is connected at some level.

On a global scale, seeing how everything and everyone are connected affects the way we view conflict resolution. Rather than an approach based on aggression or the lack of aggression, which is just the flip-side of the same coin, we can consider a variety of options. What is the problem as conceived of by the “terrorists” (of course, the term “terrorist” itself reinforces an “us-them” binary)? We could start by asking what the “terrorists” call themselves (not “terrorists”). Maybe they think of themselves as the resistance, freedom fighters, or any number of other possibilities. If we try to deconstruct the barrier created by the “us-them” binary, we can begin to develop a variety of other possible strategies to deal with the conflict, all of which can be based on different sets of assumptions. Instead of war or other aggressive action as the major tool for relating to others, we can pursue a variety of other strategies. We can work towards alleviating inequities, establishing relationships based on equal status (i.e., equal views of worth as human beings and cultures), or trying to develop understandings. All such strategies work toward establishing unifying relationships (or binaries) and not as adversarial or dominant-submissive relationships. The underlying assumption of a shared humanity can lead to radically different approaches to relationships, from those between individuals to those between students and teachers to those between races and cultures in our society to those between nations and cultures around the globe.


1 Russell (1969)
2 Peace Corps Fellows Program was a program that placed returning Peace Corps volunteers in Native American reservation schools while they work towards teacher certification.
3 Chomsky (2003)


Chomsky, N. (2003). Chomsky on democracy and education. New York: Routledge.
Russell, B. (1969). Power. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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Living in Layers – Part II – Living in Layers

This blog entry explores the notion of layers – both hierarchies and holarchies – in the individual, communities, schools and classrooms, various natural phenomena, and cultural and societal structures. The fundamental characteristics of hierarchies involve top-down power and control, which in turn establish relationships based on distrust and fear and ultimately lead to separation. As such hierarchies become deeply entrenched and extreme as they are now in the United States, we see an exacerbation of disconnects and divisiveness. Fear not only is on the rise, but is used by those at the top of the hierarchy to control those at the bottom.

On the other hand, holarchies are embedded layers, where power and control tend to be distributed. In contrast, democracy in its purest form, many tribal cultures, and some business establishments are more characteristic of holarchies. However, the current manifestation of democratic governments, dictatorial governments, the institution of schooling, and most corporate and many scientific establishments tend to be entrenched as hierarchies. However, our basic nature as human beings tends to be holarchic, both biologically and psychologically. We are comprised of embedded layers of systems, where one system is not necessarily more important or more critical than the others. But, together they create a working whole. From such a view, however, the notion of parts and wholes becomes quite fuzzy. In fact, such a discrimination, which at one point in human history may have been convenient for understanding various aspects of our world, has now become problematic. In holarchies, everything works together, and parts—whole distinctions become awkward and unnecessary. Hierarchies are generally difficult to see, but the relationships between layers are quite obvious. However, holarchies are usually much easier to see, but the relationships are not.1 We can see the layers of rock in the Grand Canyon, but the relationships between these layers are not particularly evident. In contrast, we can observe a corporate office and the relationships between those at the top of the hierarchy and those at lower levels become obvious very quickly, although the layers themselves are not visible.

Psychologically, our learning and memory tend to be holarchic. Although some scholars argue for learning as hierarchic, others who have been investigating schema theory2 argue otherwise. In schema theory, the more critical prototypical images, defining features, and other aspects of particular concepts occupy more central positions or layers in our understandings of specific concepts. As individuals, we tend to construct ourselves, our ego, in layers of meaning, images, concepts, notions of identity, and other mental—emotional patterns. From a Buddhist perspective, the layering of ego is comprised of five skandhas, which are frequently referred to as five “heaps.” The use of “heaps” rather than some other term communicates a sense of basic disconnect rather than some cohesive functional component. These heaps are not and do not create a solid sense of self, although they trick us into thinking we are solid. For those of us who have had young children, we can witness the development of each skandha, and, if we examine ourselves (in Buddhism, such examinations are part of the meditative experience), we can see each of these heaps manifest in our everyday lives. The first is form, where we first recognize a sense of self or a fundamental sense of being. Then feeling moves in as the beginnings of a sense of separation. As we continue to develop a sense of separation, we come to perception, where we begin to discriminate between self and other. The sense of concept further refines our approach to creating a world of separation, as we pigeon-hole and categorize everything we experience. And, finally, the heap of consciousness coordinates the whole thing, bringing together a highly refined approach to maintaining an illusory sense of self and other. For parents, the “terrible twos” mark the child’s ability to put the whole process into action. An even more refined and intelligent manifestation of affirming a sense of identity, much to the chagrin of parents, reaches a pinnacle during adolescence, where the “terrible twos” re-emerge as the “terrible teens.”

Although the skandhas are described as heaps, they assume the characteristics of a holarchy, in much the same way as the nervous system, circulatory system, lymphatic system, digestive system, and endocrine system, all with separate, but interconnected, functions, work together to maintain the vertebrate body. In both cases, one system or one skandha is no more important than the other, but, at the same time, each “feeds” off the others in the processes of creating and maintaining the whole.

Such layering affects the way we relate to others and our world, the way we act, and the way we feel. We construct and maintain these layers to varying degrees of solidity and permeability. In saying that a particular person is very approachable, we are referring to a person with at least some permeable layers. In the presence of many politicians, among others, one may feel as though the layers are solid, impenetrable, even though the outer layer may appear to be soft and penetrable. Living in layers is our way of life.

A photo collage of a layered Chicago office building reflecting further layers, a Hopi painting of the holarchic layers of their life world (painting on display at the Museum of Northern Arizona), and the cliff dwellings at Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona’s Verde Valley.
A photo collage of a layered Chicago office building reflecting further layers, a Hopi painting of the holarchic layers of their life world (painting on display at the Museum of Northern Arizona), and the cliff dwellings at Montezuma’s Castle in Arizona’s Verde Valley.

The notion of living in layers, specifically holarchic layers, has been a fundamental aspect of the worldview of many Native American peoples. The Hopis have depicted such layering in paintings and earlier Anasazi people built cliff dwellings in canyons and valleys. As opposed to the popular notion depicted in the National Parks information plaques that they built cliff dwellings as protection from enemies, it seems more likely that they built their homes in cliffs to be closer to the life energy emanating from the center of the earth. With less developed medical treatments for physical injuries, fighting was not something to engage in on a regular basis, and building homes in cliffs does not seem particularly advantageous as a protective strategy. The imposition of hierarchical assumptions about life and culture creep into our interpretations of other cultures and ultimately lead to misunderstandings and a distancing or separation from others.

1 Volk (1995)
2 Meade & Cubey (2008); McVee, Dunsmore, & Gavelek (2005)


  • Volk, T. (1995). Metapatterns: Across space, time, and mind. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Meade, A., & Cubey, P. (2008). Thinking children: Learning about schemas. Maidenhead, Berkshire, England: Open University Press.
  • McVee, M. B., Dunsmore, K., & Gavelek, J. R. (2005). Schema theory revisited. Review of Educational Research, 75(4), 531–566. doi: 10.3102/00346543075004531
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Among friends…

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Living in Layers – Part I – Introduction

This blog entry and the next nine or so entries to follow are from a book outline I began a number of years ago. Since then, much of my thinking has moved on to other topics. However, I do want to share some of these thoughts, which in the blog version will be much sketchier. But, out of this sketchiness, I hope readers will make the effort to fill in the gaps themselves and, in the Gregory Bateson tradition, to make it their own.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

This blog entry provides an introduction to a variety of issues facing our individual lives, our schools, science and its effects on our lives, and society as a whole. All of these issues appear to share universal origins in the patterns of how we layer ourselves and our social structures and of how such layers create other patterns of relations and actions.

Chicago Layers

These patterns all contribute to the great “disconnects” within individuals, between one another, between ourselves and our social, political, physical, and biological worlds. In filling up our worlds with entertainment, internal dialogues, and defenses against entry from the outside world, we begin to lose touch with who we are. Our identities become embedded in notions of work, religion, and whatever our minds discursively generate. The answer to “who am I?” tends to based on what we do and superficial senses of our characteristics. But, who are we really? In many tribal cultures, identity is based upon one’s place among families, clans, and relationships to others.

As I sit here in a coffee shop writing this section, a friend’s son sits down at my table. His curly red hair half-dyed a brilliant red seems to symbolize the duality and disconnect of his life. Although he is a bright young man, he doesn’t fit into “normal” society. I ask, “how’s your new job?” He responds, “fine, but my boss is crazy… stupid crazy, bad crazy.” “So, other than your boss, how do you like it?” Hesitantly, he says, “I guess I like it. I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about anything.” How often do we not know how we feel about something? Do we like or love our jobs, our significant others, ourselves, our political leaders? The disconnect with ourselves and our worlds creeps in all of the time. Even when we seem to be quite happy, there’s a background murmur, like the barely audible scampering of cockroaches in unknown crevices of the kitchen. We can hardly make it out. However, there is a sense of disturbance and dissatisfaction that we are quite willing to ignore, if only we could find something to block out the murmur.

In the same way, we avoid contact and distance ourselves from others. We may rely on the automatic patterns of superficial congenialities, then return to our internal dialogues. We can hide behind the barriers to contact provided by electronic communications that objectify the other or by the steel walls of our cars. In driving around town, we can curse at other cars and act out in ways we would rarely ever do when face-to-face with another person. At the level of society’s institutions, the disconnect manifests in similar ways. The operation of the company or organization is paramount to the needs of individuals. Workers are numbers to those at higher ranks. Even in schools, students are treated as numerical entities, whose test scores raise or lower funding. We “manage” children much in the same way we manage a business or manage cattle on a ranch. We are not only disconnecting from who we are individually and socially, but also disconnecting from our place in the natural world. I take students on field studies and begin the day with an sensory awareness exercise, where we lie down under trees and bushes, close our eyes, then listen, smell, and feel. However, there is an initial resistance to lying on the ground. Many never do. It’s a foreign and repulsive idea. The disconnect spreads throughout our lives, just as “the dark” slowly envelops everything in Robert Munsch’s children’s book of the same name. The little boy opens a bottle containing “the dark,” which spreads throughout the kitchen, then the house, and finally outside. The disconnect is “the dark” that continues to obscure our connections to self, other, and environment.

In the following entries, I will introduce some of the major theoretical perspectives. An overview of metapatterns will be provided, along with explanations of how they provide a powerful means to analyze and make sense of our worlds. I also will discuss how a variety of other theoretical and philosophical perspective have informed my thinking about living in layers, including Buddhism, cultural anthropology, cognitive psychology, situated cognition, a variety of philosophical perspectives, and the nature of science and scientific understandings, among many others.

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